The Rockford Files had the Firebird. Magnum P.I. had the Ferrari 308 GTS. Knight Rider had the black Trans Am. The BBC's Ashes to Ashes had the Audi Quattro.
Lots of great television shows will highlight an awesome car or two, even if they aren't necessarily "car shows." Though you may not realize it at first, Breaking Bad — AMC's uniquely American story about a cancer-stricken high school teacher who goes into business cooking and selling meth — deserves to be on that list as well.
And when you really take a close look at Breaking Bad, you'll realize it might just have the best selection of cars on television right now.
Granted, the story of Breaking Bad has nothing to do with cars. It's about drugs and desperation and violence and what it's like to fall into darkness. The cars exist only for transportation, a means of getting from point A to point B, and occasionally to aide the commission of crime.
But Breaking Bad's cars are interesting on two fronts. First, it's an extremely eclectic lineup. I have been watching it for years, but I never really thought about the cars until one our readers, a fellow named Leighton, emailed us. Here's what he said:
I was watching Breaking Bad the other day and as Walter White raced through the streets performing perfect power slides in his Pontiac Aztek, I started thinking about the awesome cars of Breaking Bad - Jesse's Toyota, The red Wagoneer, Gus's Volvo wagon. Really every car is interesting. There's not a Camry in the bunch.
And he has a good point. You won't find any Ferraris or old-school Audis on the show, but none of the cars are boring. They may not be sports cars, but most of them have interesting histories or are visually appealing in their own unique way. A couple are even perennial Jalopnik favorites.
The other reason the show's cars are great is because each character's ride of choice suits them extremely well, both on a superficial level and a deeper one. That Aztek says more about Walter White than you might think, as does Jesse Pinkman's old Toyota Tercel wagon. After a while, it becomes clear that a lot of thought went into which car got paired with which character.
Without further ado, let's look at the amazing cars of Breaking Bad and the increasingly unsympathetic assholes who drive them. I may have missed a couple, so feel free to add in yours in the comments.
What are your favorite cars from the show?
(Warning: I tried my best to stay away from spoilers, but some small ones may be ahead. Read at your own risk.)
Walter White's Pontiac Aztek
Long the butt of many a joke in the auto industry, the Pontiac Aztek finally got its day to shine on Breaking Bad. This is such a great choice of a car for Walt on so many levels. When the series starts, Walt is kind of a pathetic, ineffectual man who struggles to get respect from anyone. His life never turned out the way he wanted to. He's reasonably happy, but he never lived up to his true potential. You know he bought that battered old Aztek used because he got a good price on it and hasn't really taken care of it. It's appropriate for his lame, suburban existence.
Then Walt gets cancer. And then he starts cooking meth and selling it to pay his medical bills and ensure his family's viability when he's done. And then he becomes a crime boss and a killer. Breaking Bad isn't really about drugs, it's about Walt's plummet into a moral abyss.
And that's why the Aztek is so fitting. The car was lambasted as a perfect example of groupthink and managerial bad decisions at General Motors. In many ways, it can be seen as a symbol of their downward spiral into near-death during the Carpocalypse. Deep down inside, it represents something ugly, not unlike the path Walt follows as the show goes on.
Walt later goes much more sinister with a black Chrysler 300C SRT8 after the Aztek gets wrecked.
Jesse Pinkman's Toyota Tercel 4WD Wagon, Yo
Oh, Jesse. He starts the show as a habitual fuck-up, a drug user and all-around idiot until he and Walt get involved with cooking and selling meth together. But as the show progresses, he becomes one of the few sympathetic characters, and one of the only ones to be truly remorseful for the things he does.
Jesse starts out driving a red Monte Carlo equipped with hydraulics, the perfect car for his early wannabe thug persona. But after it gets shot up in the desert, he buys a much more sensible, practical — and far less ostentatious — 1986 Tercel wagon with four-wheel-drive. I think it suits him far better than the Monte Carlo. It's a plucky, can-do little car, something you kind of root for, just like Jesse. He also gets extra Jalopnik bonus points for investing in an old 4WD hatchback.
Hank Schrader's Jeep Commander
If one were to compile a list of the greatest Jeeps of all time, the Commander would probably not be on it. It's not memorable mechanically or aesthetically, and probably only sold because it kind of resembles older, better Jeeps. Walt's DEA agent brother-in-law Hank drives one, and again, it suits him well.
Hank likes to act tough, but as we see when he gets transferred to El Paso, he doesn't really have the stomach or the street smarts to deal with the extreme violence he's supposed to be combating. Same with his car — he drives this Jeep because it looks enough like a Jeep, but it's not at all hardcore.
Gus Fring's Volvo V70
Okay, now I'm convinced that some producer or writer on Breaking Bad is a Jalopnik reader. Here, we have a ruthless, meticulous drug dealer who drives a Volvo wagon. The only way this would be cooler is if it were a 240.
On the surface, Gus is the quiet, reserved, respectable operator of the Los Pollos Hermanos franchise who is heavily involved in community service. But that's all just a cover for his true identity — he's one of the most powerful meth kingpins in America. And he gets away with it thanks to his smarts and extreme caution.
A Volvo wagon is the perfect choice for this guy. It's a nice car, fitting for a successful guy like him, and a sensible, safe choice. But it's not going to draw any attention from the feds. If you're going to be a large-scale drug distributor, a Volvo wagon is a much better choice than a Maybach.
Saul Goodman's Cadillac DeVille
Get fired for stealing from your office? Nailed with another DWI charge? Need help laundering drug money? Better call Saul! His white Cadillac DeVille — complete with the LWYRUP vanity plate — is perfect for a sleazy lawyer with ties to organized crime. What did you expect Saul to drive, a Lexus? He believes in America too much for that.
Skyler White's Jeep Grand Wagoneer
Unlike her brother-in-law Hank, Skyler drives a Jeep that doesn't suck. It's a damn fine example of an older Jeep, though. It's a super-normal choice for a woman like Skyler, a normal woman thrust into bizarre and later horrific situations. Also, it has wood panels. Who doesn't love wood panels?
Marie Schrader's Volkswagen New Beetle
Marie's New Beetle is extremely fitting: She's petty, jealous, insecure, petulant, and never emotionally moved past age 15. A big purple New Beetle fits well enough.
The Rolling Meth Lab RV
No discussion of Breaking Bad's cars would be complete without bringing up this hulking beast. IMCDB.org says it's a 1986 Fleetwood Bounder. Early on, Walt and Jesse's fortunes are tied heavily to it because it's where they do their meth-cooking.
The Bounder took a lot of abuse during its run, and it was never all that dependable to begin with. Remember that episode where they spend days in it cooking massive quantities of meth, only to drain the battery and get stuck out there? Some of the show's best moments revolve around the RV. And it's so boring that it's perfect for hiding in plain sight. Sadly, it meets its end midway through the third season.
Hat tip to Leighton for the story idea!
All photos credit AMC via IMCDB.org