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These famous Ferraris helped make Miami Vice one of the coolest shows of the 1980s.

Decade Defining Cars

The ‘80s cop thriller Miami Vice presaged our current era of prestige TV with its high production value and gritty storylines. Producer Michael Mann said his intention was to bring Hollywood to the small screen, and the show did just that. Slick and stylish, Miami Vice dramatized the exploits of two undercover cops in Miami’s seedy underworld and was like nothing else seen before it. And the show wasn’t just well made either, it was flat out cool (so cool they even got Miles Davis to do a guest star spot). Miami Vice incorporated contemporary music, trend setting fashions, and highly desirable automobiles for a show that altered not just American television but American culture. Just check out this clip to instantly appreciate what made this show special.

It’s hard not to love Don Johnson’s five o’clock shadow and white blazer or those Miami art deco nightclubs and the gun-toting bad guys, but our favorite part of Miami Vice are those super sick Ferraris worthy of a drug baron.

James Crockett and Rico Tubbs - imdb.com
James Crockett and Rico Tubbs - imdb.com

The tale of those Ferraris is an interesting bit of automotive and television lore. The show aired from 1984 through early 1990 and in the first two seasons, Sonny Crockett’s (Don Johnson) drives a Ferrari 365/GT4 Daytona Spider, a rare and desirable machine that only makes sense for an undercover cop who’s trying to look like the kind of gun-running, drug-smuggling guy that would own such a car. In season three, however, this Ferrari was swapped out for a Ferrari Testarossa. Here’s why.

1972 Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona Spider

1972 Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona Spider - imdb.com
1972 Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona Spider - imdb.com

The only real Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona to appear in Miami Vice came in the series opener, on screen for less than ten seconds. Throughout the rest of the first two seasons, Crockett’s Ferrari Daytona was a replica, a C3 Corvette to be exact. The first of these replica’s was built by Tom McBernie of McBernie Coachcraft under the auspices of exotics importer Al Mardekian. It was through a mutual acquaintance of Mardekian and the production team, one Dan Haggerty of the Grizzly Adams TV show, that Mardekian sold the car, and a later additional replica for stunt work, to Universal for their new show Miami Vice.

Producers had known they wanted a Ferrari as their show’s hero car and had asked Ferrari of North American if they could supply cars for production, the theory being a hit TV show would provide all manner of free advertising. This was not, and continues to not be, Ferrari’s style, and the carmaker demurred. Hence the use of replicas.

Ferrari sued McBernie and members of Universal Studios production team for the commission and production of the replica cars. Eventually, the sides negotiated a deal. Ferrari would provide two new 1986 Ferrari Testarossa to the show and Miami Vice producers would have the replica cars destroyed. At the beginning of season three, they did just that (sort of), with Crockett’s Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona getting blown up onscreen by a Stinger missile.

The real Ferrari Daytona 365 GTB/4 Daytona was indeed a special car, perfectly suited to an underworld high roller. The front engine, rear-wheel drive car ran a classically-Ferrari Colombo V12 under the hood. The car’s styling was done by Pininfarina’s Leonardo Fioravanti, who would also design the Ferrari 288 GTO, the Testarossa, and the pinnacle, the Ferrari F40. Just 1,406 Ferrari 365 GTB/4s were built, with only a scant 122 chopped down to spiders. This makes Crockett’s Daytona exceedingly rare. No wonder he’s agog when it gets blown to smithereens.

Scene from Miami Vice - imdb.com
Scene from Miami Vice - imdb.com

Though the agreement with Ferrari had been to have the replicas destroyed, neither actually were. The car blown up onscreen had been a dummy car. The original stunt car was reused in the John Candy movie Speed Zone before being mothballed for years and finally landing in the Volo Auto Museum. Meanwhile, the hero car made its way into a private collection.

1986 Ferrari Testarossa

1986 Ferrari Testarossa - imcdb.org
1986 Ferrari Testarossa - imcdb.org

This leads us to the Daytona’s replacement, the Ferrari Testarossa. Even though Miami Vice now had real Ferrari’s for “hero shots” that involved close ups with the actors, they still needed a replica built for stunt work. This time it was a 1972 De Tomaso Pantera that got the honors. The Pantera had the dual advantages of having a nearly identical wheelbase as the Testarossa and being midengined as well. Skid plates, a roll bar, camera mounts, and chassis bracing were all added to the car, in addition to the Ferrari-look-alike body paneling and a 351 Cleveland Ford V8. (For more on the De Tomaso Pantera, click here.)

The two Testarossas had originally come in black but were repainted white. Stories vary as to the reason: Don Johnson got into a fender bender that required repainting, or Michael Mann felt the white would show up better in night shoots, or maybe it was just to better match those cool white blazers and Italian loafers Crockett and Tubbs wore all the time.

The Many, Many Other Cars of Miami Vice

1963 Cadillac Coupe De Ville - imcdb.org
1963 Cadillac Coupe De Ville - imcdb.org

While the Ferrari’s get the bulk of the attention from fans of the show, Miami Vice included a whole slew of cool cars. Rico Tubbs, Crockett’s undercover partner, drove a 1963 Cadillac Coupe De Ville. A flashback shows Crockett driving a ’78 Porsche 911 Targa top. Given the shows setting, a Miami awash in guns, drugs, and money, it made sense for all those flashy characters to drive fast, flashy cars. Therefore, Lamborghinis, BMWs, Mercedes were a common sight on the show, as were muscle cars like Camaros, GTOs, and Mustangs, along with signature ‘80s cars like the DeLorean. All those great, era-defining cars helped elevate Miami Vice from average cop drama into a decade defining show that changed what television looked and sounded like forever after.

For more on television’s greatest hero cars, click here.

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Chris Kaiser

With two decades of writing experience and five years of creating advertising materials for car dealerships across the U.S., Chris Kaiser explores and documents the car world’s latest innovations, unique subcultures, and era-defining classics. Armed with a Master's Degree in English from the University of South Dakota, Chris left an academic career to return to writing full-time. He is passionate about covering all aspects of the continuing evolution of personal transportation, but he specializes in automotive history, industry news, and car buying advice.

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