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The Cars of "Five-O"

When I was in grade school, one of the most popular shows on TV was Hawaii Five-O. The series followed the exploits of a fictional major-crimes unit of the equally-fictional Hawaii State Police as they protected their island paradise from con artists, drug dealers, jewel thieves, serial killers, kidnappers, smugglers, renegade hippies (it was the 1960s, after all), miscellaneous mobsters, and shadowy international criminal masterminds. Its famous opening title sequence was the best advertising the Hawaii Tourism Authority ever got: lovingly photographed clips of beaches and Boeings, hotels and hula dancers, creatively strung together in synchronization with the theme tune; an MTV music video a decade before there was an MTV.

"This is McGarrett. Patch me through to Chris Hafner at 'Car Lust.'" Though at heart it was just another late-60s cop show with all the usual charming cop-show cliches, Five-O made good use of its Hawaiian setting. Instead of relying on stock footage and "California doubling" to fake being in Hawaii, Five-O actually filmed in the islands, used local residents as actors, and even had some characters speaking in Hawaiian dialect. This gave it genuine Hawaiian flavor (and a generous helping of genuine Hawaiian eye candy) that caught viewers' fancy, and it went on to be one of the longest-running crime dramas in television history. Its rousing theme music and memorable catchphrases ("Book 'em, Danno!" "Be here. Aloha.") became permanent pop culture memes, instantly recognizable even to those born too late to have ever seen Five-O in prime time.

Today we'll be looking at some of the most prominent, and yet underappreciated, regular characters in the show: the big black Mercury sedans driven by protagonist Steve McGarrett (played by Jack Lord).

The cars used by the regular characters in Five-O were provided by Ford Motor Company under a product-placement deal. As the man in charge of the "Five-O" detective squad, McGarrett always got the fanciest set of wheels. When the show premiered in the fall of 1968, he drove a 1968 Mercury Park Lane Brougham sedan. The triple-black Park Lane boasted a 428 V-8 and a full complement of comfort and convenience options. The big Mercury was given a prop police radio under the dash and a corresponding fake antenna on the roof, but was otherwise dead stock. McGarrett's sidekick Danny Williams (the "Danno" in "Book 'em, Danno!", played by James MacArthur) and associate detectives Chin Ho Kelly (Kam Fong) and Kono Kalakaua (Zulu) got by with optioned-up Ford LTD and Galaxie 500 sedans.

The '68 Park Lane as it appears today. In real life, Ford did not offer police versions of the big Mercurys, or Ford police vehicles in anything above a base trim level. To be perfectly realistic McGarrett and company should have been riding around in less expensive fleet-special Custom 500s. Of course, it's just a show, and one can forgive the creators for waiving strict compliance with Ford's order book and Hawaii state government asset procurement guidelines and picking the car for its imposing good looks.

The Park Lane Brougham was a typical 1968 Detroit land yacht, with a soft suspension tuned for comfort rather than handling--not exactly your first choice for high-speed pursuit driving. While Five-O was never as chase-happy as, oh, say, Starsky & Hutch, McGarrett did get into his fair share of action sequences--and when he did, the Park Lane plowed the asphalt with its understeering front tires and heeled over onto its bump stops every time he flung it into a turn.

McGarrett always, and I mean always, wore a suit and tie. Though he regularly drove around a humid tropical island in full sunlight in a black car with a black interior, you never saw him (or Danno, Chin Ho, or Kono for that matter) sweat. That car must have had really good a/c!

In the fall of 1974, Ford provided the show with a new four-door Mercury Marquis to supplant the '68 Park Lane as McGarrett's daily driver. Like the Park Lane, the Marquis was a plus-sized sedan painted black-on-black with every box checked on the options list. It was undoubtedly slower off the line than the '68 due to its power-robbing first-generation smog controls and heavy 5-mph bumpers, but it more than compensated for that with jazzy hideaway headlamps and fender-top chrome trim strips.

1967 Marquis coupe There was also a third McGarrett car that should be mentioned: in the two-hour pilot film Coocoon, he drove a '67 Marquis two-door hardtop with a red interior. That's the car that you see very, very briefly in the opening titles. Stock footage of Jack Lord driving the '67 was re-used in later episodes when he was supposedly driving the '68 or the '74. In more than one instance unintended hilarity ensued as McGarrett's car changed from four doors to two and back again, and recolored its interior, with every cut from one shot to the next!

After the '74 Marquis became McGarrett's daily driver, the production company kept the '68 around for use as a spare and a background vehicle. In 1978, it was deliberately wrecked in filming a crash scene for the two-part episode "Number One With a Bullet."

Several years later, Michael Timothy, a Five-O fan and old car buff, decided to try to find and restore one of McGarrett's Mercurys. He located the battered remains of the '68 Park Lane in the back of the production company's storage facility, which was now being used for Magnum P.I. The Park Lane hadn't been repaired (or even moved since 1978) and the wreck was serving as living quarters for a local mongoose. Mr. Timothy eventually talked the film company into selling him the car, served the mongoose with an eviction notice, and had it shipped to his home in Chicago. Several years, a lot of work, and nine donor parts cars later, the Park Lane was fully restored. Sporting a custom license plate ("BOOK EM") and a sun visor autographed by three of the original main cast members, it makes occasional appearances at Five-O fan conventions and car shows.

The 1974 Marquis also survived. John Boley Nordlum was Jack Lord's stunt double for many years, and the two became close friends. After the show ended, Jack Lord gave Mr. Nordlum the Marquis as a gift, and he still owns it today. Best of all, it's back in service (sort of) as Steve McGarrett's car!

The '74 makes its 21st century film debut. Unless you've been living off the grid and under a rock for the last few months, you already know that a "rebooted" Hawaii Five-0 (officially spelled with a zero this time instead of a capital "O") is running in prime time. Though it goes in its own direction and has its own distinctive style, the new Five-0 shows a lot of respect for the old. The premise is similar, of course, the main character names are the same, the new title sequence is a loving tribute to the original, McGarrett still tells "Danno" to book people, and they've even made a point of finding roles in the new series for actors who worked on the original. That includes the '74 Marquis.

In the first episode of the new series--I'll try not to spoil it too much for those of you who haven't yet seen it--Navy SEAL Steve McGarrett (Alex O'Loughlin) comes to Hawaii after his father is murdered by terrorists and is recruited by the governor to head up her new major-crimes task force. (I'll give you three guesses what they end up calling that major-crimes task force, and the first two don't count.) There's a sequence in that first episode where Steve is looking through his father's house after the funeral and finds an important plot development in the garage. Also there in the garage is the Marquis, under a sheet and missing its hood and side mirrors and a few other pieces.

Over the course of the season they've developed a minor story arc in which Steve works on the Marquis in his spare time, finishing the restoration project his father started. In the episode "Powa Maka Moana," which first aired on February 14 of this year, Steve takes Danny (Scott Caan) along on the restored Mercury's first "shakedown cruise" and, as often happens with vintage iron, things don't go quite as planned. Danny complains about having to push a Detroit large-barge down the road in the tropical sun, and witty repartee ensues:

"Push 'em, Danno!"Steve: This is a classic car, and classic cars are temperamental, okay?

Danny: Temperamental?

Steve: Just like you.

Danny: No, no, no. That is an excuse. That is an excuse for poor automobile maintenance my friend. Okay? This is a car. It is not temperamental, it is a product. If it's not working, you get another one, understand?

Steve: What happened to you man? I mean, where's your sentimental side?....

Obviously, the 21st century Steve McGarrett is a Car Lust kind of guy. In fact, it would be perfectly appropriate for him to be shown in some future episode kicking back and reading Chris Hafner's latest post on his laptop. (Hint! Hint!)

South Bend Five-O: "Lark 'em, Danno!" One last thing I'd like to mention: since the original series was filmed almost entirely on location, it's also an "inadvertent documentary" of what was rolling on the streets of Honolulu from 1968 into the 70s. In a warm climate with no road salt, cars tend to last longer, so there's an interesting mix of older vehicles to be seen. If you watch the first few seasons' episodes on DVD or streaming video with that in mind, you'll discover many hidden gems such as the Studebaker Lark Wagon that appears in the opening shot of the episode "Twenty-Four Karat Kill."

Join us next time for another thrilling installment of Car Lust, Project AMC: AMC Pacer.

Be here. Aloha.

--My dog's da Cookie kine, brah!

The vintage publicity photo of Jack Lord on the radio asking the Honolulu Police dispatcher to "patch me through" (a minor catchphrase) comes from the blog of The Car Guy Who Gets It.  (No relation to our own That Car Guy.) The photo of Michael Timothy's restored '68 Park Lane comes from IMCDB. Mr. Timothy wrote about the restoration of the car for the International Mercury Owner's Association magazine Quicksilver; the article is reprinted here and includes links to more photos. The shot of the '67 comes from the Hawaii Five-0 Fan Club's "Cars of Five-O" page. The photos from the new Five-0 series are CBS publicity images. Your humble narrator got the screencap of the Studebaker off of his wife's first-season DVD set.

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McGarrett always drove those cars roughly... floored the gas and peeled out, turned quickly, slammed on the brakes...

But the one thing I never could figure out was how the tires made those screeching noises ...in the sand... ?

To paraphrase Ferris Bueller, one of the great thinkers of our time, those Mercurys are *so choice.*

Errrr. . .huh? What? There's something on the screen besides Grace Park?

I have only watched a couple eps -- seems like kind of a Hawaii-based CSI ripoff with better "scenery" (IYKWIMAITTYD) to me -- but I was wondering why McGarrett was restoring a '74 Marquis. I never watched the original much, so I didn't make the connection. Excellent!

That Merc was a fine-looking car.

We recently got a wild hair and rented viddies of a lot of old 5-0 episodes, and that sloppy continuity you mentioned was almost constant. Over the first 4-5 seasons I saw the same stock footage of Steve driving off in his Merc many times ... and sometimes arriving at his destination with a completely different car. Not only did I get to relive a lot of old memories, but I also realized what a tight budget they made that show on. For instance, they went many years without altering the opening credits, apart from tacking on a new section when they added or subtracted a regular cast member; it's hard to imagine a modern series using the same opening footage for even 2 years, much less 8. We didn't make it all the way through, did they ever change the opening?

And I'm ever so glad most cars don't have those 70s-era suspensions. I loved it when one of the cops would screech to a halt and then his car would sit there and bounce for 10 seconds.

And re air conditioning: Another thing I noticed is that none of the cops cars EVER had any of their windows rolled up. In fact that was a common practice on a lot of TV shows of the time. Was glare that much of an issue?

Gene, the only change I remember about "Hawaii 5-O"'s opening was that it seemed the music was slightly rewritten and "sped up" (I'm not a musician, I don't know the proper term) for the last year or so. Seems the drums were a lot faster.

Other shows also changed their music around this time, including "Bonanza" and "Lost In Space." But this show's theme change was much more subtle, though still noticeable.

OK, the "Hawaii 5-O" theme has been in my head all afternoon, so here's my revenge: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fz1ex78QeQI&feature=related

Actually, you could argue that the random Mercury cop car was the show's homage to Hawaiian police reality, even if there is no State Police. Through the present day many Hawaiian agencies, including the Honolulu police, let officers buy their own cars. That's why you'll see all kinds of vehicles with blue lights stuck to the roof. Maybe McGarrett just wanted to roll in comfort.

@TD -- I didn't know that. In the new series, they have Danny Williams driving a Camaro fitted with blue flashers behind the grille. In the pilot episode, he had a V-8 Mustang GT--a true "Hawaii 5.0," as it were. As a plainclothes detective, it makes sense that he'd be driving an unmarked car. Both cars fit the personality of the character, and the Camaro also fits in well with Chevy's product placement deal. (As does the red 2011 Cruze that keeps popping up as a background vehicle.)

Even though GM has the sponsorship deal, the marked patrol cars driven by uniformed Honolulu officers are Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptors (or Mercury Grand Marquis made up to look like Crown Vics), identical to what the real HPD uses. Gotta give them points for that.

@Chuck -- Starland Vocal Band? That's cold, brother. Cold.

TD is correct. Back in 1974, I spent a month in Hawaii doing a college class...yeah, hard work. And I noticed that there were a lot of strange cop cars...no Gran Torinos like home.
I asked someone and got the answer TD gave about cops buying their own cars. IIRC, I ever saw a Mustang II cop car.

When the new show came out I did some internet research on the original cars and found what you presented...I was shocked that both Mercs survived.
For years I thought the car we saw being blown-up in the opening credits of Magnum, P.I., was McGarrett's 68 Merc.
Glad to see I was wrong.

The new show is mindless fun...and Grace Park is better loooking than the old Kono... :)

@Cookie the Dog

While HPD does buy some Crown Vics, real marked Honolulu units can still include random private cars with blue lights.

I was there in December and fortunately realized they were cops and not volunteer firefighters (like in Illinois) before it mattered.

I'm 40 years old, and I'm still saying "Let's watch Hawaii 5-0"

What's wrong with that?

That Car Guy (Chuck) on February 23, 2011 at 06:12 PM

And my response:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dQw4w9WgXcQ

You really think it wouldn't go there?

"In a warm climate with no road salt, cars tend to last longer, so there's an interesting mix of older vehicles to be seen."

Kidding? How about proximity to all that salt air off of the sea? Cars of that era rusted so fast in Hawaii you could watch the disintegration in real time. The "older vehicles" seen in the original weren't all that "old" at the time...go back now and look for them!

One thing I cannot stand about the new series is that it focuses too much on Danny and not Steve. The original show was about Steve and the new Steve being driven around in a Chevy driven by Dan (he does not want to be called Danno!) seems almost sacrilegious.

Also, we just finished watching season 7 thru Netflix dvds and noticed that Steve did not say 'book em Danno' until the 4th season and even then he only said it about 4 times. He did not use this phrase again until the 7th season so I am assuming that they used this phrase on the commercials (does anyone remember the commercials?) or maybe it was used more often in the later seasons....

@Gene I look up IMDB for the continuity errors and then watch for them. There is some crash footage they used quite often that was quite obviously not the car that had just crashed. Also, a recent episode we watched had an ambulance that arrived to pick up someone that was an entirely different ambulance in the next scene!

That was a lot of fun! Great piece. And Gene, the reason those car windows were usually down was so that they would not reflect the camera crew in the shot as they rolled up to the scene.

Gavin MacLeod as Big Chicken? (@00:59)

What do you know: "Steve McGarrett confronts Big Chicken"
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-CUm8ZNSfBM

A little homoeroticism in the prison shower with Big Chicken?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yIu4AjAXHj4&NR=1

Call me a stickler but I never was bothered by "unmarked" cars being whatever the production company could get their hands on, I only got annoyed when it was one "badge engineered vehicle" made up to look like something else. Like a Grand Marquis made to look like a real Crown Vic PI or an early 1980s RWD Buick (with a lightbar and a star on the door) shoved into a scene with a bunch of Caprices or (the worst) a FWD 1988 Delta 88 done up to look like a police car (damned if I can remember the show.)

I agree with Mustang0302 on Hawaiian rust.

On my 1974 trip I parked next to a Lincolm Mark III, which couldn't have been more than 5 years old...huge holes in the trunk area and around the rear wheel arches. And this on a car that received state of the art (for the time time and a point in ads, IIRC) factory corrosion proofing and you'd guess, given the value, halfway decent care.

On a later trip I also remember seeing a AMC Hornet-type wagon (Sportabout?) where the lower coners of the rear side windows were simply gone...

I absolutely agree with the comments on the rust that accumulates on cars in Hawaii; the locals refer to that "color" as "Hawaiian bronze." Military families that got orders to Hawaii mostly took with them whatever car (or two) they wanted to get rid of soon, and when they were transferred out, dumped them on the Hawaiian market for much more than they could have on the mainland.

I was six years old and remember my dad telling us there's a new show coming on TV tonight and the guy has a car like mine (my dad had a '67 Mercury Monterey 4 door wasn't exactly the same but close enough and from the moment Jack Lord drove around in his '67 Marquis I was hooked on the show. I watched that show just to see the old cars. now I have my own '67 Mercury Monterey completely rebuilt.

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