Rob’s Movie Muscle: The Cars of Mannix

Ah, the 1970s. Era of leisure suits, custom vans, and yellow shag carpets. I remember the decade well, having been a kid growing up at the time.

In addition to those unforgettable hallmarks of the era, I also vividly recall how it seemed like nearly every show on television centered around a gritty, hard-nosed private eye on the trail of the bad guys. Columbo, Cannon, and The Rockford Files are just a few that immediately spring to mind.

Many consider Mannix to be the best of the breed from that era though. With its unmistakable, jazzy theme song by legendary composer Lalo Schifrin, a rugged, appealing leading man in the form of Mike Connors, and a main protagonist with a troubled background, the show was, at the very least, a departure from the rest of the shows of its ilk.

Beyond the above attributes, Mannix was set in the retro-cool landscape of 1970s Los Angeles and was peppered with some amazing cars from the period.

Though a television series and not a movie, I thought it would be a fun diversion in this edition of Rob’s Movie Muscle to cover the most memorable vehicles from this venerated show. So let’s get to it!

Mannix splash screen

(Image courtesy of Paramount Television.)

For those of you too young to remember, or who are otherwise unaware of Mannix, it was a Saturday night, primetime show broadcast on CBS for eight seasons between 1967 and 1975. There were 194 episodes produced, and the show garnered six Golden Globe Award nominations with one win, four Emmy Award nominations, and one Edgar Award win during its run.

In addition to Mike Connors, the show featured Gail Fisher, who played Mannix’s secretary, Peggy Fair, from season two until the show’s cancellation. She was notable for being only the second African American woman to appear in a prominent supporting role on weekly television, after Nichelle Nichols had broken the glass ceiling with her portrayal of Lieutenant Uhura on Star Trek.

A large number of Hollywood luminaries also appeared in guest-starring roles during its eight seasons, including Milton Bearle, Diane Keaton, Sally Kellerman, Martin Sheen, William Shatner, Cloris Leachman, Karen Black, Sam Elliott, Frank Langella, Vera Miles and dozens more.

Mike Connors as private eye Joe Mannix

Mike Connors as private eye Joe Mannix. (Photo courtesy of Photofest.)

In the first season of the show, Mannix works for a large detective agency called Intertect, which uses computers to solve crimes. Beginning with season two though, he has created his own private eye company and often works in close collaboration with the Los Angeles Police Department to solve cases.

Unusual for a television hero at the time, Mannix’s background included many traumatic events, serving as an Airborne Ranger in the Korean War, where he was captured and tortured by the Chinese Communist forces. After his escape from a POW camp and an honorable discharge from the army, he is said to have worked as a mercenary in Latin America, where he witnessed the murder of innocents. Although Mannix prefers to use his intelligence and street smarts to deal with trouble, he is not afraid to resort to his black belt Karate skills or his snub-nosed .38 revolver if necessary.

Mannix is a rather dapper character, dressing in the wide-lapelled fashions of the day, and residing and working out of an upscale, Spanish-style home/office in a posh section of West L.A. His choice of cars is clearly an extension of his sense of style, and he is seen throughout the show’s seasons in a variety of enviable muscle cars.

Mannix's 1966 Mercury Coment

Joe Mannix rolling in his 1966 Mercury Comet Calliente convertible in the pilot episode. (Photo courtesy of Paramount Television.)

The first season of Mannix sees our protagonist driving a variety of vehicles. In the pilot episode, his car is a 1966 Mercury Comet Caliente convertible painted in Blue Ice Metallic. Though not a muscle car by any metric, Mannix’s Comet was nonetheless an attractive ride with quad, stacked headlights and svelte, “Coke bottle” styling that was all the rage at the time.

Although virtually no information about the car used in filming survives today, the Comet sounds like it is packing a V8 in the episode, suggesting it has either a 289 cubic-inch Challenger V8 or a high performance 390 under the hood.

In the next episode of season one, entitled Skid Marks on a Dry Run, Mannix is seen driving a similar looking car – a 1967 Mercury Comet Cyclone Convertible – this time painted in Polar White with a tan interior. Again, the live sound recordings suggests either a 289 or 390.

Mannix's 1967 Ford Fairlane 500

This ’67 Ford Fairlane 500 four-door replaced a Galaxie four-door that was damaged in a shootout. (Photo courtesy of Paramount Television.)

In the episode, The Cost of a Vacation, Joe is seen driving a Britany Blue 1967 Ford Galaxie 500 four-door hardtop which, after a shootout where the car is riddled with bullets, is replaced by a ’67 Fairlane 500 painted in the lovely shade of Lime Gold, a color that was also available on that year’s Shelby GT350 and 500.

For the rest of the first season and part of season two, Mannix was seen in a car that was undoubtedly the most unusual in the series, and one of the most memorable in television history.

Mannix's Toranado Convertible

Mannix in his custom Toronado convertible. (Photo courtesy of Paramount Television.)

The story goes that the show’s producer, Bruce Geller, was highly enamored of the 1967 Oldsmobile Toronado, but felt that Mannix would likely be interested in driving a convertible. The only problem was, Oldsmobile didn’t make a convertible Toronado.

To get around this inconvenience, the production employed the services of the legendary George Barris and his company, Barris Kustom Industries. Barris, a custom car fabricator par excellence, had previously made his bones in Hollywood by creating the DRAG-U-LA car for The Munsters, and the Batmobile for the Batman TV show.

Mannix Roadster

A promotional photo for the Mannix Toronado. (Photo courtesy of DragOne.)

Barris and his crew took a brand new, stock ’67 Toronado and cut off the roof, removed the back seat, and added a custom tonneau cover for the rear cabin, making the car appear as if it was a two-seat roadster. A custom interior, equipped with a rotary car phone and a hidden gun compartment was fabricated.

A more prominent grille, exposed headlights, and a reshaped hood redefined the front of the car, while a rear spoiler, and a large, translucent red taillight cover made the rear seem more futuristic. The car was painted in MetalFlake’s Platinum Star Pearl, with the bottom of the car painted black (the black was later changed to red.)

Mannix Toronado

The Toronado as it appears today. (Photo courtesy of DragOne.)

The stock 425 cubic-inch V8 and front-wheel drive system were kept, but side pipes were added for flair and a hearty rumble.

During the second season, the Toronado was replaced by another Barris creation, this time, a 1968 Dodge Dart GTS 340 convertible.

Starting life as a regular-production GTS finished in Bright Red, Barris’ team performed quite a few modifications, albeit ones that were more subtle than those of the Toronado.

Mannix 1968 Dodge Dart GTS

Mannix’s 1968 Dodge Dart GTS. (Photo courtesy of Paramount Television.)

The car was painted flat racing green, the front grille was blacked out, and the circular parking lights were replaced with Lucas Flamethrower lamps. The stock hood vents were modified extensively, and the factory side mirror was replaced with a Sebring-style bullet unit.

While the stock taillight bezels were retained, a red lens was created to serve as a new cover, eliminating the reverse light. The aluminum panel between the taillights was blacked out, and all factory badges were removed. A set of Rader mag wheels were mounted (later replaced by Cragar S/S chrome rims) and a Motorola mobile telephone was mounted under the dash.

A 1969 Dart GTS convertible, nearly identical save for running lamps located behind the grille, was used for the following season.

Mannix 1970 Barracuda Convertible

Joe’s 1970 Barracuda convertible was one cool muscle car. (Photo courtesy of Paramount Television.)

In 1970, Joe Mannix was given what was, for me at least, the coolest car he would ever drive: a brand new 1970 Plymouth Barracuda convertible.

Painted in a similar dark green to his Dart, Mannix’s Barracuda featured a black convertible top, a black interior, chrome bumpers, fog lights, a dual snorkel hood, dual exterior mirrors, and 14×6-inch Magnum 500-style wheels. Beneath the hood lay a 340 V8 that transmitted its power to the rear via a three-speed TorqueFlite automatic.

Barracuda side

The Barracuda was distinctive for its non-factory dark green paint and Magnum 500 wheels. (Photo courtesy of Paramount Television.)

The car was clearly a Barracuda and not the performance ‘Cuda model, by virtue of the lack of factory hood pins and ‘cuda emblem on the tail panel.

The production enjoyed working with the Barracuda, as did Mike Connors, so for seasons five and six, Mannix rolled in a 1971 and ’72 Barracuda convertible respectively.

1971 Baracuda

The ’71 Barracuda convertible. (Photo courtesy of Paramount Television.)

The specs on these cars were quite similar to the ’70 car, including dark green paint, the dual snorkel hood, chrome bumpers, black soft tops, and fog lights. Three ’71 cars were used in season five, and were powered by 318, 340, and 383 V8 engines and TorqueFlites. One of the cars was wrecked while performing a stunt and was repaired.

One of the secrets of the production was that the alleged 1972 convertible used in season six was actually two of the ’71 cars from the previous season, modified by the production with a ’72 grille and tail section to appear like the later model.

1971 'Cuda

A little known fact is that the ’72 in the show was actually a ’71 with grille and tail panel updates installed. (Photo courtesy of Paramount Television.)

For the following year, Mannix switched to another division of Mother Mopar, driving a 1973 Dodge Challenger coupe. Two quite special cars were supplied to the production that were equipped with every option Dodge offered at the time and were treated to a mild customization by Barris.

Draped in A5 Dark Silver Metallic paint over a black interior with a black vinyl top, the cars were powered by Chrysler’s 240 horsepower 360 cubic-inch V8, backed by the three-speed automatic TorqueFlite.

1973 Challenger

The heavily optioned 1973 Challenger sans Barris customization. (Photo courtesy of Paramount Television.)

Options included air conditioning, power front disc brakes, dual outside racing mirrors, an AM radio with cassette deck, power steering, floor console, Rallye instrument cluster, Rallye suspension, and an ultra-rare sunroof.

Barris additions included 15-inch Cragar SS wheels, and an upper body pinstripe, although the car appears in some episodes without the customizations and rides on stock Mopar Rallye wheels.

For season eight the production switched from Chrysler as their car supplier to Chevrolet. As such, Mannix was seen driving two of that brand’s cars during that year’s 24 episodes.

Caprice Classic

It is possible that the Caprice Classic convertible as seen in The Brady Bunch was the same car used in season eight of Mannix. (Photo courtesy of Paramount Television.)

The first couple of shows saw Joe in a red 1974 Chevy Caprice Classic convertible with a white convertible top, a large and very cool boulevard cruiser. The car may or may not have been the same Caprice convertible used in a few episodes of The Brady Bunch, as both shows were produced by Paramount, but no definitive facts on this have been established.

By episode three, Mannix switched to a Bright Blue Metallic 1974 Chevy Camaro LT, with a 350 cubic-inch four-barrel V8 and a three-speed Turbo HydraMatic transmission.

1974 Camaro

Mannix’s final car: a 1974 Chevy Camaro LT. (Photo courtesy of Paramount Television.)

Aside from a set of Z/28 wheels mounted on it, the car was rather unremarkable, especially in comparison to some of the fabulous muscle cars the character had driven in the past.

Sadly, for its legions of fans, Mannix was canceled after its eighth season. In addition to all the amazing cars the main protagonist drove, there were literally hundreds of fantastic muscle and sports cars that were used by villains and supporting characters during the show’s run. They included GTOs, Road Runners, Chevelles, Corvettes, Ferraris, Mustangs, and more.

Mannix was truly a car enthusiast’s dream show. These days, you can catch reruns of Mannix late night on MeTV.

About the author

Rob Finkelman

Rob combined his two great passions of writing and cars; and began authoring columns for several Formula 1 racing websites and Street Muscle Magazine. He is an avid automotive enthusiast with a burgeoning collection of classic and muscle cars.
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