5 cars that became famous thanks to TV shows

Published on Monday, January 28, 2019.
Updated on Friday, March 29, 2019.

Peugeot 403 (Inspector Columbo)

It is still possible today, in France at any rate, when surfing on the TNT (the French Digital Video Broadcasting that replaced classic television), to see yet another rerun of Columbo played by Peter Falk. Columbo was launched in 1968 in a television movie and then inspired a series in 1971 (the first episode of this saison was even produced by a certain Steven Spielberg). If the hero of the series is the funny inspector, two other protagonists play an important role Mrs Colombo (that we never see) and this hilarious and insightful policemans Peugeot 403 Cabriolet.

The presence of this French car in this American series can come as a surprise, especially when we know that the 403 Cabriolet was never imported to the US. It was Peter Faulks initiative to choose this French car. He was looking for a car that reflected his character, a little shabby, (it seems like the cars hood has the same caliber as the inspectors in its imperviousness) retro and quirky in South California during the 70s. According to Jean-Michel Normand from “Le Monde” (acclaimed french newspaper) Peter Falk met the famous Roger Pierre on vacation with his wife in the US by accident. He had come with his own personal car, and yes you guessed it, its the 403 Cabriolet.

Legend has it that he had his production buy-back the vehicle from the actor and French humoriste. Afterwards other 403s were used in the filming of the show but it was sedans with major bodywork. To this day even in France this car has become Columbos car to common exasperation both collectors and Peugeot itself. The brand even finally used this image in a publicity.

Do not believe that just anyone can afford a 403 Cabriolet. Made in 2,050 copies between 1957 and 1961 it is particularly rare and its cotation is around 72,000 euros according to LVA*.

Ford Gran Torino (Starsky and Hutch)

Here is the American that must have impressed the Frenchies the most in the 80s. The Ford Gran Torino is not sporty, but Television magique with it red and white strips  (the stripped tomato as Paul Michael Glaser called it) made it more desirable then it was in reality. It was a coincidence that Starsky and its screen partner Hutch found themselves at the wheel of such a car. The lending departement of Ford had two in stock, both red and lent them for the pilote filming. Glaser hated this car but the great idea of the side stripes soon made it iconic. Starsky and Hutch found themselves condemned to the Gran Torino.

At the beginning the double inspectors’ Gran Torino was equipped with a V8 351 Windsor (5.8 liters) with 140 horsepower but quickly the production installed different motors even more powerful in order to improve the impression of the cars acceleration. They doubled the sound of the motor to accentuate the sportsy of this car rather common in Europe. Thanks to these few tricks a whole generation of children dreamed of the Gran Torino. Adults too since Ford came out in 1976 with a replica in a limited series : 1,305 examples with the code name PS122.

Today there are countless homemade replicas ; but the collection of Gran Torino is explained largely by Starsky et Hutch. The Gran Torino V8 Coupé can be negotiated around 6,000 euros according to LVA* but takes on value with a nice “stripped tomato” paint job. The holy graal is obviously to find a true PS122.

Firebird Transam Pontiac (Knight Rider)

Another American, normal since most significant series from the 70s and 80s came from the USA. The television series Knight Rider put to the screen an unlikely duo Michael Knight and KITT (Knight Industries Two Thousand) a car with an artificial intelligence and incredible performances (thanks to accelerated imaging).

From 1986 onwards France discovered David Hasselhoff in the role of Michael Knight and the 1982 Pontiac Firebird Transam in the role of KITT. If the futurist look (even if it was modified for the series especially the front) of the Transam went well with the idea of a high technology and powerful car, but the reality was quite different. The Firebird motor went from 4 cylinders of 90 horsepower, to the V6 of 112 horsepower, and finally the 5 liter V8 CFI with 175 horsepower. We are far from what the KITT inspires on screen, capable (from what its creators say) from 0 to the 100 kilometers in just 2 secondes.

The Firebird Pontiac is a typical sporty car from the 80s, after two oil crisis’, the motors had been re-evaluated downwards, while all was played on the studied aerodynamic line. Without any particular modification the Firebird Transam V8s cotation is around 8,500 euros in 2018 according to LVA*. Transformed into KITT it will have the value that you would give it. The French television presenter Vincent Perrot has a replica with the famous futurist interior with screens, boutons and the famous small steering wheel.

Ferrari 308 GTS (Magnum PI)

This is a double myth for one it’s a Ferrari and for two it’s the one that Magnum drove. Those are two reasons enough to collect it, without having to mention its line that takes the breath away, typical for Ferrari Berlinettas from the 70s till the end of the 80s.

At the beginning the Magnum PI series producers decided to use the Porsche 928 who we must admit it had much less charm then the 308. However the actors Tom Sellecks large size would have required modifications like making an opening roof which Porsche refused. Thus they chose a model that looks great from above. A GTS, the Targa version of the Ferrari 308.

The Ferrari 308 GTS is equipped (as its name suggests) with a 3 liter V8 that had 240 Horsepower. The GTS is not rare (3,219 examples without counting the 1,743 GTSi as well as 3,042 GTS QV) but finding one from the series becomes much more complicated. The “normal” GTSs price according to LVA* (2018) between 85,000 and 100,000 euros, on the other hand the true Ferrari used by the series production cost much more. In January 2017 one of the cars used during the 4th saison was judged to be worth 170,711 euros (Bonhams).

Mercedes R107 (Hart to hart)

In the USA the Mercedes R107 was a success symbol to the point that many télévision series used it for their successful characters : Rick Magnum’s friend and manager of the Kin Kamehameha Club, Bobby Ewing in Dallas and Jonathan and Jennifer in Hart to Hart.

This series that dated from the 1979 in the USA was a millionaire couple mixed up with criminal investigations. Jonathan Hart (played by Robert Wagner) who headed Hart industries with his independent journalist wife Jennifer (Stéphanie Powers) were symbols of   glamor and capitalistic American. Like all millionaires that take themselves seriously he had a certain number of cars : Aston Martin V8 Volante, Mercedes W123, Ferrari 246 GTS, Rolls Royce Corniche but also, and especially the famous R107.

During the first two saisons the couple used a 450 SL, which was then replaced in the third saison by a 380 SL. The two millionaires loved the colors of the times since their mercedes were yellow colored and sometimes even leaning towards mustard to heighten the effect.

To resemble Jonathan and Jennifer Hart you need to have a solid piggy bank : according to LVA* a 450 SL R107s cotation is around 45,000 euros (2018). In order to be as authentic as possible the hardest will be to find an American version and even more so with this particular yellow.

*LVA = “La Vie de l’auto” is a renowned French journal dedicated to old collection cars.

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