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Carlisle Ford Nationals salutes 40 years of the Starsky/Hutch Gran Torino

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A 1976 Ford Gran Torino, used in the television series Starsky & Hutch. Image courtesy Leake Auctions. 

Starsky & Hutch, which premiered on ABC television in April of 1975, was hardly the first crime drama to feature an automobile in a starring role. It was, perhaps, the first television series to spawn a limited production run of copycat cars from a major automaker, and four decades after the debut of the 1976 Starsky/Hutch Ford Gran Torinos, the cars retain their cult following (aided by a 2004 motion picture reboot of the show). On June 3-5, the Carlisle Ford Nationals will salute 40 years of the “striped tomato” Gran Torinos with a display featuring cars from the television series and movie along with production examples built for consumers by Ford.

Detective David Starsky, played by actor Paul Michael Glaser, wasn’t even supposed to drive a Ford. As originally scripted, the dark-haired and street-savvy cop drove a Chevrolet Camaro convertible, but Ford’s studio loaner program soon put an end to that idea. Told to pick a car from Ford’s lineup that would stand out, George Grenier, the show’s transportation coordinator, settled on a red Gran Torino, which he modified with a white “vector stripe” and five-slot mag wheels shod with oversize tires.

Fans of the show never questioned why detectives working undercover would drive such a garish vehicle, and viewers quickly became enamored with the car. On February 9, 1976, after receiving numerous inquiries, Ford announced a limited production run of 1,000 Starsky/Hutch 1976 Gran Torinos, each finished in 2B Bright Red with a white vector side stripe, dual racing mirrors and a deluxe bumper group. Though the, 152 horsepower Windsor V-8 was standard, buyers could also opt for the 180hp 400 V-8 or the 202hp 460 V-8. Any option available on the final-year 1976 Gran Torino was also available on the Starsky/Hutch cars.

In total, 1,308 examples were built, including three pilot cars. Given that cars could be equipped with a wide variety of options, identifying a genuine Starsky/Hutch Ford Gran Torino requires verification of the DSO (ending in 0022 for U.S. cars and 8000 for Canadian cars). As Starsky & Hutch Ford Gran Torino website explains, a car’s VIN can only tell you if an example isn’t an original Ford production example, since all Starsky/Hutch cars were Gran Torinos built in Chicago.

Complicating matters further, sales of two-door hardtop Torinos (roughly $300 cheaper than Gran Torinos in 1976) grew from 13,394 units in 1975 to 34,518 units in 1976, and it’s impossible to know how many of these were later refinished in the show’s red-with-a-white-stripe livery.

As for cars used on television, the 1975-’79 series used Gran Torinos built from 1974 – ’76, which were all but identical to the untrained eye. Hero cars, driven by Glaser for scenes not involving chases or stunts, were powered by 351 V-8s, while stunt cars came powered by 400 or 460 V-8s; later, to improve acceleration, some stunt cars featured shorter rear gearing and carried a dash warning not to exceed 50 MPH. Opinions differ as to how many cars were built for the series, or how many were destroyed during filming, but in 2014 a 1976 Gran Torino, said to be one of seven used in filming, was sold for $40,000 at a Leake Auction in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

For the 2004 feature film, two hero cars were created by Premier Studio Rentals, while the stunt cars were built by Cinema Vehicle Services. The first hero car was built from a 1974 Gran Torino, while the second was a 1976 Starsky/Hutch Gran Torino; as with the television series, both were powered by 351 V-8s.

For more information on the Starsky & Hutch Gran Torinos (including production cars, television series cars and movie cars), visit For details on the 2016 Carlisle Ford Nationals, visit