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Starsky & Hutch’s 1974 Ford Gran Torino: Iconic cars from television and movies

In this week’s installment of famous classic cars, we feature the car used in the 1970’s television series Starsky & Hutch. 

Starsky & Hutch from the 1970's television series.







Starsky & Hutch was a popular television police serie that ran 92 episodes between 1975 and 1979, on ABC.   The show was created by William Blinn and produced by Spelling-Goldberg Productions.

The show mostly centered on the two police detectives tearing around the streets of a fictional “Bay City, California”.   In reality most of the series was shot on location in the Los Angeles beach community of San Pedro. The building that was used as the Metro Division police headquarters is now San Pedro’s City Hall.

The starring vehicle was Starsky’s two-door 1974 Ford Gran Torino.  Affectionately called the Striped Tomato in one episode, fans of the car still refer to it by that nickname as well.  The show’s main characters besides the car,  were David Michael Starsky, (Paul Michael Glaser) and Kenneth “Hutch” Hutchinson (David Soul).

But for Kanter-Car-Tales we are always just interested in the cars.  Unfortunately Paul Glaser took an immediate and pretty long-lasting dislike to the car.  Aaron Spelling introduced him to the car in the early stages of production.  Glaser’s relationship with the car was not what you’d call love at first sight.  The full on red car with mag wheels and white racing stripe seemed not very “undercover” detective- like for Paul.  Also it was rumored to be a continued annoyance as fans were always interested in more about the car than perhaps Paul’s character.

1974 Ford Grand Torino Starsky & Hutch
1974 Ford Torino from Starsky & Hutch.
Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Imperial Palace Auto Collections, Las Vegas NC
More about the Ford Torino(s) used in Starsky and Hutch

“Unlike the pilot-movie cars, the first-season Torinos had no body-side mouldings, but did have body-colored “sport” mirrors, and ‘brocade’ cloth split-bench seats. With the acquisition of the new cars, the producers took the opportunity to ‘improve’ the design of the white stripe painted on the cars. The original ‘pilot-movie’ cars had the bottom horizontal edge of the stripe about an inch or so above the mid-body character line that ran along the car, which was apparently done so that the section of the stripe that passes above the front wheel opening would not be ‘cut off’ by the wheel opening, but for the first-season cars, the bottom horizontal edge of the stripe was lowered until directly on the crease, which gave a more cohesive look to the design of the stripe. The section of stripe that runs across the front wheel opening was gradually curved up and around the opening. The stripe was also thicker on the roof section and whereas the front pointed section ended well behind the amber marker light on the pilot cars, the newer design had the point ending far ahead of it, on the front fascia piece. These new cars also featured the complete ‘bumper protection group’ option, which included horizontal black ‘rub-strips’ on both bumpers that were not included on the ‘pilot’ cars.

For the start of the second season, these were replaced by two 1976 Gran Torinos that had vinyl split-bench seats like the pilot episode cars. The new cars were ordered under Ford’s fleet program, which is what was required to get them painted in the previous year’s ‘Bright Red'(2B), as Ford used a different shade of red for new standard-order Torinos by this point.

These newer cars can be identified by their silver ‘sight shields’ (bumper filler panels) which Ford used on specially painted fleet-ordered cars. They also had the luxury chrome mirrors like one of the pilot cars. Even though the body-colored ‘sport’ mirrors were still a Torino option in 1976, they could not be installed on a fleet-ordered specialty-painted car, as Ford had no provision for producing those mirrors in anything other than the regular production colors listed for that year; since the 2B bright red was a special fleet-ordered color for the ’76 model year, the cars came equipped with the chrome mirrors. The body-side mouldings were installed on these cars and the stripe was, unlike the pilot cars, integrated with the mouldings.

They were powered by 460 Lima V8s (VIN code “A”), and Spelling-Goldberg kept these Torinos until production ceased. While these were the biggest, most powerful engines available from Ford at the time, they were still somewhat underpowered at 202 net horsepower (224 with factory optional dual exhausts, although the engine still produced abundant torque (pre-smog high compression 460s produced approximately 280 hp net). A third car, owned by 20th Century Fox and 351 Windsor powered, was used as the first backup to the Ford lease cars.

Over time, an unforeseen problem was discovered with the Torinos when they were used during stunt driving scenes. In sharp right-hand turns, Soul would sometimes slide accidentally across the vinyl bench into Glaser. Although a potential safety hazard at the time, the problem was solved by replacing the front bench of the number two Torino with bucket seats at Glaser and Soul’s request; Glaser said in 1999, “It took us a year to get them to put bucket seats in it so David wouldn’t slide all over the place whenever I took a corner.”

The aggressive stunt driving required of the show resulted in many accidents and fender-benders for the Torinos. The time demands of a weekly production mandated quick body and paint repairs so the cars could get ‘back to work’ as soon as possible, and many of the quick and often sloppy repairs are quite evident to eagle-eyed viewers of the show. The front fenders seemed to have taken a lot of abuse, and the ‘Gran Torino’ nameplates on the front fenders are missing in several episodes, as are the chrome wheelhouse moldings.

Towards the end of the four seasons of production, the Torinos were noticeably worse-for-wear, and close watchers of the later episodes will spot many dents and other damage on the cars as they appear in various episodes. In particular, the driver’s side quarter panel and tail-light area were seen to be smashed up in a couple of different 4th season episodes, and at least one of the cars was shown to have a dented and twisted front bumper along with some visible damage to the grille behind. The very last appearance of the Torino on the series seems to show that the driver’s door and window will not even close correctly, possibly due to the rigours and effects of the ‘spirited’ stunt driving the car suffered over the years.

Due to the success of S&H, in 1976 (the Torino’s final year) Ford released a limited edition (only 1,305 units total, plus three ‘pilot production’ cars) Starsky and Hutch replica Gran Torino. Manufactured at the Chicago plant, one of these code “PS 122” units was leased by Spelling-Goldberg from the middle of season two until the series’ end as a second backup for the main cars and was known simply as “Unit 129”. 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.


Resource:  Wikipedia.org (2015) Starsky & Hutch.  Retrieved January 27, 2015 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Starsky_%26_Hutch