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The magical, morphing cars

I recently obtained a set of DVDs of the old Highway Patrol TV series for a very low price, so–of course–I have spent some time watching episodes of this mid-late '50s cop show. To my amazement, I observed the following transformations:

As Broderick Crawford is driving to the scene of a crime, his car has a tendency to start off as a '56 Mercury Custom, but during the drive it morphs into a '56 Olds 88, and by the time he gets to his destination, the car has become a '56 Buick Special. Truly magical!
The getaway car for a series of robberies is identified as a “supercharged black roadster”, but when we are able to get a view under the hood, the chopped and channeled Model A clearly has a normally-aspirated, dual carb V-8, which appears to be from an early '50s Cadillac.

I wonder how many viewers in this show’s heyday observed the contradictions, or if they were just so “wowed” by the magic of television that they never noticed.

I remember these inconsistencies in the show when it was first televised starting in the mid 1950s. Another police show, the Line Up with Tom Tully and Warner Anderson had them driving a 1951 Ford Deluxe (the standard trim model–the high trim line Ford was the Custom) . Inspector Gregg(Tom Tully and Lt. Guthrie (Warner Anderson) would leave the police station in a Ford V8 which would morph into a Ford 6 when they reached the crime scene. In 1957, the Ford was swapped for a Dodge. The next season, they would leave the station in a 1957 Dodge and arrive at the scene in a 1958 Dodge.

Also, the Peugeot convertible that Columbo drove sometimes had a light convertible top and sometimes had a black convertible top. I did read that there were two different cars used in filming the episodes. There were probably only two of these Peugeots in the entire nation.

In one of the early scenes of North by Northwest, the protagonist (Cary Grant), leaves the Plaza Hotel in a Ford taxicab of one model year, and a few minutes later, he arrives at the UN in a Ford of a different model year. I don’t recall whether his taxi morphed from a '57 to a '58, or from a '58 to a '57, but suffice it to say that he didn’t depart and arrive in the same car.

If someone like Hitchcock was able to make those mistakes, just imagine what took place on TV shows of the '50s, where production values were…not very high.

"The next season, they would leave the station in a 1957 Dodge and arrive at the scene in a 1958 Dodge."

Those doughnut stops add up after a while. :wink:

Continuity was not a strong part of this program. It was funny to see the same unmarked cars appear in various episodes. Sometimes a cop car, sometimes the bad guys car. They must not have had a very big budget.

The same '55 Ford 4 door sedan, the same '56 Plymouth convertible, and the same early '50s Ford pickup appeared in multiple episodes of Highway Patrol, all driven by different criminals in each episode. Because the show was filmed in black & white, this duplication was…perhaps…a little less obvious.

One interesting thing about the Highway Patrol episodes is that in the first shows, 1955 Buicks were used. These Buicks were manual transmissions and the producer got the sound of the car taking off correct. The cars had the Buick low gear growl and the second gear whine. We had a manual shift 1954 Buick at the time and the Highway Patrol Cars sounded exactly the same. I did read where the California Highway Patrol actually used straight shift Buick Centurys in 1955, so Dan Matthews ride in the first shows was authentic.

I just remember him always driving way over the center line. I guess maybe to avoid deer.

“The cars had the Buick low gear growl and the second gear whine.”

You are correct about the Buick, but what I find really alarming is that every time Crawford’s '56 Merc accelerates, the engine sounds like it is about to self-destruct. Didn’t MGM have an in-house maintenance staff for their vehicles?

“I just remember him always driving way over the center line.”

Well, old Broderick was known for being a heavy-duty boozer, so perhaps he wasn’t in full control of his faculties when he was driving those cars.

I used to watch out for the cars and trucks that when over a cliff in TV shows and movies. They would suddenly morph into a cheaper vehicle as they met their demise. Some would explode as they neared the end of their dive…some shortly after.

One police show where the car did not morph to another car was the original Dragnet with Jack Webb as Sgt. Joe Friday and Ben Alexander as Officer Frank Smith. The cars Sgt. Friday and Officer Smith used were upgraded–when I first started watching the show, the car was a,1953 Ford Mainline. In later episodes, the 1953 Ford was replaced with a 1954 Ford Customline. In the final runs of a the original Dragnet, Sgt. Friday and Officer Smith rode in a 1956 Ford Customline. The vehicles were updated, but consistent from scene to scene. Fords were used for a good reason. Ben Alexander, who played Officer Frank Smith, owned a big Ford agency in Los Angeles. In the second Dragnet series with Harry Morgan playing Joe Friday’s sidekick, Bill Gannon, a 1967 Ford Fairlane was used. I guess the L.A.P.D. had its budget cut and intermediate size cars replaced the full size cars.

I just recalled that in some of the tv shows . . . when the cars would become airborne and crash, you could often clearly see the rollcage inside the vehicle, and a stuntman behind the wheel


I recently watched “Walking Tall” on tv. After the corrupt sheriff . . . Buford Pusser’s predecessor . . . . went off the road, his cruiser exploded in a fireball, right before going into the creek

Presumably, the fuel tank hit a tree stump, was punctured and exploded


Joe Don Baker played some real badass characters, back in the day

I remember the scene in “Charlie Varrick” . . . ? . . . where he punches some guy’s lights out and repossesses a car

One television series of the 1950s was “I Led Three Lives” with Richard Carlson playing the role of Herbert A. Philbrick–citizen, Communst, and counterspy for the FBI. Philbrick drove a different car in each show, but the car was always the lowest trim line:. A Plymouth Cambridge or Plaza,a Chevrolet 150 or a Ford Mainline. About the only people who drove the low trimline were FBI agents. It was a directive of J.Edgar Hoover that only the lowest trim lines were to be purchased. I always figured that the Comrades had to be really ignorant in not figuring out that Philbrick was working for the FBI by not noting that the car he drove was an FBI type vehicle.

" It was a directive of J.Edgar Hoover that only the lowest trim lines were to be purchased."

…and yet, Hoover purchased an armored limo–at government expense–in an era when the POTUS didn’t yet have such protection. At the outbreak of WW II, the armored Caddy that had been seized from Al Capone (when he was arrested) was pressed into service for transporting FDR.

During the '50s, the FBI kept one armored Caddy limo in Miami Beach for Hoover’s use during his vacations, in addition to the one that was used in DC. Because there was no budget in the Miami FBI office for maintaining that Caddy, it ran very poorly after a few years, and the agent assigned as Hoover’s Florida chauffeur (the only Black agent at the time) lived in fear of Hoover’s wrath when the unmaintained Caddy would stall–which it did frequently.

You can also see the morphing in documentaries or movies with aircraft and motorcycles.

A P51-D strafes a freight train, the train explodes, and the next scene shows a P-47 pulling out.

Or a Japanese Zero getting shot up and the next scene showing it before it plows into the ocean as a Zeke or even a twin-engine Betty bomber.

Remember the Then Came Bronson TV show about the guy riding all over the country on a Harley Sportster and doing good wherever he went?
Any time he crashed the bike became a single cylinder 2 stroke before going over a ledge or into a lake.

He also owned the only Sportster that was ever manufactured that always started first kick, only kick, every single time.
The term “Sportster Knee” did not apply to Bronson… :smiley:

Sure but back then many local police departments used Fords. I think they were cheaper and faster than the competition. In the 60’s Plymouths became popular too. I dunno though, lots of folks around us bought the cheapest trim line. Maybe they were all FBI agents in disguise though as milk men or factory workers.

Back in the '60s, the local Sheriff’s Department seized a yellow 1960 Ford Convertible (with a 390 c.i. V-8) from some offender, and they decided to use it for stealth interception of speeders. Just imagine the surprise of the folks who were pulled over by a yellow convertible with a uniformed officer behind the wheel.

A few years later, for a short period of time, the division of the NJ State Police that patrolled the NJ Turnpike used a few leased Thunderbirds for apprehension of speeders. Because most folks were used to seeing marked Chrysler New Yorker six window sedans, this gambit was reportedly very successful in snaring speed offenders and other dangerous drivers.

Back in the mid 70s a small town (Population about 400) had a town cop whose squad car was a mid 60s VW Beetle.

There were a couple of magnetic signs on the door and a 2 way radio. In a newspaper interview the cop stated that he did not have the ability to run down anyone but his radio could.