Ask someone to name the most memorable vehicles from a TV show and you almost definitely will get answers that contain one or all of the following: the Batmobile, Knight Rider, Starsky’s Gran Torino and the General Lee. Or was that Gen’ral Leigh? Don’t know, care even less. You can have all those vehicles (except for the Batmobile and Starsky’s Gran Torino) because to me a really memorable vehicle utilized on a regular basis during TV show needs to be either something a little offbeat or something that is absolutely necessary to the storyline. Preferably both and almost never neither.
Peterbilt 281: Duel
“Duel.” Just one word and when you say it, you will almost always get the same reaction from one of the fans of the first look at Steven Spielberg’s genius that a lot of us got. Before there was Bruce the Shark, there was the Peterbilt 281 tanker truck. “Jaws” is basically a remake of “Duel” in which the Peterbilt 281 tanker truck was replaced by a mechanical shark. Don’t believe me? Just watch them. Few villains in the history of TV can hold a candle to the Peterbilt 281. Yeah, sure, there is a driver behind the wheel of the “Duel” truck who is terrorizing poor Dennis Weaver, but unlike the truck driver who ran me over and send me across three lanes of I-285 traffic in Atlanta , the truck driver in this case is secondary in villainy to the Peterbilt 281.
The Widowmaker: Mystery Science Theater 300
When the inhabitants of the Satellite of Love came back from the incorporeal existence in which they were left after the show was canceled by the geniuses at Comedy Central, they reappeared in corporeal form on the Sci-Fi Channel before it became..well, you know what it became. The Widowmaker is a physics-defying classic VW van powered by what looks like two enormous cigars strapped to each side. Probably not, but who cares? That’s what it always looked to me. The Widowmaker chases Mike Nelson, Tom Servo, Crow T. Robot and, let’s not forget, Gypsy through time and space. Pearl Forrester can fly this VW van through a wormhole. Still way to say the Mystery Machine is the most memorable VW van in TV history?
Isetta Microcar: Family Matter
They laughed at Steven Q. Urkel when he showed up in with his Isetta Microcar on “Family Matters.” And why not? It’s got three wheels and the entire front of the vehicle is its door. As far as weird-looking vehicles go, the Isetta Micro is memorable mostly for what it looks like. But looks can be deceiving and the hidden charm of iconoclasm trumps popularity both for the Isetta (which displays more personality in one episode than “The Bat” does in the entirety of the Dark Knight franchise) for Steve Urkel. So the Isetta Microcar is one of the most offbeat types of memorable TV vehicles precisely because it so authentically replicates everything that you love about the character who drives it.
Harry-O’s Austin Healey
Only “Harry-O” makes this list of memorable TV vehicles because of all the times you ever saw the star driving the car. Harry’s beat-up old Austin Healey Sprite is an example of how to use a classic British roadster in a way that nobody else would ever think of doing. Imagine this for a pitch: Yeah, Harry’s going to own a very sleek little British sports car…that he’s rarely ever going to actually drive because it’s always in the shop. Probably half the episodes of “Harry-O” featured the star’s Austin Healey in the shop, forcing the detective to solve crimes by using public transportation.