The 1970s was an age of iconic TV cars. Every network had some take on the action TV series during this decade. ABC was the last into the field but made a mark for generations to come. Starsky and Hutch with its groovy opening introduced us to the famous “striped tomato” red and white Ford Gran Torino. The car is so pivotal to the series that its showing without a credit during the introduction to the show seems more like a character introduction than product placement.
We’re paying tribute to the Starsky and Hutch Ford Gran Torino with some facts about the show and the car(s) they used.
Originally, Starsky was slated to drive a Chevrolet Camaro convertible because creator William Blinn fondly remembered the green and white one he owned. However, when production started on the pilot episode, Ford Motor Company’s Studio-TV Car Loan Program was the lease supplier for the show’s producers. They looked at the lease stock and chose two 1975 351 Windsor V8-powered (VIN code “H”) “Bright Red” (paint code 2B) 2-door Gran Torinos. Both cars had a role in the pilot movie, one being Starsky’s car, and the other being a similar car which is mistaken for Starsky’s car by the film’s villains. They each had body-side moldings along with a black interior and vinyl bench seats. One of the pilot cars had luxury remote-control chrome mirrors installed, while the other pilot car had the cheaper, entry-level manual chrome mirrors. In the film, Starsky and Hutch are shown driving around in each of the two cars at different times.
The cars were custom painted (on top of the factory red paint color) with the distinctive white “vector” stripe designed by the transportation coordinator George Grenier. The rear ends were lifted by air shocks and had Ansen Sprint 5-slot mag wheels added with larger rear tires. The tires were mounted so only the black side would show, thus hiding any unauthorized branding. However, in one first-season episode (“Kill Huggy Bear”), a close-up shot of the villain cutting the rear brake lines shows “Firestone” on the inside-facing side of the tires say.
It’s reported that the original 2.75:1 ratio rear axle gearing (standard on non-police Torino’s from 1975 onward) was replaced with numerically higher ratio gears for better acceleration during stunt driving scenes. In a 1999 interview, Paul Michael Glaser (Starsky) said, “We finally had to get a new rear end put in it so that at zero to sixty it had some pop.” At least one of the second-season cars was known to have a Dymo label prominently attached to the dashboard which read “DO NOT EXCEED 50 MPH.” This was probably due to the fact that the revised gearing would cause the engine RPM to go to a higher level, possibly leading to engine damage.
Due to the success of S&H, in 1976 (the Torino’s final year) Ford released a limited-edition (only 1,305 total units, plus three pilot production cars) Starsky and Hutch replica Gran Torino. Manufactured at the Chicago plant, one of these units were leased by the producers from the middle of season two until the series’ end as a second backup for the main cars. It was originally equipped with a 351 Modified (also VIN code “H”), however, during filming, one of the stuntmen damaged the engine beyond repair, and it was replaced overnight with a 429 Lima V8.
During the final season of the show, The Dukes of Hazzard premiered on CBS, and one of the factory replicas was used in the first episode, “One Armed Bandits.” This was the only appearance of the Torino in the series, and many fans have speculated over its strange one-off appearance. One theory is that it was merely an in-joke, with the Torino’s former iconic car status now being taken over by the Dukes’ car “The General Lee.”
After Starsky and Hutch was canceled, the cars were returned to Ford’s Studio-TV Car Lease Program and sold at a Ford Motor Company auction to A.E. Barber Ford of Ventura, California. The first retail sale of Torino #1 was to a resident of Ojai, California; he owned it for one year, then sold it in a private sale to an Air Force officer who owned it for 17 years. In 1988, the car was purchased by an Ohio resident and sold in 2012 to Cars of the Stars Motor Museum in the United Kingdom. A few years later, the Torino was sold to Dezer Car Collection in Miami, Florida. Dezer sold the car in a private auction in January 2015 to a Texas collector. At the time, it was mostly unrestored and somewhat battered due to wear and tear from TV show filming and subsequent ownership. It still had its original 460 V8, interior, and paint, but Mickey Thompson valve covers and chrome air cleaner were added by the first owner. The Texas collector has since done a “sympathetic” frame-off restoration. Torino #2 is owned by a New Jersey man who supplied the main close-up Torino (featured on the movie posters) for 2004’s big-screen Starsky & Hutch movie.