James Garner comes up on this site a fair amount. Some months ago we solved the mystery of the James Garner 4-seat Indy Car, and this past weekend attended the Rockford Gathering, which must be the epicenter of James Garner-related activity.
And there we found the largest collection of Rockford Files cars in the universe.
I'll admit, I had no idea there was a group of people who were so into The Rockford Files (for you tweens and kids out there, the Rockford Files was a clever show about a sort of downtrodden private detective. People watched it on old CRT TVs that looked like wooden furniture.) that they actually meet up every year to eat food, drink beer, and talk about it. Really, there are far worse ways to spend your time.
I was at this sacred global gathering of Rockford File fans for the cars, of course. One of the club's members, Patrick McKinney, has the largest collection of Pontiac Firebirds confirmed to be actual cars from the show. Garner has always been a gearhead, so the car Rockford drove was a pretty big part of the show. Garner even had a signature driving move, a sort of quick from reverse-J-turn that even became known as a "Rockford turn."
The car used for Garner's character was always a gold Pontiac Firebird, starting with '76 models, then moving to the '78s. Garner didn't like the look of the '79s, so they never went to those. The show used three cars per season, all Firebird Esprits (the lower-end model, fitting with the character's down-on-his-luck image) but with engines from the higher-end Formula versions.
McKinney has three Rockford cars: one '76 and two '78s. The '76 and one of the '78s are in pretty rough but original condition, and the other '78 is about 80% restored. He has confirmation of the authenticity of all of them— in the case of the '76 , proof is in a letter from James Garner himself. Another one of the cars was given to the daughter of one of the stuntmen from the show, and that one still bears the holes drilled into it so that audio equipment could be installed in the car, letting the actors say their lines without having to be dubbed.
The Firebirds were well liked by the cast and crew. Garner did about half of the driving stunts himself, the other half being done by stuntman Royden Clark, who was at the event. When asked how he liked driving the Firebirds for the show, Clark had nothing but good things to say. "You could take a corner at 60 mph, for Crissakes," he told me.
Now, interest in Firebirds from the Rockford Files is a decidedly niche market. Aside from these diehards, it would be pretty difficult to find anyone else who'd really be interested, if we're honest. But, since we're being so honest, that's what makes me like these cars. It's a tiny sphere of interest, but I love that there's a small and dedicated group of people who are willing to find these cars and restore and/or preserve them, just because they have whatever personal connection they had to the cars, show, actors, or any part of it. Any reason to keep a vintage auto on the road is a good reason in my book, and these guys have signed letters and can see their cars doing exciting 70s-era stunts and hauling around guys with hairy chests on DVD whenever they want. That's pretty great.