Actor Larry Hagman died Friday at the age of 81 and he leaves behind a long list of film and television appearances.
I particularly liked him in Primary Colors as a shamed presidential candidate, and he was also on I Dream of Jeannie if you could stand that sort of thing, but he's probably best known for his stint on the show Dallas — which left people wondering who shot his character, J.R. Ewing Jr. –- and subsequent TV movies and on the reboot of the series that's currently filming.
Dallas is about Texas and oil, and therefore it's all about the cars. To that, we remember J.R. and what he drove on the series.
Back in the day, there were Mercedes, BMWs, Alfas, Cadillacs, and just about all of the glamorous cars between the late '70s and early '90s. I remember watching a rerun one night and completely ignoring the whole plot of the show and just looking at the cars. The reboot sticks to that strategy and is loaded with S-Classes, V-Caddys, Porsche Panameras etc. – it's like softcore car porn. And the show made damn well sure Hagman's oil baron character J.R. drove something big, powerful and not light on the gasoline.
The 280SE J.R Ewing drives at the time the series started in 1978 is totally with the times. It may have been strangled by emissions add-ons in the wake of the first oil crisis, but the W116 was always an intimidating brute. Dictators rode in them, so it made sense the villain of the show –someone in Texas and in oil – would have one too.
But then he got a 450SEL and the gas-guzzling giant finally had some power to go belting on those completely straight and flat Texas highways. Makes a good noise, too. The other great thing about the W116 is that, while clearly a product of the '70s, it somehow uses that as a cool and timeless element. Totally classy.
As the series progressed into the '80s, J.R. had to step up his game and got a new 380SEL. It's as though as the glitz and the chrome of the W116 was replaced by the trendy shoulder pads of the W126, so while the S-Class sedans of this era aren't the prettiest things ever made by Mercedes, they do well on the ability to be imposing and flash your wealth around. And to this day, you think "oil baron" and you think W126. Of course, you probably don't usually think "Texas" when you think "oil baron" these days.
I don't know what happened here. Product placement? A "Buy American" campaign that worked? Whatever the reason, J.R.'s switch from a big SEL to this werid time in Cadillac history was a step backwards. The Allante looked good, but had none of the sophistication of the Mercedes SL of the time (which Bobby Ewing famously drove on the show) and isn't exactly what you'd call imposing or brash. The Allante didn't get the Northstar engine until after the show ended, either, so with 200 horsepower coming from a 4.9-liter V8 it's not particularly fast.
For the first TV movie, J.R. Returns, they went back to giving J.R. his big, silver Benz. By the time it aired in 1996, this was an S420 and probably the most tech-laded car you could buy those days. 4.2-liters moving around more than two tons, again, does not make for particularly swift progress, but it is quiet and, at more than 17 feet long, imposing.
With J.R. getting up there in terms of age by then, you have to wonder what he made of all of the electronics, like parking sensors and CD changers. At least it was the S-Class before the COMAND system, which he may have just shot out of frustration.
Again, what's with the convertible? At least it's a Mercedes this time, and the SL500 is one of the greatest in terms of power and luxury. But doesn't it get unbearably hot in Dallas, like so hot you never want to leave an air conditioned environment? An old man driving an SL says Miami more than Dallas. But hey, I don't live in either place and I'm talking about a made-for-TV movie called War of the Ewings.