The unassuming, brilliantly cast cars of The Office
Whether due to pandemic boredom or cultural echo, long-running comedy series The Office has experienced a renaissance. Thanks to a host of new, younger fans discovering the crew of oddballs at Dunder Mifflin Paper Company, social media is full of The Office memes some eight years after the show went off the air. The series is well worth a rewatch, which also gives you the chance to clock all the clever little details—including those on wheels.
Cue the Dwight Schrute “It’s True” gif. While almost all of the action in this faux documentary takes place indoors, cars are a crucial part of The Office’s comedy. There’s a Prius used in a duel, another little Toyota that represents personal growth, and even a subtle nod to Swedish performance. Character by character, here’s how The Office got its car casting pitch-perfect.
Michael Scott – Chrysler Sebring convertible
Would any other car better fit Steve Carrell’s portrayal of a bumbling, man-child of a middle-manager? Michael Scott wants to be loved—specifically, he wants “people to be afraid of how much they love me”—but more than that, he wants to be noticed. Thus, a flashy Sebring convertible that’s heavy on style and short on substance.
It’s important to note that The Office was shot on a pretty tight budget for the first couple of seasons. The Sebring was a rental. The first, a silver 2004 model, marks the beginning of a bizarre relationship arc for Michael, when he sells the Chrysler to buy a Porsche Boxster for the tightly wound Jan Levinson. When money becomes tight, he trades in the Boxster on a PT Cruiser convertible: the automotive equivalent of Cinderella’s carriage turning into a pumpkin.
The PT Cruiser sticks around for a while, but in our humble opinion, Michael Scott’s ride should always be a Sebring. At the tail end of season six, a new Sebring is third on Michael’s list of demands for selling the short-lived Michael Scott Paper Company back to Dunder Mifflin. He’s visibly annoyed when informed Chrysler doesn’t make the Sebring anymore—and yet, he somehow ends up in a burgundy version dating from the very end of the convertible’s production run.
Pam Beesley – Toyota Yaris
As the long-suffering receptionist at Dunder Mifflin—“Please don’t throw garbage at me”—Pam starts out the series trapped. Her job seems to mostly be babysitting Michael, her oafish fiancée is in no hurry to get to the altar, and her art-school ambitions are on semi-permanent hold.
In season one, Pam rides to work with her fiancée Roy in his pickup truck—a Ranger, then a Dodge Ram. By season three, she’s broken off the engagement and has a bit of autonomy in the form of a tiny blue Toyota Yaris hatchback.
One fun bit of trivia about scenes shot in The Office’s parking lot is that the cars often belonged to cast and crew. Since the show was shot in California but meant to portray life in Scranton, Pennsylvania, volunteered cars would be painted with dirt for winter scenes and receive a free car wash after shooting wrapped on Friday.
In the shot where Pam shows Roy her new Yaris, you can spot Michael’s Sebring in the background, as well as the Nissan 280ZX, the Japanese coupe that was the original pairing for Dwight Schrute. Also in the four-wheeled bunch is a sweet little British Racing Green NA Miata owned by someone who worked on the show.
Dwight Schrute – Pontiac Trans Am
As the antagonist in many of The Office’s storylines, Dwight is at once both highly irritating and weirdly charming. He’s just as ridiculous as his boss, to whom he plays the groveling yes-man, but there’s some pathos to his character, too—beets, bears, and Battlestar Galactica aside.
His Trans-Am is the perfect automotive avatar, a wedge of slightly outdated machismo for an office drone. Today the Trans-Am is a pretty interesting car, and the 1987 model used in the show does at least have a 5.7-liter small-block V-8 and some uncommon options like the digital dashboard. However, a decade or so ago, when the bulk of the show was being filmed, the third-gen Camaro and Firebird were hovering in limbo, neither modern cars nor classics. Dwight, of course, would have claimed otherwise.
Andy Bernard: “Saw your dork-mobile in the parking lot. What does it get, like, four miles to the gallon?”
Dwight Schrute: “Uh, try double that. Classic Trans Am, vintage American muscle. Please.”
Andy Bernard: Nissan XTerra, Toyota Prius
A later arrival to the show, Andy (played by Ed Helms) is the preppy irritant that allows Dwight’s character to become a little more relatable. But we’ll eventually feel sorry for Andy too, especially when he proves to be completely out of his depth when facing Schrute-style parking-lot negotiation tactics.
Andy’s XTerra is a perfect fit for his continual recollections of college life. In its day, the off-road-oriented Xterra was the ideal rich-kid ride, more fun and stylish than the family-friendly Pathfinder. The “Nard-dog,” as Andy insists on calling himself, marks another selling point in the XTerra’s favor: “They’re always driven by chicks.”
Dwight browbeats Andy into taking a lowball offer on the truck, and then promptly flips it for more money. Andy is left driving an less-than-cool Prius—but he has the last laugh. In “The Duel,” he uses the hybrid’s ability to move stealthily under battery power for an extremely low-speed ambush that pins Dwight to a hedge, and the two finally settle their differences.
Jim Halpert: Saab 9-2x, Subaru Outback
Dubbed “Big Tuna” by Andy Bernard, Jim is the everyman character, the one to whom the audience can mostly easily relate. He’s usually first with a glance to camera when something untoward is said, and his constant pranking of Dwight is key to much of the show’s physical comedy.
Jim Halpert flies under the radar. He’s just a friend to Pam, but they end up married. He’s just a bored salesman at first—but he ends up co-managing the Scranton Branch along with Michael. Such a character needs a ride that’s a little out of the ordinary.
How he ends up with a Saab 9-2x Aero takes a bit of guesswork. If you’re not familiar with the car, the 9-2x was a rebadged Subaru Impreza. At the time, GM owned all of Saab and a 20 percent stake in Fuji Heavy Industries. The “Aero” denoted a turbocharged drivetrain, making this hatch essentially a Saabaru WRX. It’s a cool little five-door, quieter and more refined than a WRX and, thanks to the STI’s quicker steering rack, a bit more responsive. It’s an inspired choice, and one we can perhaps track to a head writer on the show, Paul Lieberstein. Better known as Michael’s nemesis Toby Flenderson, an HR rep, Lieberstein is often seen driving a blue (and non-turbocharged) 9-2x in the early seasons of the show.
The character-appropriate 9-2x Aero wasn’t the first Saab for Jim, as he also had a 9-3 briefly. However, by the sixth season, Jim and Pam own a Subaru Outback—quirky enough to be interesting but distinctly family-oriented.
Meredith Palmer – Ford Aerostar
There are many other clever pairings, whether it’s the shifty Creed Bratton (his real name) and his 1980s Lincoln Town Car, or the red C6 Convertible of loudmouth salesman Todd Packer. However, to round out this list, we’ll choose the rolling catastrophe that is Meredith’s van.
The Aerostar appears several times and is practically a main character in the episode “Women’s Appreciation.” Filled with trash, it mirrors the out-of-control trajectory of Meredith’s life. (We’d guess that set designers had more fun creating this rolling refuse pile than the actors had sitting in it.)
Of course, the delightfully horrible minivan had to be a long-forgotten Aerostar and not a tatty old Toyota Sienna or Dodge Caravan or some more well-known candidate. This automotive choice is just another illustration of the attention to detail that audiences came to expect from the cast and crew of The Office, part of what made the show an enduring cultural phenomenon. The vehicles were merely a backdrop to the comedy and the drama, but the producers cared enough to get the cars (and vans) right.