"Hey," some guy surely said a few thousand years ago after reading Genesis 6:14-15,* before the ink was even dry on Moses' original papyrus, "I have 300 cubits of space behind the manger, and there's lots of gopher wood around. I can build an ark just like Noah's!" Theologians have struggled ever since with the Genesis flood's meaning in terms of man's relationship to God and vice versa, but some people, well, they're all about the boat.
Here are the spiritual descendants of that guy -- men who've decided that the important part of any story isn't what the hero does, but what he drives. It's the sort of thing that invariably starts with a childhood immersed in some aspect of popular culture that then metastasizes into an adult obsession. For 'Star Trek' fans, this dementia results in the wearing of pointy ears at conventions and the memorizing of Shakespeare's sonnets in Klingon. But even if the starship Enterprise were duplicable, it wouldn't fit in most garages. Meanwhile, 'Starsky & Hutch' fans can snag a 1974-76 Gran Torino two-door for about a grand, paint it red, add a white stripe and mag wheels, and suddenly, they're every crime lord in Bay City's worst nightmare. What's not to love about that?
Well, what's not to love is that that misses all the subtleties true S&H lovers know with precision. They know that there have been three distinct designs for the signature white stripe: the stripe on the cars used during production of the 1975-79 TV series, the stripe Ford put on the 1000 reproduction Starsky Torinos it built and offered for sale during the 1976 model year, and the slightly altered stripe applied to the dozen cars that portrayed Starsky's ride in Warner Brothers' 2004 big-screen movie. They know paint codes, they know that the revolving red light is a Sho-Me 01.0169, and they know where the cars that were used in filming the series and the movie are now. And what they don't know they can find on a fan Web site like www.starskytorino.com.
The Internet has been a boon for fanatics building replicas of star cars. Instead of each individual pursuing his fascination in isolation, online groups affirm that their peculiar pursuit is socially worthwhile and foster an information exchange that makes producing accurate replicas easier. And businesses such as BuildaGeneralLee.com (it sells everything needed to convert a 1969 Dodge Charger into a "General Lee" from 'The Dukes of Hazzard') can effectively market to them. It's a brave new world for obsessive-compulsive movie-car builders.
For those who haven't settled on a movie or TV car to which they can dedicate their lives and souls, Car and Driver gathered five iconic machines available and drivable in Southern California for this not-so-serious "comparison test." Here's the bottom line -- they're cars. You don't become Bo, Luke, Marty McFly, Starsky, Hutch, 'Mad Max,' Batman, or Robin by driving one. After all, you can build the ark and gather the animals, but you can't make it rain.
*14 Make for yourself an ark of gopher wood; you shall make the ark with rooms, and shall cover it inside and out with pitch. 15 This is how you shall make it: the length of the ark three hundred cubits, its breadth fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits. -- Genesis 6:14-15 (NASB)
'Starsky & Hutch' Ford Gran Torino
Ben Stiller actually drove and Owen Wilson actually rode in this 1974 Gran Torino. Built by Mike Walsh's Premiere Studio Rentals (www.premierestudiorentals.com) it's one of the two "hero" cars built for the 2004 Starsky & Hutch movie. Walsh sold the other hero car -- a '76 Gran Torino but otherwise identical -- on eBay for $50,000. That's not a lot for a genuine movie star, but it sure is a helluva lot for a Gran Torino.
This might, in fact, be the nicest Gran Torino in existence. It has just over 2100 original miles on its 33-year-old odometer and a hot-rodded 435-hp, 360-cubic-inch Ford Windsor pushrod V-8 under its hood. The body is straight and rust-free, and it neither creaks nor rattles -- much. The suspension has been rebuilt with stiffer rear leaf springs and air shocks to give it a mean rake. The slot mags wear 235/60R-15 BFGoodrich Radial T/As up front and 275/60R-15s in back. The PPG Viper Red paint is dang near blinding. The car idles with a nasty growl and roars when given some spur. It's even decently quick, running to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds and through the quarter-mile in 14.1 seconds at 102 mph, despite being set up to swing its tail dramatically around corners rather than accelerate in a straight line.
But at its core, this is a Gran Torino, and Gran Torinos flat suck. Massive bumpers hang off its ends like chrome adult diapers, the hood is so stupidly long it should be divided into counties, the vinyl "bucket" seats actually try to throw you out of the car, and the steering has only an inferential effect on where the 4040-pound car is headed. There's a reason Ford is in trouble today, and it all started with cars like the Gran Torino.
Mike Walsh isn't in the business of building cars for "civilians," but he has built one more Starsky Torino replica for a particularly insistent fan, and he is open to well-funded suggestions. He can only do so much, though, because even the nicest 'Starsky & Hutch' Gran Torino is still, alas, a Gran Torino.
VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 2-door coupe
ESTIMATED PRICE AS TESTED: $50,000
ENGINE TYPE: pushrod 16-valve V-8, iron block and aluminum heads, 1x4-bbl Holley carburetor
Displacement: 360 cu. in., 5899cc
Power (mfr's claim): 435 bhp @ 4,500 rpm
Torque (mfr's claim): 450 lb.-ft. @ 3,500 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 3-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 114.0 in.
Length: 213.6 in.
Width: 79.3 in.
Height: 52.6 in.
Curb weight: 4,040 lbs.
C/D TEST RESULTS:
Zero to 60 mph: 5.6 sec.
Zero to 100 mph: 13.7 sec.
Street start, 5-60 mph: 6.2 sec.
Standing ¼-mile: 14.1 sec. @ 102 mph
Braking, 70-0 mph: 281 ft.