Car historians and Merc-O-philes everywhere tend to agree that the 1950 Coupe driven by James Dean in Rebel without a Cause is likely Mercury’s most famous representative. But each Tuesday night during the 60s and 70s, another one was seen by many more eyeballs.
Hawaii Five-O was a crime drama on CBS about an elite unit within the Hawaii State Police charged with battling the darker elements of Paradise. Commander Steve McGarriett, played by Jack Lord, was head of Five-O. He was of the John Wayne hero mold, strong jawed and stoic. (He also wore TV’s coolest sideburns this side of James T. Kirk of the Starship Enterprise) In a different genre, a marshal McGarriett might have looked at home perched tall on a tall white horse in a dusty border town. But here on Oahu, McGarrett’s steed was a 1968 Mercury Park Lane. The sinister looking black hardtop lent a sense of dichotomy to Jack Lord’s character. Perhaps it was the hair, the burns, the tan, that suggested McGarrett might have had a dual nature. You got a sense that this upright defender of order might have, on his day off, strapped a long board to the roof of the Merc and headed for the waves.
The car’s role in the long-running show nailed cool for Mercury. Each week, millions of viewers, this writer included, watched that black beauty lay down rubber while helping to vanquish evil. The Park Lane was retired after the 1973 season, replaced by an equally black and menacing 1974 Mercury Marquis. The new Merc served McGarrett for another 6 seasons. That very car was even brought back for a scene in the 2010 premier of a reimagined Hawaii Five-0.
Checking out an old episode on YouTube the other day, I have to admit the show is a bit dated (though still better than the reboot). But watching that bad-assed black hardtop blasting through the streets of Honolulu still gets the blood pumping a little faster.