National Police Week: The Most Memorable Cop Cars From TV and Movies

Posted by

The cars detectives drove on TV get all the attention, like Thomas Magnum’s Ferrari, Rick Simon’s Dodge Power Wagon or even Enos Strate’s beat-up Chevelle on the spinoff from The Dukes of Hazzard.

But what about the stalwart police cruisers from the TV shows of the 1970s and 1980s? Where’s the love for the black-and-white? Here’s some of the most memorable, in somewhat chronological order

Hill Street Blues (1981-87)

TV Cop Cars - Hill Street Blues
For a cop show that was shot mostly on sets indoors, if I asked you about the theme song, you’d immediately recall this 1976 Dodge Monaco exiting the station house and rolling out into the street.

RELATED: Find a Dodge Monaco for Sale at

Yet, for a show mostly filmed on indoor sets, a lot of cop cars made their way into the production:

1981 Chevrolet Impala:

1974 Dodge Coronet:

1974 Plymouth Satellite:

1975 Plymouth Fury:

ADAM-12 (1968-75)

Part of the cop car appeal of ADAM-12 is that it ran right through the point when auto design really changed. Styling went from full-on shoebox to fuselage bodystyles in a matter of years, and Pete Malloy and Jim Reed drove right on through all of it.

Cop Cars - Adam12 1967 Plymouth Belvedere
For the beat cops on ADAM-12, it was a steady diet of Plymouth products, beginning with the 1967 Plymouth Belvedere.

From that season forward, every year the patrol would update to the current year Plymouth. Plymouth never received credit in the closing credits, but it was supplying cars left and right.

RELATED: Find a Plymouth Belvedere for Sale at

1968 Plymouth Belvedere

Cop Cars - Adam12 1968 Plymouth Belvedere
1969 Plymouth Belvedere

Cop Cars - Adam12 1969 Plymouth Belvedere
I have no idea why, but I took a tremendous amount of pleasure in catching a glimpse of the Plymouth Belvedere Wagon showing up from time to time, showing the 1970 grille redesign:

Cop Cars - Adam12 1970 Plymouth Belvedere Wagon
In 1971, Plymouth revised its intermediate Satellite lineup to a “fuselage” body, which was a lot more modern. The coupes looked pretty good, but the sedans always looked weird to me. Reed and Malloy switched to these cars in ’71:

Cop Cars - 1971 Plymouth Belvedere
And again, a wagon showed up too:

Cop Cars - Adam12 1971 Plymouth Satellite Wagon
…even in the 1972 configuration.

Cop Cars - Adam12 1972 Plymouth Satellite Wagon

Kojak rolled around in a brown Buick Skylark Century (as BestRide’s Philip Ruth wisely pointed out from the bottom of his Corgi miniature), but we’re really focused on uniformed police vehicles here. We can’t let Kojak slip by without mentioning this NYPD-liveried Boyertown Merchandiser, the exact same step van you could see lettered up with Mister Softee graphics.

RELATED: Find a Buick Century for Sale at

Cop Cars - Kojak Boyertown Merchandiser

This one was featured chasing Griffin Dunne down in the bizarre Martin Scorcese movie After Hours.

Cop Cars - Kojak Mister Softee

It’s funny, I remember S.W.A.T. being a big deal, seeing that its theme song — from the Rhythm Heritage — made its way to a K-Tel album I had in 1976.

But the show’s run only stretched from February of 1975 to April of 1976.

Cop Cars - SWAT Metro Van
Along with a bunch of cruisers, the main vehicle everybody was interested in from S.W.A.T. was the van, specifically an International Harvester Metro II, which was the ubiquitous delivery van throughout the 1970s.

The Dukes of Hazzard (1979-85)

Yeah, The Dukes of Hazzard wasn’t a cop show, but there were plenty of cop cars in it.

Cop Cars - Dukes of Hazzard AMC
In Season 1, Hazzard County Sheriffs drove around in an AMC Ambassador, complete with the rebel flag that’s become controversial.

RELATED: Find an AMC Ambassador at

Quickly, though, Plymouth slotted itself into The Dukes of Hazzard’s production, pushing little AMC right out the door. By the end of the first season, it was all Plymouth Fury for Enos and Rosco:

Cop Cars - Dukes of Hazzard Plymouth
(1977 to 1983)

CHiPs was another show that owed a tremendous debt to the Dodge Coronet (essentially the same car as the Plymouth Fury from Dukes of Hazzard). But early in the run of CHiPs, AMC must’ve executed one of the last bigtime promotional contracts in its history, because the first few seasons were completely littered with AMC products, including the familiar black-and-white cruisers.

Cop Cars - CHiPs AMC Matador

AMC quickly got priced out of the promotional game, though, and MOPAR came along to fill the void.

Cop Cars - CHiPs Dodge Coronet
The elder Dodge Polaras typically got the short end of the stick…

Cop Cars - CHiPs Dodge Polara

…and a few oddball cruisers showed up from time to time.

Cop Cars - CHiPs Nova
In front, that’s a 9C1 Police Prep Chevrolet Nova, which was reportedly a favorite amongst the police because of its light weight. That Nova is driving in front of a Dodge D200 utility body, which was also odd to see in service on the show.

Cop Cars - CHiPs Plymouth Volare
Then there’s this police-equipped Plymouth Volare Wagon. I wonder what happened to this car. There couldn’t have been more than a handful lettered up like this.

Cop Cars - CHiPs Kawasaki KZ900 Police
Of course, the star of the show was the Kawasaki KZ900 Police Special. California used Moto Guzzis just prior to CHiPs going on the air, but the show never used anything but the KZ900s and the later KZ1000C and KZ1000P models.

T.J. Hooker (1982-86)

T.J. Hooker — the Shatner-fronted police drama — suffered the most ignominious comedown of any TV cop.

He started out like everyone else, patrolling the streets in a Dodge Monaco:

Cop Cars - TJ Hooker Dodge MonacoThen, things started looking up a bit in Season 2, when he was issued a swank Dodge St. Regis:

Cop Cars - TJ Hooker Dodge St. Regis
Then the recession hit in full force, and the cops in T.J. Hooker started running around in the Fairmont-era Ford LTD, like a bunch of chumps.

Cop Cars - TJ Hooker Ford LTD
What did we leave out? What was your favorite cop car of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s?

Find a car near you with BestRide’s local search. 



Craig Fitzgerald

Craig Fitzgerald

Writer, editor, lousy guitar player, dad. Content Marketing and Publication Manager at


  1. Adam-12 also used a 1969 or 1970 AMC Ambassador for a short time.
    Great article!

    1. My mistake. It was an AMC, But it seems it was likely a 1971 Matador.

  2. Don’t forget Sheriff Lobo’s Cadillac Seville. He had an even weirder cruiser in the episode of B.J. & The Bear when he was introduced.

  3. I noticed that all the cars were American. However, the California motorcycles both on TV (Kawis) and in real life (Guzzis) were foreign. I’m surprised that more “Buy American” types weren’t all over this and calling for a boycott of the show. Maybe it’s because Facebook wasn’t invented yet. Maybe they’ll get them cancelled from TVLand.

  4. The very first thing I thought of was the van they drove Raymond Burr around in on Ironside. First the big clunky one, then more stylish. Googling, I even found a story in a newspaper about when he got the new one. HA! It mentioned that paraplegics wrote the show often asking if they could be vans outfitted like his. And no, they said. Too expensive.
    Second one was the Ford Fairlane they drove on Dragnet. All black because you know, just the facts.
    Last mention- wasn’t police, but I always like the truck the paramedics drove on Emergency.
    Fun topic, btw.

  5. You forgot the cop car for which a show was named, “Car 54 Where Are You?” starring Fred Gwynne (of later Munster fame) and Joe Ross.
    The series ran 1961-1963; since the show was filmed in black & white, the fake cop car was painted not the usual green and white but red and white, which appeared the right shade of gray in the films.
    The car was the usual Mopar product of the time, a 1961 Savoy during the first season and a 1963 Savoy during the second.

  6. You forgot the Andy Griffith Show!

  7. Adam-12 used Plymouths because that’s what the LAPD used; the show was kind of an LAPD propaganda joint. LAPD ran Matadors for a couple of years, and so did Adam-12. The LTDs were popular for a year, lots of cities had them. And got rid of them rather quickly…

  8. How about the AMC Matador in “Adam-12” (seasons 5-7: 1972-1975)?

  9. what about Ford Bronco’s? via “24O Robert” LA COUNTRY SHERIFF DEPT- SEARCH & RESCUE

  10. The short run TV series called “Chase” had great cars, though I was too young to figure them out and then the red Ford Torino on Starsky and Hutch.

    1. The only car was a ’73 Plymouth Satellite (painted bronze, silver and gray), but that was a cool car, with a hood scoop.

  11. What about The Streets of San Francisco?

  12. What about Car 54 with Toody and Muldoon?

  13. That 1974-78 Matador with LAPD markings was incorrect since that 5 MPH bumper style sedan was 1974 only and, had the famous tin can roof lights, def NO Twinsonic lightbar.

    1970 Ply Belvedere/Satellite wagon? Possible since the LAPD street patrol sedan that year was the Mercury Montego.

  14. Not regulars by any means, but several episodes of Miami Vice had appearances by real Florida Highway Patrol Mustang SSP pursuit cars.

  15. One later episode of CHiPS also featured a 1982 Ford Mustang CHP patrol car.

  16. While many thought them ungainly-looking, I was always a big fan of the 1971-73 Plymouth Satellite sedans. I loved the 72-73 AMC Matador sedans too. The 1977-78 Dodge Monacos and Plymouth Furys were also big favourites of mine.

    The only cars after the seventies I like are the 80s Dodge Diplomats and their Plymouth Gran Fury counterparts.

Leave a Reply