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1978 Pontiac from The Rockford Files is one famous Firebird


#1

Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, James Garner: Hollywood’s original holy trinity of car guys. Each of them owned and drove great cars, and equally proved themselves to be highly talented racing car drivers at professional levels. Cars, and often motorcycles, worked their way into the plots and scripts of the movies and television shows made famous by each of them; McQueen was unforgettable for his serious car guy exploits in Bullitt and Le Mans; Newman really drove Indy cars at speed while shooting Winning, and later voiced the Doc Hudson character in Pixar’s Cars. James Garner proved himself a capable Formula 1 pilot in Grand Prix, and worked lots of motorized mayhem into his long running (1974–early 1980) TV detective show, The Rockford Files.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.hagerty.com/articles-videos/articles/2019/01/18/78-pontiac-firebird-from-rockford-files

#2

Just saw it sell for $115,500.00. Probably about 10x what it would sell for without the history. Really shows the allure of “provenance”.


#3

Back in that era, I handled entertainment-industry vehicle claims. Yup, those cars were insured against damage. (So were the Smokey & The Bandit cars I “handled”, but that’s another story…)
To be totally on-set accurate, the center vinyl insert of the side moldings needs to be removed, as that showed up as pink on film. (The side moldings were of the aluminum/vinyl insert type.) I remember seeing the cars at the Pontiac dealer whose bodyshop would preform repairs; as I recall there were 3 of them. One time, a front bumper cover had actually been stitched like a baseball glove to get the car through the episode.


#4

I had a chance to buy one of these Garner Firebirds many years ago but it had high miles and several owners so I passed. The big unanswered question here…The filming car ALWAYS wore the license plate CA. “853 OKG” . Was this a vanity plate meaning “OKG”= Oklahoma/Garner?" as has been written?
Not the same without this plate!!! (for Rockford Files Fans)
We used to practice "“Rockford’s” as well…fast in reverse and spin a 180 with continued momentum…LOTS of fun (in OTHER peoples cars!!)
Oh, and I have a gorgeous 1978 Trans Am!


#5

I was 19 or 20 and it was 1977 or 78 when I purchased from a friend of my mom’s a tired & beat up 1970 Firebird for $65.00 and after fixing it all up rather nicely for as little $$$ as possible for a quick sale, my friend & I would take it to the big parking lot’s of May Co or Valley Collage in the middle of the night and practice our Rockford turns for hours… It sold quickly and ended our fun times with that car.


#6

Very cool yet unsurprising story about the work-around needed for the chase scene car. Had a friend with a 79 Firebird with the weak motor and it couldn’t get out of its own way.

But not sure James Garner or Steve McQueen ever considered themselves racers at the professional level, more like hobbyists. And Paul Newman’s track record wasn’t exactly “highly skilled.” https://www.driverdb.com/drivers/paul-newman/


#7

I’m sure any one of them could have out driven any one of us but there’s always gotta be that one guy who has to be right and prove he knows more than the writer of the story.


#8

Yeah well I don’t claim to have “…proved myself to be a highly talented racing car driver at professional level…” so your ad hominem attack is meaningless.

Two out of three of the celebrities presented have no professional driving records. When the author imagines things differently, pointing that out is a legitimate observation.

If truth hurts you so much, keep in mind the whole comment section is full of guys who make a habit of sharp shooting even less significant details from automotive yesteryear that nobody else remembers. You’ll have a busy day down at the rest home complaining about all of them. Have fun.


#9

JWHAYTON
I never heard that was the reason for that plate but it’s a fascinating story. Was there any significance with the number 853?
Also, there are TV plates available on AMAZON and 853OKG is out of stock. The same store sells the plates from EMERGENCY! Adam -12 and both plates for the BULLITT chase.


#13

I’ve actually seen P.L. Newman race at Mid-Ohio in the late '70s early '80s. According to Wikipedea " He was a frequent competitor in SCCA events for the rest of the decade (the '70s), eventually winning four national championships. He later drove in the 1979 24 Hours of Le Mans in Dick Barbour’s Porsche 935 and finished in second place."
That was when he was in his 50s. I’d call that highly skilled.


#14

I’m not doubting that he had enough skill to qualify as an SCCA driver. I saw him race IMSA when I was a kid at Lime Rock CT in his Datsun. I’ve also seen Drew Bledsoe play quarterback while in the NFL, but guess what - Tom Brady was (and still is) light years better - in other words, highly talented.

Newman won two races, only one of which was an SCCA championship. Highly talented would be a win record more that like Newman’s co-driver at LeMans (Rolf Stommelen) who had over twice the wins Newman did, never mind way more pole positions and fastest laps. https://www.driverdb.com/drivers/rolf-stommelen/

While you’re over at Wikipedia, note that according to them Stommelen’s lap times at LeMans were seconds faster than his teammates. In other words if true (it’s Wikipedia after all), he carried a lot of the water for Newman that day. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rolf_Stommelen


#15

Glad to hear “Rockford” didn’t like the '79-'80 Firebird nose. I owned a new '78 TA, solar gold, Fisher t-tops, WS6, T-A 6.6, non SE as my first car. Always thought the’77-'78s were the best looking Firebirds. Never could stand that nose on the '79-'80s. Wish I still had that car I drove for five years and traded in with 25,000 miles for a S-15 Jimmy.


#16

Your pal had the bogus Olds 403…anemic…
My ‘78 T/A AND the film cars had the Pontiac 400… More torque an’ HP!!!


#17

Hi
Yes, there was a bio on Garner that explained the vanity’s plate “inside scoop”
I don’t recall the “853” significance. It stands to reason it was a fake plate


#18

I also watched PLN’s “motorsport” career from beginning to the end (I was at LRP when he won his last race; suffering from cancer at age 81). Remember he took up racing after learning his craft for the movie Winning, and at an age most Professional drivers are winding down… He actually won four SCCA National Championships and also finished first in class in the 1995 24 hrs of Daytona. Mario Andretti and Skip Barber both called him a “RACER”.


#19

Also remember that while Steve McQueen did not race cars in sanctioned events, he did race motorcycles with Bud Ekins, most notably the 1964 ISDT. But many other desert motorcycle races.
I know James Garner also had a history with Clippinger Chevrolet in Covina CA, and their racing dept., I don’t know if he ever got behind the wheel of any of those race prepped Corvettes though.


#20

Does anyone remember the show Manx and his 68 GTX he drove !


#21

A response was submitted to our tips@hagerty.com email address that was too good not to share-

My brother and i living in Ireland were great fans of the rock ford files and having watched the reverse j turn in the firebird we practiced it often. We went to Europe on vacation and while driving up a mountain road in Yugoslavia we found a giant bear standing upright in the middle of the road. We stopped the car and walked up to the man with the bear. He allowed us to take pictures alongside the bear. Then he made motions that made it clear that he wanted money and took out a large roll of money. We both said we had no money, which wasn’t far from the truth and started to walk away, he then set the bear on us, we raced back to the car with the bear in pursuit, jumped in the car and reversed back down the road and executed one of the rockford reverse j turns and took off back down the road.

The following year we were discussing where to go for vacation. After having been round Europe several times we settled on the U.S. because we had watched the Rockford Files a lot and thought it would be great to see one of the police chases with sirens and lights flashing. We stayed in the U.S. two weeks and never saw any chases. I decided I wanted to live here as I was impressed with the lifestyle. This was in 1978, and I still haven’t seen one of those high speed chases with flashing lights and sirens as of today. The Rockford Files and James Garner were what attracted me to the U.S. and I have never regretted it. I have been in ten countries and without a doubt this is the best one

Submitted by John B.


#22

8/53 = was the first time Mr Garner did any acting professionally.


#23

My first car…the '78 WS6 GSE, Fisher tops, rear defog, AM/FM 8-track. My mom bought it as a GM exec car and passed it along to me. Traded it in in '83 for … a S(T)-15 GMC Jimmy. What a piece of crap that thing was. Wish I still had the '78 T/A!