Top 5 Affordable Automotive TV and Movie Icons
For some of us, our passion for cars was ignited by a certain TV show or movie we saw as a kid, where a unique vehicle played a starring role that would kick start a lifetime of gearhead fun. Looking back, it's natural to feel the impulse as an adult to own one of the cool TV or silver screen automobiles from your childhood, but rising auction prices associated with some "star cars" can be discouraging for anyone not sitting on a mountain of disposable income.
Fortunately, there's a subset of "celebrity" cars out there that are much less expensive to own than you might think—even if you have to put in a little elbow grease to arrive at the finished product. Let's take a look at five affordable automotive TV and movie icons that you can park in your garage for less than the cost of a new econo-sedan.
1. The Pontiac Firebird From The Rockford Files
The Rockford Files was a detective series starring James Garner that originally ran from 1974 to 1980, but today it lives on in reruns on stations across the country. While Garner's Jim Rockford was a memorable enough character, the real reason any of us still tune in to the show after so many years is the car Rockford drove every day: a "Sierra Gold" Pontiac Firebird Esprit. More specifically, this long-hood coupe would without fail execute a reverse J-turn nearly every single episode, becoming the signature move for Garner's gumshoe and inspiring parking lot shenanigans that persist to this day among younger fans of the program.
Fortunately for TV car fans on a budget, the Esprit model was one of the cheapest trim levels on the Firebird, and remains that way today on the classic scene (although the show's cars were actually Formulas dressed as Esprits to maintain the performance needed for stunts while preserving the image of a car Rockford could afford). The show got new cars every year, too, from '74 to '78, which means that there are multiple model years of wingless Pontiacs out there to choose from. Just make sure you get the right shade of gold and you'll be hitting that handbrake spin in no time.
2. The GMC Vandura From The A-Team
It might only be a black-and-grey cargo van with a red stripe, but for legions of action fans, it was their dream ride after seeing the likes of B.A. Baracus and his crew of one-time special forces operatives dole out their own brand of justice while on the run from the law themselves.
It's hard to think of a more accessible star car than an '83 GMC van. These utilitarian models were produced by the hundreds of thousands, and many survive today despite having put in decades of work for families, small businesses and fleets. You can pick up a Vandura for under $5,000 in great condition, and from then on it's simply a matter of adding the right paint job, a roof wing and period-correct turbine wheels to create your own A-Team tribute.
3. The AMC Pacer From Wayne's World
Straight up, we're not sure why anyone would want to immortalize a car as pedestrian as the AMC Pacer, not even one with the groovy flames and baby blue hue piloted by Garth in Wayne's World. At the same time, is there a less expensive way to pay tribute to a movie you love in vehicular form? Pacers are a dime a dozen (if you can find one that’s still running), and you're virtually guaranteed never to run into another one at the local cruise night. Just make sure you've got Bohemian Rhapsody cued up in the tape deck at all times.
4. The Ford Gran Torino From Starsky and Hutch
The 1976 Ford Gran Torino driven by the detective duo of Starsky and Hutch from the TV show of the same name is one of the rare movie cars on this list that you could have actually bought new from the dealership—funky graphics and all. Around 1,000 of these star cars were built and sold by Ford in the middle of the "Me decade," but given their scarcity (only about 100 survived to the modern era), they are somewhat pricy to purchase today. It's much cheaper to simply by a red Gran Torino coupe, do the decals yourself and maybe drop a few grand on opening up the breathing on the emissions-choked V8 that sits under the hood for maximum fun.
5. Ecto-1 From Ghostbusters
True story: The original 1959 Cadillac Miller-Meteor ambulance that was used while filming the second Ghostbusters movie was so problematic that it regularly caused massive delays on the set due to mechanical breakdowns. It stayed in the picture, though, because car-guy Dan Aykroyd was so in love with the thing that he eventually ended up keeping it after production was over.
Only about 400 Miller-Meteor ambulances were ever built, but they're not quite as collectible as their '59 Cadillac sedan and coupe counterparts, which has helped keep prices low enough to justify building your own Ecto-mobile. If you're willing to spend your cash on light bars, spinning gadgets and of course sweet red lacquer for those tail fins, you can put together an Ecto-1 facsimile for less than the cost of a new Ford Taurus. If you want to spend less, then there's always the reboot's 1984 Cadillac hearse, which trades style for slab-sided '80s extravagance (and a much, much lower purchase price).