Mythical TV cars

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Mythical TV cars
Mythical TV cars

Ever since the 70s, the lives of whole generations have been marked by TV series, both Italian and American, which have embodied hopes, dreams, troubles, plans, ideals and values of a society which has seen itself represented on the small screen and which has recognized itself in the defects, in the merits and in the caricatures of what it used to be.

From reality to myth is but a small step and some of these TV series have entered into an Olympia which, even today, brings them back into the memories of those who hear an old original TV theme tune, use a particular word or a phrase borrowed from the meanderings of long-stored memories, or see a car which has made history.

It is certainly nostalgia that plays the major part in this, because many of the TV series, true icons amongst the various TV shows, are those which during the seventies and eighties filled whole afternoons and whole evenings. Like habitual players, the TV series and television brought into people’s homes the cars which started to arrive on the small screen and firmly impressed on people the image of these products with effect from the 50s, the years in which motor cars became venerated as a myth of that era.

Both the cinema and TV are celebrating the bounce-back of what is not just a new special means of transport but also a true means of communication.

Going back in time before returning to the most recent years, 1974 witnessed the broadcast in Italy of the first episode of Happy Days, a situation comedy which, situated between the 1950s and 1960s, tells the story of an American family and of the personalities who gravitate around them. Although it was mainly shot in interiors, Happy Days translates onto the screen the American dream as represented also by the motor cars and motorcycles of the time. The whimsical Ford model A, modified into its Roadster format, which appears in the signature sequence, is unforgettable. Entirely customised, with tubes, chroming, eccentric shapes and graphics, it represents full-on the fashion of wanting to give a new life to models which, in other circumstances, would have passed by unnoticed. lso the car driven by Richie Cunningham, unquestionably the leading actor of the series, the perfect son for millions of women, played by Ron Howard, who was to become the future extremely successful director, was a Ford Crestline built between 1952 and 1954. Another unforgettable character too was Fonzie, who would probably not have had the same success with women had he not been accompanied by his motorbike, an iconic 1949 Triumph Trophy, model TR-5. The success encountered by the series in Italy was grandiose and it can perhaps be considered one of the most successful TV series ever produced.

Thus is born the American myth, a new generation which looks to the future and recognizes itself in the idols of James Dean, with brilliantine in their hair, wearing the most famous brands of jeans and black leather jackets. This is the era of the Drive In, of the mythical Corvettes, of the Juke-Box which plays unforgettable tunes; it is the era of the Twist and of Rock’n’Roll.

The best ever series remain, in the collective memory, the American ones and their production line certainly does not dry up; instead, the producers continue to turn out history-making TV series which attract a large following. In the summer of 1978 La Famiglia Bradford (The Bradford Family) arrives in Italian houses, and this returns with numerous runs right until the end of the nineties. It is the story of a family from Sacramento consisting of a father, who is now a widower, and eight children covering several generations, which allows the programme to air numerous themes of various natures. For a family such as this one there was a need for a spacious motor car and the choice fell upon the iconic Volkswagen Bulli minibus. With its light blue colour, and featuring the unmistakable Volkswagen brand emblem at the front, it remains engraved in the memories of whoever grew up with this series. And from the icon of the 50s and of the TV, Volkswagen decided to re-launch this minibus onto the market in a completely new edition Having already appeared in 2011 at the Geneva Motor Show, the Bulli will appear again this year at the CES in Las Vegas, the most important technological trade fair in the world, and will be entirely electric. This is a return to the present day for an icon with a glorious past, which makes use of innovative and revolutionary ideas.

In 1976 it was the turn of three young women working in a private investigation agency to hit the screen - Charlie’s Angels. Under the mysterious halo wrapped around their boss, Charlie, who contacts them by telephone through an amplifier, these three angels breathe life into a new police series in which, for the first time the undisputed heroines are women. The car used by the angels is a white Ford Mustang Cobra II with a blue stripe, a sports car which is safe and easy to drive in order to help these prima donnas perform in fine fashion a dangerous job which, up to that moment, had been a purely masculine prerogative. In 2000 this highly successful TV series made it to the big screen with the film Charlie’s Angels followed, in 2003, by the sequel Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle.

Threatening a string of immortal successes, American TV continues to gift us some fine TV series within only a few years, and in 1981 they bring out The Dukes of Hazzard in Italy. The main players of the series are the famous members of the outlawed Duke family, Uncle Jessie, Bo, Luke and their cousin Daisy, who, in principle, are not permitted to move outside the boundaries of Hazzard county. Day-to-day life is entirely dedicated to the sometimes grotesque attempts on the part of sheriff Rosco to capture them. The main actors in the extraordinary pursuits and leaps into the air, the Dodge Chargers, known as General Lees, the make of car used by Bo and Luke, who were car racing fans, always finished by being destroyed and, by the end of filming the total had reached over 300. The Dodge Charger was orange with the number “01” painted on the doors and a Confederate flag on the roof. A novel feature of this vehicle was that the horn played the first few notes of the popular song Dixie. Bo and Luke got into and out of the car via the windows because the doors were soldered onto the frame and those jumps have effectively become the production branding for that TV series. There were two other cars in the series, the one belonging to Daisy, a Ford brand, model F-100 and the Jeep CJ-7 of Uncle Jessie.

From Georgia, where the scenes of the imaginary county of Hazzard were actually filmed, we move to the Hawaiian islands from where, in 1980, another private investigator joins us. The series is entitled Magnum P.I. and its leading man is Thomas Magnum, embodied by the famous and fascinating Tom Selleck whom everyone remembers for his whimsical flowery coloured Hawaiian shirts. The car which accompanied him was always a Ferrari but in the course of filming three different models were used: the first was a Ferrari 308 GTS, then a 308GTSi and the last was a Ferrari 308 QV GTSi. These Ferraris are undoubtedly the ones with the most aggressive shapes and curves and, in part thanks to their use by Thomas Magnum, they became the road-legal Ferrari par excellence.

We are still dealing with Ferraris when we talk about Miami Vice. Shown in Italy between 1984 and 1989, this is the story of two detectives under the protection of the City of Miami police who drive around on board a white 1986 Ferrari Testarossa with a 390 HP V12 Boxer engine which can reach a maximum speed of 290km/h. It is said that, because the first example used during the first season was a reproduction version of the Ferrari 365 GTS/4 Daytona Spyder, built on the wheelbase of a Chevrolet Corvette, Enzo Ferrari had donated two authentic Ferraris to the production team. On board this Ferrari we find the two leading men played by the actors Don Johnson, who took the role of Sonny Crockett, and Philip Michael Thomas as his friend and colleague Rico Tubbs. An icon of music and of style, Miami Vice gets off to a slow start but, in the second series, manages to achieve a pinnacle of success, not least thanks to its music. The soundtrack was composed for each single episode in such a way that it was possible to create an entire album, and many pop and rock tunes from the era were inserted into the soundtrack, helping to contribute to the success of the series.

Another undisputed leading player from a remarkably successful American series is Kitt, the speaking car belonging to Michael Knight (played by the famous David Hasselhoff) in Knight Rider. This is the story of Michael Arthur Long, who is saved by Knight Industries from certain death at the hands of a number of criminals. At this point everything changes: he becomes Michael Knight and, together with a motor car endowed with artificial intelligence, he starts to do battle against evil. Kitt is a 1982 Pontiac Firebird, transported by, and if required, released by a truck, a GMC General. The agreement between Pontiac and the series production company Universal specified that all vehicles used should be destroyed at the end of filming.

From a decidedly different mould and aimed more at a female public than a male one, came the series Beverly Hills 90210 which between 1990 and 2000 took to the airwaves on one of the commercial networks. This was the story of two leading players, the adolescent twins Brandon and Brenda Walsh, who arrive from Minnesota with their family in the seductive location of Beverly Hills. There are a large number of subjects raised during the series, ranging from drugs to sex and alcohol. The leading players from the series became true icons of glamour and fashion, and in this case too cars share the stage and lord it in a way that stamps a mark on the personalities of these youngsters, who became absolute idols for thousands of adolescents. The handsome but terrible Dylan drove a black Porsche 356 Speedster, a decidedly highly romantic car and one which echoed back to the myth of James Dean for this troubled youth. The more unconventional Steve drove a Corvette C4 Convertible, whereas Brandon, the prototype good boy from next door, drove a second-hand white Mustang. The beautiful but spoilt Kelly who in the TV series is always at her best, drove a flaming red BWM soft-top, the perfect car for a woman from Los Angeles.

In 1996 the TV series Cobra 11 arrives from Germany, recounting the adventures of a couple of investigators from the criminal motorway police. For the many pursuits a large number of saloon cars were used, with models from various, mainly German, motor car brands, especially Audi and BMW, also accompanied, however, Ferraris, Hummers and Kawasaki motorbikes.
Another famous couple from a series which was all the rage from the end of the 70s throughout all the 80s, is the one formed by Starsky and Hutch. It launches in Italy in 1979 and, in this case too, the leading players are two policemen from the imaginary town of Bay City. The star player alongside them is a red Ford Gran Torino with a white band on each side of the car which continued over the roof, and which was codenamed Zebra 3.

The world of animated cartoons and comic strips is another area which also witnessed the transfer to the small screen of some of the favourite characters of entire generations. This is the case for Batman who even today still encounters success around the entire planet. It was in 1966, in fact, that the first television series appeared based on this comic strip character. In this series, the Batmobile is a Lincoln Futura, built in Turin by the car body specialist Ghia, which the designer George Barris managed to get his hands on to transform it into the Batmobile. Landing first of all in the cinema and today often broadcast on TV, the animated cartoon Cars boasts a fleet of motor cars meriting considerable respect. These are amusing and irreverent important cars such as Cadillacs, Chevrolets, Porsches, Fiat 500s, each with their own characters and personalities in a story which has captured the imagination of both young and old alike. In the film Trasformers, another success in the fantasy mould, it was General Motors which supplied all the vehicles belonging to the Autobots.

Moving back to Italy, we recognise how, here too, the role of the motor car can impose itself as an emblem of a society, how it can define the personality of a character and assume a meaning of key importance for the transposition of a story to the small screen. The culture of the car in Italy takes its roots in the period following the Second World War and thus, moving forward through the years, we realize how hard it is to ignore the way in which society evolves in relation to the advances made in areas of fundamental importance such as cars, radio and television. Everything is connected and nothing can be cut out if we wish to recount the history of an Italy which is always changing. There are TV series which tell of how it was in that era and many of them were masterfully directed such as Romanzo Criminale (Kings of Crime) which, freely adapted from the film directed by Michele Placido in 2005, dealt with the novel of the same name by Giancarlo di Cataldo, which tells the story of the Magliana gang in 1970s Rome. In this social underclass, the motor cars were strongly evocative and representative of a lifestyle made up of an unhealthy passion for power and a way of life dedicated to crime. This is why, on the small screen, the series re-introduces old models such as the turquoise Lancia Fulvia HF 1.6 driven by one of the outstanding characters of the story, Dandi. There are cars which speak for and tell us about the characters who own them. There is also the clumsy and incapable Ispettore Coliandro (Inspector Coliandro) who arrives on the screens in 2006. Through a series of events which he fails to manage well, he lands himself awkwardly in hot water. Accompanying him is a red Alfa Romeo 156. From the pen of the writer Andrea Camilleri is created the character of Commissario Montalbano (Chief Constable Montalbano) who, in the imaginary town of Vigàta, manages, in his own particular fashion, the local police station. INever absent and always at his side is an old blue Fiat Tipo, invariably covered with dust.

Between myth and reality, there are a large number of cars which accompany the stories and their characters right up to the end. In their pivotal role, they have the evocative capability to identify, through their own characteristics, those of their owners.

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