TV cars. They hold a special place in our hearts, don’t they? Everyone has a favourite, be it K.I.T.T, the A Team van, the General Lee or of course, the ‘Striped Tomato’ from ‘70s cop series, Starsky and Hutch. These TV cars were, for many of us, the fuel that would ignite a passion for cars. They were also characters in their own right. Had the boys with the big hair and the cardigan been driving around the streets of California in a four-door sedan, in brown, it wouldn’t have had the same impact. Can you, for example, imagine Mr. T driving a van without a stripe down the side of it? What about Michael Knight in a Pinto? Exactly. The car is more often than not, the star.
And thanks to the wonder of TV magic and snappy editing, these cars that were screeching tyres on grass and sand (seriously, watch an old show and it’ll happen) were seemingly indestructible. They would fly through the air, we’d see them nosedive for the floor and then in the next shot the car would be fine. They were invincible, or at least in the confines of the edit suite they were. We knew that the reality was many smashed cars (Dukes went through some three hundred Chargers during its run), but it didn’t matter. It was fun, it was escapism and it was very good entertainment.
These cars also spawned an army of lookalikes. But that’s the beauty of these TV cars – they were just cars. Cars within the reach of the normal man. We were only a paint job away from channelling our inner TV star. Admittedly, this was a bit harder in the UK, given most automotive TV icons are American, but every now and then one jumps over the pond. And that’s exactly what we have here.
What is it?
It’s a 1974 Gran Torino, which will already have superfans of the show twitching, as the production used a mix of ‘75 and ‘76 cars. However, the differences are minimal, so for us this one is close enough. By ‘74, the Gran Torino had grown significantly from its humble Fairlane beginnings, and was now a muscular, tall, wide machine. It was so big, in fact, that Ford binned the straight-six entry engine, as the car would have been glacially slow. Instead it fitted V8s, which is what a car like this deserves. Not that this particular car has one, but we’ll get to that.
The car you’re looking at here is running and driving, though the interior has seen better days. But it has the important white stripe and it sits on a set of impressive staggered slot-mag wheels. It definitely looks the part, that’s for sure.
This car is more of a homage than an out and out replica of the show car. Mainly because it doesn’t have a V8. Instead, it has a Mercedes-Benz OM606 straight-six turbo charged diesel lump. No, we don’t know why. And as the seller didn’t fit it, nor does he. To the credit of the engine, it is an exceptionally strong and potentially powerful unit. However, we can’t quite see the appeal of putting such an engine into Zebra 3. But here we are.
It looks to be pretty solid though, and while it might not pack the V8 roar of the TV car, it certainly has the looks and as such, it’s the perfect starting point for anyone looking to don a big cardigan and engage in some bonnet-slides. Zebra 3, come in? Zebra 3, do you hear me?
Why is it a project?
Well, technically this Gran Torino could be driven as is. It’s up together and it works, it just needs some finishing. If you decide to stick with the diesel engine, then all you need to do is sort out the tired and battered interior. The trick here is to go for black buckets – David Soul insisted the car have them because he kept sliding around on the bench seat! So fit them, get some carpets in there, a period Motorola CB radio and don’t forget the ‘cherry’ magnetic roof light – got to let the perps know you’re on your way.
If, however, you want to do the right thing and fit a V8, you’d still need to sort the interior as mentioned above, but then you’d also want to yank out that diesel. For our money, we’d treat this as an opportunity to clean up the engine bay, upgrade the suspension, maybe hide the wiring for a cleaner look, then we’d drop in a Ford crate motor. A 351cui maybe, big four-barrel carb, tubular headers, stick a Gearstar auto trans on the back of it. Not cheap, but it would make this car sing and it would give the on-screen performance you dreamed of. If you’re going to do it, you may as well go big – this is a TV star after all!
Five things to look for:
Love it or hate it, that OM606 is there for now, so you may as well check it’s in good health. But more than that, check how it’s been fitted. Check the wiring. Has it been done to a decent standard, or has someone just thrown it in there?
It’s a Ford from the 1970s, so rust is going to be an issue. On the Gran Torino you want to be looking at the chassis in particular, which was a perimeter design on this era. Check for rust, check for questionable repairs and check for damage.
Yes, we say it every time, but the car is in Ireland and it’s from the States, so you want to make sure you have all the correct paperwork needed to register the car in the UK.
We can see that the interior is in a bad way, but how bad? Is there anything you can salvage or use to make templates from, or will you need a specialist trimmer to do it all for you? That could be costly.
With cars like this, you need to have a good look at the paint and body. It looks really good in the pictures, but even so, there is no denying that it would be easy to do a quick job to make it a ‘TV’ car and cash in. This looks decent, but check for egregious amounts of filler, poor paint spraying and other imperfections.
What should you do with it?
You should buy it. You should buy a massive cardigan. You should buy a whopping great V8. You should fit line-lock and then you should live the TV dream. This car is not about being sensible, it’s not about being rational, it’s not about being serious. It is a big striped tomato and that’s just fun, so you should capitalise on that. Build it with the V8 it so deserves and have fun with it. You could even rent it out for weddings or proms and make a few quid back off it – not many classics can say that. But most importantly of all, if you buy it and finish it off, you will have a car that brings you pure joy, and there is a lot to be said for that. Zebra 3, out.