The FX television series Archer, which premiered in January 2010, has earned a well-deserved reputation for offbeat humor and clever plays on traditional spy movie themes. Less noticed by most viewers has been the variety of cars from multiple eras and countries that has appeared in the program. The time period of the show is intentionally vague, presenting a world in which there is still a Soviet Union and a KGB, complete with clothes and hairstyles from the 1960s, while mobile phones and laptop computers are ubiquitous and pop culture references are from the 2010s. This mishmash of decades, along with the globetrotting nature of the spy genre and the ability of animation to show anything, regardless of whether it can be achieved in the real world, has resulted in a range of automobiles that may be wider than anything ever seen before on television or in movies.
Cars are an important part of every spy movie, reflecting a character’s personality and often providing an important element of the plot. Archer follows this tradition and takes it further by building entire episodes around characters’ cars. The title character Sterling Archer is highly skilled, a star athlete, and widely recognized as the best spy in the world, yet crude and at times a bit of a simpleton. His choices in his personal cars reflect him: always a 1960s American muscle car. The peak vehicle for him is a 1970 Dodge Challenger-based spy car, and the plot of an entire episode revolves around this car.
Sterling Archer’s long-term ride is a perfect choice for his crazy adventures and often loutish behavior: a 1970 Chevrolet El Camino, apparently an SS396 with cowl induction. Its bed gives him plenty of space for weapons and ammunition, and when it is empty, the lightly loaded rear tires scream and smoke easily as he drives through the streets creating trouble. The ridicule of others who make constant comments about it does not matter to him.
Archer’s main foil and love interest, Lana Kane, is the character modeled closest after spy characters of the past. She is an updated version of Emma Peel of The Avengers – having a similar hairstyle and wardrobe as well as superior intellect and expertise in hand-to-hand combat. She therefore has a car synonymous with spy movies, an Aston Martin. The specific car is an unusual choice, a V8 Vantage from the 1970s or 1980s, a model that appeared in The Living Daylights with Timothy Dalton in 1987.
The best driver among the main characters turns out not to be superspy Sterling Archer or Lana Kane, but rather human resources manager Pam Poovey, a girl off of a farm who has a secret life away from work that includes underground drift racing. A Mazda RX-2 sedan in right hand drive is an inspired choice as the drift car of “Shiroi Kabocha,” the “White Shadow,” as she thinks the Japanese drift racing scene has nicknamed her.
Cars are central to the identity of Sterling Archer’s stepfather, a Cadillac dealer who goes by the name Ron Cadillac. His middle name should be 1967, because every Cadillac that appears in an episode that is associated with him is a 1967.
Sterling’s mother, Mallory Archer, owns and runs the spy agency, called ISIS – International Secret Intelligence Service. ISIS, headquartered in New York, is a government contractor in perpetual financial difficulty, constantly trying to find new high-paying private clients to keep itself solvent. Mallory has a history in espionage going back all the way to the OSS of the Second World War, which would make her almost 100 years old if the show’s time period is indeed today, another way that the program is intentionally loose with time. Although never seen behind the wheel of a car, she appears in some distinctive rides of her own. One is a 1942 Plymouth, a U.S. Army staff car from the Second World War, a throwback to the wartime years of her youth. How it appeared in Latin America (not Cuba) is a mystery.
Aside from that wartime classic, Mallory Archer rides only in the finest luxury cars, among them this 1970s Rolls Royce Silver Shadow limousine owned by her secretary, Cheryl Tunt. Cheryl inherited a billion dollars (or maybe only half a billion, it doesn’t really matter to her), heir to a railroad fortune unsubtly modeled on the Vanderbilt family. She sticks around as a lowly secretary only because she cannot think of anything else to do to fill her days other than tormenting her co-workers.
A creepy mystery character who may be a serial killer belongs in a van, and former Nazi scientist Doctor Krieger has one. It is a custom Chevrolet or GMC van straight out of the 1970s, complete with mural and porthole window.
An exceptionally nerdy character, on the other hand, presents a special challenge – what car will be distinctive, yet completely undesirable and viewed unfavorably by everyone in the audience? For company accountant Cyril Figgis, the answer is a Communist bloc car. He drives a Dacia 1300, a Romanian copy of the Renault 12. The grille and badge confirm it as a Dacia and not the Renault original. For an American audience, making the car a Renault would have been sufficient, but for European audiences with favorable views of Renault, making the car a Dacia ensures its low status. Thanks to the magic of animation, there was no need to find an actual Dacia in the United States to film this scene.
Episodes about overseas missions allow the animation artists to stretch their car inventory even further. The GAZ-24 Volga, the mainstay of Soviet officialdom during the Cold War, appears prominently in episodes set in the Soviet Union.
The Toyota Hi-Lux, that staple of militias and warlords around the world, of course makes an appearance. For an episode set in North Africa, the writers and artists reached back all the way to the 1969-72 Hi-Lux, a quirky choice compared to the far more familiar 1980s and 1990s versions seen in TV news reports from war zones worldwide.
When overseas and pursued by gunmen in a Hi-Lux, you cannot always be choosy about your ride, so a rusty Fiat 600 with a mismatched door and a broken headlight sometimes will have to do. This car is one of many European microcars that appear in episodes set outside of North America. The writers and artists clearly enjoy featuring tiny cars that most Americans have never seen and could never take seriously.
The artists clearly take seriously rendering cars and other vehicles accurately, even when few, if any, viewers would notice a difference, and the depictions of military vehicles that appear in some episodes set overseas highlight this attention to detail. Few viewers will know what a MAZ-543 is, and even fewer will know exactly what one looks like, but the artists of Archer rendered these mobile Scud launchers accurately.
At other times, the artists clearly are having fun with brief homages to famous cars of the past, sometimes more than one at the same time. Here, Lana Kane drives a Lotus 49, an innovative Colin Chapman-designed Formula One car that was the first to use the Ford Cosworth DFV four-valve V-8 engine and also was the first F1 World Championship winner (1968) to use the engine as a stressed member. The artists not only featured a Lotus 49 but also gave it Herbie the Love Bug livery, for no apparent reason other than that it would amuse them.
Returning from Europe to ISIS headquarters in New York City, we see another homage to a famous car of the past, this one as far from a race car as it can be – the red Ford F-1 pickup truck from Sanford and Son. Visible on screen for only a few seconds, it is a perfect example of the attitude toward cars shown in Archer: knowledgeable, with a truly global perspective, and above all, enthusiastic. It is one of the many classic car references in every episode that will keep experts watching closely.
Photos from imcdb.org