In television history, there have been many iconic characters.  Some of these characters have tugged at our heartstrings with harrowing dramatic stories, some have made us laugh out loud, and reality stars have made all of us shake our heads at their incredible and inappropriate antics.  The mark of a great television show is one that makes us invest our time in their characters and become emotionally involved in their lives for a half an hour to an hour every week.  A good character is missed when they’re gone; their defeats are sad and their triumphs are joyful. 

Sometimes the best characters in a television show aren’t the actors being paid to play their role.  Of course, they’re the focal point because they have the speaking roles, but every once in a while, their mode of transportation is the scene stealer.  In the seventies and eighties, there were a ton of shows where the cars featured heavily into the story lines, but that plot mechanism seems to have fallen by the wayside in recent years.  Perhaps, we’ve become fans of storylines that run deeper than dramatic car chases, or maybe we just haven’t seen a good one lately, but here are some of the best cars in television history.

  • Knightrider’s KITT – Kitt was made famous for not only being able to drive itself, but it could also sense danger, talk to the driver, Michael Knight, and was often instrumental in getting him out of some pretty intense situations. The base car was a 1982 Pontiac Trans Am that the production staff on the show decked out to make it the super car, known as KITT.  While this technology was highly desired in the eighties, the closest we got back then was being told that our “door was ajar”.  The technology of cars got better, but none have ever reached KITT’s capabilities, so therefore, he shall forever remain a favorite in the heart of both car fanatics and 80s kids that tuned in weekly to see what the crime-fighting duo would do together.
  • Dukes of Hazzard’s General Lee – The General Lee, a 1969 Dodge Charger, has caught a great deal of flack lately. This car, famous for its hood sliding capabilities and the welded shut doors was also adorned with the flag of the confederacy, now considered a highly insensitive symbol.  The 2005 movie made an awkward attempt to explain the Confederate flag, but most of the explanation was lost in the suck-fest that was that feature film.  However, whether loved or hated in this day and age, the General Lee was the car that many little boys fell asleep dreaming about as it was always getting the Duke boys out of some sticky situations.
  • The Ferraris of Magnum P.I. and Miami Vice – Back in the 80s, a formula for television was found to be quite successful so many programs used that similar design. For this reason, many shows in the eighties featured a tropical climate, fast and expensive cars, and crime fighting.  In Magnum, P.I., the setting was Hawaii, the car was a 1984 Ferrari 308 GTS, and the show followed the crime fighting antics of a retired military man turned private investigator.  Miami Vice centered around two vice cops called Crockett and Tubbs who dressed in flashy clothes and had strategically sculpted facial stubble.  The formula was completed with the addition of balmy and tropical Miami and a 1986 Ferrari Testarossa.
  • Tony Soprano’s Parade of Giant SUVS – In the first four seasons of the dramatic mafia centered show, the Sopranos, main character Tony’s burgundy 1999 Suburban should’ve been part of the cast. He was always using the vehicle to carry out his dastardly deeds, while still posing as the consummate Jersey family man.  In the fifth season, the Suburban was replaced with a black Cadillac Escalade that was totaled, and swapped out with a white one that Tony drove until the end of the series.  Certainly the Sopranos didn’t follow the crime-fighting formula that turns cars into characters, but Tony’s huge SUVs became part of the Sopranos landscape nonetheless.
  • Earl’s El Camino – My Name is Earl never got the attention it deserved as a piece of television history, but the 1973 El Camino that Jason Lee’s character Earl drove, lives in infamy. It was a pieced together mess of different colored vehicles, was pretty consistently being stolen by his ex-wife, and was occasionally used as a getaway vehicle in Earl’s pursuit of better karma.  In My Name is Earl, this vehicle was a character in and of itself, and will likely be less forgettable than critics felt this television show was.

In television history, there are many vehicles that are unforgettable.  There are cars that feature into the main plot on a regular basis, like the A-Team van and the Partridge Family bus.  For many viewers, these vehicles were part of the reason we continued to tune in on a weekly basis, and the storyline would’ve been considered incomplete without them.  Which cars drove their way into your television history?

Leave a Reply