In September of 1984, Miami Vice hit pop culture like the Yucatan Meteor. It was an instant, explosive hit, for a whole bunch of reasons. Probably first among them was the Executive Producer, the incomparable Michael Mann. Everything about the series, from top to bottom bears his imprint: he exercised control over things as subtle as what colors appeared in street scenes. If he didn’t like the color of a building, he sent somebody to go to paint it, unclear as to what extent he actually sought permission. And he famously banned red and brown from his camera lenses.
The palette of aqua blues and pinks and other pastels is of his authorship, and indeed, some people credit him with a revival not just of that color scheme in south Florida, but even so much as the revival of the local economies. Then it was the talent, Don Johnson and Phillip Michael Thomas, among others. Mann kept a fashion consultant who jetted off to Milan and Paris and other epicenters of haute couture, to make sure everyone looked cutting edge. The music? Edgy and spot on, Phil Collins and Jan Hammer and Glen Frey, some of whom cameo’d on the show. Then exotic weapons and even more exotic boats. Which brings us to the cars. Big time, to the cars.
The protagonist, Sonny Crockett, plays an undercover cop looking like a high-level drug dealer. Of course, he had to have a stunning ride. But how they decided on his iconic 1972 Ferrari Daytona Spyder is a story in itself. There was an affluent car dealer in California, named Al Mardekian, and he got into doing replicas of exotic cars. For the tremendous skillsets necessary to do that right, he turned to a builder named Tom McBurnie, who has a resume as long as your inseam for this behavior.
The first idea was that Tom would build a replica AC Cobra on a Corvette chassis, but as Tom got all technical on it, he knew it wouldn’t work: the wheelbase was all wrong. But, as chance would have it, sitting on Al’s lot was an original Ferrari Daytona Spyder, there on consignment. Tom looked at that and said “this’ll work fine.” Al handed Tom the keys, and Tom commenced to mold-making. When complete, Al had himself a fleet of four Daytona replicas on his lot.
Well, in an odd little irony, a TV star who made fame for himself appearing in a show that had no cars in it all happened to be on the lot when he saw the Daytonas. His real name was Dan Haggerty, but anybody of a certain age would know him as Grizzly Adams. Well, Grizz took one look, and called up his friend Michael Mann and said “I got the car.” Mann secured it, and the pilot of Miami Vice rocked it out of the park. So he came back to get a second car, one as the close-up car, and one for stunts.
Problem was, the other immediately available car was red. Remember, Michael doesn’t do red. So it got all gloss blacked up and went to a life making Crocket look good.
Enter Ferrari. They pay good money to a bunch of intellectual property attorneys to pursue claims that would make the rest of us have a lengthy WTF moment, but bottom line, Ferrari claimed rights in how the replica Daytonas looks, and they sued. Anyway, Mann and crew cut a deal: they would remove the Daytona from the show, and Ferrari would show up with replacement rides in the form of the actual then-new Testarossa, and Vice was big enough at that point to make that look awfully good to the boys from Maranello. So, to explain this storyline change, in an arms deal, the Daytona gets smoked by a Stinger missle.
Well, no fool Mann, he didn’t actually crisp either Daytona, instead using a shell for the filmed fireball. Instead, he gave them to another car builder, in exchange for building a stunt car to look like the new Testarossas, because everybody was concerned the actual Ferraris wouldn’t hold up in stunts. That guy sold it, and the trail gets murky through an indeterminate number of hands, until the car ended up sitting in the desert, no carport, nuthin’, out in the baking sun near Lubbock, Texas.
Enter Brian Grams. Brian is a near-maniacal expert on movie cars. He has great stacks of them. He bought the car in about 2005, and brought it back to his showroom in Volo, Illinois. It had been blistered and baked, and needed quite a lot to bring it back to a point where you could pull into Bal Harbor in an Italian silk jacket, but he got it there.
Right away, the car created controversy: a lot of people questioned its authenticity. Well, Brian went to town. He got all the docs he could. He notes that the car is, indeed, black-over-red, which is consistent. And it has the third pedal often installed in stunt cars. And he notes that the VIN plate was held in place with Ace Hardware pop rivets. So Brian got a guy who knew where the hidden VINS were on a ’76 Vette, which was of course the underlying chassis. Turns out you’d have to yank the whole body. But instead, they pull a sill plate, whip out a hole-saw, and punch down to find the original VIN. Spot on original. Validated against the original Universal Studios paperwork.
While we’ve never had a chance to ask him, somewhere, Michael Mann is pleased that the car lives on.