Curbside TV – The Cars Of Mannix

I have always been a sucker for a good detective show on television.  One of my favorites from my youth is a show that seemed to never show up in reruns.  But recently, Mrs. JPC located Mannix on one of the obscure retro channels and added it to our DVR’s recording schedule.  The happy result is that we have been reliving a part of our childhood – only this time, in full color!  And as you might guess, the cars featured in the show’s long run are some of my favorite parts.

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Mike Connors starred as Joe Mannix, in a classic depiction of the old-school private eye.  The show had a very long run for its era, eight seasons that spanned 1967-75.  A veteran of the Korean conflict, Mannix was an honest tough guy.  The first season (1967-68) of the show had him working in a high price, high tech detective agency.   A high priced detective needed a car to go along with his station in life, so the natural choice would be a car that was unavailable to anyone else in the whole world: a 1967 Oldsmobile Toronado roadster.

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The Toro was the creation of George Barris who was well known for custom TV cars in the ’60s.  As an American high-tech riff on James Bond’s iconic Aston-Martin, the Toronado had a hidden gun compartment, a telephone, a short wave tranceiver and a tape recorder.  After all, a private eye in Los Angeles has little need for missile launchers or oil slicks.

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The first season of the show featured Joseph Campanella as Joe’s boss, Lou Wickersham.  As the owner of the high priced detective agency, his cars were a little more conservative.  He began the season with a beautiful dark green ’67 Continental . . .

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and ended it in a ’67 Imperial of the same color.  Many of the cars in the first part of the original season were ’67 FoMoCo products, but that would soon change.

Photo source: Hemmings Daily

 

The show didn’t get a lot of traction that first season.  One reason might be that Joe Mannix made a better everyman than high-tech-hero.  At the end of the first season the exclusive agency and the gray Toronado went away.  There is not a lot of info on this car.  Cars, actually, as it appears that Barris built one for close-ups and a second, less well equipped car for stunts.  One or both of these cars seem to still exist in some form.  According to Hemmings Daily one of the cars has lived in a couple of small museums devoted to TV cars and was scheduled for auction in September.  It is unclear which of the two cars this is.

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The second season (1968-69) found Joe self-employed as a private eye, housed in an exotic (at least to this midwestern kid) spanish-style building that combined home and office.  His car was downsized too, to the one that may be most closely associated with him: a 1968 Dodge Dart GTS convertible.  Although not as noticeably as the Toro, the Dart was also a Barris custom.  Though the basic 340/Torqueflite-powered car was not significantly altered, the car had two small hood scoops formed from the hood bulges of the stock car and a spoiler made for the rear.  Also added were Lucas Flamethrower headlights and a custom taillight panel.  Two small Barris Kustoms nameplates were affixed to the front fenders.

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While the car was pained red from the factory, the show’s producer preferred a non-stock variation of British racing green that was a semi-gloss so as to film better.  The car was also fitted with custom Rader wheels.  And Joe, having gotten accustomed to a telephone in his Toronado, was apparently unwilling to do without that very expensive convenience in his Dart.  The car-phone would be a fixture for the duration of the show.

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The third season (1969-70) brought a 1969 Dart that was made up to (mostly) copy the ’68, which continued to be used as the main workhorse car.  The wheels on the ’68 where changed to Cragers and both cars were seen in filming.  The side marker lights were unaltered on both cars so it is fairly easy to notice the round ones (on the ’68) and the rectangular ones (’69).  At the end of Season 3 the Dart convertibles went away.  The ’69 was sold but accidentally destroyed in transport while the ’68 was evidently sold to a secretary employed by the production company.  The ’68 was re-discovered years later and was restored.  Hemmings did a very good article on the Mannix Darts.

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Mannix continued to enjoy high ratings and Chrysler Corporation began to supply the show with Plymouth ‘Cuda convertibles beginning in season 4 (1970-71).  Just as with the Dart, the story with the ‘Cudas is a little more complicated than most realize.

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The initial 1970 car was a 340/Torqueflite unit painted in a similar dark green to the earlier Darts.  Season 5 (1971-72) saw three 1971 ‘Cudas (at least according to Wiki), a 340, 440 and 383.

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It got interesting when the next season (season 6, 1972-73) saw Joe in a ’72 ‘Cuda convertible – that’s right, the ‘Cuda convertible that Chrysler discontinued at the end of the 1971 model year.  The convertible must have been pretty important to the Mannix persona because Chrysler modified one of the earlier cars with a grille and taillights from a ’72 to create the illusion.

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It seems that about 1970 GM got a little product placement action in the show as well, as new Chevrolets began to crop up as cars driven by clients or as rentals when Joe was out of town.  This ’70 Monte Carlo is an example.

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Season 7 (1973-74) finally had Joe join the world that the rest of us were living in – a world where a guy could not drive into his local Mopar dealer and drive out in a new ragtop.  Mannix compensated by moving up to a ’74 Dodge Challenger hardtop that was quite well equipped, including a 360 V8 and the rare factory sunroof.  I noticed the sunroof in quite a few scenes, but it was always closed.  I suspect that filming with an open sunroof made for difficult lighting conditions, but this is just a guess.  I never saw a scene with the sunroof open.

The Challenger was also a Barris mild custom and are said to have included Cragar SS fifteen inch wheels and an upper body pinstripe.  However, the wheels on the pictured car appear to be stock Mopar.  There is little information on this car and I suspect that part of the Barris treatment was a custom shade of gray, which looks a bit more brown than the dark metallic gray that Chrysler offered at the time.  Or it could be an optical illusion cause by forty-something year old film.

 

The final season (Season 8 of 1974-75) saw Joe do what so many others did in those years – trade his Challenger in for a Chevrolet.  Although Joe seems to have been a bit indecisive.  The first couple of episodes showed Joe in a red Caprice convertible.  There is no picture of the Mannix Caprice online, but it was much like this one.  I wondered if the Mannix Caprice was one of the ones used on the Brady Bunch.  Robert Reed had a recurring role on Mannix as LAPD Detective Adam Tobias during the Brady Bunch run, and more than one Mannix episode featured the interior of the Brady Bunch house.  It seems that both shows were Paramount Television Productions, so the sharing of vehicles could have been possible.

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But Mannix just wasn’t a Caprice convertible guy.  A blue ’74 Camaro LT, turned out to be more his style.  Why Mannix defected changed from Chrysler to Chevrolet is not clear.  We know that Chrysler was in a bad way at the time and may well have opted out of providing the promotional cars for financial reasons, particularly since the series was getting old.  I believe that The Brady Bunch switched to Chevrolets around the same time.  Or perhaps the writers just couldn’t see Mannix in a ’75 Small Fury or Cordoba.  He could have gotten the jump on the future stars of Burn Notice by snagging one of the last of the Richard Petty-approved ’74 Chargers, but that didn’t happen for whatever reason.  But it is clear from the credits that vehicles were provided by Chevrolet in most of that final season, so the sponsorship undoubtedly dictated the change.

There is scant information on the Camaro, other than that it was evidently equipped with Z-28 wheels.  As to what might have happened to it (or to the Challenger, for that matter), your guess is as good as mine.  Did it slip anonymously back into Chevrolet’s promo fleet?  Is it sitting in an outbuilding somewhere in Oregon?  For whatever reason the poor Camaro seems to get no respect from fans of the show, who focus on the Mopar convertibles that Joe drove for so long.

Season 8 has brought out one other real oddity for someone who pays attention to the cars featured in TV shows.  At least two episodes of Season 8 (numbers 2 and 10) feature an automotive cast that is all Ford.  In both cases Joe is traveling.  His rental (in both shows) is a metallic lime ’74 Gran Torino.  There seems to be no shot of it online, but imagine the above car in . . .

. . . this delightful shade of Ford Light Atomic Bile Green.  There are Thunderbirds, Country Squires, Mustangs and F-series trucks prominently featured throughout the two shows but nary a Chevrolet to be seen in any scene of significance.  Yet Episode 2 credits vehicles to Chrysler and Episode 10 credits them to Chevrolet.  I cannot think of another show that did wholesale switches of vehicle suppliers during a season.  Was there some kind of backstage auction going on?  Did Chevrolet rent a batch of cars from Hertz?  Or maybe the producers borrowed a fleet from Quinn Martin?  Perhaps someone else knows more about this little bit of trivia that most normal people could not care less about.

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As a whole, the series is a delight for spotters of old cars.  Joe’s secretary Peggy (Gail Fisher, in one of the earliest long-running African-American characters on network TV) went through an interesting series including a Simca,

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a Valiant and a 1971 or 72 Plymouth Cricket.

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And the Mrs. and I discoverd one virtually ironclad rule of Mannix car casting – whenever you saw someone in a big Imperial (which was often) he (or she)  was almost always the bad guy.  Although some of the later shows let the important baddies be seen in a Mercedes 600 or in a Roller.

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The street and parking lot scenes were always a delight with lots of great stuff on display from that period of California’s streetscape.  The 1970 Dodge Coronet got a lot of exposure in the earlier seasons (driven by cops and low-level baddies).  These shows depict that era of in-use vehicles as well as any I have seen.

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Did you notice the car in the background of the prior picture?  After watching so many episodes, there was one car that became like the famous Alfred Hitchcock cameo shot in his movies.  This silver 1965 Pontiac GTO may have photobombed more Mannix street and parking lot scenes than any other.  Notable for its unusual color combination, this silver and black beauty stood out, proving to our younger readers that once upon a time a silver car was something unusual.  It may have appeared in every season of the show.

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Here it is again.  There are many, many more cars from the show on the Internet Movie Cars Database which can be viewed here.  For those of us here the show can almost be watched just for the street scenes.

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We started recording somewhere in the middle of Season 2 and watched through to the end.  We got lucky and the show started over with Season 1, allowing us to catch up on those we missed the first time through.  We are down to probably three or four that we have not yet seen.  We got doubly lucky when a DVR issue which resulted in the loss of several hours of recordings (thank you, Comcast) spared our Mannix lineup.  I am going to be sorry when we have watched the last episode.  Even after so many episodes watched, it remains a favorite of mine.  If you are into detective shows or into vintage car spotting, you will surely agree that Mannix is one of the great shows of its era.