I was like every other kid in the 1970s, in that I was in love with the Bandit’s Trans Am, the Duke boys’ Charger, the Monkees’ Dean Jeffries-modified Monkeemobile, Thomas Magnum’s 308 and Frank Bullitt’s Mustang. But if there was ever a hipster car fan, it was me, and since I consumed more television and movies in a week than my kids spend playing Angry Birds in a year, I was influenced by EVERYTHING.
The Rockford Files (1974 to 1980)
I still think The Rockford Files is the best TV detective show ever, mostly because Jimmy Rockford lives in a trailer with his dad. And while I loved Jim Rockford’s beat-to-shit Firebird Esprit, his dad, Rocky (played perfectly by Noah Beery, Jr.) , drove the coolest GMC K-15 pickup I ever saw. It made very few appearances on the show, but it stuck in my head forever.
White Lightning (1973)
“Only two things I’m scared of,” says Gator McClusky in White Lighting. “Women and the po-lice.”
Pretty much every movie Burt Reynolds ever appeared in made an influence on me in the 1970s. This one, and the next movie, were only eclipsed by the original Smokey and the Bandit.
White Lighting had cars in it, but they were nothing you’d ever think of as being “cool,” which still makes it feel more authentic to me. You can’t pack a lot of illegal hooch in a red Trans Am, and every revenuer in the county would know who you were and where you were going. Drive around in a turd brown LTD with a hot motor, though, and you’re in business.
Bo Hopkins appears as Roy Boone and drives the most unlikely cool car ever: A Mercury Monterey with a red stripe and “Rebel Roy” painted on the hood.
Hooper is the other Burt Reynolds movie that’s etched indelibly on my psyche. Unlike Smokey and the Bandit, Hooper didn’t have a single car that was inextricably linked to the plot (although a red Trans Am has a feature role.) It had a ton of cars since stunts were a big part of the plot, though. The one that always did it for me was Hooper’s K-15 Sierra Grande. I’m sure this truck, with its roll bar and KC Hi-Lites was the entire reason that Colt Seavers drove a GMC pickup in The Fall Guy, so I’m not the only one that was influenced by it.
Sometimes a Great Notion (1970)
Paul Newman was also in a lot of great car movies. I remember seeing part of Sometimes a Great Notion on TV38′s “The Movie Loft” way back in the 1970s sometime, and being transfixed by Paul Newman’s 1969 Blazer with the roof off.
I still love it because it was long before anybody ever thought of putting lift kits and big tires on a truck. It’s just a step above the 1966 Suburban that makes a bunch of appearances in the movie, too.
This one’s on Netflix streaming right now if you’re interested. It’s a fantastic movie with a great performance by a crotchety old Henry Fonda.
Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974)
I think Thunderbolt and Lightfoot must’ve been on “The Movie Loft” once every three weeks for 15 years. I’ve seen every frame of it probably 20 times. It’s the movie that Michael Cimino made before everybody thought he was the best director ever for The Deer Hunter, and the worst director ever for Heaven’s Gate.
It’s a terrific story, with a hilarious appearance by this 1973 Plymouth Fury Coupe. With super-long shackles and fat chrome reverse wheels in the back, I don’t think a Fury ever looked better.
The Eiger Sanction (1975)
Another great, largely forgotten Clint Eastwood movie, the Eiger Sanction had a quick scene with an awesome 1974 Baja Bronco, a truck I’d still love to own some day. I guess it’s safe to say that I enjoyed a lot of trucks in my formative years.
The Paul Lynde Show (1972 to 1973)
Yes, the center square had a television show. It was a singularly awful show that ran for 26 episodes on ABC. The show intro features a frustrated, super-flamboyant Paul Lynde driving a black 1973 Caprice Convertible.
Here’s the intro, if you’re interested:
Let’s be clear on this: when the Paul Lynde Show was on, I was between four and five years old. Nobody ever saw this show ever again, and I can think of maybe two people that ever remember its existence.
Thirty-five years later, this credit sequence made such an impression on me, I searched for it on YouTube, and found the credit sequence to prove to myself that I remembered it correctly.
Yes, I understand that there’s something wrong with me.