Miami Vice Daytona Spider

Miami Vice Screen Used Daytona

Miami Vice Screen Used Daytona

Written by Jim Suva


In 1984, a new TV show called Miami Vice hit the air waves on NBC. It was a big hit because of the designer clothes, exotic cars, the hit sound tracks. Don Johnson starred as Sonny Crockett and Phillip Michael Thomas as Rico Tubbs as two undercover Miami Vice detectives. Sonny drove a black 1972 Ferrari Daytona GTS/4 Daytona Spyder.

The Ferrari Daytona cars that were used on the first two seasons, and a few episodes of Season 3, were actually Daytona kit cars built on a Corvette chassis. This is the story of the original Daytona, Car #1. The car is presently owned by the Volo Auto Museum, in Volo, Illinois. Brian Gram oversees Volo’s extensive Star Cars display. He has thoroughly researched the Daytona Spyder, and this is what Brian found out about the history of their car.

Birth of the Daytona Spyder Kit Car #1

In the 1980s, Al Mardekian, who was a specialty car dealer in CA, also built kit cars, such as a Lamborghini. He considered doing a Cobra replica and contacted known builder Tom McBurnie. Tom visited Al’s shop to discuss the project. Al’s idea was to build a Cobra on a Corvette chassis. Unfortunately, Tom said the proportions were too different to make this possible. While at the shop, Tom noticed a Ferrari Daytona Spyder for sale in the dealership showroom, and asked, “What about a Daytona?” Al agreed and gave Tom the Daytona (which was really a customer’s car and not Al’s) to be dismantled and have molds made from it. Once the molds were made, Tom set out to make his first car, which was built on a 1976 Corvette chassis. When putting the car together he ran into an issue. The panels did not fit on the passenger side. Tom was unaware that the Corvette donor car had been in an accident and was improperly repaired. The wheelbase was 1.5 inches shorter on the passenger side than on the driver side. Tom was able to make the adjustments to make it fit, the car was painted red and had a Gale Banks Twin Turbo engine in it. Tom continued to build an additional three cars, known as Cars #2, #3, and #4. Car #4 was black with a tan interior, built on a 1981 Corvette chassis. Those were the only cars Tom built for Al.


The Miami Vice Connection

Meanwhile, Universal Studios was working on the new Miami Vice TV series. They wanted an exotic car that would fit the character of Sonny Crocket. Miami Vice producer, Michael Mann, was friends with Dan Haggerty, a.k.a. Grizzly Adams. Dan had seen the Daytona replicas on Al’s car lot and suggested to Michael that they should be used on the show. Michael went to visit Al and asked about leasing Car #4, the black and tan one, and Al agreed. The Miami Vice pilot was filmed, and the show went into production. Once in production, they needed a second car to use as a stunt vehicle. They ended up leasing Volo’s Car #1 from Al. They had to remove the Gale Banks motor for a tamer engine and painted the car black so it would match Car #4. Meanwhile, Al got into some difficulties, and Universal was concerned because they were leasing the cars. The studio couldn’t afford to lose them. So, they did what any large, well-heeled movie studio would do, they bought them! (See Ferrari Lawsuit Section below.)

Universal Studios secured the cars and continued to film. On an interesting note, Michael Mann placed the Ferrari emblems on these cars, and it is obvious he placed them incorrectly. In the early episodes, you can see that the nose emblem was placed high above the headlights. In later episodes it was moved to the correct location between the lights.

A Real Life Miami Vice Sting Operation

During filming, one of the Daytona’s was borrowed by a mechanic who worked on the set. Unfortunately, the mechanic used the car to make an illegal deal selling gun silencers. But it was a sting operation and he was arrested. Luckily, the car was returned to the set, unharmed by the experience!

Ferrari Lawsuit

Since Miami Vice became such a popular TV show, Ferrari became upset with the notoriety the replica Ferrari was receiving, so they sued Universal Studios. In the end, Ferrari and Universal came to an agreement; they would get rid of the Daytona in the storyline. This would ostensibly make people forget about the Daytona. Ferrari would then donate two new Testarossa’s to take place of the Daytona’s in the show. But how would they make Sonny’s Daytona disappear from the storyline? The answer was simple. Blow it up on the show! Disclaimer: Special effects were used; no Daytona’s were actually harmed during filming!

Universal Studios now had two Testarossa’s and two Daytona’s, but they needed a Testarossa stunt vehicle. They agreed to trade the two Daytona’s to Carl Roberts, who had been involved in maintaining the cars on set, for a Testarossa replica for stunt use. Carl built the Testarossa stunt car, and took possession of the two Daytona’s, but without their titles.

Carl wanted to go into business building Daytona replicas. However, Ferrari eventually sued both Tom McBurnie and Carl Roberts for trademark infringement and put a stop to production.

Daytona Car #4 history after Miami Vice

Carl Roberts sold one of the Daytona’s, Car #4 to a private party. Car #4 changed hands several times, but today has been owned by the same owner for many years.

Daytona Car #1 history after Miami Vice

After Miami Vice stopped using the Daytona’s, Carl Roberts rented out two Daytona’s to produce Speed Zone, starring John Candy. Which included car #1.The movie was filmed in Canada. The cars were delivered to Canada, used for filming, and then set back to California. Carl hired Don Horn to pick the cars up in California and bring them to his shop in Lubbock Texas for storing. That way Carl could pick them up at a later date. Carl sent a driver out to pick up the “Hero” (Car #1), but the driver blew the motor, so Carl had Don Horn pulled the engine from the other Daytona. Once that was done the hero car was driven back to Carl’s garage. Carl made a deal with Don Horn that he would trade Don a Daytona body kit to cover the cost of the repairs. Don borrowed the money from Roger Pamperine to do the repairs. But Don never paid Roger Pamperine and Roger put a lien on the car. The lien was for $3,000, but Roberts refused to pay. In order to get a title, the car had to be put into a police auction and sold. Roger Pamperine bought the car from the auction, allowing him to get legal title, selling the car to regain his investments.

The car was then acquired by Jeff Allen from the TV show Car Chasers. He put it on eBay, where the Volo Auto Museum was the high bidder. Jeff represented the car as the original Daytona from Miami Vice, he had documentation, emails and letterhead copies that referred to this and the other Speed Zone car as Miami Vice Daytona’s. Brian Grams, not being a historian on Miami Vice, accepted the documents as proof of it being the original car.

        Volo Auto Museum did a partial restoration and presented the car in the museum. Shortly after being put on display, the Volo Museum was called out for representing a replica car as the original. Most of the time Brian ignored those comments, because usually they came from Miami Vice fans who were comparing the car to what they saw on-screen. In this case, it was not accurate, since Carl Roberts had modified the car for Speed Zone. Then, a person who had knowledge of the original VIN numbers approached Brian. He was friends with the owner of Car #4, and he had copies of the Universal documents that listed the two Daytona VIN numbers. He was able to confirm that Brian’s VIN number was neither of the VIN numbers listed. He knew a story of Carl Roberts scrapping the chassis and not knowing the whereabouts of Car #1’s body, and he suggested that maybe the Volo car was the body from Car #1. They went back and forth over many of the unique details of the body. There was a patch where the fiberglass was repaired, from when Michael Mann improperly placed the nose emblem, the passenger side of the car was shorter by 1.5 inches, and it was red under the black paint. There were holes cut in the doors where speakers were originally placed in the Miami Vice car. The auto museum determined that it was likely, but unprovable, that this was the body from Car #1. Brian left it at that, not happy, but satisfied it wasn’t a complete replica car. The problem was that even though there was evidence to support it, it cannot be proven this is the Car #1 body.


This put a fire in Brian, he knew he was missing something. He went to the car and wanted it to talk to him. Brian just kept looking at it wondering what was missing, and then there it was! He was reading the VIN number and he noticed the rivets holding the VIN tag were not GM rivets, which immediately made him question the authenticity of the VIN tag. Brian immediately went searching for the frame number, which is located at the rear of the frame, near the rear tire, but there was no VIN, no stamping of any kind. Remember, Car #1 was wrecked before Tom McBurnie got it. The entire rear section of the frame was replaced with a new one. That was evident by the type of welds. Not knowing any additional location where he could check a VIN number, Brian was quite let down. One more piece of the puzzle, the frame replacement, supports it being Car #1 but without that VIN, the proof wasn’t there.

Brian called a Corvette restorer whom he knows and was told the VIN is also on top of the frame on the driver’s side. He told Brian you can’t see it without taking the body off. Brian knew taking the body off was not an option. The Corvette expert said, if you were to sit in the driver’s seat, place your hand down on the sill, that’s where it would be located on the frame. Brian got a hole saw and cut a hole there, and just like a bullseye, there was a VIN number. It was NOT the same VIN number listed on the tag. The VIN number on the tag was for an 81 Corvette, the frame was a 1976 frame. Brian called the original source who had knowledge of the VIN numbers, to see if it matched against the Universal paperwork. Unfortunately, he was on vacation. After about a week of nail biting, he did call Brian to congratulate him on finding the missing chassis, but the body still could not be confirmed. Then it occurred to Brian that perhaps the original trim tag was still in the door jamb, and sure enough, it was. The codes on the tag were for a 1976 Corvette, NOT a 1981 Corvette like the VIN tag would have implied. To further prove it, the date code on the Trim Tag matched up to be within three weeks from the date of the frame. Everything was finally tied together and proven! Volo had found, without doubt, the missing Daytona from Miami Vice and the #1 prototype Daytona replica. He was provided with copies of the Universal Documents once he was able to prove the car’s pedigree. Brian talked to Tom McBurnie about it and he mentioned it was originally a green Corvette, who said that the original car he used was white. Brian sanded down some of the paint in the door jamb, and it went from black, to red, to white, and finally green. The car must have been painted white after the collision. Mystery solved!


Since the discovery, Volo Auto Museum has spent thousands of dollars reversing the modifications made to the car by Carl Roberts. Their goal was to bring it back to its screen accuracy as closely as possible to its Miami Vice days.

Here is link to a YouTube video Volo did with Tom McBurnie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FRKxnCj5Gpk


0 Responses to “Miami Vice Daytona Spider”

  1. Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 398 other subscribers

starcarcentral posts

December 2019

star car news archive

nate truman starcarcentral.com

Television and Movie cars batmobile, Delorean, Ghostbusters exto-1, Knight Rider KITT, General Lee, Herbie, the love bug, scooby doo, the A-Team and many more all gather here!


Vote for your Favorite Movie or TV car!

%d bloggers like this: