The Pink Panther had the coolest, kookiest custom car of the 1960s
The Panthermobile may not be street legal or very driveable, but it sure is nifty.
Sixties television had the most enviable rides. Sorry, Eighties kids, you can have your K.I.T.T. and Sonny Crockett's Ferrari. Those are sleek and chic, but on the outside, they are still rather standard sports cars. No, we'd rather roll up in the Batmobile or the Monkeemobile. The Munster Koach was a groovy, gothic hot rod — and the family had their awesome DRAG-U-LA, built from a coffin. The Green Hornet battled bad guys in his Black Beauty.
Even the cartoon characters rolled in style. The Flintstones had their iconic foot-powered ragtop. George Jetson could fly.
But none of these superheroes or toon had a car as cool as the Panthermobile.
The Pink Panther Show premiered on television in 1969. The Saturday morning series on NBC repackaged Pink Panther theatrical cartoons created earlier in the decade. Remember, the character was first introduced in the opening credits of the 1963 Peter Sellers comedy The Pink Panther. The "panther" of that movie was a diamond, but the opening credits featured a symbolic feline. The Pink Panther character proved to be so popular, he got his own animated spin-off series of shorts.
The Pink Panther Show treated Saturday morning like a true movie premiere, at least in its opening credits. The sequence showed the Pink Panther and Inspector rolling up to Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. While the stars were animated, the sequence was shot in live-action.
Kids who grew up in the era will undoubtedly now have the swingin' theme song in their heads: "Everybody loves a panther that's pink / He really is a groovy cat / He's a gentleman, a scholar, he's an acrobat!"
But the most eye-catching object in the credits was the Panthermobile. The thing looked like a Hot Wheels toy designed by Eva Gabor. The dart-like doorstop shape was one of a kind, built off the base of an Oldsmobile Toronado, believe it or not.
After principle designer Ed Newton and his colleagues finished, it hardly looked like an Olds, or anything else on the road.
The 23' long luxury roadster featured an open cockpit. The driver perched in front of the front wheels, making steering and handling an issue. You can even see the driver (the actual stunt driver, not the kid who hops out of the car) swerving along the road, trying to keep the thing straight. In lieu of rearview mirrors, the Panthermobile utilized a black-and-white video monitor.
The interior was even wilder, with its pink shag carpeting, pink pillows, cocktail bar, and princess telephone. Entry was gained through a wide clam-shell door on the right side. For no real reason, a rabbit-ears TV antenna sprung from a plush, upholstered bench at the rear of the automobile.
The thing cost nearly half a million bucks in today's money to construct. All for an opening sequence of a cartoon. Of course, the Panthermobile made the rounds at car shows, as you can see in the top picture, taken at a New York auto show in 1970.
A decade ago, the Panthermobile was purchased at auction by Galpin Auto Sports, the custom car garage featured in MTV's Pimp My Ride. Jay Leno later took a ride in it for his CNBC series.
But it will always truly belong to the Pink Panther and the imagination of the kids who grew up watching.