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5 Best TV Cars of the 80s

Cars were always a status symbol in our favorite TV shows of the 20th century. Depending on the type of vehicle appearing in a scene, you could easily anticipate what kind of character was going to step out. If a Ferrari screeched to a stop in front of a night club, it was some jerky Euro-Trash guy about to make our hero feel bad. When an American muscle car peeled out, it was definitely being driven by a no nonsense tough guy, ready to fight for justice. Should a convertible roll onto the screen, you just knew a cute girl with lots of hairspray was going to strut her stuff. Then there were the vehicles that had names and personalities of their own, so here are my picks for the 5 Best TV Cars of the 80’s.

A-Team, Tactical Van

It’s hard to argue with the power of this awesome assault vehicle, seeing that it was blowing away bad guys with its covert firepower on a weekly basis. Hannibal, Murdock, Face and Mr. T as B.A. Baracus were always using their technical military training to modify the thing for their latest mission, but the one constant was the awesome red and black paint job. It just made every battle that much cooler to see those dangerous colors zooming by. If I got bored with the actual storyline of an episode, I could always look forward to the car chase scene and some over the top explosions.

ERTL and Galoob created several toy versions of the vehicle including one in scale with the G.I. Joe sized action figures. But there were some weird ones like the Air-Powered Dynamite Blaster, Pow-R-Pull motorized die-cast and Wrist Racers, where you wore it like a watch with a ramp that the car rolled down. There was even a rideable peddle car released, where all you needed was a jean vest, some gold chains and you were ready save the day, FOOL! Any automobile that inspires that kind of creativity is worthy of our praise.

M.A.S.K., Matt Tracker's Thunderhawk

Yes it’s animated, but few cars caught my imagination like this signature vehicle from the adventure cartoon, M.A.S.K. For the uninitiated, this show followed a group of heroes who fought the forces of evil wearing fancy helmets and riding around in transforming vehicles. Matt Tracker was the leader and his gull-winged red sports car could fly. ‘Nuff said. Look, the DeLorean from Back To The Future is great, but pre-hover conversion in 2015, it was purely an Earth bound vehicle. Matt Tracker was making obvious use of the gull-wing design from the start.

The Kenner toys and cartoon were cool, but the reason I owned this thing was the box art. Just look at how dynamic that painted action scene is. Wing doors up, speed lines zooming, door mounted machine guns blazing and Matt Tacker seemingly not wearing a seatbelt. OK, so that oversight was a little questionable. If you’re going to fly around with open car doors, you might want to secure yourself. But this is definitely a car that made an impression circa 1986.

Dukes of Hazzard, General Lee

Yeeeeee-haaaaw! The Dukes of Hazzard was basically all about the car (and Daisy Duke’s jean shorts) when you think about it. Sure Bo and Luke were handsome good ol’ boys, Boss Hogg and Rosco were funny, while Daisy was hot enough to get even a 4 year old’s motor running, but the General Lee was what we were tuning in to see each week. With each ramp jump and doughnut spin this speed machine worked its way into our hearts.

The orange paint job on this Dodge Charger was instantly eye catching and the Confederate flag design on the roof let you know this wasn’t some Yankee yuppie-mobile. Of course, at the time of watching I knew nothing about the Civil War or American history, so the star laden blue X was simply the Dukes of Hazzard symbol in my mind. The 80s wouldn’t have been complete without this beauty peeling out through Hazzard county.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Party Wagon

“Donatello does machines! (That’s a fact, jack!)” This thing had to be the purple bandana wearing turtle’s greatest invention. In the original comics it was just a converted Volkswagen van, but for the cartoon they created a tricked out assault vehicle with the appropriate turtle shell motif. The Turtles are even featured launching themselves into battle through the roof in the opening credits, RADICAL!

It was faithfully re-created by Playmates for the toy line and was a vehicle I always wanted to own. My favorite feature was the fold down side door that allowed the green teens to fight bad guys on the road using their ninja weaponry. While I was happy to see a version of the Turtle Van at the end of the Michael Bay produced reboot film, I was even more excited to see the upgraded version take center stage during the trailer for the sequel. Cowabunga!

Knight Rider, K.I.T.T.

Could you imagine any other vehicle being number one on this list? A snippy, talking robot car driven by David Hasselhoff? There is no greater example of automotive entertainment excellence. K.I.T.T. is absolutely the coolest, even if he is voiced by less than hip, Mr. Feeney from Boy Meets World. Every time you see K.I.T.T. pull up with his flashing red grill and sleek black paint job you can hear the electronic theme song kick in.

I used to role play all the time that I was Michael Knight, talking in to my wrist-watch communicator and summoning this awesome customized Trans-Am to back me up in taking down the bad guys. My favorite feature was the Turbo Boost jumping ability that allowed our leather jacketed hero to vault over villains and cross chasms in a single bound. I’d imagine leaping over cars in traffic when my Mom was driving me to school and being the coolest kid in my class. Notably, neither of those things ever happened.

So those are my picks for coolest retro TV cars. Who did I miss? Which was your favorite?

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SockofFleagulls Posted on Dec 08, 2016 at 08:23 PM

I love that you included Thunder Hawk. I could easily make this list all M.A.S.K. vehicles. However, the Coyote X from Hardcastle and McCormick is an awesome TV car that's obscure enough to get overlooked often. Others in consideration should be Colt Seaver's 4x4 from Fall Guy and Magnum P.I.'s Ferrari. Animated, how about that transforming convertible from Heathcliff and the Catillac Cats or Filmation Ghostbusters car?

Vaporman87 Posted on May 01, 2016 at 01:10 PM

I would have loved to have seen all those "Dukes" cars in one place as a kid.

DirtyD79 Posted on Apr 30, 2016 at 11:12 AM

I loved the General Lee when I was a kid. It's one of my favorite TV show cars. I don't think I really paid much attention to the plot of the show, I just thought it was so cool watching the car jumping over stuff and all the chases. Some guy down the street from us had one and I always liked to walk down just to look at it. I also think it's pretty cool how during Mopar Days at Carlisle, PA they have a whole row of General Lee Chargers along with a row of the 1970s Dodge Monaco and Plymouth Gran Fury cop cars like in the show. Granted I would grow up to be more of a Ford guy but I still can't forget just how much I loved that car as a kid.

Hoju Koolander Posted on Feb 05, 2016 at 10:58 PM

@massreality You're right, I totally spaced on Ecto-1 since I wasn;t thinking about the animated series. Now that I think about it, Inspector Gadget's GadgetMobile was pretty awesome too, so it gets a runner-up prize.

Vaporman87 Posted on Feb 03, 2016 at 04:49 PM

I was sitting here thinking, "But Ecto-1 was a movie based car". However, it was in the Real Ghostbusters cartoon, wasn't it? So I guess it COULD qualify in this list.

massreality Posted on Feb 03, 2016 at 04:19 PM

I'm pretty happy with your list, but there is no way Thunderhawk trumps the Ecto-1. Come on!

Vaporman87 Posted on Feb 01, 2016 at 09:03 PM

It's great to see some animated vehicles make this list, being a big fan of the Thunderhawk (it adorns the front page here!) and the Party Wagon.

I can think of no vehicle from television that could hold the number one spot aside from K.I.T.T. It truly belongs there, without a doubt.

The General Lee and A-Team van are also very deserving of spots in the list. Actually, I can't think of any 80's TV vehicles more deserving of being here in the top 5.

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