Comedy was the theme in the 1970 Dodge Challenger TV spots, which featured a character that’s a dead-on precursor to Jackie Gleason’s Sheriff Buford T. Justice, and more directly, the J.W. Pepper character in the 1973 James Bond movie Live and Let Die. His name was J.W. Higgins, and he was Sheriff of Scat City.
The character showed up in a bunch of spots for the all-new 1970 Dodge Challenger. Joe Higgins — the actor, and also the name of the character — was a southern Sheriff in the most stereotypical sense, with a set of aviator sunglasses perched on his nose, and a fat stogie clenched between his teeth.
The premise was that he was busting an unsuspecting Challenger driver for driving a race car on the street.
It’s a great spot, and for a short time, Joe Higgins was a minor celebrity, who was stopped on the street to growl out his catchphrase “You in a heap o’ trouble, boy.” He showed up at the 1970 Chicago Auto Show in Dodge’s booth, to the delight of a whole lot of kids with gasoline coursing through their veins.
According to the Chicago Auto Show, Higgins showed up and talked about auto safety with his admiring followers: “1970 Chicago Auto Show features Dodge spokesman “Sheriff” Joe Higgins on the show floor of McCormick Place East exposition center. Sheriff Higgins was a hit with admiring fans, enjoying his southern accent and humor when he’d talk with the crowds on his safe driving tips.”
He was pitched as Joe Higgins, Dodge Safety Sheriff later on, in an attempt to get clueless Americans to start wearing seat belts.
Ol’ J. Dubya showed up again in 1971, but this time it was for the entry level 1971 Dodge Challenger Coupe, schooling his dingbat Deppity, who thinks it’s one of those “fancy Eye-talian jobbies.” But Sheriff Higgins has the straight dope on the Challenger’s great price: “Pert’ near anybody can afford one.”
The Sheriff J.W. Higgins character preceded Sheriff Buford T. Justice (“OF TEXAS”) in Smokey and the Bandit by six years, and the character in the 1973 James Bond movie Live and Let Die, and again in 1974’s The Man With The Golden Gun by three years.
The James Bond character even swipes the Dodge commercial character’s nickname “J.W.” that was used in the 1971 ad.
The J.W. Pepper character, played by actor Clifton James, is a dead-on ripoff. The dialogue when he steps out of the cruiser is almost identical.