Best TV cars ever

Best TV cars ever
18 Dec, 2013 8:00am

The best TV cars ever, voted for by you! We count-down the top 40

What’s the greatest TV car of all-time? We asked readers of Auto Express to vote for the most memorable models from the small screen, and now we have the answer. We drew up a shortlist of 40 classic cars from cartoons, comedies and crime capers to see which was the nation’s favourite.

And thousands of you voted for your top choice, too. So which came out as the winner? Could it be Basil Fawlty’s trusty Austin 1100, which came in for a severe beating with a branch after breaking down on the hapless hotelier? Or could it be the iconic black-and-red van used by the A-Team as it cracked down on dictators and criminal gangs? Or will a cartoon car come out top – the Flintstones’ foot-powered model or the hi-tech flying car used by Danger Mouse?

In this countdown we reveal where your favourite TV cars have ranked – and it seems the vehicles made famous on the box are as memorable as the classic scenes and characters. There are no losers in our list; just the cars that have left a bigger impression on you. In the end, the winner took an easy victory, recieving a substantial 15 per cent of the vote.

1. KITT - Knight Rider

Here is your winner – the car that could drive itself and talk to you. Based on a 1982 Pontiac Trans Am, KITT was the perfect companion for hi-tech crime fighter Michael Knight, played by David Hasselhoff. The black car was fitted with a turbo boost, armour and a scanner bar that allowed it to see. KITT even had a sense of smell and was fluent in several languages, and frequently got The Hoff out of tight situations. Clever tech on cars is commonplace now, but there is still nothing on the market quite like KITT. Perhaps that’s why you voted it the best TV car ever.

2. Dodge Charger - Dukes of Hazzard

This car had just about everything going for it, and perhaps the only surprise is that it doesn’t top our poll. The General Lee was the perfect vehicle for the Duke brothers to perform their high-octane chases and stunts, with its signature
horn, orange paintwork and welded shut doors. The Charger starred in all but one episode, although the same car never appeared twice. On average, more than one car was used per show, with producers getting through hundreds in six series.

3. Ferrari 308 GTB - Magnum PI

Just about screeching on to the podium in our poll is a car that often had to play second fiddle to a perfectly trimmed moustache. The semi-convertible Ferrari in Magnum PI had to be specially modified to accommodate the frame of lanky heartthrob Tom Selleck. Yet despite the alterations, the Targa-style top was very rarely up, as Selleck’s head was still
above the windscreen header rail. The light-hearted private investigator series ran for eight years during the eighties, and throughout that time only three 308s were used for filming the show. All three were auctioned off when the programme ended in 1988.

4. Audi Quattro -Ashes to Ashes 

"Fire up the Quattro” were the immortal words barked by DCI Gene Hunt to cement the Audi’s place in the top five. The eighties car, famed more for its rallying prowess, gained a whole new following when it appeared in the BBC crime drama. The car helped the show transport viewers back in time, just as its predecessor Life on Mars had. Yet while the series is set in 1981, the car used is actually a red 1983 model. Hunt’s Quattro gets crashed in a stunt jump and shot-up in the finale, although the original remains intact with the BBC.

5. Ferrari Testarossa - Miami Vice

If you’re an undercover cop chasing criminals in the Miami sun, you’re going to need a fast car. For Crockett and Tubbs, it could only be a Ferrari. While they also drove a Daytona Spider in the show, it was the Testarossa that stole viewers’ hearts. The crisp white Ferrari was the ideal car for Don Johnson’s Crockett, who was undercover as a high-roller drug dealer. The Testarossa now lives in the Fort Lauderdale Swap Shop after it was bought from NBC for $750,000 (£450,000).

6. Volvo P1800 - The Saint

Think cars and Roger Moore, and 007’s glamorous wheels probably spring to mind. But fans of sixties TV show The Saint will pick out the white Volvo P1800 Moore drove as Simon Templar in the original spy thriller series. Moore fell in love with the P1800 just as much as the audience, and bought one for himself. The car debuted at 1961’s Geneva Motor Show, alongside the Jaguar E-Type, which the producers were keen to get on the show. Yet Jaguar refused to supply a car for the series, leaving the door open for Volvo.

7. Reliant Regal Van - Only Fools and Horses

Del's three-wheeler is certainly not the most glamorous choice of wheels, but it’s still the top British car in our poll. The yellow van, emblazoned with the logo of Trotters Independent Traders, was the ‘office’ of Del and Rodney. When not transporting dodgy goods, the Reliant was often at the centre of gags, including a blow-up doll incident and the classic moment in which the brothers emerge dressed as Batman and Robin.

8. Ford Gran Torino - Starsky and Hutch

The ‘Striped Tomato’ Gran Torino was even more recognisable than Starsky’s knitted cardigan and the TV pair’s trademark bonnet slide. The big Ford was often seen blazing around the streets of the fictional Bay City, California, collecting more than its fair share of bumps and bruises. Actor Paul Michael Glaser (Starsky) reportedly hated the Torino and made sure he mistreated it during stunts where possible. When the show was cancelled, the cars were returned to Ford before being sold off at auction.

9. Ford Capri - The Professionals

High-speed chases were one of the main attractions in The Professionals, and the Ford Capri proved the perfect car. Main characters Bodie and Doyle often used the Capri MkIII 3.0 S during pursuits for the fictional secret agency CI5. The V6s made the Capris ideal for sideways action as they chased the bad guys, although Doyle also used the rally-bred Escort RS2000 in some episodes. Other Fords driven in the show included the Cortina and Granada Ghia, while early episodes starred British Leyland cars, such as the Triumph Dolomite Sprint.

10. Ford Futura Batmobile - Batman

The distinctive black Batmobile, with its bright red trim, wowed fans when it hit the screens in 1966. Although the final car was a customised version of a one-off 1955 Lincoln Futura concept car, the Batmobile was originally going to be based on a 1959 Cadillac. But producers decided they wanted a faster Batmobile, so the Futura was converted in just three weeks. Batman’s trusty car featured a cable cutter blade, a bat ray projector, tyres that could reinflate automatically and the ability to dispense bat smoke.

11. Lady Penelope's Rolls-Royce - Thunderbirds

Possibly one of the most distinctive Rolls-Royces ever created, Lady Penelope's pink limousine from hit puppet show Thunderbirds came with all the luxuries an aristocrat could need, plus a little more besides... 

The six-wheeled car features a sliding roof for open-air motoring, as well as machine guns in the front grille, bulletproof glass and water skis for travel on water. Of course, Lady Penelope never drove the car herself, instead leaving truster butler Parker to take the wheel.

12. Mini - Mr Bean

The Mini 1000 driven by Rowan Atkinson’s bumbling character in the British comedy certainly saw it all. Whether it was Mr Bean getting undressed in it or having an armchair strapped to its roof, the Mini struggled through all sorts of capers. It started its life as an orange 1969 MkII, but this was destroyed at the end of the first episode. From then on, Mr Bean drove a green 1976 model with a matt black bonnet. A replica is currently on display at the National Motor Museum in Beaulieu, Hampshire.

13. Panthermobile - The Pink Panther

Despite a weird anteater design, the Panthermobile was an instant hit with fans of the sixties animation. The sleek car features in the opening credits as The Pink Panther and The Inspector arrive at the theatre, driven by their child chauffeur. An F1-style open-air single-seater cockpit is teamed with a luxurious passenger compartment to make this unique machine. The creator of the car, Jay Ohrberg, also worked on the Back to the Future DeLorean and several Batmobiles.

14. GMC Endura Van - The A-Team

This legendary eighties action series had it all, from great catchphrases to an instantly recognisable theme tune. It even featured a vehicle fit for bedroom-wall posters. When you saw BA Baracus’ butch black van with its famous red stripe hurtling down the road, you knew things were about to get serious. A common mistake that even features in some toy models of the van is that its livery is all black. In fact,the section above the red stripe was dark metallic grey.

15. Jaguar MkII - Inspector Morse

This quintessentially British car belonged to iconic TV detective Chief Inspector Morse. The 1960 Jaguar featured in all 33 episodes of the hit programme, right up until the final show aired in 2000. The original novels by Colin Dexter have Morse driving a Lancia, but actor John Thaw, who became synonymous with the role of Morse, insisted his character drive a British car on TV. Over the past decade, the famous Jaguar used in the show has undergone a ground-up restoration and went under the hammer at auction around five years ago for more than £100,000.

16. Lotus Seven - The Prisoner

This cult sixties drama combined the world of espionage with science fiction, and ran for just 17 episodes. But the distinctive green and yellow Lotus Seven sports car is seen racing through London in the opening credits of each one. Like every spy drama hero, The Prisoner – also known as Number Six and played by Patrick McGoohan – needed a flash car, and the lightweight Seven was an ideal fit. It made quite a splash in our poll, too. While screen time was limited to the credits and the odd scene in a few episodes, it’s finished a respectable 16th. The registration plate of the Lotus used for filming – KAR 120C – is now owned by Caterham Cars.

17. Ford Cortina - Life on Mars

Retro crime drama Life on Mars brought flares back to life and –almost – made the seventies cool all over again. At the heart of this revival was DCI Gene Hunt gunning his Ford Cortina at breakneck speed around the streets of Manchester. Even though the series was originally set in 1973 (or possibly lead character Sam Tyler’s head), the car was actually a 1974 2000E model with a different dashboard inside. The car used in the second series was eventually auctioned off in aid of Comic Relief for £10,000.

18. Jaguar E-Type - Mad Men

When this period drama series premiered in 2007, people fell back in love with the fifties and sixties and everything that came with it – the clothes, cars and music. And nothing portrays the classy, stylish nature of the advertising agency show than Don Draper’s bright red Jaguar E-Type. The stunning, iconic British sports car changed the way the world saw performance motoring when it came out in the sixties and often tops polls of best-looking cars. So although it played a minimal role in the Mad Men series, we weren’t surprised it still made our list.

19. Royal Mail van - Postman Pat

The red postal van driven by children’s favourite Postman Pat and his faithful cat Jess first appeared on our screens in 1981. Delivering post and parcels along with a side order of cheerful chat from driver Pat, the van became a popular
sight in the fictional village of Greendale and nearby town of Pencaster. The van underwent a redesign in 2000, when Royal Mail withdrew permission for the programme to use its logo, as it no longer fitted in with its corporate image. This forced Pat to be ‘promoted’ to a new Special Delivery Service company for his next round.

20. Triumph Dolomite Sprint - The Professionals

While the Ford Capri is the most famous car to be used in The Professionals, plenty of you seem to have fond memories of the little Triumph from the first series. Former paratrooper and CI5 member Bodie drove the Dolomite Sprint in the popular British crime action show, which first hit our screens way back in 1977. But the car only lasted for one series – a deal with Ford put paid to its future in The Professionals, and also prevented it finishing higher up our chart. Yet despite Triumph’s poor reputation for reliability, the car was on the road as recently as 2009. So next time you see an off-white Sprint driving around, it might be this one.

21. Pontiac Aztek - Breaking Bad

You wouldn’t normally expect to see it on someone’s dream car list, but the green Pontiac found fame as the car driven by Walter White in the cult TV series. The 2004 model with faded paint and a missing alloy wasn’t shown much love by its driver and in its final episode the Aztek is sold for just $50. However, in the real world the heavily damaged crash double used in filming was sold at auction for almost $8,000 (£4,800) back in October.

22. Canyonero - The Simpsons

This huge red fictional SUV shot to notoriety in the cartoon when Krusty the Clown advertised it during an episode in 1998. The car parodied the increasingly enormous SUVs popular in the US in the late nineties, while the advertising jingle accompanying Krusty’s commercial was a send-up of Ford ads from the same time. According to the lyrics, the car weighed 65 tonnes, was two lanes wide and could hold 35 passengers. It also claimed that it went slow even with the hammer down.

23. Pontiac Firebird Esprit -The Rockford Files

The sight of the popular Pontiac performing a daring J-turn in high-speed chase sequences became familiar to viewers of the seventies US drama. LA-based private investigator Jim Rockford – played by James Garner – got a new model of the Firebird each year the series aired, but the ‘copper mist’ colour remained. Yet even though the show ran until 1980, the Firebird wasn’t used past 1978 models, reportedly because Garner didn’t like the look of the 1979 generation. While the car had an engine from the high-spec Formula versions of the Firebird, the interior and design was in a lower trim to fit Rockford’s down-on-his-luck image.

24. Flintstones car - The Flintstones

While this stone-and-wood creation is a far cry from the carbon fibre and lightweight aluminium vehicles of today, Fred’s famous foot-powered car still makes an appearance in our list. The car was a prominent feature in the show, which ran for six series between 1960 and 1966. It dealt with everything the Flintstone family could throw at it – including toppling over with the weight of Fred’s dinner in the opening credits. It’s often seen screeching to halt with a bedraggled Barney and Fred tumbling out of it into the latest disaster in Bedrock.

25. Coyote X - Hardcastle and McCormick

The custom-built Coyote X was driven by Mark ‘Skid’ McCormick as he teamed up with judge Milton Hardcastle to hunt down thieves in the eighties action series. Judge Hardcastle handed former racer and car thief McCormick his freedom in return for helping him to track down criminals who had cheated justice. To do that, McCormick used a unique sports car based on a McLaren M6GT Le Mans racer body, but made using a Volkswagen Beetle chassis and fitted with the engine from a Porsche 914. For the second and third series, a new car was built, based on a DeLorean DMC-12 as actor Brian Keith (who played Hardcastle) had difficulty getting in and out of the original.

26. Rover 800 - I’m Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge chose a beige Rover 800 to show how high he was climbing the BBC ladder. But things soon turned sour. As Partridge attempts to get a second series of his TV chat show, a vandal spray-paints an offensive slogan on the side of the car the night before a big BBC meeting. With no time to get a proper fix, he turns to Geordie mate Michael to help him get rid of the graffiti. Unfortunately, all Michael can do is change the phrase to “Cook, pass, Babtridge”. 

27. Mystery Machine - Scooby Doo

The Mystery Machine is an iconic symbol of the Scooby Doo franchise. It has featured in different forms through the various versions of the long-running show, ferrying the Mystery Inc. team from one whodunnit riddle to the next. With its psychedelic colour scheme and painted-on flowers, the van takes its inspiration from the hippy movement of the late sixties – the first episode was broadcast in 1969. Although not based on one particular van, the cartoon version resembles a Ford Econoline, while many fan-made replicas are based on Volkswagen Transporters. 

28. Jaguar XJS - Return of the Saint

A must-have accessory for any self-respecting debonair gent in the seventies, the Jaguar XJS in Return of the Saint was almost an extension of character Simon Templar, as it appeared in all but four episodes over two series. Jaguar was keen to take advantage of the publicity and gave show producers a V12-engined prototype, having previously turned down a request to use an E-Type in the preceding TV series, The Saint. But Jaguar still only supplied one car, and extra models had to be borrowed from dealers. You can spot the differences between cars – such as a sunroof – if you have a sharp enough eye.

29. Volkswagen Camper - Lost

Never underestimate the lengths some people will go to in order to bring a VW Camper back to life. Even so, the resurrection of the Type 2 Bay Window in TV show Lost is one of the more extreme examples. The VW is found and recovered by long-running character Hugo ‘Hurley’ Reyes, tangled up in ivy in the jungle. It’s soon spruced up and coaxed back into life after a rolling bump-start. The van used in the show sold for an eye-watering $47,500 (£29,000) at auction in 2010.

30. Austin 1100 Countryman - Fawlty Towers

The episode of Fawlty Towers in which the Austin 1100 featured has become one of the most celebrated moments in motoring-related TV history. Basil Fawlty tries to fix a fault on the car himself instead of resorting to a mechanic – a decision that soon proves to be disastrous. The car breaks down while Basil is rushing about and preparing for a gourmet evening, leaving duck “off the menu”. The iconic moment comes as Basil gives the broken down Countryman a “damn good thrashing” with a large branch.

31. Beach Buggy - The Banana Splits

Each of the four characters in sixties TV show The Banana Splits had its own buggy, and every one was customised to match its driver. From a fluffy tail for Fleegle the Beagle to a snazzy pair of glasses for Snorky the elephant, each Buggy was tricked out as they zoomed about. The buggies had real off-road cred, too, as they were based on the six-wheel Amphicat, meaning the musical Hanna-Barbera creations could have indulged in proper mud-plugging, had they wanted to.

32. Rover P6 - The Gaffer

At the helm of a struggling engineering company, Fred Moffat was determined to avoid all those who demand money from him in The Gaffer – and that included anything to do with his car. Fred’s rusty and beaten up Rover P6 was a reflection of his penny-pinching mindset, as the battered old car struggled around the gritty West Yorkshire streets in which this occasionally dark sitcom was set. The P6 was more often than not seen littered with unpaid parking tickets all over the dash and back seats as Moffat continued to struggle through hard times.

33. GMC K-2500 - The Fall Guy

What has four-wheel drive and flies? This fearless GMC pick-up, of course – it featured prominently throughout The Fall Guy over five series. The main character, Colt Seavers, plays a Hollywood stuntman in the hit show, using his film set experience to double up as a bounty hunter and catch the bad guys in his two-tone brown GMC pick-up. The truck was a K-2500 Wideside made in 1982, while a similar model built in 1980 was also used for filming.

34. Volvo 740 - Luther

Detective Chief Inspector John Luther drove a Volvo 240 in the first season of the show, but in a sideways move opted
for a 1990 740 for the second series. The 740 offered plenty of space and better performance than the older 240,
so would have made an excellent cop car. It was also well built and – being a Volvo – reliable and safe. It perhaps wasn’t as glamorous as the rides of other fictional detectives, yet it seemed right for a man who doesn’t care about style, but merely wants a car that’ll get him around – and fit his large frame – quite comfortably.

35. Flying Car - Danger Mouse

You'd expect nothing less than a seriously hi-tech car for the self-styled “greatest secret agent in the world”, and Danger Mouse’s wheels certainly delivered on that front. DM’s car had a videophone that would allow the show’s hero to talk to his boss, Colonel K. It could also drive up vertical walls and even had the ability to fly via telescopic wings. It looked great, too, as the boxy rear end and angled front were pure eighties in concept. DM’s car was a classic. The only problem was it was so small it could fit on a manhole cover.

36. Triumph Roadster - Bergerac

Detective Sergeant Jim Bergerac drove a burgundy 1947 Triumph Roadster around Jersey for nine series in the eighties. You might think that the island’s blanket 40mph speed limit would make a sports car an odd choice of transport, but the Triumph only had 65bhp, so was hardly held back by the low speed limit. The heavy steering must have been a chore around the winding country roads, though. The Roadster’s body was aluminium, as steel was in short supply just after the war. Quirky features include a dickey seat (that pops out of the boot to make a four-seater) and, unusually, three windscreen wipers.

37. Munster Koach - The Munsters

The predictably outlandish Munster Koach was built by stitching together three Ford Model T chassis to create a true Frankenstein’s monster of a car. It also included a hearse in the main section – perfect for carrying around a family of middle-class monsters. They certainly stood out from the rest of the neighbourhood, too. The car is 18 feet long, has a blood-red interior and is painted black. It appeared in 20 episodes of The Munsters, alongside the Drag-U-La – a sports car built from a coffin.

38. Rolls-Royce Landaulette - The Darling Buds of May

Pop Larkin, patriarch of the Larkin family, owned this stunning yellow 1926 Rolls Royce Landaulette. And although Pop never had permanent employment, he somehow managed to afford to take the family on holidays and send the children to boarding school, as well as keeping his thirsty Rolls-Royce running. The venerable luxury motor had a body similar to a traditional limousine’s, but with a convertible roof covering the passenger section – the driver’s section could be either hard-top or convertible.

39. Monkeemobile - The Monkees

Popular sixties band and mischief makers The Monkees drove around in their very own Monkeemobile. This was a spacious, modified Pontiac GTO that would provide plenty of room to cart around the band, their kit and anyone else who needed a ride. Some of the adaptations on the cherry-red car included four bucket seats, a T-bucket style convertible top, exaggerated rear lights and an added third-row bench seat, plus a rear-mounted parachute. The 40-year-old car was recently sold to a Michigan collector for $500,000 (£307,000).

40. Cadillac Escalade - The Sopranos

This is surely an ideal car for any aspiring mobster. There’s plenty of room in the back to hide dead bodies, plus its bulk and intimidating image make it the perfect vehicle for an organised crime kingpin and his “family”. Throughout the six-season run of The Sopranos, mob leader Tony Soprano favoured Cadillacs, but it wasn’t until the fifth season that his black Escalade SUV appeared. That car was written off after an accident, and replaced with a white one that stayed until the show ended in 2007.

Disqus - noscript

How come Morse's Jag gets 11th & 15th places?

And where is Steed's Bentley?

Quality editing?

Wooops!!!! You forgot Roger Moore's Aston Martin DBS and Tony Curtis's Ferrari Dino in THE PERSUADERS! They should have been in the top ten!!!!!!

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