Monday, January 14, 2013

Cult-TV Theme Watch: Automobiles

Marshall McLuhan once said that “the car has become an article of dress without which we feel uncertain, unclad, and incomplete in the urban compound.” 
The same is very much true of the automobile in cult-tv history.  
The automobile is indeed a hero’s article of dress in modern times, and often an image we associate, perhaps unconsciously, with a particular protagonist.  The car is to the modern TV superhero, perhaps, as the white horse Silver was to the Lone Ranger in a generation previous.
The most famous cult-tv car in history is undoubtedly the Batmobile created by George Barris for the Adam West TV series in 1966.  Although every Batman movie from 1989 through 2012 has featured alternate Batmobiles, it is this decades-old converted Lincoln Futura that remains, for many fans, the gold standard in terms of the Caped Crusader’s car. 
Although not quite iconic as the Barris Batmobile, another superhero TV series of the same era (and from the same producers as Batman) showcased another protagonist’s incredible ride.  The Green Hornet (1966 – 1967) featured the Black Beauty, a gorgeous Imperial Crown customized by Dean Jeffries.
In the 1970s, cult-tv cars were a staple of sci-fi TV.

The third incarnation of the Time Lord called the Doctor (played by Jon Pertwee), was seen often to drive in a vehicle named Bessie, a roadster with the license “WHO 1,” at least during his years of exile on Earth.  The car was eventually put into mothballs by UNIT’s Brigadier, but appeared again one more time during the Sylvester McCoy era in the late 1980s.

And movie studio executive/alien-destroyer Ed Straker (Ed Bishop) drove a stylish futuristic sports car (made from the frame of a Ford Zephyr) in the far-flung year of 1980 in Gerry Anderson’s live-action UFO.   This car is seen during the opening credits of every episode, and is a sort of visual trademark of the program
In the 1980s, a talking car called KITT (Knight Industries Two Thousand) -- a 1982 Pontiac Trans am -- became the most popular character on the TV program Knight Rider (1982 – 1986), which also starred David Hasselhoff.  Some of the most enjoyable episodes of the series feature KITT facing off against his evil twin, KARR.

On and on through cult-tv series history, one can see how many popular programs are associated with automobiles.  There’s the General Lee on The Dukes of Hazzard, the Mystery Machine Van on Scooby Doo, the Mach 5 on Speed Racer, Lady Penelope’s FAB-1 Rolls Royce on Thunderbirds, and even Mr Bean’s “Mini.” 
In one instance, there was even a sitcom called My Mother The Car (1965 – 1966).  There, a woman’s soul migrated into an antique 1928 Porter touring car, much to the chagrin of her adult son, played by Jerry Van Dyke.  Mom was voiced by Ann Sothern.

One series that faced very fanciful automobiles was the 1965 series, The Wacky Race, from Hanna Barbera.  This cartoon involved a group of dedicated racers competing against one another in vehicles such as Dick Dastardly’s “The Mean Machine,” Penelope Pitstop’s Compact Pussycat 5, and the Buzzwagon 10.


  1. Anonymous3:06 PM

    John, very fun analysis of the cult-tv automobiles.
    The Ark II series Roamer and Logan's Run series vehicle would be far future inclusions.


  2. Anonymous5:39 PM

    A mention of FAB-1, but not Supercar?


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