We are counting down the Top 50 hot rods and street cars of all time that have made an appearance in a television series, or a memorable television episode. Starting from #50, and counting down to our #1 pick, follow along with our memories, and see where your favorite show lands.
7. Vega$: 1957 Ford Thunderbird
It seems appropriate that this car would land on lucky seven on the countdown, since the television series was based in Las Vegas.
In 1978, there was a new man in television town: Dan Tanna. A former Vietnam veteran making a living as a private investigator, Robert Urich proved that being tall, good looking, and driving a classic red 1957 Ford Thunderbird convertible worked for the viewers; it aired through the 1981 season.
This era of television was fraught with private investigator and cop series, and “Vega$” had to make its mark and stand out among them where “Baretta” and McCloud left off, and prior to the introduction of another sexy actor: Tom Selleck as Magnum, P.I.
The detective drama highlights the story of Tanna, who keeps an apartment behind the Desert Inn Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, which allows him to park the T-bird in his living room. Tanna has an inside track on the gambling world, and the crime that goes with it in Sin City. His boss, Phillip Roth (Tony Curtis) owner of the hotel, hires him to track down deaths that are suspicious to keep the city and his resort clean.
Being in Las Vegas (where it was filmed exclusively, not on a sound stage) afforded the production a parade of celebrities and performers over its four-years, who often had cameos, including Wayne Newton, Nipsy Russell, Liberace, Jim Nabors, John Davidson, Mohammed Ali, Captain & Tennille, Kim Cattrall, Lola Falana, Abe Vagoda, Shelley Winters, Dean Martin, and many more.
The Thunderbird, complete with a license plate that simply states “TANNA,” was not the first car used on the series. It was preceded by a yellow ‘63 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray that was blown up in the pilot TV movie, followed by the acquisition of Tanna’s trademark candy apple red ‘57 Thunderbird.
Using techie gadgets that were considered ahead of their time, the Thunderbird was equipped with a mobile phone and had a .44 Magnum gun stored in the glove compartment. Two exact cars were used on the show, one for close-ups and beauty shots, and the other as a stunt cat for chase scenes and an occasional off-road desert romp.
The Thunderbird was so popular that during a talk show interview, Urich commented, “That car got more fan mail than I did!”
Urich, who became known on “SWAT,” would go on to play other characters on television series, including “Spencer,” and in blockbuster movies including “Lonesome Dove.” Sadly, he lost his battle to a rare cancer at the age of 55 in 2002.