RIP James Garner 1928-2014

It is with some sadness that we report that noted actor, racer and all around nice guy James Garner passed away this weekend of natural causes at the age of 86.  Garner’s first big break in the acting world was as the lead in the TV series Maverick, but as gearheads we will forever remember his breakout as the lead in the 1966 film Grand Prix.  Most of the other actors in the movies were only willing to drive the cars at low speeds or flat out refused to do anything other than towed shots, but Garner discovered he had a knack for high speed driving and he developed a fascination with racing that continued for many years.

Garner’s interest in racing even landed him a sponsorship from AMC to prepare a number of SC/Ramblers for the 1969 Baja 500, but Garner was unable to participate in the race due to a conflicting film commitment.  However, as an automotive symbol of Garner’s legacy there is nothing quite like the 1975 (and in later seasons 1977) Pontiac Firebird proudly displaying the 853OKG California blue plate as Jim Rockford clashed with bad guys from Malibu to Death Valley.

We published a Cars of the Rockford Files special feature back in January of 2013 that featured a number of the cars from the show, but yesterday we got a great suggestion from DT reader Andy L who wrote: To honor the life of James Garner, and his
best-known role as James Rockford, maybe it would be proper to feature a
Firebird Esprit.  Rockford’s iconic ride throughout the Rockford Files
series was a gold ’77 model. 

After a little searching, I could not find the exact model and
color.  This is no surprise, as gold was never an option on a 1977
Esprit.  It was for T/A’s only.  Here is an example of a seemingly nice
Esprit in Pender, NE.  It is a 1980 model. 

the main actor of the Rockford Files, the Esprit was classy and
understated.  Engines available in the Esprit during this period were
the 231ci V-6 with 105hp, a 301 with 145hp, and a 350 with 170hp. If you wanted the 400ci or 403ci engine, you would have to opt for the Formula or the “screaming chicken” T/A. We
can assume that the Hollywood prop masters gave Jim Rockford a little
something extra in his ride to keep the chase scenes exciting. 

The featured car has a bottom-of-the-line 231 in it, which is
fine because anyone interested in making an Esprit of this era go fast
will need to abandon the numbers-matching selling point regardless of
the original mill.  We like the steelies and the fact that the A/C has
been updated. 

If you can handle an interior in this shade and you aren’t in a
hurry to go anywhere, this might be the car you need to channel Jim
Rockford’s understated ’70s style.  

Thanks for the great suggestion from Andy (as well as his excellent description republished above) and help us find the ultimate Rockford tribute Firebird. Comments below.

RIP James, keep the tires warm with Rockford turns in heaven while you wait for the rest of us.

Image credits; wikipedia, craigslist.