THE CARS (AND LIFE LESSONS) FOUND IN TV’S ROUTE 66

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I like to watch vintage TV shows when I work out in the winter, so I took in all four seasons of ‘Route 66’ over the last two years.

‘Route 66’ was a no-kiddie zone back in the 60s because it had adult themes (60s style), so it had a later time slot.

My first impression was how many Chevys were in ‘Route 66’. They weren’t just Vettes—they used Chevys for everything from police cars to taxis to work trucks to bad guy cars. I wasn’t surprised when some research told me that GM was a major sponsor, so it was an all Chevy show with an occasional glimpse of other cars from the era.

You’d see a Plymouth or Ford in the background, but every major shot had a GM product in the foreground. That made sense—they were picking up the tab. What didn’t make sense was how every police car or taxi looked like every other police car or taxi, no matter where they were in the States.

The answer was simple. ‘Route 66’ was a travelling road show production, so they took a bunch of the same cars from town to town—including a few Vettes.

The human stars of the show were Martin Milner as Todd Stiles and George Maharis as Buz Murdock. Milner owned the Vette because he came from money and Maharis rode shotgun because he didn’t come from money—he came from the street.        

The boys show up in the first show driving a C1 ’60 Vette because it was filmed earlier in the year, but after that they drove a ’61 and a ’62 Vette. In Season 3 they switched to the C2 ’63 Corvette halfway through the year and eventually they moved on to a ’64 in Season 4. These Vettes weren’t red because black and white TV wasn’t kind to darker colors, so most of them were light blue (early) or beige (later).  

You could also make a case that ‘Route 66’ had a C3 Vette even though the show ended years before the C3 debuted.

The Mako Shark concept car debuted on ‘Route 66’ in one episode–it definitely had the DNA strand for the C3 Vette.   

George Maharis never rode shotgun in the Gen 2 Vette because he got sick early in Season 3 and he was dumped from the show. He was replaced by Glenn Corbett who played Linc Case—a Viet Nam veteran who was in the Special Forces.

The Vette took the ‘Route 66’ guys from place to place across all the lower States and into Toronto, Ontario. The Vettes were rarely abused in the show, but the guys got them stuck many times. The biggest threat came from the numerous times they drove them along the beach and into the surf because salt water is murder on cars—even fiberglass cars.

‘Route 66’ left me with a few questions.

For example, why was Buz Murdock a better fighter than Linc Case? Linc was a Special Forces guy who’d seen combat so a street brawl should have been a light workout, but Buz won far more fights than Linc.

Also, Todd showed up in a new Vette every season, so he must have been a great money manager. Most of his numerous jobs were low money and unskilled but he could pop for a new Vette every year. The true story is GM wanted to showcase their new cars, so they only let ‘Route 66’ run them up to a few thousand miles.

That new model concept applied to cars but most pickup trucks on ‘Route 66’ were tri-five Chevys. They were good-looking trucks, but the car guy in me wondered why GM didn’t showcase new trucks on ‘Route 66’ because 60s Chevy trucks were pretty cool too.

I truly enjoyed watching ‘Route 66’ for the first time ever because it was a great look at early 60s America. Cars on the road were a big part of the plot and the show made the Corvette an automotive icon.

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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