Posts Tagged ‘Jim Garner

09
Jan
20

Rockford Files Pontiac

Rockford Files Screen-Used Firebirds

Rockford Files Screen-Used Firebirds

By Jim Suva

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The first Rockford Files Firebird was a 1974 Gold exterior/tan interior Firebird Esprit, with a 400 cubic inch engine. All the cars used for the show came from Pontiac, a GMC division, through Visa Group, to Cherokee Productions. While filming the first season, it was decided that due to the hard driving and stunts, they needed the Trans Am/Formula suspension. So near the end of the first season, all the 1975 through 1978 Firebirds were Formulas.

In March 2002, I had a conversation with a man named Vinny Imerti who maintained the Firebirds for the TV series, as well as the Rockford movies. He sold his business, Carriage Studio Rentals, which had merged with Cinema Vehicle Services around 2002.

Vinny told me that Pontiac supplied three new Firebirds per year for the TV series. They received Firebird Formulas, and then they would remove the splitter exhaust tips and the rear spoiler. They also changed the hood and rear deck lids, and filled the drill holes from the spoilers. (I believe that Universal Studios decided to paint the Firebirds a Lt Topaz color for the 1975 model year, which was the color used throughout the rest of the TV seasons.)  This was done so that it gave the illusion, Rockford always had the same car

In 1978, James Garner was not fond of the 1979 Firebird styling, plus he knew the series was going to be ending soon.  As a way to save money, he decided to use the 1978 Firebirds for the last two seasons. 

After the last filming in December 1979, Vinny bought two of the Firebirds and James Garner bought the other one. Mr. Garner sold his 1978 Firebird Formula 400 to local TV Station WGGT (Channel 48) in Greensboro, NC. This Firebird was later raffled off by Coca-Cola on March 3, 1982. The car was presented to the winner by NASCAR Driver Richard Petty at a local Circuit City store.

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The winner was a lady named Frances. Unfortunately, she chose to have the car repainted a darker color, and she had the seat covers replaced. Francis owned and drove the Firebird until she sold it in July of 1989.

A gentleman named Lloyd bought the Firebird from Frances. Lloyd was a huge James Garner fan, and he rarely drove the car. In fact, most of the time that he owned the Firebird, it was in storage. Lloyd died in 2003.

Lloyd’s daughter, Kelly, is now the owner of the Firebird. On August 29, 2009 I had the honor of meeting Kelly in person in Iowa. I took great pleasure in photographing and then actually driving the Firebird. The Firebird is all there, including the holes drilled to run recording wiring. Kelly even has a plug-in plate with five jacks for microphones. The car also has a skid plate mounted to the frame to protect the engine and transmission from any damage from stunts. This Firebird is a rig car (sound car) used for close-ups while driving. I believe it is also a stunt car. Kelly has a letter from James Garner that was sent to the Program Manager at Station WGGT. The letter identifies this car as an actual screen-used Firebird Formula 400, and that he drove this car during the filming of the Rockford Files. Unfortunately, the letter does not state the car’s VIN number.

One interesting note is that this car has power windows. The plastic plugs for the power windows in the door panels can be seen in “Material Difference”, “Love is the Word” and the “Big Cheese” episodes. This Firebird was used during the last two seasons. Pat McKinney and I are 99% sure this is an actual Rockford File Firebird.

The documentation on the Firebirds from the TV series were destroyed sometime around 2000. Since there is no longer a written list of VIN numbers for the Firebirds used on the TV series, it is hard to identify with 100% accuracy an actual screen-used Firebird.

Ross Healey located a 1976 Firebird Formula in San Diego in 2008.  After 2 years of trying to talk to the current owner, he purchased the Firebird in March 2010.  This Firebird has a letter signed by James Garner stating the vin number and the fact he drove it on the Rockford Files.  Ross also received a photo copy of an article about the original owner’s history with the Firebird.  This could be the best documented Firebird from the original tv series.  Pat McKinney purchased the 1976 Firebird from Ross a few years ago, along with all the documentation.

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Pat Mc Kinney, who lives in Southern California has been lucky enough to have owned four Rockford Firebirds. He purchased the first one from a couple in the early 1980’s. At that time, Pat managed to get written documentation from Vinny proving he now owned a screen-used car. He also found a prop plate with 853 OKG on it, in the trunk of the car. He kept this Firebird for a while, and then sold to a friend, whose wife had an accident with the car. Sadly the car was totaled, but she was ok. This car and the other three Firebirds that he currently owns all came through Livingston Pontiac in Woodland Hills, CA. All four Firebirds were special-order cars with similar equipment. In fact, the VIN number of Pat’s original 1978 that was destroyed, was only a few numbers off the 1978 Firebird that he owns today.

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Pat currently owns a 1977 Firebird that was a rig car. It is unique in that it was the only car that had holes drilled near the bottom of each of its fenders for sound wiring and microphones. According to a Roy Clark stunt coordinator and stunt double for James Garner, this was the only car that was rigged in this way. When this Firebird was used as a Hero car for filming of the outside of the car, painted plugs were put in to fill the holes. These plugs are clearly visible in several episodes in the 1977 season. “Quickie Nirvana” and “Requiem of a Funny Box” are two of the episodes. The Firebird is currently being restored by Pat. You can see pictures of the restoration on the Rockford Files website. There was a spoiler that was put back on the Firebird after filming. When Pat removed the spoiler, the original Rockford paint was clearly visible. Pat had a paint chip analyzed, which matched the paint on his 1978 Firebird. The color is Lt. Topaz.

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Pat’s 1978 Firebird was purchase from the daughter of a stunt man for the Rockford Files. I believe the stuntman’s name was Create. This car was used in the episode “Rock in Roll will never Die”. Its right-front fender and passenger door were smashed, and sold as-is to Mr. Create. Mr. Create purchased the car for his daughter who had the car painted grey. When Pat purchased the car from her, the paint was peeling and worn off in areas. You could see the Rockford paint coming through. This Firebird will be his next restoration project. The car also has low mileage, making it easier to restore than his 1977.

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Because of the Firebirds that Pat owns, we now have resources to help identify the Firebirds that were used on the TV series.

I asked Vinny about the two Firebirds that he supplied for the Rockford Files movies. He told me that he and his partner tried to sell the cars. He told me that the Firebirds were repainted and made into something completely different. In fact, I saw one of these Firebirds on e-bay in October of 2002. It is painted a bright gold color.

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The three movie Firebirds were a 1977 and two 1978 used cars. They rebuilt them and painted them. In fact, Vinny said they were actually painted the wrong shade, but no one noticed. He said that everyone always remembered the 1978 Firebirds, which is why they were rebuilt that way. These Firebirds had the standard interior with power windows.

Vinny said it was a pleasure working with James Garner. He was really a great guy!

If anyone has any other information about any original screen used Rockford Files Firebirds, please let me know at jimsuva34@aol.com.

I hope that this information will help other Rockford Files fans!

29
Aug
13

ROCKFORD FILES cast and crew party 2013

Rockford Files Cast And Crew Party 2013

Rockford Files Cast And Crew Party 2013

Written by Jim Suva

Pictures by Joe Gunderson, AJ Palmgren, Rob Kleinle

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Logo By Darin James Bristow

This years Rockford Files Cast and Crew Party 2013 was held at Galpin Ford in North Hills, California on Saturday June 22nd.  We gathered in Community Room,on the second floor. The Party started at 8:30 am with a meet and greet.  Coffee and danish were available for those attending.  Sheri Aldrich was kind enough to man our registration table and greet everyone as they came in.  Special namestags with our logo on them, were given to each our guests and speakers.

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Some of those who attended this years party included our first real life Private Investigator, Chris Farmer from Arizona.  Chris became a PI because of The Rockford  Files.  Others came from New Jersey, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, Minnesota, Alabama, Illinois, California and from Germany.   In fact, Patrick Schnurr and his father Albert from Germany, won the farthest distant traveledprize.  The prize was the 1/64th scale Rockford Files Hotbird, from Hot Wheels and two Rockford caps.

This year we did something different. We had guest speakers to talk about their experience working on The Rockford Files and with James Garner.  By the feedback I have received, it was a big success.  Everyone attending got to hear all the stories,  so that no one missed any.

Roydon Clark – Stuntman.  Roy is James Garner’s stunt double, since “Maverick” in the 1950’s through a number of TV shows and movies. On Rockford, Roy was the second unit director and stunt coordinator.  Roy told some great stories about working with Jim over the years.

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Robert Zilliox – Set Decorator 1975 through the Rockford Movies.  Bob told stories about how he started in the business and was promoted on The Rockford Files to Set Decorator.  He said Jim told him that he did not want anything used more than once on Rockford.

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Milt Kogan – Actor and a real medical Doctor.  Milt has appeared in numerous TV and movies, plus 3 different Rockford’s  “No Cut Contract”, “The Empty Frame” as Aaron Keel, Angel’s brother-in-law.

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Steve Reich and Steve Hofmann from Film Vehicle Services – Steve R. and his
partner Steve H. were in charge of finding and working on the Firebirds for the
Rockford Movies of the 1990’s.  They talked about the finding of the Firebirds and the help GM gave them in locating parts for their transformation into Rockford Firebirds.

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Dennis Burkley – Actor.  Dennis has been in many TV shows over the years.  He
mainly played Bikers, tuff guys and was also in Murphy’s Romance.  Dennis is
one of nicest guys you ever want to meet.  He also talked about working with Jim.

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Chester Grimes – Personnel friend of James Garner and Actor.  Chester worked on a couple of episodes of Rockford and appeared in a couple of the Rockford movies.  Chester was also Jim’s driver for a few years.  He brought his own unquie stories
to the party.

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Diane Adler- Film Editor.  Diane came and was suppose to answer questions.  Unfortunately, we ran out of time.  But Diane did take pictures and sign autographs for the fans.

Pat McKinney brought some of his Rockford Files Collection, along with his
Screen used 1978 Firebird Formula 400. Of course the Firebird (the star that it is) arrived a little late, but came in on a flat bed truck.  Pat did not want anything to happen to it on the way to and from Galpin Ford.

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Glenn Gamer and Michael Mundy brought their Firebirds to the party too.  Below are a few pictures of their cars.  Glenn’s Firebird is from Neveda and is a 1978.  Michael’s is the red 1979  Firebird.

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We took breaks between speakers, so that fans could meet, talk, get pictures and autographs.

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Of course, it was time for the Guess Speakers to catch up with their Rockford Family from the show.

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Before we left Galpin Ford,  everyone signed a banner for Pat McKinney.  Pat
had the banner made with his on money and will be proudly displayed in his
garage.

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Part of the party of course was held in the parking lot, because of one special Firebird.  Pat enjoys talking about his Firebirds with his fellow fans.

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Here are some of my favorite pictures of most of the guests by Pat’s Firebird.

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We broke for lunch around 1 pm.   Those interested in going to see Pat’s 76 andhis 77 Firebird sound car, were welcome to come back to Pat’s house at 3 pm.  In fact a number of people showed up.  Including a stunt man that Sue Kessler knew, Bob Herron.  Bob worked on Rockford in a few episodes.  He also work as a stunt double for Ross Martin on The Wild Wild West.  He was also the first stunt man to drive the original 1966 Batmobile on Batman.  He has some wonderful stories totell about working on the different movies and TV shows.

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A few people went down to Paradise Cove on Sunday morning, to see whereRockford lived.  This was organized by Sheri Aldrich and included Richard Piet, Tim Koch, Glenn and  Kathy Gamer.

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We would like to thank our speakers for giving up their time, to share their stories with the fans of a great TV show and it’s star James Garner.  None of these peoplewere paid to participate.  All funds raised were used toward the cost of this event. We do not make any money, in fact we usually do not even cover the cost.

Plans are all ready in the works for next years 40th Anniversary of The Rockford Files.

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This article is dedicated to Dennis Burkley.  Even though Dennis was not feeling well the day of our Rockford Files Party,  he still attended, spoke, took pictures with and autographed items for the fans.  He was truly a wonderful guy!  We will miss you very much Dennis!!!

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27
Jul
11

The Rockford Files Fans get together for their first Festival!

My pals Pat McKinney and Jim Suva you can say are big Rockford files fans.  We connected because of their Rockford files screen used cars, but obviously if you get the car, well you love the show it came from!   So below is Jim’s write up of the fans first big get together!  Read on!

Nate Truman Starcarcentral.com Founder

Rockford Files Fest – 2011

Written by Jim Suva

On July 13, 2011, the 1st Annual Rockford Files Fest was held. In April I began to make arrangements to meet Pat McKinney and Brett Papworth. Pat and Brett are friends who helped me with my research of the Rockford Firebirds. Since my family and I were coming to the Los Angeles area during the second week in July, it seemed like a great idea to meet them in person! I then told Rob Howe that we were coming. Rob runs the official James Garner Fan Page on Facebook. He took this prospective meeting, which was going to include lunch at Paradise Cove, and transformed it into the 1st Rockford Files Fest. A Fest had been discussed for years on the Yahoo Rockford Files Group, but somehow that never became a reality. Until now.

Rob used to work on the set of the series during the last two seasons. Through the Garner Facebook page and his contacts with the show, he combined Rockford crew members and fans. This year’s Fest had a very limited budget and was really a trial run for next year’s Fest.

The Rockford Files Fest was held in two parts, in two different locations. The first part was held at Pat McKinney’s house, where we met at 10 a.m. Pat owns three (yes, that’s right, three) original Rockford Firebirds from the TV series. He has a 1976, a 1977 and a 1978 Firebird Formulas that were all driven by James Garner.

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Pat also displayed his collection of Rockford Files memorabilia, including photographs, an original screen-used license plate, a telephone answering machine, a phone, a clock and a pencil holder, similar to the ones used in the series. Pat was nice enough to let us actually touch these items, and pose for pictures with his Firebirds!

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Pat also has a collection of Rockford crew jackets and hats. These items were given to the Rockford cast and crew by James Garner during the filming of the series and the movies. What a classy guy!

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The 1977 Firebird gets to stay in the garage, out of the sun. It is the actual sound car from the fourth season. You can see the plugs in the fenders where wiring and cables were run. It’s a beautiful car!

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The 1976 Firebird is the only known car that has a letter signed by James Garner documenting the VIN number. It also states that he drove this Firebird on The Rockford Files.

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The 1978 Firebird was used in the last two seasons of the series. As you can see, it still needs a little TLC!

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Pat will be restoring these Firebirds as time and finances allow.

We also stopped by a nearby RV storage facility where Pat’s newest project is parked. He was given a 1959 Nashua trailer, which is the same kind of trailer Jim Rockford lived in during the series. Pat is hoping that with the help of Robert Zilliox, he will be able to paint and decorate the trailer to match Jim Rockford’s trailer. Robert Zilliox was the set designer from The Rockford Files. Robert has pictures of the interior of the trailer and the designs used on the show.

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We are hoping to have all of Pat’s collection items at the 2nd Rockford Files Fest!

The second part of the Fest was held at Bob Morse’s Beach Café. This is the old Sandcastle Restaurant that was the site used for both the TV series and the CBS movies.
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We met at the restaurant at 1:30 p.m. Rob made sure that we were sitting at tables where the original trailer sat. This area has been transformed into a beach area and has tables with beach umbrellas to keep the California sun off, our heads. The parking lot has been removed a few years ago. It was very cool to be sitting in that exact location!

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Once most of us arrived, Rob held a brief introduction, welcoming us and introduced the Rockford crew and the fans. Everyone received a T-shirt that was designed by Sheilagh Howe. The T-shirts were black because that is James Garner’s favorite color. Pat McKinney also gave out Rockford Files hats, that he had made to many of the attendees.

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Unfortunately, James Garner was not available to attend. Jim did send his personal car along with his driver, Chester Grimes. Chester has appeared on The Rockford Files several times in different roles. Note the Cadillac’s license plate! Obviously, a combination of his two favorite characters!

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Roy Clark, Jim’s stunt double since his Maverick days, was kind enough to attend. Rob introduced Roy and he held a very nice speech. Roy also entertained us with several stunt stories, and about one particular stunt that he did in the episode “Battle of Canoga Park”

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Roy was nice enough to go around to the different tables and he spoke with everyone. I was even fortunate enough to have him sign the visor of my Firebird! Roy also brought a great poster signed by James Garner, as well as a Rockford crew jacket.

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Rob introduced Jon Winokur, who relayed a special message from James Garner. Jon is co-authoring The Garner Files, the story of James Garner’s life. It will be published in November, 2011.

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Also in attendance was Blake Delgado, the son of Luis Delgado, Jim’s best friend for almost 50 years. You might remember Luis playing Officer Billings. Robert Zilliox, set designer, and Diane Adler, film editor, were also there. They signed autographs and had pictures taken with the fans. Unfortunately, my family left before Don Wilkerson came. He was an assistant director and was responsible for getting Rob Howe on the set. Ed Robertson also joined us. He is the author of Thirty Years of The Rockford Files. This book is my Rockford bible!

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A very special treat was Paul Santo’s restored 1977 Firebird, painted in the correct Rockford color. He parked close by in the parking lot (management wouldn’t let him drive it onto the sand! I wonder why?) Many many pictures were taken of Paul’s Firebird. It was so cool to have the Firebird in Paradise Cove again.

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Roy Clark’s son Dennis and his grandson stopped by with a truck that was used as background truck in several episodes. Of course, the truck had different paint jobs in those episodes.

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James Garner was so appreciative of his fans that he signed three items to be raffled off at the Fest. He signed a Rockford hat, a pilot script, and a Rockford T-shirt. Below is a picture of the lucky winners with their prizes! They received their prizes in custom Rockford Files Fest bags, also designed by Rob and Sheilagh.

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We had a wonderful time! We wished it could go on forever!

For more pictures please visit The Official James Garner Fan page on Facebook.

http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/The-Official-James-Garner-Fan-Page/137716439595713

We are already starting to plan a bigger Rockford Files Fest for next year. All will be invited, so tell your friends! Please check back for updates on next year’s event.




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