McGarrett’s Mercurys: Hawaii 5-0 wasn’t exactly paradise for these TV workhorses

“Book ’em, Danno.” With this parting shot from lantern-jawed television Detective Captain Steve McGarrett, another criminal’s day in paradise comes to an end. Hawaii 5-0s McGarrett walks away, slides into the driver’s seat of a long black Mercury, and cranks up the V-8 engine. Cue the theme music.

Before Magnum P.I.’s red Ferrari, McGarrett’s Mercurys on the original Hawaii 5-0 series were a staple of primetime entertainment. Every week from 1968–80, viewers tuned in to watch Jack Lord—the hard-nosed, justice-driven McGarrett—chase bad guys in his four-door sedan. When Hawaii 5-0 ended after 12 seasons on CBS, it was the longest-running police drama in television history.

With its place in television history secure, the 1974 Mercury Marquis Brougham soaks up some island sun (Brendan McAleer)

Only three Mercurys were used during those dozen seasons. The first, a Marquis coupe, barely counts since it was used only while filming the pilot episode (it also provided some stock footage). The bulk of the work was left to a 1968 Mercury Parklane Brougham and 1974 Marquis Brougham. And unlike the actors on the show, the Mercurys had no stunt doubles.

Lord, who used his star power to keep a tight rein on the show, refused to replace his beloved Mercury. So the first car spent its life in constant repair. In contrast, Magnum P.I. began each season with a new Ferrari. Despite pressure from CBS to showcase newer Ford products, the show stuck with the 1968 Parklane until the 1974 season, when the Marquis took over.

Both Mercs led a hard life. Because there were no stunt cars for jumps or crashes, keeping the two running and prepped for the camera often turned into a late-night affair for mechanic Mike Sakamoto.

Abuse during filming finally put an end to the 1968 car; the final insult was a head-on crash as McGarrett battled Hawaiian mafiosos. The Parklane was tucked away in a forgotten corner of a warehouse, where it moldered for years. Eventually collector Michael Timothy managed to gain access to the car, and he finally acquired and restored it.

1974 Mercury Marquis Brougham

While the 1974 Marquis endured plenty of beatings too, it actually survived filming. Technically it belonged to the studio, but a strongly worded telephone call from Lord helped persuade CBS execs to give the car to Lord’s former stunt double, John Nordlum.

When Hawaii 5-0 ended, Nordlum and the rest of the production team went to work on Magnum P.I., and Nordlum eventually became Tom Selleck’s body double. Outside of the studio, he drove the Marquis regularly. And when Nordlum eventually returned to teaching English, the car could often be seen in the teacher’s parking lot at Punahou School in Honolulu.

When CBS rebooted Hawaii 5-0 in 2010, Nordlum got a call. To tie the new series to the past, the ’74 Marquis was called upon again. Despite its age, mileage, and salt-air corrosion, the brute coughed to life again. The car is in rough shape these days, and there has been talk of restoring it, as the ’68 Parklane Brougham was. Whether or not that ever happens, McGarrett’s Mercurys have secured their place in TV history.