Part 2 of 2 The car is the star

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These four-wheeled superstars were just as famous as the stars who drove them

Courtesy of ReMIND Magazine

(Editor’s note: See last week’s issue for part one of this article.)

 When it comes to iconic TV cars, the General Lee barely needs an introduction. The Dukes of Hazzard’s (CBS, 1979-85) four-wheeled star was owned by moonshiner cousins Bo and Luke Duke, who were famous for scrambling in and out of the 1969 Dodge Charger through its windows (the race-ready ride’s doors were welded shut), hood-slidin’ for quick getaways and vaulting the orange marvel over all sorts of obstacles. Over the course of the show’s seven-year run, more than 300 General Lees — with “01” on their doors, a Confederate flag emblazoned on their roofs, and horns that played “Dixie” — were called into service. And as the show’s ratings soared and fans sought their very own ’69 Charger, the model became so rare that producers went car-spotting, leaving notes on suitable Chargers’ hoods begging their owners to sell. In 2007, a version of the General Lee owned by John Schneider (who played Bo Duke), augmented with autographs of all the living original cast members and crew, was auctioned off for just under $10 million. “In my wildest dreams, two people would get into a bidding war at about $2.5 million, and I would have been delighted with that,” said Schneider, who sold the car to finance a film project. “I’m three times as delighted as that now.”

But human TV stars didn’t always love their famous, four-wheeled counterparts. Starsky & Hutch producers wanted a stand-out car for their cutting-edge cop show, settling on a muscular Ford Gran Torino, then painting it vibrant red with a bold and angular white stripe. When the show debuted in 1975, the switchboard at Spelling-Goldberg Productions lit up, sealing the car’s fate as a TV star in its own right. As for its comical nickname, well, that came from an unimpressed Paul Michael Glaser, who played the car’s onscreen owner, David Starsky. “First of all I thought it was ugly,” Glaser grumped. “I thought it was ridiculous that undercover police guys would drive a striped tomato.”

Sometimes TV cars were intentionally more about kooky than cool. The Munsters (CBS, 1964-66) featured a comically creepy family that parked two tricked-out rides in the drive — both designed by genius car customizer George Barris, who also created memorable vehicles for The Beverly Hillbillies, Batman and Knight Rider. Towering, Frankensteinian Herman (Fred Gwynne) managed to fold himself nicely into the family-sized Koach that was made from three Model T bodies, while vampire Grandpa piloted the Drag-u-la hot rod that fittingly featured a coffin as its body.

Butch Patrick, who played Eddie Munster, said recently that he wasn’t allowed to drive either one until he returned to Universal Studios as an adult and got behind the wheel of the Koach — not realizing that the tires had very little air pressure and no screws holding them to the beam. “I goosed it, and the back two tires came off,” he laughed.

For Hillbillies’ backwoods-gone-Beverly-Hills Clampett clan (CBS, 1962-71), Barris was asked to design a vehicle that could hold the entire batch of bumpkins, plus their stuff. He found it in a 1921 Oldsmobile from which the rear half of the body had already been removed to create a kind of truck — a common modification for rural drivers at the time. Barris added a rear platform with a lady-friendly bench seat so Granny, Elly May and beloved bloodhound Duke enjoyed an unobstructed view. The Clampett car now resides at the Ralph Foster Museum on the campus of College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, MO.

But the most famous vehicle in all of TV and filmdom’s history is the ever-evolving Batmobile. For the ABC TV series Batman (1966-68), Barris bought a discarded 1955 Ford Lincoln Futura concept car for one dollar and spent about $15,000 to equip it with a Batphone, internal mounted rockets and other imaginative crime-fighting gadgets for the Dynamic Duo. The car paid Barris back handsomely: He sold the original Batmobile in 2013 for $4.6 million.

Holy profit, Batman!

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