Rockford Files: 1978 Pontiac Firebird

“This is Jim Rockford. At the tone leave your name and message, I’ll get back to you.” Nope, never heard of The Rockford Files. Actually, it was one of my favorite TV shows from the 1970s, and a big part of that was the Firebird that James Garner’s character used to drive. One of the cars that was used in the show, and that went on to become Garner’s personal transport, has come up for sale. If you would like to own a piece of ’70s television history, then the Firebird is located in Scottsdale, Arizona, and is listed for sale here at Barrett-Jackson in a No Reserve auction. I have to thank Barn Finder PRA4SNW for referring the car to us, and for reviving some fond memories for me.

While it started life as a Formula 400 Firebird, for the TV show, the car was painted in Sierra Gold and was made to look like an Espirit. The idea behind not using a car like a Trans Am for the series was actually made by the series producers, and it made a lot of sense. The idea was that as a Private Detective, the character of Jim Rockford could probably afford a car like an Espirit, but not a Trans Am. It’s also interesting that each series of The Rockford Files used three separate Firebirds. There was the “beauty” car, which was used for close-up shots and the majority of the driving scenes. There was also an “action” car used for some of the high-speed chase scenes, and there was also the “damage” car for when a scene required the car to receive minor damage (plowing through scrub and bushes in one episode comes to mind). This particular car is a “beauty” car, and it looks to be immaculate, and also comes with a letter from the TV production company verifying its authenticity.

The interior of the Firebird is pretty much as it was the day that filming wrapped on the final episode of The Rockford Files. The trim is in great condition, and you can see the box set onto the console just below the cassette player, which was the plug box for various microphones placed on and inside the car. The car is also fitted with a few optional extras, including power windows, rally gauges, and air conditioning.

There are no photos of the engine, but what we know is that it is a 6.6-liter V8 with an automatic transmission, power steering, and power brakes. There are a few photos of the underside of the car, and it is as clean as they come. One interesting modification that can be seen in this photo is a skid plate, which remains in place to this day. This was designed to protect the engine and transmission when things got a bit violent during some of the stunt shots. One of the interesting aspects of the TV show is the fact that Garner performed virtually all of the driving stunts himself. A gentleman by the name of Roydon Clark performed some of the stunts, but after the show ended, he went on record as saying that not only did Garner perform most of his own driving stunts, but his abilities in this area were better than 99% of professional stunt drivers of the day.

As an unashamed fan of The Rockford Files, I really want this car, but my budget definitely doesn’t run to it. A search around reveals that while the car is being sold in a No Reserve auction, the expectation is that the car will eventually sell for somewhere in the vicinity of $100,000. It will hopefully go to someone who will appreciate it for what it is, and that they drive it a bit, rather than leave it sitting in a garage or museum.

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Comments

  1. DayDreamBeliever Member

    $100K?
    No way.
    I will be shocked if it does not Garner well more than that! He was (and remains) a racing hero of mine.

    It is known that James was indeed a car-nut, and very adept at driving. Like a few other of his contemporaries, especially Paul Newman and Steve McQueen, the acting became just a way to pay for his passion.

    https://driving.ca/cadillac/auto-news/entertainment/famous-for-acting-but-a-racer-at-heart-the-cars-of-james-garner

    https://www.hemmings.com/magazine/mus/2014/10/James-Garner/3743001.html

    There’s tons of this stuff…. Last link is “The Racing Scene”

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LdiqOEZpR0Y

    25
    • LT1 Mike Member

      “Garner”, I see what you did there. Nice…

      7
    • Jett

      A fellow here in town has the last remaining Garner 4×4 Rambler baja racer in his private collection. It’s pretty sweet.

      3
  2. Tucker Callan

    They provided a `66 Shelby for him toole around in between shoots, when they filmed LaMans.

    4
    • Ralph

      You’re probably thinking of 1966’s Grand Prix in which Garner plays a Grand Prix driver, the Shelby also appears in the movie too, LeMans was a McQueen movie filmed in 1970.

      6
  3. eamel

    Nice.

    Even Youtube mentions this car 😉

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IX3S8gSf1oQ

    3
  4. OIL SLICK

    Someone will pay it as theirs an ass for every seat.

    3
  5. SWells679

    The RF Theme song started up in my head as soon as I saw the opening pic! Loved that show!

    17
  6. Brian Scott

    Great show. JG was a man’s man, not some namby pamby wuss faking it. I just love the simplicity and cleanness of this presentation. Gold cars are dead last on my list, and I’m no fan of GM either (2018 ranked dead last for corporate ethics, yup, below even USA Gymnastics), but I’d rather park this in my garage next to my Boss 302 than a ’68 Bullitt (note I said “a” Bullitt and not “THE” Bullitt).

    13
  7. Tucker Callan

    What happened to the exhaust? One photo shows duel, one does not?

    3
    • Mark

      It’s not shown but those cars had 2 pipes out of one muffler and it cannot be sen in these pictures which I would like to see more detailed pictures for the money this car is going for.

      5
      • Scott Hodges

        The exhaust isn’t period (TV show) correct either. They cut the tailpipe tips off so you really couldn’t see them. This based on info from a gentlemen who owns three Rockford screen used Firebirds, including one of the other 1978s.

  8. Frank Fitzgerald

    James Garner was a modest war hero awarded the Purple Heart. Great memories of him as Maverick in the earlier TVseries and as the Scrounger in the Great Escape with Steve McQueen. My role model for my own personal “experiments” “ trying” to perfect the “Rockford turn”. Bidders bar at BJ might increase bid.

    12
  9. Rick

    “Frame on” restoration? Aren’t these cars unibodies? So it should be “sympathetic restoration”, shouldn’t it? Unless the thing was toast by the time Garner past, restoring it took some of the value away, IMHO.

    5
  10. Gay Car Nut

    I remember “The Rockford Files”, starring James Garner. I was way too young to drive at the time, but if nothing else, I remember the 1978 Firebird he drove throughout the show. I also loved the music played at the beginning and at the end of each show.

    9
  11. PRA4SNW Member

    Great write up, Adam. Thanks for all of the additional show-related information.

    10
  12. Max

    I am No sports car fan Firebird or Ferrari but for sure big ” Rockford Files ” fan I do have complete dvd collection do watch it from time to time !!

    7
  13. 71FXSuperGlide

    Wow, I always wondered what happened to the cars from this show.

    It’s still on in reruns with an over the air setup, and still enjoyable to watch.

    5
  14. Alexander

    As longtime BF readers may know I come from a family of “base” model Firebird owners. Owned a dozen in the years 67-78. I recall later Rockford Files did actually use Esprits for the beauty shots but with upgraded Formula goodies — conversions overseen by Pontiac. Other Poncho gurus will correct me on this but I also don’t think the underside of production Firebirds of this generation ever being painted or the components finished in black and silver.

    Garner was in a great film later in his career called “Murphy’s Romance” with Sally Field. Someone at the studio was I guess trying to recreate the chemistry she had with Burt Reynolds. Very touching movie.

    4
    • Ralph

      They used Esprits until you couldn’t get a 400 anymore, around 1975 or so then they switched to Firebird Formulas made to look like Esprits, they were all painted the same color as the original Esprit that was used in the first season so they would all look the same even if they recycled a shot used in an older episode.

      3
    • WILLIAM BABYAK

      James Garner was also memorable in the role of Dr. Bob in MY NAME IS BILL W. By the way, Garner produed that movie.

      1
  15. Dean

    My mother attended school with James Bumgarner in Harrah OK. We’d watch the Rockford Files which, if I recall correctly, aired Fridays.

    8
  16. leiniedude Member

    I wonder if Jimmy ever let Angel get behind the wheel?

    4
  17. mike b

    As long as it comes with the Mike Post theme in the 8track.

    5
  18. Baja12

    I always thought they used a non-descript Firebird since he was a private detective. People might notice the screaming eagle emblazoned Trans Am a lot more than this sleeper model.

    6
  19. local_sheriff

    I always thought Rockford’s Firebird was a 74, until I saw this ad and realize he obviously traded that one in at one point…
    Rediculous price – cool understated Firebird. However, I find the 74 even better as that’s the version I recall as the ‘real’ Rockford Firebird when I think of the show back in the day

    4
    • Kyle Y

      Like the Corvette in the old show Route 66, Jim Rockford’s Firebird mysteriously got one model year newer each season.

      2
  20. Rich1

    Fantastic find (both guy and car)! My first car was a 1980 Firebird Esprit (handed down from two older siblings) and it was a great car! Actual Esprits had a more deluxe interior seating sew style and steering wheel than the car at auction, but that is the true Rockford car. Loved the classic Pontiac rally wheels with trim rings, too. GM should still be building a successor car to this one! Mine performed great, was trouble-free and always looked sharp, too!

    5
  21. Bill K

    A couple of comments as I tried to buy this very car from the third owner’s daughter about 10 years ago. She had the car on eBay at the time but it did not sell. We exchanged emails but she said the car needed work and would get back to me but unfortunately never did.
    Regarding the car currently:
    1) The interior seats are absolutely incorrect. The original Rockford series (not the later movies) cars had the optional custom interior which had different pleating (like the Smokey and the Bandit Trans Ams and the standard Espirit). This car has the standard Firebird (and Camaro) vertical pleats.
    2) From my photos of 10 years ago, the interior seats had already been recovered in cloth but in the style of the custom interior pleating.
    3) James Garner sold this car in 1981 to a radio station in NC to be used in a giveaway contest. The winner kept the car until 1989 or so and sold it to the fellow who’s daughter I was in contact with. He passed in about 2003 or so. Do an online search and you should find this information.
    4) If the car still has it’s paperwork trail from the 1981 sale to the NC radio station (a signed letter from James Garner was included but unfortunately the vin was not mentioned), it should bring over $150k especially if James Garner provenance via Title or Registration is provided.
    5) According to online Rockford Files websites, there were 2 1974 cars (both Espirits) and then 3 1975, 3 1976, 3 1977, and 3 1978 cars (all converted Formula’s) for a total of 14 cars so this isn’t a one of one. Keep looking if you can’t afford this one!

    8
    • Ralph

      And even though the show ran until 1980, there were no Rockford Firebirds beyond 1978 because Garner supposedly didn’t like the 1979 Firebird front end, though it could have also been the disputes that Garner’s production company, Cherokee Productions; was having with NBC about money and expenses, which actually caused Garner to call quits on the show in early 1980 even though it could have run another couple of seasons.

      There are photos of Garner driving a 79 Trans Am as his personal car, so I guess he didn’t hate the new front end that much.

      2
    • Scott Hodges

      Bill…you are spot on with all points. Going to be interesting what it sells for. The woman who owned it sold it to Steve Reich, a noted Movie/TV car collector who works with Jay Leno. This restoration probably took $60k+, the car wasn’t in terrible, but it definitely was a 40+ year old car. It’s a shame that they didn’t put the custom/deluxe interior in it. It’s the only thing that makes it a bit “off”. But, what’s done is done. Whoever buys it can change. Hope they take care of it. It’s a true treasure.

      2
      • Bill K

        Thanks, Scott, for your comments and information. Well, it sold for 105K before Buyer’s Premium was added. This means after Seller’s Premium is deducted, the seller received 94.5K minus his expenses to have the car shipped, prepped, etc. That’s way too low in my opinion. Having owned the Barris modified Mannix Dart GTS, The Saint’s 1800 Volvo, and the Goldmember XK8 “Shaguar”, I would have loved to own this car and correct the details. Maybe one of the other 13 Rockford Firebirds will show up, my next favorite would be the original ’74 Espirit’s (I like the smaller rear window).

        4
  22. Todd Priest

    I’d LOVE to have this!!!

    1
  23. Billy1

    The Rockford Files was the best television series ever made imo. Mannix was a close second, with Hawaii 5.0 coming in 3rd(the original one and the new one). I would like to own this car also.

    There’s a book that was written about Jimmy called “The Garner Files”. Of course, the author consulted with Jimmy in writing the book.

    2
  24. Ralph

    $200 a day…..plus expenses….Specializing in closed cases.

    4
  25. WILLIAM BABYAK

    James Garner was also memorable in the role of Dr. Bob in MY NAME IS BILL W. By the way, Garner produed that movie.

    1
  26. dmose Member

    Neat piece of TV history car will bring the money!

    1
  27. Andy

    I never liked the post-’69 F bodies, but I made an exception for Rockford’s car. Always got a kick out of the show. Garner really inhabited the character of the humble, getting-by private eye, getting beat up & run off the road all the time, dealing with sketchy friends & cops who barely tolerated him. Maybe it’s foggy memory but it feels like he had at least a couple of Firebirds blown up in the canyons. Watching every episode to figure that out wouldn’t be the worst use of time…

    4
  28. Mrtinwoodie

    As another poster wrote, the Firebird was restored using the wrong upholstery. The car used in the show had the optional vinyl upholstery w/horizontal pleats. The so called ‘Pontiac expert’ wrongly used the standard vinyl fabric w/ vertical pleats. I watched the auction and the BJ announcer said that they had confirmed the authenticity of the restoration as identical to the car used in the show. They should be sued by the buyer. Joke.

    1
    • Bill Krzastek

      The door panels are also incorrect. While the originals were worn and faded in 2009, I would rather have had them than what is in the car now. I hope the ‘expert’ returned them to the owner after the restoration and they came with the car in a box. This car deserved better. On the plus side, I understand that the mechanicals were ‘numbers matching’.

      1
  29. MikeK

    105K was the selling price.

    1

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