…The car was cast against type. In 1974, the Ford Gran Torino, hefty fourth-generation descendant of the original '68 Torino, was built more as a family car than the earlier, high-performance models. Producers of the TV series ‘‘Starsky and Hutch,’’ however, saw acting potential in the four-wheeled behemoth. They gave the two-door hardtop its big break – and a makeover, adding cosmetic toughness, most noticeably in a bright red paint job and slotted mag wheels.
ABC put ‘‘Starsky and Hutch’’ on the air in the fall of 1975, and it was a hit in its first season, thanks in no small part to the cool cop car, nicknamed the Striped Tomato.
‘‘What’s funny is that it was an undercover car but it was bright red with a white stripe,’’ the movie’s director, Todd Phillips, 33, said recently from his office in Los Angeles. ‘‘It stood out more than an actual cop car.’’
The Ford Motor Company capitalized on the TV car’s popularity in 1976 when it produced a limited-edition ‘‘Starsky and Hutch’’ Gran Torino. About 1,000 fans could buy official cosmetic replicas of the show car, fitted with standard 351 Windsor V-8 engines, dual racing mirrors and deluxe bumpers. Throw in factory air and other options, and the toughest car on television started at $5,000 – $2,100 more than a Ford Pinto.
The Torino line was discontinued in ‘77, and the television series was canceled after the 1978-9 season. A quarter-century later, the Torino is a collectors’ car from an uninspired era of American automobile production when new-car lineups were littered with models destined for ridicule and the scrap heap: Pacer, Vega, Volare/Aspen, Gremlin, Chevette.
Jim Cain, a spokesman for Ford, said he thought part of the car’s appeal was that the mid-70’s was a drab period for car enthusiasts. ‘‘It was just a bland, colorless time, and the Torino painted red with a white stripe was pretty cool,’’ Mr. Cain said recently in a telephone interview from his office in Dearborn, Mich.
‘‘The great thing about the Torino,’’ he added, ‘‘is that it was a normal car.’’ As opposed to, say, the car in the later series ‘‘Knight Rider,’’ about a Trans Am that could drive itself and talk.
Ford has no plans to revive the Torino, Mr. Cain said. After a brief pause, he added, ‘‘But you can never say never.’’