It?s no secret that the key to the success of many episodic ?80s TV series was the wheels. Whether it was series that were based entirely around a cool car (Knight Rider, The Dukes of Hazzard) or those that featured a vehicle prominently as eye candy (think Magnum?s Ferrari 308 GTS, the A-Team?s van and Sonny Crockett?s white Testarossa), a flashy ride was an easy way to hook viewers in the days when cable TV was just for rich people. Of course, the networks started to go bananas with the whole ?car as a show? concept when choppers, cycles and at least one bizarre big rig entered the fray. Sadly, few of these shows even lasted a full season, and only a couple sputtered beyond those crucial first 22 episodes. So with Memory Lane a-callin?, we?ve gassed up the tanks of the 10 most kickass forgotten road-hogs. Grab your license and your favorite C-list celebrity, and we?re off!
10. GMC pickup truck from The Fall Guy
The Fall Guy had a lot of things going for it: stunts, explosions, Heather Thomas in that bikini, Lee Majors crooning the theme song, etc. And while many can overlook the irony of a show where Majors played a stuntman but actually performed none of the stunts himself, one aspect that refused to be ignored was Colt Seavers? truck. It wasn?t as awe-inducing as many of the rides that dominated ?80s programming, but the brown-and-tan exterior practically screamed, ?Someone?s gettin? laid in my cab tonight!? When you?re jumping over trains, tractor trailers and even the occasional Hoveround or Rascal on a weekly basis, pretty ain?t an option. Bonus points for the eagle on the hood with ?Fall Guy Stuntman Association? written underneath.
9. Blue Thunder from, uh, Blue Thunder
Jesus, remind me never to move to L.A. circa 1984. Crime was on such a rampage, the L.A.P.D. instated this high-tech, stealth-equipped, Gattling gun-toting whirlybird to quell violence on the streets. After Roy Scheider (R.I.P.) starred in the moderately successful 1983 film of the same name, ABC greenlit this spinoff. Despite the star power of Dick Butkus, Bubba Smith and Dana Carvey as ?Officer Clinton Wonderlove,? only 11 episodes were aired, largely due to producers getting cold feet with the similar Airwolf also in rotation. Still, when the chopper would switch to ?Whisper Mode? and sneak around the skyline, or when the triggerhappy pilots would let the Thunder roll on some thugs, all was right in the world.
8. T.J. Hooker?s squad car
Was it particularly cool? Nah. Was it the star of the show? Oh heavens no. But T.J. Hooker?s squad car, otherwise known as 4-ADAM-30, was the unsung hero of Bill Shatner?s long-running cop ?drama.? It was shot at. It was wrecked. It was involved in too many high-speed pursuits to count. It let Adrian Zmed drive it when Hooker was busy enforcing law on the hood of a perp?s car (which was often). It was probably blown up a couple of times. It even out-acted Kirk on numerous occasions. So this one?s going out to you, Hookermobile?you weren?t painted with splashy colors and may have been about as high-tech as a soup can stacked on a smoke alarm, but you taught us all so very much.
7. Tractor trailer from The Highwayman
This, dear friends, is the closest thing to a live-action Rodimus Prime that we?ll ever see. The bullet-shaped semi that served as transportation for the Highwayman (yep, Sam Jones did something in addition to Flash Gordon) was another attempt at high-tech vehicular mumbojumbo, and it actually housed a helicopter and a sports car. Not surprisingly, this show was the brainchild of Knight Rider creator Glen Larson?some of the futuristic dashboard design was even recycled from his previous show?but for only having nine episodes aired, it?s developed a pretty intense cult following. We hear Alex Ross will be relaunching the property as a comic series any day now.
6. K.A.R.R. from Knight Rider
Knight Rider boasted evil versions of both the Hoff and K.I.T.T., yet those crazy kids never got together. Instead, ?Garthe Knight? cruised around in a souped-up rig named Goliath, and K.A.R.R.?that?s ?Knight Automated Roving Robot? to you sucker MCs out there?had no need of a permed German to drive him around. Featured in only two episodes, K.A.R.R. truly stole the show in his second appearance, the craftily titled ?K.I.T.T. vs. K.A.R.R.? From kidnapping humans (by locking his doors!) to damaging his doppelganger with some pretty sweet lasers, K.A.R.R.?s plan was unfolding swimmingly? until he collided with Hoff and K.I.T.T. midair and blowed up real good.
5. Corvette Sting Ray from Stingray
The producers of this short-lived 1985 program had a bright idea: ?Let?s just name it after the friggin? car.? Not bad marketing, per se?you knew you were gonna get a slick set of wheels before you even switched on the tube, there?d be some mystique involved, and Steve Irwin had yet to drag the good name of the sea creature through a muddy reef. (Too soon?) Much like The A-Team, the show featured a protagonist devoted to helping those in need with the aid of an easily distinguishable vehicle that the cops would have to be blind to miss on open roads. As an aside, Nick Mancuso played the enigmatic martial artist Ray and, according to his Wikipedia page, recently bought a Honda Civic. Somebody please spruce up this poor bastard?s Wiki.
4. Boat from Riptide
Narrowing down just one selection from everything Riptide had to offer was difficult?after all, this was a show that featured an ocean cruiser, a speedboat, a pink helicopter and an easy-on-the-eyes vintage ?Vette. But ultimately the cruiser tops ?em all, since it was the show?s namesake and housed the non-talking but still badass robot called the Roboz (named after primetime?s first geeky Vietnam-vet character, ?Boz? Bozinsky). How was the robot badass, you ask? Well, it was seemingly waterproof, and, uh, orange. Back to the boat, it was also frequented by the bikini-clad hotties that P.I.s Cody and Nick attracted like flies.
Setting aside the fact that this series had one of the most ridiculous male leads ever?Jan-Michael Vincent played a helicopter pilot/classically trained cellist named Stringfellow Hawke ? Stringfellow!?what kid didn?t want their own Airwolf toy? Shockingly, a show revolving around a supersonic military chopper that accepted Cold War-related espionage missions only lasted three seasons on network TV ? and the less said about the fourth season where Barry Van Dyke took over, the better. Airwolf also had some of the most badass theme music ever. Another plus? The presence of Borgnine.
2. Street Hawk
Most kids probably blinked and missed ABC?s 1985 entry into the ?high-tech crimefighter with a ridiculous name? subgenre, as poor Street Hawk skidded to a halt after a mere 13 episodes. But it?s become a cult classic thanks to the involvement of star Rex Smith (?Jesse Mach? here, but best known as Daredevil from The Trial of the Incredible Hulk) and, well, the cold hard truth that most of us are still kicking ourselves for not investing the precious post-homework TV time into a show that featured a motorcycle that shot missiles, crashed through windows, drove really fast and jumped over trucks.
1. Coyote X from Hardcastle and McCormick
One of the most underrated ?buddy? series from the ?80s, H&M gave Airwolf a run for its money in the best theme music department and trampled all of the vehicle competition with the Coyote X. The car was basically the ?If They Mated? offspring of a VW Beetle (where it got its chassis) and a Porsche 914 (its engine), and God only knows how many of these things were trashed over the course of three seasons. Hell, the first shot in those opening credits is the car getting fucked up! Sadly, a different version appeared later, as co-star and old-ass man Brian Keith was having trouble getting in and out of the O.G. C.X. Didn?t he realize you gotta ?drive it like the demon that drives your beat??
Robert Bricken is one of the original co-founders of the site formerly known as Topless Robot, and its first editor-in-chief, serving from 2008-12. He brought the site to prominence with “nerd news, humor and self-loathing” as its motto, raising it from total internet obscurity to a readership in the millions, with help from his savage “FAQ” movie reviews and Fan Fiction Fridays. Under his tenure Topless Robot was covered by Gawker, Wired, Defamer, New York magazine, ABC News, and others, and his articles have been praised by Roger Ebert, Avengers actor Clark Gregg, comedian and The Daily Show correspondent John Hodgman, the stars of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Rifftrax, and others. He is currently the managing editor of io9.com. Despite decades as both an amateur and professional nerd, he continues to be completely unprepared for either the zombie apocalypse or the robot uprising.