Rockford Files 1994
Written by Jim Suva
Picture by Paul Santo
In 1994, “The Rockford Files” was coming back to TV in a series of 8 movies. These movies were broadcast on CBS. Now Pontiac was out of the TV and Movie car product placement by this time. But because of their great fondness of the show, General Motors sent out three Pontiac Trans Am convertibles to be used as Jim Rockford’s car. These Trans Am’s were specially equipped cars, and were prepared at a local Chevy-Buick-GMC dealership.
James Garner decided that he want to go with the 1978 Firebirds for the movies. Pontiac was not very fond of this idea. They want to promote the new TA convertibles. Personally, I think James Garner made the right decision. The 1978 Firebird will always be Jim Rockford’s car. GMC did provide the pickup trucks used on the movies. That is why Jim switches off between the Firebird and the new GMC Z71 pickup truck, he helped promote the trucks.
Steve Hellerstein, the Universal Studio’s transportation coordinator for the Rockford movies, contacted Cinema Vehicle Services. It was their job to recreate the Firebird. Steve Hofmann and Steve Reich were given the task.
They used local Car For Sale magazines, since the Internet at the time was not nearly what it is today! They located three Firebirds in the Los Angele area. They purchased a Red Bird, a Formula and an Esprit. None of these Firebirds were the right color or had the right color interiors. Because of the appeal of “The Rockford Files” and James Garner, General Motors went the extra mile in helping locate parts to restore these Firebirds, Steve Reich told me. He would call up GM with a list of parts and they would use their locator system to track the parts down for them. As an example, GM located three rally wheels at a dealership in Ohio. They would give Steve the name and phone number and he would order the parts from them directly. One item, a wheel well trim piece was sent direct from a display at the Norwood Ohio assembly plant.
Steve remembers that the interior pieces were custom made from a company in Kentucky. To recreate the color of the Firebird, CBS used the episode of “Lions, Tigers, Monkeys and Dogs” from the last season. They used Medium Camel Tan from a screen capture. Unfortunately, this color appears differently on screen, depending on the individual TV color settings. The correct color, we now know, is Light Topaz, which Pat McKinney matched from two of his screen-used Firebirds.
Of course today there are a number of companies that make reproduction parts for Firebirds, now that they are considered classic muscle cars. That would have made Steve Reich and Steve Hofmann’s life a lot easier.
The GMC Pickup trucks used in the Rockford Movies were prepared at Rydell Chevrolet in the San Fernando Valley. Steve Reich told me that this dealership’s location is closed. Vista Group again coordinated these trucks for the show through General Motors. Steve told me that each of the GMC Z71 pickups had the 5.7 V8 engines and were fully loaded.
Steve Reich has another interesting story. Back in 1994, Pontiac Racing contacted Steve about giving James Garner a custom-made black leather jacket. According to Gary Claudio, who worked for GM, the jacket had the Pontiac Racing logo on the back. The jacket also had the Pontiac Racing logo on the left chest area. Gary believes the arms of the jacket had the black and white racing flag checkerboard design on the sleeves. This jacket was custom made with hand stitching and “James Garner” was embroidered on the inside lining. Since James Garner was bringing back “The Rockford Files”, GM decided this would be a nice gift for all of the years of loyalty to Pontiac and GM. The jacket was designed and made by Jeff Hamilton. Only six of these jackets were made.
Gary Claudio was originally supposed to fly out to LA and present the jacket to James Garner, but something came up, so he sent the jacket to Steve Hofmann, who gave it to Jim on the set of The Rockford Files movie. Jim immediately put it on and was very happy with the gift. James Garner was schedule to appear on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” to promote the first Rockford Movie. NBC did not want Jim to wear the Pontiac jacket on the show because of the Pontiac logos. Free publicity is not a good thing! Jim said, “I am wearing it on the show, or I am not going to be on the show.” Guess what? Jim wore it on “The Tonight Show”. What a classy guy!
I confirmed this story with Gary Claudio. He told me that at the Indy 500 that year, he met with Jay Leno. Jay confirmed the story. In fact, later that same day, Gary met Jim in the Chevy Hospitality suite at the track. Jim was proudly wearing the jacket, even though some of the Chevy guys were giving him a few odd glances. Now that is loyalty!
Steve Hofmann and Steve Reich currently work for Film Vehicle Services. Both of these gentlemen are true Rockford Files fans. As another fan, I want to thank them for all the trouble they went to, to bring the Firebird back for the Rockford Movies. By the way, James Garner made sure that they each received a Rockford Files watch for all their hard work. Steve Reich still has it at home in the original box.
If anyone has information about the GMC Z71 pickups from the Rockford Movies, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.