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.
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).
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.
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!
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:
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!)
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.