I knew who Peter Gunn was when I was a kid but never saw the TV show because it was adult-themed–in an era when adult-themed meant something much different than it does in 2024.

Peter Gunn’ was on my winter workout watch list because I knew he drove some ultra-cool cars, but I learned a lot more about late 50s TV culture in the process.

The body count was high in ‘Peter Gunn’ with an average of 2.5 dead bad guys per episode. You could easily call it a bloodbath and Gunn’s trigger-happy cop buddy Lieutenant Jacoby shot most of them. He wouldn’t make it through his first week as a real cop in 2024.

Peter Gunn was also pistol-whipped two to four times an episode so the fact he was still functioning in the last episode of the series means he had a Three Stooge-level skull density.

Pete preferred convertibles because he was a cool, highly-paid private detective—but average guys like police and taxi drivers drove barebones Plymouth sedans.

Bad guys drove high-end Imperials.

Who said crime didn’t pay?

Peter Gunn’s first car wasn’t a convertible—it was a 1958 DeSoto Fireflite Sportsman two-door hardtop.

That’s not a bad way to roll—the ’57-8 DeSotos were regarded as Virgil Exner’s (designer of Chrysler’s fin-era Forward Look cars) crowning achievement. The ’58 DeSoto hardtop fit Peter Gunn like one of his tailored suits.

Peter Gunn’s second car was his coolest in my heavily biased opinion.

It was a 1959 Plymouth Sport Fury convertible, and it was so cool Peter Gunn was just along for the ride even though it he had his own brand of cool. The ’59 Sport Fury is the apex 50s car in my opinion, and it became Peter Gunn’s signature car for a reason—it was as iconically American as the Statue of Liberty.

Gunn’s third car was a 1960 Fury convertible.

This topless Mopar classic had its own form of style—the problem is the ’60 Fury had to follow the ’59 Sport Fury convertible. That’s like being the next guy to play after the legendary Van Morrison leaves the stage.

Peter Gunn’s fourth car was a 1961 Plymouth Fury convertible.

There’s a huge divide on the ’61 Plymouths because they came at a time when Virgil Exner was getting punted from Chrysler. I like these cars because they were a car you’d never forget. Try saying that about your Hyundai Elantra.  

Peter Gunn’s fifth car is a departure from this Mopar fin car love-in—Chevy guys were probably thrilled.

He drove a 1961 Chevy Impala convertible in Episode 33 when he was in Mexico—maybe the rental agency was all out of Mopar fin cars. The ’61 Impala convertible is a Detroit legend, so Peter Gunn kept his cool detective card intact.     

‘Peter Gunn’ was one those TV shows that was truly mystifying. He’d have a bloody shootout (several times) in his apartment, then he’d be entertaining his girlfriend the next day in the same apartment. Her only concern was Pete’s aversion to marriage—not the carnage from the night before.

By: Jerry Sutherland

Jerry Sutherland is a veteran automotive writer with a primary focus on the collector car hobby. His work has been published in many outlets and publications, including the National Post, Calgary Herald, Edmonton Journal, Ottawa Citizen, Montreal Gazette, Saskatoon StarPhoenix, Regina Leader-Post,  Vancouver Sun and The Truth About Cars. He is also a regular contributor to Auto Roundup Publications.

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