[Editor href='https://quizcards.info/car-culture/classic-cars/news/a26015/miami-vice-ferrari-testarossa/' target='_blank">once again up for auction.']
The white Mercedes limousine rolls up to a curbside berth. It is the Moby Dick of Mercedes-Benzes, outrageous in proportion, sublime in appointments. An underworld type (TV good guys don't ride in MBs) emerges from Moby Dick's white flanks. Draped on his arm is a knockout in high heels—entertainment for the evening. And as the camera pulls back for a wide-angle shot, you see just how radical this Mercedes really is.
The car has all the exterior trappings of a high-performance sports car: monochromatic paint scheme, racing wheels and tires, AMG-style spoilers, ground-effect skirts and air dams. Inside is the bar, TV, remote-control VCR. The ultimate touch, though, is the badge on the trunklid. The top-of-the-line Mercedes currently available in this country is the 560 series. But this car goes a step beyond. The badge reads 10,000 SEL.
Remember now, all this high-performance stuff is on a limousine, and a limousine stretched by 50 inches at that. It's enough to make a true Mercedes aficionado weep. But it's the kind of car "Miami Vice" fans have come to expect.
As a matter of fact, "Miami Vice" has become a cult program for car lovers. Writers and producers use automobiles to make real statements about the scenes unfolding on your TV screen. Cars set the tone, and establishing the show's style requires the engineering skill and artistic finesse of people like Carl Roberts of Kingsport, Tennessee. The car fabricator helped the show's Ferrari Testarossa achieve a status equal to that of Crockett, Tubbs and the rest of the cast.
The car-as-stylistic-device got a start with the car driven by main protagonist Sonny Crockett, played by actor Don Johnson. His original machine was a Daytona Spyder, or rather, a look-alike Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona Spyder. The first significant "Vice" car, it was a prop Sonny needed to infiltrate the high-roller world of drugs, prostitution and other assorted illegalities that support Miami's crime empire. Crockett had to dress the part, and had to go the whole routine. The lifestyles of the Miami vice-lords give fresh meaning to the term ostentatious.
Check out the clothes: Rumpled white linen suits with rolled up pant legs, hot pink scooped-neck T-shirts, $400 Charles Jourdan loafers. Check out the toys: An Endeavour 42-ft. yacht for living quarters, a 38-ft. Wellcraft Scarab with twin 440 Mercs for play.
All the while Crockett drones about town in a Ferrari Daytona Spider lookalike, picking up groceries the way we would use a Chevy Impala.
The rest of the "Miami Vice" team weren't ignored when the cool cars were handed out.
Crockett's partner and fellow player, Ricardo Tubbs, played by actor Philip Michael Thomas, gets to pilot a pristine '63 Cadillac DeVille convertible. It may not be the wheels of choice for an underworld overachiever, but it passes as the mark of a hard worker who has managed to cut out some kind of turf. Switek, another "Vice" cop, gets to drive a turquoise '63 Ford Thunderbird.
Forget for a moment the show's obvious flaws. Forget that Crockett was an All-American football hero who once ran a screen pass 95 yards in the Gator Bowl. You figure it out how a guy like this can make it as an undercover cop without being recognized. Forget the fact that Crockett and Tubbs regularly investigate all kinds of murders on busts—activities that would certainly blow their rather tenuous cover.
Forget also that "Miami Vice" has skidded in the ratings and regularly gets busted by its time-slot rival "Dallas." And while you're at it, forget the show's boring and tedious plots, flat dialogue and general heaviness to the scripts. The point is, if you consider it a treat to see rare and unusual cars, "Miami Vice" is the show for you.
Not all the cars on the show reek of blatant excess. Some are more subtle, you have to be paying attention to notice them, as many are just roll-ons.
For instance, the producers had access to a mint-condition 1968 Pontiac GTO. An original, red car with black interior, the model was equipped with the hideaway headlight option and Rally II wheels. This was a car that had been recognized in 1968 as Motor Trend's Car of the Year. It was the best-selling GTO model of all time and was a benchmark muscle car of the '60s. Many GTO enthusiasts consider the '68 to be the best looking of the entire GTO series.
So how was the car used on the show? In one episode, a drug dealer drove it to a buy. You see him pulling up to a building, go inside to do business, then come back out and drive away. Most sitcop shows would have the dope dealer driving something like an '84 Monte Carlo, or even a beat-up van.
Another muscle car, much rarer than the GTO, also made an appearance as the daily driver of a drug dealer. A limited-production high-performance 1969 Mercury Cougar GT, the car was optioned out with the big 428-cu.-in Cobra Jet engine, special hood scoop and styled wheels.
Where does "Miami Vice" get all their neat cars? They rent some and build some. Sources include individual collectors, auto specialty shops and car fabricators like Roberts. The original Ferrari look-alike used by Crockett was spotted on a lot in Newport Beach by the show's producer. He knew the car had the perfect image for his lead character. The car was a custom-built machine using Ferrari-design, fiberglass panels adapted to a 1980 Corvette chassis. And some real Ferrari hardware integrated with the car added to the Ferrari effect.
When the new model Ferrari Testarossa came out, it was decided to update the Ferrari on "Vice" to the trick-looking new machine. Plus, the real Ferrari North American people got a little miffed that these fakos were getting so much attention. They offered to supply two real Ferrari Testarossas for the show. The Testarossa was Ferrari's latest model and one would be used regularly and one would be kept as a backup. The cars were supplied to the producers painted back, but when they didn't show up well in night scenes, they were later painted white. To create a car that would perform stunts, "Miami Vice" producers turned to the Robert Motors Co., which had specialized in safety-oriented stunt cars for the movie and TV industries.
Carl Roberts' assignment was to build a Testarossa look-alike that would be able to stand up to the rigors of stunt duty. In effect, Roberts was asked to build an automotive Thespian that would breath life and action into the show just as much as human players. Unlike the front-engined Daytonas, the Testarossa was a mid-engined car, so using a Corvette chassis as a starting point wouldn't work. The proportions of the car were wrong. So Roberts took a 1972 DeTomaso Pantera—a perfect car with 12,000 miles on the clock and a collector value of about $30,000—and chopped it apart.
Roberts designed Testarossa look-alike, fiberglass body panels working from pictures in a magazine, and parts he salvaged from a wrecked Testarossa. He molded a 1-piece nose for the car that was easily removed for service access to the front end.
Another reason for the fiberglass body sections is that they were easily replaceable in the event a stunt got out of control.
To beef up the Pantera's chassis to handle jumps without the force of impact causing the roof to buckle, an additional subframe made from 2 ½-in. square tubing was bolted to the chassis. The subframe also works as a skid plate to protect the bottom of the car from impact. The suspension also was upgraded with stiffer springs to make the car more rigid, Koni shocks. To get the additional ground clearance necessary for jump maneuvers, the body was shimmed up 1 1/2 in. and extra body mounts were added for more support.
Driver protection presented a problem from a visual point of view. A full roll cage would have been the way to go for maximum safety, but the roll bars would have been visible around the windshield posts. A compromise was reached by installing a roll bar just behind the driver's seat in the engine compartment. The bar was attached to reinforced areas if the frame rails and further reinforced with ¼-in. steel plates at about the mid-point of the bar for vertical support. A fuel cell was used to prevent spillage during rollovers or crashes, and a competition safety harness was installed.
The Grant steering wheel is another safety feature. It is easily removable in case of an accident so the driver can be freed in case he's pinned inside the cockpit. The wheel is a popular item among the street-rodding set, who remove the wheel to prevent their cars from being stolen.
Sonny Crockett's first ride on the show was a Ferrari 365GTB Daytona Spyder replica.
Since the car would be used interchangeably with the real Testarossa during filming, they had to be as identical as possible. One discrepancy that caught Roberts' eye was that the Ferrari sat lower to the ground. The seats in the Pantera were up too high. The situation was easily rectified by cutting out the Pantera's floor pans and dropping the seats. The Ferrari was also wider than the Pantera. While the Pantera's body panels could be blown out to the required width, the rear tires didn't sit out far enough inside the wheel wells. The solution here came in the form of asset of custom Sbarbaro wheels. The rear wheels were offset 6 in. and were built with a 12-in. width. The Pantera rim is only 8 in. across.
Power for the stunt car comes from a 351-cu.-in Ford Cleveland engine that runs a Predator carburetor from PCI, Inc., to minimize fuel lag and poor throttle response when the car comes out of a slide.
Foam was added to the carburetor float bowl to keep the fuel from sloshing around during stunt maneuvers and high-speed chase scenes.
While the stock engine is good for about 300 hp, Roberts wanted more power for that extra margin during stunts. He decided against going the supercharger or turbocharger route because of the expense and the room the system would have taken up in the engine compartment. Since power-boost requirements were needed for 10- to 15-second bursts, a nitrous oxide system was installed. A shot of the gas gives an instant 100- hp, enough to handle any situation.
But just in case it's not enough to handle any situation, Roberts is getting set to install a 420-cu.-in Ford Cleveland engine that's available through Ford's motorsports program. The mill is good for 450 hp at 5000 rpm with 350 ft.-lbs. of torque at 2000 rpm. A nitrous system should add an additional 100 to 150 hp in the tight spots.
Backing up the Ford powerplant is a ZF 5-speed transmission. A special braking system uses a second brake pedal to activate the rear brakes only. Locking the rear brakes helps the car spin out or spin around in the classic bootleg U-turn.
It all promises to be an exciting season this fall for the cars of "Miami Vice." Now all it takes is for the producer and writers to bring the rest of the show up to the interest level generated by the machinery.