Throughout pop culture history, fictional detectives have been paired with perfect-wheeled Watsons. From television to movies to literature, here are five of the greatest fictional detectives’ cars as compiled by Hagerty.
The Rockford Files — Pontiac Firebird Esprit
Garner’s affable, down-on-his-luck private detective Jim Rockford has hidden depths. On the surface, he lives in a mobile home, barely scraping by, and drives a base-model light-brown Firebird. However, just watch out when Rockford throws his car in reverse.
A J-turn involves reversing at high speed, cranking the wheel over, and slamming the transmission back into forward gear as the car pivots. This stunt was performed so often on The Rockford Files, often by Garner himself, that people started calling it a Rockford turn. Three Firebirds were used each season, and most of them were the Formula 400 version with better handling and performance; the crew fitted plain hoods and reworked them to look like the cheaper Esprit, better fitting Jim Rockford’s skinflint lifestyle.
Columbo — 1959 Peugeot 403 Cabriolet
Another detective you underestimated at your peril was the perpetually rumpled Frank Columbo. The game was afoot even before Columbo had alighted from his equally ramshackle car, a battered old Peugeot convertible. A 403 Cabriolet is actually a fairly rare machine, with just over 2,000 produced worldwide and only a few of those stateside. Columbo’s version looked like it was constantly on the verge of going on strike, but shuffled along amiably, getting worse-looking episode by episode.
As a pairing, it was a stroke of genius. According to The Columbo Phile, an exhaustive book on the series, the Peugeot was picked out by Falk himself. Walking through the Universal Studios backlot, he couldn’t find a match. “As an actor, it was like trying to find the right hat for a part. I finally told Bill, ‘I don’t see anything. Let’s go.’ Just as we were walking out, way back in a corner, I just saw the nose of a car sticking out. They said, ‘This one doesn’t even run. It doesn’t even have an engine in it.’ I said, ‘This is the one.’”
Starsky and Hutch — Ford Gran Torino
“The Striped Tomato,” as it would come to be known, is a lasting small-screen icon that can stand beside the General Lee or Barris Batmobile as a pop culture icon. Never mind cracking the case by following the clues—let’s drive through an improbably placed chicken coop, a pile of cardboard boxes, and a plate-glass window. That oughta do it.
Starsky’s Gran Torino isn’t just loved by fans of the show, it’s a good match for his loud, Brooklyn born street savvy. By comparison, Hutch’s beat-up old Ford Galaxie 500 better fits his thoughtful, Midwestern nature.
Magnum P.I. — Ferrari 308 GTS
The Ferrari 308 wasn’t a good fit for Magnum PI’s Tom Selleck—the crew had to remove the driver’s seat rails, and even then, the top of his head poked through the Targa roof—but it was a perfect match for the character. Magnum is larger than life, rarely without an Aloha shirt and an impish grin beneath his luxuriant moustache. Everything about him screams “Ferrari,” and luckily, he’s got one that he can drive any time he likes.
Miami Vice — 1986 Ferrari Testarossa
James “Sonny” Crockett drove a 1972 Ferrari 365 GTS/4 Daytona on Miami Vice—until it got blown up with a Stinger missile and he needed something new. Anyone who remembers Miami Vice only has eyes for the machine that replaced the black Daytona, an all-white Testarossa, complete with single rear-view mirror and giant car phone.
It wasn’t so much a car as it was a poster, but what better machine to represent the excess of the era, and the life of a vice cop in Miami? Only a Lamborghini Countach could have come close: thank goodness for Stinger missiles.