This is the 1978 Pontiac Firebird that was used on the television series The Rockford Files from 1978 until 1980. The show starred James Garner as Los Angeles–based private investigator Jim Rockford, a down on his luck character who lived in a rundown mobile home in a parking lot in Malibu.
The Rockford Files contained a number of interesting characters but the most famous, barring Garner himself of course, is almost certainly the car you see here – a gold Pontiac Firebird that typically featured heavily in each episode.
Fast Facts – The Rockford Files And The Firebird
- The Rockford Files was a private detective TV show that was on the air from 1974 until 1980 starring James Garner.
- As with many police and detective shows, the series made use of an instantly recognizable automobile that became a central character in its own right.
- The Rockford Files proved wildly popular throughout its television run, accumulating 123 episodes as well as eight made-for-TV movies.
- The car you see here was used in the series from 1978 until the show ended in 1980, reportedly because James Garner didn’t like the look of the new Firebird front end, insisting on keeping this one.
The Story Of The Last Rockford Files Pontiac Firebird
When it originally rolled off the production line no one knew this car would go on to become a television star in its own right.
The car was painted in Glacier Blue rather than gold and once it was acquired by Cinema Vehicle Services it needed a full repaint in its current color plus a new flat hood was fitted and the rear wing was deleted to match the previous Firebirds used by Garner in the series.
When it was built the car was equipped with a 350 cubic inch V8 and a 3-speed automatic transmission, it would keep this powertrain throughout its time on the TV series to the modern day.
In 1979 the Firebird was given a new front end, it’s remained controversial to the current day with some loving it and some hating it. James Garner wasn’t a fan and as a result this car was kept and used on the show for three years from 1978, though 1979, to the final season in 1980.
The importance of the car to the plot of The Rockford Files is hard to overstate, the car featured significantly in every episode and Garner famously liked to do his own stunts – the most famous of which was the famous “Jim Rockford turn-around.”
This was essentially what we would now call a J-turn or a “moonshiner’s turn,” Garner describes it in his own words below in his book The Garner Files:
“When you are going straight in reverse about 35 miles an hour, you come off the gas pedal, go hard left, and pull on the emergency brake. That locks the wheels and throws the front end around. Then you release everything, hit the gas, and off you go in the opposite direction.” – James Garner
Buying The Rockford Files Car
In 2015 at the Kissimmee Auction held by Mecum in January this car came up for public sale, the price estimate was $30,000 to $50,000 USD and it was seen by an Australian man named Cam who just happened to be looking for a Rockford Files clone.
Cam has long been a fan of the show and of James Garner’s other work, so when he realized he had a chance to buy an actual screen-used Firebird from the show he jumped at the chance. Once the dust settled from the bidding war he was the new owner, and arrangements were made to ship the car to Sydney in New South Wales.
Since it arrived in Australia great attention has been paid to keeping the car as original as possible while carefully preserving it. The original drivetrain was removed and rebuilt, at this point it was discovered that the heads were cracked so new heads were sourced and a mild cam was fitted.
In 2020 it became clear that the now 42 year old paintwork was going to need attention if the car was to stay rust free. Cam took the car to Unique Customs in Brookvale, Sydney and they worked on a plan to perfectly color match the paint. After a thorough inspection the car was found to be almost entirely rust free save for a small patch under the trunk.
The outer body was almost all taken back to bare metal, it was then repainted with carefully matched gold paint before a protective clear coat was applied. The biggest enemy of cars of this era tends to be rust, and one of the best defenses against this is a modern primer, paint, clear coat combination.
In 2016 Cam was in LA, he was able to meet up with James Garner’s daughter Gigi Garner, who has done a lot of work to keep her father’s memory alive. She gave Cam an original Rockford Files jacket worn by Garner as well as a shirt, t-shirt, a sweater to go with the car.
Cam now runs a Facebook Page and an Instagram account dedicated to the Firebird and its history, if you’d like to follow along with his adventures in the car you can click the links below.
Images copyright 2021© – Andrew Jones – Machines That Dream
Articles that Ben has written have been covered on CNN, Popular Mechanics, Smithsonian Magazine, Road & Track Magazine, the official Pinterest blog, the official eBay Motors blog, BuzzFeed, Autoweek Magazine, Wired Magazine, Autoblog, Gear Patrol, Jalopnik, The Verge, and many more.
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