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“Zebra Three, Zebra Three!” – The Starsky and Hutch Car

Steven Mitchell

The Starsky and Hutch car was a star that the public could be with. Join us and reminisce about one of America’s iconic TV cars.

The Starsky and Hutch Car – a Striped Tomato

Gran Torino from "Starksy and Hutch" - imcdb.org
Gran Torino from "Starksy and Hutch" - imcdb.org

If we mentioned David Soul and Paul Michael Glaser’s names, you might not immediately recall where you’ve seen them. However, if we added the information that they drove a tomato red Gran Torino with a big white stripe down the side, you’d probably say “Starsky and Hutch.”

In the 1970s, you could name a few iconic TV star cars. There was the General Lee, James Garner’s Firebird Esprit, KITT, and then there was “Zebra Three”, or what was better known as the Starsky and Hutch car.

A More Fun Cop Show

Starsky and Hutch - bigvalleylover2 on YouTube.com
Starsky and Hutch - bigvalleylover2 on YouTube.com

Aaron Spelling and creator William Blinn developed gritty and often violent drama known for its graphic portrayal of crime, drug use, and racism. Spelling felt cop show crime dramas had become too predictable. So, in 1975, he introduced a trendier view of cops and a multicultural cast with Starsky & Hutch. Glaser and Soul had a bromance on and offscreen, with a growing portion of the large viewing audience fighting over who they would date if given a chance. Although, many fans just wanted that Gran Torino.

It Was Supposed to be a Camaro

1969 Chevrolet Camaro - MuscleCarOfTheWeek on YouTube.com
1969 Chevrolet Camaro - MuscleCarOfTheWeek on YouTube.com

Starsky & Hutch quickly turned the main characters into superstars, but their Ford Gran Torino became a bigger star than anyone ever realized. Amazingly, it wasn’t even planned.

William Blinn, the show’s creator, had originally penned in a green Chevy Camaro convertible as the detective pair’s ride. But, when trying to book the car, Chevy said they couldn’t produce one. Ford came in with a cheaper ride that fit the show budget. Ford had been running a studio-tv loan car program and worked with Aaron Spelling on previous projects. So, Blinn and Spelling chose the 1975 Bright Red 351 Windsor V8-powered two-door Gran Torino as their Starsky and Hutch car.

There’s no parallel universe to see what happened with the Chevy Camaro in place of the Torino, but the chances are good that someone inside Chevy received a lot of grief for saying no.

Hollywood Manufactures a Star

Gran Torino from "Starsky and Hutch" - theAFICIONAUTO on YouTube.com
Gran Torino from "Starsky and Hutch" - theAFICIONAUTO on YouTube.com

So, to turn a non-descript grandmother car into a hero, the 1975 Gran Torino Sport was custom painted with a white vector stripe on top of the Ford Bright Red factory color. Hollywood’s manufactured star was an immediate hit in the audience’s hearts and minds.

With a few exceptions, the Torino was a star that the public was familiar with. Inside was a base model black soft vinyl flight bench seat with optional remote-controlled mirrors and electric windows.

Gran Torino from "Starsky and Hutch" - theAFICIONAUTO on YouTube.com
Gran Torino from "Starsky and Hutch" - theAFICIONAUTO on YouTube.com

Underneath the car was a non-standard rear suspension with an air shock, rear-end lift, and Firestone or BF Goodrich rubber mounted on Ansen Sprint 5-slot mag wheels. Since the tire manufacturers wouldn’t pay for the TV sponsor fees, the tires were mounted to show only the black side.

As lovely as the Starsky and Hutch car’s V8 dual exhaust sound might have been, editors had to add the engine’s rumble and put in a non-standard rear diff gear to make things more dramatic. It’s Hollywood, and nothing’s natural after all. Since then, fans who own and care for their own Starsky and Hutch replica Gran Torino’s will put in a hot cam and open up the exhaust to get the same cam lope and rumble as heard on TV show.

The Not So Loved Gran Torino

Starsky and Hutch - bigvalleylover2 on YouTube.com
Starsky and Hutch - bigvalleylover2 on YouTube.com

Glaser and Soul hated the Gran Torino because of its handling and slick bench seat. We’re not sure what they were expecting. It was the 70s, every American car handled poorly and had slippery vinyl seats. The Gran Torino was a nose-heavy beast of a vehicle at 4,200 lbs that understeered in corners and wasn’t exactly a screamer with an 8.1 second 0-60 time. Glaser (Starsky) disliked the car so much that he would routinely steer it into curbs in hopes of breaking it. The Ford survived the punishment on and off the stage while the stars would bad mouth it and abuse it. In fairness to the human stars, by the 70s, the Torino had become a mid-sized near-luxury car that never had aspirations to be a muscle car.

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In the 60s, the mighty Cobra Jet Torino’s were roaming the streets and racing on NASCAR tracks. But by 1971, the hairy-chested models went away and the Torino introduced the Brougham. What was once a muscle car began running with a new, luxury-focused chassis. Ford’s marketing said it was quieter than a Rolls-Royce, so there you go. Now we can give Starsky a break for all the hate, because that striped tomato sort of drove like its namesake vegetable.

The Starsky and Hutch Edition

Gran Torino from "Starsky and Hutch" - theAFICIONAUTO on YouTube.com
Gran Torino from "Starsky and Hutch" - theAFICIONAUTO on YouTube.com

The TV show was so popular that Ford seized an opportunity to produce a Starsky and Hutch edition Ford Gran Torino. So, in the Gran Torino’s final year of production, Ford built 1,000 special edition models. These publicly sold cars went for $4,461 and included:

  • A three-speed automatic transmission.
  • Electronic ignition.
  • Power steering.
  • Power front disc brakes.
  • A 351 cubic-inch Cleveland V8 as standard equipment.

The Starsky & Hutch paint was an additional $165. After other add-ons, it was yours for $5,351. Then it was burning rubber off the lot as you rushed to your next real or made-up crime scene.

All Things Must Come to an End

Starsky and Hutch - bigvalleylover2 on YouTube.com
Starsky and Hutch - bigvalleylover2 on YouTube.com

During Starsky & Hutch’s four-year run, it was realized that not everything was made up in Hollywood. At some point, NY detectives Lou Teiano and John Sepe saw way too many similarities between their work lives and the show – including their red car. They eventually worked out a deal for the writers inspired by their lives. Instead of becoming paid advisers on the show, they agreed to receive $10,000 each in compensation.

After ABC canceled Starsky & Hutch due to increasing production costs and low ratings, the show cars were returned to Ford’s Studio-TV Car Lease Program. The hero cars were then sold at a Ford Motor Company auction to AE Barber Ford of Ventura, California. The Starsky and Hutch cars then went around to other owners across the United States where they remain today.

Gran Torino from "Starsky and Hutch" - theAFICIONAUTO on YouTube.com
Gran Torino from "Starsky and Hutch" - theAFICIONAUTO on YouTube.com

For Ford, the Torino spanned a decade while producing over two million cars. In 1976, the last year of its production, just nine models were built, but the most important were the 1000 white and red Special Edition models made prior for the US. An iconic car and color scheme, the Starsky and Hutch car is still known and driven today by fans from around the world.

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Steven Mitchell
Steven Mitchell

Steve's first car had pedals, and he's been filled with passion for four wheels ever since. He lives and breathes the car life as a technologist, futurist, and writer while keeping up with the whys, hows, and plans of the automotive industry. His automotive journey began with a fully restored Triumph TR3b that he sadly never appreciated until decades later. Ownerships of X-1/9's, BMW's, an SVT and a Dodge Ram Hemi have given way to the house of Audi Sport. You'll also find him as an endurance athlete on the bike in SoCal, but you'll know he's thinking about cars.

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