Monday, 4 January 2016

Flashy Motors

Top Ten Eighties Crime Fighting Vehicles

After the whimsical sixties and the gritty seventies came the flashy eighties. Realism was out and flash was in. As ever the hero needed his car, not so much to prove his masculinity as to demonstrate his place in the social scale.

So it's Ray-Bans on and filofaxes at the ready as we count down the best crime fighting vehicles of the decade. 

10. The A Team GMC Van
Cool 2 Style 1 Performance 1 

Okay, so maybe it wasn't the the most stylish wheels to grace the TV, but then Mr T would look rather out of place stepping out of MG Midget. The A Team was a show for boys in which the titular laddish gang took on a different bunch of bad guys every week and, despite firing thousand of rounds of ammunition in their general direction, never actually manage to kill or injure anyone.

The van itself inspired thousands of second rate copies from thousands of second rate people, including the chap near me in Leicester who painted his old Bedford van up in imitation using Dulux emulsion paint. Classy. Not.

However credit to the A-Team, this is a surprisingly proletarian means of transport for the era of Thatcher and Reagan. Not that you can really make a case for the guys being a bunch of class warriors fighting Gordon Geckos of the time, but it's still different.

9. Knight Rider Pontiac Trans-Am.
Cool 1 Style 1 Performance 3

The car's styling is the worst of the eighties, and not really enhanced by the sort strobing red light on the front kids fit to their first Ford Fiesta to try to make it look 'cool'. The original Firebird had been an early muscle car, made famous by Burt Reynolds in Smokey and the Bandit, but for this version though the designers concentrated on handling and fuel economy, which is boring.

As the Knight Rider it was supposedly nuclear powered though, which makes it a low emissions vehicle, although on the downside if it was ever involved in an accident they'd have to evacuate California. The Firebird would get its mojo back in future evolutions whilst The Hoff would find fame hanging around with women in bikinis in Baywatch, but for a generation of small boys he'll always be Michael Knight.

8. The Bill Rover SD1 
Cool 1 Style 2 Performance 3

Over the 26 years it was on air the vehicles used by Sun Hill's finest varied from Austin Metros to BMW 5 series, but the one that sticks in the mind - because it was used in the original opening credits - is the Rover SD1 'jam butty car'.

Sun Hill only got the 2.6 litre version, but real cops got the V8, which combined US style grunt with UK style build quality, which could be an 'exciting' combination. Tony Pond rallied a Group A version with some success, although he is mainly remembered for crashing out on the first stage of the 1984 RAC Rally whilst sporting a - then very rare - in-car camera. That was basically the sort of luck this car had and so what could have been an early Sierra Cosworth is not remembered anything like as well as it should be.

7. Morse Jaguar Mark II
Cool 1 Style 3 Performance 2

You suspect Endeavour (yes, that was his first name) chose this for comfort rather than speed, probably because high speed car chases are a bit difficult after several pints of Real Ale. However in their day these cars were British Touring Car champions, unbeaten on the racing circuit - except by the occasional lucky Mini - until the Yanks brought over their Ford Galaxies.

Today however the cars project a sense of old world style and respectability, unlike in the sixties when they suggested gangsters or bank robbers. I have no idea where in Oxford Morse ever managed to park the thing, or whether the cooling system was ever up to gridlock at Botley Interchange, but the car is now very much associated with the city. In reality Oxford was where they made the Morris Minor, Maxi, Marina and Triumph Acclaim, so it could have been worse.

The Jaguar also pretty much defined the term 'practical classic' and whilst poor old Jim Bergerac had to struggle with an unreliable Triumph Roadster, with an overdubbed engine,  Endeavour had a vehicle that would usually at least get him to the scene of the crime.

6. Moonlighting BMW 635CSi
Cool 2 Style 4 Performance 4

A TV series that was all flash but still a lot of fun. Bruce Willis - yes that Bruce Willis - and the one and only Cybil Shepherd were in a show characterised by one liners and sexual tension. I can't remember a single bad guy they brought to justice, but the jokes were good.

The car was good too. I guess you can't do a eighties car list without including a Beamer, but this one had a genuine competition pedigree and a decent turn of speed. Unfortunately half way through the show's run BMW released the original M3 and after that nobody bothered with the sporty six series version any more. A pity because, although it was too big for rallying, on the circuits it was great and notched up a trio of European Touring Car titles. 

Alas it was still a BMW, and so no matter how witty you may be, if you drive one the jokes will always be about you.

5. The Equalizer Jaguar XJ6
Cool 2 Style 5 Performance 3

For me Edward Woodward will always be Callan, the world weary spy working for a ruthless spy agency. But in the 1980s he was Robert McCall, a world weary former spy now dabbling as a free lance private investigator and vigilante.

His XJ6 was certainly stylish, and reasonably quick, but I've always thought of Jaguars as reverse TARDISes - bigger on the outside than the inside. However it suited the premise of the character that he had a big car and a small gun (nudge nudge, oo-err madam) and McCall always used his superior skill and British pluck to take down New York's baddies. 

4. Hart to Hart Mercedes 450SL
Cool 2 Style 5 Performance 4

As further evidence that ordinary people were purged from the TV screens in the 1980s, I present Hart to Hart, a story of everyday millionaires who solve murders. Jonathan Hart's Ferrari 246 Dino would be a worthy number one in this list if it hadn't only appeared in the opening credits. Instead the usual vehicle of the Harts was a Mercedes 450 (later a 380) SL.

Despite Janis Joplin wanting one, Mercedes are hardly cool, although this one has some style. The car also has a rallying pedigree, winning a succession of African endurance events. They then signed World Champion Rally Driver Walter Rohrl and asked how good he could make the car in European rallies. He told them they could get sixth on the Monte - if they were lucky - and so they cancelled the program and sacked him. Honesty didn't really pay in the eighties. 

3. Miami Vice Ferrari 365 GTB/4
Cool 5 Style 5 Performance 3

This show was always more about style than substance: New Wave music, Armanni suits with t-shirts, loafers with no sock, designer stubble, and a Ferrari.

If this car had been real it would have been a winner. The last of the great front engined Ferraris, it looked, sounded and went like a dream. The premise was that the car had been seized from a drug baron by Vice Squad cops Crockett and Tubbs. As it was Ferrari wanted the real cops to seize the duos car as it was not a real Ferrari, but a replica based on Corvette and made without a license.

Ferrari eventually gave the producers a real Testerossa, on condition they destroyed the fake 365. The Testerossa was a decent machine, but it didn't have the style of the 365.

2. Ashes to Ashes Audi Quattro
Cool 5 Style 5 Performance 4 

Okay, this wasn't a real eighties TV series, but the Quattro was a real eighties car. Homologated in time for the 1981 rallying season, the Quattro bust onto the scene on the Monte and pulled away from the opposition at a rate of a minute a stage.

Turbo charged and four wheel drive at a time when the former was associated with Formula One and the latter with tractors, the Ur Quattro had both buckets of grunt and the traction to use it.  It was oversized and over-engineered by rally car standards, and you couldn't even do a handbrake turn, but on the road it was reliable and nimble enough to leave many pukka sports cars for dust even on dry gtarmac, and on gravel or snow it was untouchable.

The body was simply the existing Audi 80, but with bulbous wings and huge wheels it looked the part of the Teutonic monster it was.

1. Magnum PI Ferrari 308 GTS
Cool 5 style 5 Performance 5

Magnum was a Nam vet Private Detective living a dream life in Hawaii. Along with the house and the shirt, he also got the car.

The 308 was a cut price Ferrari for the austere seventies. Previous machines with the prancing horse logo had been the fastest things on the road, but the three litre 308 was in danger of being burnt off at the lights by a decent muscle car. On the other hand the car was practical, usable, looked divine and handled like a dream.

It was also a real rally car, the only Ferrari that ever was (unless you count the Tour de France or Targa Florio as rallies, which I don't). The special stage version was developed privately and had a decent turn of speed on tarmac, nearly winning the Tour de Corse a couple of times in the hands of Frenchman Jean Claude Andruet, but Italians being Italians they also rallied them on gravel. 

Magnum kept his on the black stuff, and living on a small island he had a lot of car for not very much road. But what a car. A worthy winner.

If you enjoyed this, check out my top ten crime fighting cars of the sixties and the seventies.


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  2. Beautiful collection of cars shown. I liked the trans am pontiac.