Curbside Cinema: The Rockford Files

Rockford’s 1974 Pontiac Firebird Esprit


(first posted 1/1/2013)    The Rockford Files ran between September of 1974 and January 1980. Jim Rockford ran his private detective business from his house trailer on the beach in Malibu, California, and pursued bad guys in his gold Firebird Esprit with a tan interior. Throughout its run, Rockford starred the engaging James Garner, and he always drove a gold Firebird with a tan interior.

1977 Pontiac Firebird Esprit


Although Rockford drove a new Firebird in each season, there were essentially only two different styles—the 1974-76 dual headlight design, and the 1977-78 four headlight design. Garner thought the ’79-80 Firebirds were too ugly to feature on the program. An observant fan of the program and of Firebirds can often detect both styles used in the same scene. The program was said to have been very expensive to produce, both for its extensive use of location filming and probably for the large number of cars Rockford ran through. Those Firebirds must have been extraordinary cars with the ability to self-heal running gear and body damage, sometimes within minutes.

Opening credits AMC Matador cop car


With so much location shooting, a lot of mid-seventies (and earlier) cars can be seen in abundance in every episode. The opening credits always feature an LAPD AMC Matador cop car.

1963 Bullet Bird, a Rivi and a big Poncho


James Garner was a car guy and did all of his own stunt driving. His most famous move was his  “J-Turn”, a tire smoking 180-degree change of direction. One would have to say that this stunt was directly inspired by Junior Johnson and his fellow moonshiners. I can’t help feel that being a car guy that Garner influenced his production company (Cherokee Productions) to use certain cars as incidental decoration. The ’63 Bullet Bird pulls frequent cameo duty, as do a number of other cars.

Trifecta: 1960 Chevy, Bug convertible, and a Caddy


Unfortunately, this ’60 Chevy appeared in only one episode-the first. I’d love to know more about those red wheels. Directly behind the Chevy is Lindsay Wagner in a green Bug convertible, with a big fat Caddy across the street. Got to give it to Garner—he liked interesting cars and good looking women.

Mid-‘70s Eldo


The bad guys in Rockford generally drive Rolls Royces or Mercedes. In this rare instance the baddie is driving a big red Eldo.

Carefully arranged location shooting


In the above shot, what appears to be everyday LA traffic has a number of cars that Cherokee Productions called upon for frequent appearances, to wit: the red Karmann Ghia; the silver Audi 100 in front of the Eldo; and the silver Vega. In fact, the GMC Fishbowl bus and Ford Country Squier may also have been part of the cast.

Immaculate chrome and paint on a Fishbowl


Although GMC fishbowls were still in production in 1974, this particular bus is sporting an awfully shiny and un-dented front bumper that just reeks Central Casting.

SOCAL street scene-no two alike


The above shot with Lindsay Wagner driving a green Bug will give some indication of the wide variety of vehicles that populate the typical episode: Opel GT; Buick station wagon; a ’65 Plymouth Fury sedan; Dodge Tradesman van; and a ’64 Chevy Impala 4-dr hardtop. Eye candy in every episode.

This will not end well


It must be an unwritten rule in Hollywood that car chases must include plenty of gravity-defying leaps. Of course, the car is always shown driving off into the sunset, which makes one wonder. Did they use two identical cars or did they film the post-jump scenes first? Regardless, the Pontiac shown in mid-air shortly will become a steaming pile of junk once it lands.

Two deadly sins


I love this shot—two of the worst cars ever made, a Vega and an Audi 100 LS. What are the odds that both of these excresences could be kept running long enough to complete a scene? Boggles the mind.

Lindsay Wagner and her green Beetle


Most of the screen shots in this post were taken from the first episode, but one recurring theme in Rockford is lots of interesting cars, both static and in motion. Every episode of Rockford is available on Netflix, or if you really have to have it, I’m sure Amazon has the complete DVD boxed set.


And then there was Kathryn Harrold, a clone of Ingrid Bergman. I am so in love!