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James Garner’s “Rockford Files” Pontiac Firebird is Crossing the Auction Block

from Fox News

“This is Jim Rockford, leave your name and a message”…if you’d like to buy my car.

Or you can head to the Barrett-Jackson auction in Scottsdale, Ariz., on Saturday night to bid on a 1978 Pontiac Firebird Formula 400 that was not only used in the James Garner-led TV show, “The Rockford Files,” but also owned by the actor himself.

The Sierra Gold coupe is one of three identical cars that were acquired by the production company for the making of the detective program. According to Hagerty, the Formula 400s and their powerful 6.6-liter V8 engines were needed for stunt work, but the cars were stripped of some parts and badges to make them look like one of the cheaper Firebird Esprits that down-on-his-luck Rockford might actually be able to afford.

You can even use it for your own remake of the show, because it was the sound car and is still equipped with microphone inputs in the dashboard, although the rest of the recording equipment has been removed. It also has an automatic transmission and skid plates in case you get caught up in a wild chase.

Garner, a well-known car enthusiast and racer, bought the Pontiac when the show went off the air in 1980 after six seasons and kept it for himself for about a year.

It changed owners several times after he let it go, before ending up in the hands of movie car collector Steve Reich, who gave it a full restoration and is the one offering it, along with a co-owner, at Barrett-Jackson.

There’s no estimate on what it will go for, but one of the other three cars was sold at a Mecum Auctions event in 2015 for $40,000.

Rockford Files Firebird
Rockford Files Firebird
Rockford Files Firebird
Rockford Files Firebird

1978 Original Rockford File Formula Firebird 400

'78 Rockford File Formula

Written by Jim Suva

After The Rockford Files shut down production in January 1980, James Garner bought this 1978 Firebird Formula 400 from the show. Mr. Garner sold this car 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.

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, Joy, is now the owner of the Firebird. On August 29, 2009 I had the honor of meeting Joy 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. Joy 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. Joy 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 (another Rockford Firebird expert) and I are 99% sure this is an actual Rockford File Firebird.

If anyone has any information on any other Rockford File Firebirds or Rocky’s GMC pick up truck, please email me at jimsuva34@aol.com.  My goal is to own an original Rockford File Firebird someday!

Please visit my Blog/website at http://jimsuva.vox.com for more information on the Rockford Files Firebird.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

'78 Rockford File Formula

Recreating the Rockford Files with Jim Suva’s Firebird

This February 20011 issue’s featured car is the ‘77 Firebird of Jim Suva. Here is the story of his “Rockford Files” Firebird. Here is the story

Jim Suva's Rockford Files Firebird On April 27, 2010, I received an email from someone named Marie Bublitz, inquiring about the Rockford Files Firebird. She is a Project Coordinator for Boettcher/Trinklein Television, Inc., which produces the PBS series Pioneers of Television. Their production company has already won six Emmy’s for their work in television.

Steve Boettcher and Mike Trinklein, the producers, were in Los Angeles in February 2010 doing interviews for their latest episode, which will be based on crime stories. They interviewed James Garner and Steven J. Cannell for The Rockford Files portion of the series. During the interviews, both of them had raved about the Firebird and how James Garner personally picked the Firebird for the show. James Garner is an accomplished off road racer, and he did all of the stunt driving for the series himself. He said in a number of interviews that the Firebird could do anything. In fact, he has stated he sometimes does not remember specific shows, but if someone mentions a stunt, he can recall that with clarity.

Steve and Mike decided they wanted to recreate some scenes from 1977, and they needed a Firebird. Marie found my website/blog and contacted me. Needless to say I was ecstatic, and joyfully loaned them my Firebird for the show. I would get to drive the Firebird on film! I have to say this was a fantasy come true for me. To actually play James Garner portraying Jim Rockford was the best! Of course no one could ever come close to the talent of James Garner, but I was going to try!

Recreating the Rockford Files with Jim Suva's '77 Firebird

Recreating the Rockford Files with Jim Suva's '77 Firebird

Recreating the Rockford Files with Jim Suva's '77 Firebird

On September 11, 2010, my friend Don French loaded my Firebird onto his trailer, and transported it and us to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. My son JJ, who is 16, came with us. At 6:30 a.m. on Sunday September 12, we were picked up at the hotel and taken to the site of the shoot.

It was a beautifully perfect morning. It had rained the day before, but on this morning everything was clear and sunny. We filmed the segments on N. Lincoln Memorial Drive, which doubled for Pacific Coast Highway in California. Lake Michigan became the Pacific Ocean.

B/T Television hired actors to portray the Rockford Files film crew members. They dressed all of them in ‘70s-style clothing, and had rented period-correct equipment. Lights, cameras, light reflecting stands, etc. They went all out to make it look and feel like 1977.

We started filming around 7:30 a.m. and filmed all the driving scenes in between regular traffic. To do this, Steve would call Marie in the parking lot where I was waiting in the Firebird. Then I would have to wait until all traffic cleared, so that the Firebird was the only car on the road. I had so much fun doing this. I actually felt a little like Jim Rockford.

Then we staged the parking lot for a scene where Jim is getting into the Firebird before he films a driving scene. My son JJ got to play a crew member, cleaning the windshield of the car. I think he cleaned the windshield a dozen times! We shot multiple angles and takes on this scene. I have never gotten into and out of my car so many times in a row! Of course I would have been willing to do this all day if they needed me to.

There were a couple of Milwaukee Sheriff’s Officers who stopped by the shoot and asked to have pictures taken with the Firebird. The officers had been influenced in their career choices by the police shows on TV in the ‘70s, and in particular The Rockford Files. I think that is what actually gives me the biggest joy of owning this Firebird, the look on fans’ faces when they recognize the car.

We wrapped up around 10:45 a.m. Before everyone left I wanted a picture of the whole cast and crew on the set, which turned out great. I hope everyone had as good a time as I did.

I have to thank Steve Boettcher, Mike Trinklein, and Marie Bublitz. They made our stay in Milwaukee very nice and it was a pleasure to work with them!

Please watch for the crime stories episode of Pioneers of Television on your local PBS station. It is tentatively scheduled to air at the end of January 2011.

Jim Suva's "Rockford Files" Firebird

In 1974 a new TV series aired called “The Rockford Files” starring James Garner. Mr. Garner’s character Jim Rockford drove a Pontiac Firebird Esprit. I fell in love with this car immediately. So I purchased a used 1974 Firebird Esprit that was gold and had a black interior. (Rockford drove a gold and tan interior version.) I only kept the car one year before I sold it.

The Rockford Files went through Firebirds from 1974 through the 1978 model year. I have always wanted to buy one over the years.

Fast forward to November 2002. I was looking for a used car for myself and found a 1977 Firebird Esprit on the Internet. It was gold with a tan interior.

The Firebird only had 63,000 miles on it and it was in great survivor shape. I am the fifth owner of the car. The Firebird was purchased new in 1977 in Oregon to a lady who was about 50 years old, who gave the car to her minister’s wife in the late 1980’s. The minister’s wife kept it for a number of years and sold it to another gentleman around the year 2000. In March of 2002 that gentleman sold the Firebird to another gentleman named Mike in Rhode Island. Mike sold it to me. What is nice about this Firebird is that it has only been owned by people over 45 years old. So it has not been abused.

Once I bought the Firebird, I contacted Jim at Pontiac Historic Service for a copy of the original build sheet. The Firebird was built in Ohio and shipped to a dealer in Oregon. The car originally had a rear spoiler and a stripe, which I believe was removed at the dealership. It also had wire wheels, that Mike (owner #4) switched out with a set of Rally 2 wheels to make the car look like the Rockford Files car.

Since purchasing the Firebird, I have replaced the wheel-well chrome all around, added a correct AM/FM radio with two rear speakers. Of course I have done some regular maintenance like brakes, heater core, water pump and transmission service.

The Firebird has a 305 engine, power steering and brakes. It also has air conditioning and a tilt steering column with a gold Formula steering wheel. These are the only options on the car.

I used the Firebird as a daily driver for about 11 months. It is now retired as an antique vehicle with just over 69,000 miles on it. It sports the same license plate number that was Jim Rockford’s on the TV show (853 OKG).

I have shown the Firebird at a few local car shows and it is received well. A lot of people actually ask me if this is an original from the TV show. The nice thing about this Firebird is that it is a star car replica. Since everyone wants a General Lee Charger, KITT Trans Am, or a Batmobile, my car is special. Not too many Rockford Files Firebird’s running around. Plus, there are a lot of Trans Am and Formula Firebirds, so it is cool to see the Esprit as one of a few examples still out there.

Plans for the future are to have the Firebird repainted and have some minor dings and dents taken out. As luck would have it, I met a gentleman in California who gave me the original color-based codes from an actual surviving Rockford Firebird.

I have also had the opportunity to talk to someone who actually supplied the Firebirds to both the TV series and the Rockford Movies in the 90’s. He gave me a lot of background information on the Firebirds. But that is another story. (excerpt from the club magazine, the Eagle)