Face it, America is car happy. The car we drive is part of our image. The first impression is often made by what we show up in. So it is with the characters in our stories, especially our main characters.
In the real world, a detective's ride should be economical and dependable, It should have plenty of power for fast getaways or chases. It should be able to turn on a dime to counter the evasive action of a fleeing suspect. It should have a cargo area for the detective's gear and change of clothing. It should have room for the detective and a sidekick to endure a long stakeout. Finally it should be so nondescript as to blend into the surroundings for moving or stationary surveillance. In other words, the ideal detective's ride is like a good pair of mommy jeans—roomy, serviceable and boring. A Ford or Volvo station wagon would fit the bill.
Fictional detectives don't wear mommy jeans and they don't drive Volvos, at least not Volvo station wagons. Here are some fictional detectives and their rides.
This first category shouts, “I've got more money than sense.” Amos Burke. LA Chief of Detectives arrived at crime scenes in his chauffeured Rolls Royce. We liked tis guy back in the sixties, but now we know he had to have been on the take to afford those wheels.
Jonathan and Jennifer Hart likewise did their detecting from the back of a Rolls Royce Corniche. For comfortable stakeouts there's nothing better if you don't mind being made right away. Pardon me, scumbag, do you have any Grey Poupon?
The "Mine's bigger than yours" department. How do you spot a two-fisted shamus? He's the wise-cracking guy in the loud sport coat driving some badass Detroit iron.
There's Bullitt tearing through the streets of San Francisco in his "Highland Green" 1968 Ford Mustang 390 CID Fastback, in the car chase of car chases.
Hardboiled PI, Joe Mannix favored convertible models that included an Olds Toronado, a Dodge Dart and a '70 Barracuda.
Nash Bridges also liked that '70 Cuda, maybe because the color matched his jacket. Less than 300 '70 Cuda convertibles were made, so if you spot one of these in your rearview, pull over and spread 'em.
Tough guy Spenser chased the bad guys in his muscular '66 Mustang fastback on TV.
A.J. Simon, of Simon and Simon, tooled around San Diego in his Camaro IROC Z, a car that, according to A.J., attracted more women than a shoe sale. Other than a Toby Keith concert, just where would an IROC blend in?
An extra shot of testosterone. Crockett and Tubbs cleaned up Miami in their Ferrari Testarossa, (testosteronsa) and Thomas Magnum drove the mean streets of Honolulu in a Ferrari 308GTS. With a top speed of 180 mph, you can catch any bad boy if you can break out of the traffic gridlock of Miami and Honolulu. By comparison, Elvis Cole's yellow Corvette is a kiddie car.
Fear me. Rick Simon, the other half of Simon and Simon, drove a Dodge Power Wagon. This monster started off as a military vehicle and is alone in its class.
Girl's just wanna have fun Nervy, curvy PI, Honey West drove a 57 Corvette. The car was fast, sleek and sexy like Honey, herself. The chase was on when Honey "slammed fire into the 'Vette's carburetors." When she got to TV, she acquired even more va-voom with an AC Cobra. That's it on the left.
Chicago's own fast and dangerous V.I. Warshawski likes power under her foot. Her ride is a Pontiac TransAm.
Stunning PI Bridget Logan folds her six-foot frame into a Porsche Boxster.
Emma Peel envy. Emma Peel drove a little blue Lotus Elan. Not to be outpaced, Sharon McCone drives an MGB. No question that an MGB is cute and sporty, but reliable? When you're fleeing for your life from a bad guy, you want that car to start.
Where Honey West was fast and sexy, Laura Holt in Remington Steele was just cute and her car, a Volkswagon Golf convertible, reflected that. It was high in cute factor, like its driver, but bad guys needn't worry about getting away.
You came in what? Don’t let the ride fool you. Columbo’s 1960 Peugeot 403 is wrinkled and woeful-looking, like its owner, but it gets the job done. Over 1,200,000 of these were sold.
Image is everything and the Remington Steele company car was not the Golf, but Steele's 1936 Auburn Boattail Speedster. I’d love to see this baby shedding hubcaps on those jouncy San Francisco hills.
In my opinion, the weirdest duck in the detective motorcade belonged to Travis McGee. He drove an electric blue Rolls Royce that was converted to a pickup truck which McGee named Miss Agnes. Miss Agnes might have looked something like this.
The detective in my new series, Ava Rome, is in the class with Honey, V.I., and Bridget. She drives a red Mustang GT convertible because she likes power under her foot and wind in her hair. She likes the looks she gets stepping out of it.
So what does your character drive and what does it say about him or her?
Crime Fiction by Mark Troy