History Stories

From the Batmobile to Mr. Bean's Minis...from KITT to General Lee...here are some of the coolest, most memorable small-screen car stars.

The TV and auto industries have flourished side by side for 70 years, so it’s only natural that the vehicles driven by characters of the small screen are as etched in our memories as the costumes they wore and the places they called home. Here are a dozen celebrated TV rides that still get our motors racing.

’Munster Koach‘ Model-T Hot Rod/Hearse Hybrid

The Munsters

’The Munsters’ (1964-66)

Cannibalize parts from three Model Ts and one hearse, combine them in a creepy, kooky way and add details like casket handles, “blood-red” velvet upholstery and spider-web headlights, and you’ve got the Munster Koach, the ideal car for a spooky sitcom family whose patriarch worked in a funeral home and looked like Frankenstein. A creation of renowned Hollywood car customizer George Barris—who was given three weeks by the studio to make it—the 18-foot-long Koach nonetheless included many hand-formed elements, like the brass radiator and fenders. Powered by a 289 cu.-in. Ford Cobra V8 engine, the long, low-slung ride was a tight fit for star Fred Gwynne, who stood 7 feet tall in his Herman Munster costume. The seat cushion had to be removed for him to get behind the wheel.

’Batmobile’ Lincoln Futura Concept Car (1955)

The Batmobile

’Batman’ (1966-68)

Holy return on investment! Designed for the campy caped-crusader series, the “Batmobile” began life as a concept car built in Italy, based on a Lincoln Mark II. In 1965, Tinseltown customizer George Barris bought it for $1. That year, 20th Century Fox asked him to design Batman’s ride for its upcoming series—again giving him just a few weeks of turnaround time, according to Eric Seltzer, who operates 1966Batmobile.com. Barris made hundreds of modifications to the Futura, like those aluminum bat symbols bolted to the hubs and a steering wheel designed to resemble an airplane yoke. (West complained that the “U”-shape made the car too difficult to drive, so Barris replaced it with a stock wheel from a 1958 Edsel.) Sadly for the Spandex-clad stars Adam West and Burt Ward, the car never had any Bat Air Conditioning. In 1966, Barris’s shop, Barris Kustom City, took molds of the “#1 Batmobile” and created at least three replicas. In 2013, Barris sold the original for $4.6 million to an Arizona businessman. It changed hands again in 2016 for an undisclosed price.

READ MORE: 8 Heroes of American Hot Rodding

Volvo P1800 S (1962, 1964 and 1967)

The Saint

’The Saint’ (1962-69)

Before he was James Bond, Roger Moore was Simon Templar, the handsome rogue (with principles!) at the center of the British spy-thriller import, “The Saint.” The production primarily used three Volvo P1800 sports cars (Volvo’s famous foray into tail fin territory) during the series’ production. The first, a ’62 model built in the U.K., would be rediscovered on a North Wales farm in 1991 and eventually restored. Next came a ’64 1800 S, manufactured in Sweden. After Volvo updated the 1800 S design in 1965, the show shifted to the newer model after “blowing up” the Saint’s old one behind a hedge. That new ride was kitted out with an interior fan, for actors working under sizzling stage lights. Another became Moore’s personal ride—surprising, since the actor initially had his heart set on a Jaguar XK150 for Simon’s four-wheeled co-star. As Moore has recounted, Jaguar declined to supply one for the series, claiming the company didn’t need the publicity. “So,” Moore said, “our production manager showed me a picture from a motoring magazine of a P1800, and I thought: ‘Looks even better than the Jag.’”

Volkswagen T2A (model year between 1968 and 1972)

Lost

’Lost’ (2004-10)

When a blue-and-white VW Type 2 bus from the time-bending castaway show “Lost” hit the market in 2010, auction house Profiles in History expected it to fetch around $8,000. It sold for nearly six times that amount. The hit series had renewed interest in the former hippie-surfer ride, in part, by placing it at the center of one of the drama’s larger mysteries: How did the vans get onto this strange, off-grid island, and who was keeping them running? (Answer: the “DHARMA Initiative,” a mysterious 1970s-era research project, which used the vans to move people and supplies around the island.) One of the vans had been the site of an odd patricide involving toxic gas. On a brighter note, fans were thrilled when underdog Hurley (Jorge Garcia) jump-started a recalcitrant bus that then spontaneously played Three Dog Night’s “Shambala” on its 8-track player. The Disney Co. owns at least one of the DHARMA vans, which it has occasionally displayed at memorabilia expos.

Dodge Charger 'The General Lee' (1969)

Dukes of Hazzard

’The Dukes of Hazzard’  (1979-85)

There was only one self-assured way to get behind the wheel of your ’69 Charger if you were TV cousins Bo and Luke Duke: You would swing into the front seat of your muscle car (nicknamed “The General Lee”) by leaping over its welded-shut doors like gymnasts vaulting a pommel horse. The General was no slouch in the jumping department itself; according to Road & Track, the iconic opening-credits jump spanned 82 feet—achieved only after the back trunk was weighed down with cement so it wouldn’t be top heavy. Cast and crew have estimated that more than 300 ’68 and ’69 Chargers doubled as “The General,” over seven seasons. Stand-ins finally became so tough to source that Warner Bros. later subbed in revamped AMC Ambassadors and used radio-controlled miniatures for long-jump stunts in later years. Could General Lee make it on the small screen today, with a name paying homage to a Confederate hero? Doubtful. Golf pro Bubba Watson purchased “Lee 1,” the vehicle seen in the “Hazzard” intro, at auction in 2012 for $110,000. A few years later, he painted over the rebel flag on the hood of the V8-powered coupe, replacing it with Old Glory.

READ MORE: Beauty in the Beast: Which Classic Muscle Cars Are Most Iconic?

Mini (1969 and 1977)

Mr. Bean

’Mr. Bean’ (1990-95)

In the British TV series launched in 1990, Rowan Atkinson played a childlike but resourceful dimwit who had two friends: Teddy, a stuffed bear, who would be subject to offenses such as decapitation, and his Mini, which typically made out as poorly as Teddy. Bean’s original car, an orange 1969 BMC Morris Mini 1000 Mark 2, appeared to have been destroyed off screen in the pilot, though some Mini experts believe it survived and they’ve tracked down its location. Later, its replacement, a citron-green ’77 Leyland Mini 1000, was crushed by a tank. Only 15 episodes of the live show were made (a cartoon version followed), but the Mini plays a central role in many. In one episode, when Bean can’t fit an armchair in the car, he ties it to the roof, and drives the car from that perch, using a rope, some pails and a mop. In another, when he’s late to the dentist, he brushes his teeth while driving, leaning out the window to rinse with wiper fluid. (Fun fact: the fluid dispenser was too far in the center for the gag to work, so a new reservoir was drilled and plumbed to work.) Bean and his Minis have even appeared in two successful video game franchises: “Resident Evil 2,” and “Grand Theft Auto V,” in which players are asked to steal the Mini and take it to a nightclub.

Ferrari Daytona Spyder GTS/4 (1972)

Miami Vice

’Miami Vice’ (1984-90)

In the first two seasons of “Miami Vice,” super-smooth, fashion-forward detective Sonny Crockett (played by Don Johnson) drove a super-suave black Ferrari Daytona Spyder to render himself, er, inconspicuous as he went undercover in Miami’s high-flying drugs-and-prostitution scene. At least, that’s what audiences were meant to believe. The iconic Italian sports-car manufacturer had actually declined a request to provide authentic vehicles, so the production bought replicas built on top of a Corvette C3 chassis and modified with fiberglass body panels. Ferrari sued the replica builder over the Faux-raris, but offered “Vice” producers two free genuine Testarossas if they agreed to lose the imitation Spyders. So in season three’s opening episode, a missile took out the ersatz Daytona, explosively fulfilling the producers’ agreement with Ferrari. But because the episodes were re-ordered after shooting, viewers had a ghostly experience two months later, when the one originally slated as the opener finally aired—with the black Spyder appearing in a car chase.

Ford Gran Torino (1975)

Starsky & Hutch

’Starsky & Hutch’ (1975-79)

Talk about a high-speed tomato. The Ford Gran Torino, with its signature white vector stripes and muscle-bound 351 Windsor V8, was as much a star of the late-'70s series as its crime-fighting detectives, played by Paul Michael Glaser and David Soul. But the relationship between the three co-stars was tortured at best. Glaser, credited with giving the beast its lukewarm nickname, loathed the Torino because of its poor handling: “I vowed secretly to David that I was going to do everything in my power to destroy that car,” he said during a 1999 interview for a British documentary. Soul likely didn’t argue—he was frequently jostled during chase scenes, due to the slippery vinyl front bench, a problem later remedied when it was swapped for bucket seats. The series went through 10 Gran Torinos through its four-year run, and Ford eventually built 1,100 “Tomato” replica Gran Torinos for sale to the public, powered by the same chesty V8. When the series ended, the “Striped Tomato” did not rev quietly into that good night: One showed up on the pilot episode of the then-new 1979 program, “The Dukes of Hazzard.” And the Torino was introduced to a new generation in the 2004 Ben Stiller-Owen Wilson “S&H” film homage.

Mustang Cobra II (1976)

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’Charlie’s Angels’ (1976-81)

“Once upon a time, there were three little girls who went to the police academy”…and then got hired by a mysterious rich guy named Charlie, who sent them off to fight bad guys in three separate Ford cars. There was the orange Pinto driven by Kate Jackson’s Sabrina, the smart, practical Angel. And the hard-top yellow Mustang, driven by street-smart orphan Kelly Garrett (Jaclyn Smith). But the Angel ride that left the most lasting pop-culture impression was the super-sporty Mustang Cobra II driven by Jill Munroe (Farrah Fawcett) and, later, her sister Kris (Cheryl Ladd). With its hood scoop, front and rear spoilers, quarter-window louvers and wide blue racing stripe peeling across the top, it perfectly embodied the sisters’ spunky athleticism and visual flash. And it didn’t hurt that the young, male fans who tuned in to ogle leggy lady detectives with shampoo-commercial hair were likely to find the boss ride equally as sexy. Indeed, in 1976, the show’s popularity helped Ford sell upward of 25,000 Cobra II appearance package options, more than five times what it expected to move in a limited run that year, according to Mustang Monthly. The car’s appeal has endured: In 2013, GreenLight Collectibles released a successful die-cast miniature of Jill’s original Cobra II.

READ MORE: 50-Plus Years of Hollywood's Coolest Cars

Modified Kawasaki Z1 and KZ900 (1977-’83)

Chips

’CHiPs’ (1977-83)

During the entire run of “CHiPs,” the L.A. cop show centered around Officers Frank “Ponch” Poncherello (Erik Estrada) and Jon Baker (Larry Wilcox), neither policeman ever drew his weapon. Instead, “CHiPs” got all the freeway flash it needed from the stripped-down looks and steady power of Kawasaki muscle bikes—the Z1 or KZ900 and, later, the KZ1000. The police-specific Z1 C2 model used in the first two seasons came complete with crash bars and a windshield, while the later 1000 model could max out at 132 m.p.h. Wilcox knew his way around a motorcycle before he was cast, while Estrada had to get rider training at the California Highway Patrol Academy. In 1979, he was injured in an on-set accident, suffering eight broken ribs and a cracked sternum, caused when a camera vehicle braked quickly in front of him. (The studio’s apology? A $100,000 Rolls Royce Corniche.) Later on, life imitated art: Estrada became a full-time deputy sheriff in Virginia, then a reserve policeman in Idaho.

Pontiac Trans Am 'KITT' (1982)

car-week-knight-rider-GettyImages-138369151

’Knight Rider’ (1982-86)

We could all use a fast, flamboyant sidekick with a dry sense of humor. For crimefighter Michael Knight (played by a pre-“Baywatch” David Hasselhoff), that pal was KITT, a modified Pontiac Firebird Trans Am that did it all: fire rockets, sniff bombs, spray tear gas, “ski” on two wheels and even dispense money. Oh, and did we mention that it had artificial intelligence and could talk? Voiced by William Daniels, a.k.a. Dr. Mark Craig of of “St. Elsewhere,” KITT also sported a red scan bar peeking up from the front hood dubbed the “Anamorphic Equalizer,” which served as its “eyes,” pulsing when in surveillance mode. (Fun fact: It was modeled after the roving eye of the Cylons from “Battlestar Galactica,” also by show creator Glen A. Larson.) To make KITT appear to be driving itself, one version included controls in the passenger footwell, operated by a carefully hidden stuntman. Many of the nearly two dozen KITTs used for the 1982-86 series were obtained for the production after a train derailment damaged a shipment of Trans Ams enough to make them unsellable. And while most were destroyed after the show by virtue of an unusual pact between GM and Universal Studios, five or six are said to remain, most in the hands of private collectors.

GMC Vandura (1983)

The A-Team

’The A-Team’ (1983-87)

In the words of Sgt. Bosco “B.A.” Baracus: “I ain’t gettin’ on no plane.” And why would an aviation-averse Vietnam vet (played by Mr. T, adorned with beefy gold chains and a close-cropped mohawk) bother flying, when he could tool around in a customized GMC cargo van? From 1983-87, B.A.—short for “Bad Attitude”—and his ex-Special Forces mercenary pals would chase down bad guys, while simultaneously on the run from the U.S. government “for a crime they didn’t commit.” GM manufactured pretty much the same van for a quarter-century, though B.A., a master mechanic, tricked out his G-15 V8 with red stripes, a rooftop spoiler and mag wheels. Inside featured shag carpet, a custom gun-storage case holding a Ruger AC556 automatic rifle and a rotating array of tools of the trade, from surveillance equipment to disguises. Craig Baxley, an “A-Team” stuntman, says GMC supplied eight vans for the run—some for action sequences, others for “hero shots,” each with minor differences. One example: Continuity-minded viewers might notice the appearance, then disappearance, of a sun roof in the very same scene.

Watch iconic cars and breathtaking stunts during Car Week, kicking off with Evel Live 2 on Sunday, July 7 at 8ET/5PT.

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