If you’re a car guy of a certain age, chances are you have fond memories of the original Adam 12 TV series. The half-hour police drama ran between 1968 and 1975, following veteran LAPD patrol officer Pete Malloy (played by Martin Milner) and junior partner Jim Reed (played by Kent McCord) as they went about their job to protect and serve the citizens of Los Angeles.
Adam 12’s primary focus was the real day-to-day work of uniformed street cops—not the typical TV cop show portrayal, where carnage on the streets of LA is a daily occurrence. Much of the show depicted routine police procedure rather than shootouts.
Adam 12 was produced by Jack Webb, who was best known for playing LAPD Sergeant Joe Friday on TV’s Dragnet. Jack Webb was a stickler for accuracy of anything to do with the Los Angles Police Department. Webb was tight with the LAPD, and after his death in 1982 the police had a special memorial service for him—the first ever for a civilian. Naturally, Webb made sure the police cars in Adam 12 were correct.
The pilot episode of Adam 12 used a 1967 Plymouth Belvedere police car on loan from the LAPD. (Later episodes used civilian cars modified by the studio to resemble police cars.) The Belvedere was Plymouth’s midsize car, and it could be had with a 383-cid V8 that put out 325 horsepower when equipped with a 4-barrel carburetor. For a full description of the Belvedere’s performance, check out the video below as Malloy lectures Reed on the value of their squad car.
After the pilot episode, the squad car was switched to a 1968 Plymouth Belvedere. The Belvedere had fresh styling for ’68, and horsepower for the 383 rose to 330. Plymouth’s budget-priced muscle car, the Road Runner, was new that year, and some referred to Belvedere Pursuit Special police car as a “4-door Road Runner.” The Belvedere was little changed for 1969.
In 1970, the LAPD bought Mercury Montegos for police use; these proved unpopular with force and lasted only one year. Perhaps because of the patrol officers’ dislike of the Mercs, the producers let Malloy and Reed keep their ’69 Belvedere for the 1970 season. However, some of Reed and Malloy’s fellow officers drove Montegos that year.
For 1971, the LAPD was back to Plymouth. Plymouth had once again redesigned its midsize cars, and the Belvedere name was replaced by Satellite. Engines for the Satellite police car ranged from a 225-cid six up to a 370-horsepower, 440-cid V8. In 1972, the LAPD switched once again—this time to AMC Matadors. These midsize cars had a 255-hp, 401-cid V8 and were capable of running 0-60 mph in 7.5 seconds, with a top speed of 126 mph. American Motors had started a drive for 1972 to improve the quality and durability of its cars, and Matadors held up well under police use. Part of that improved quality was the adoption of Chrysler Corporation’s tough TorqueFlite automatic transmission. The Matadors were air conditioned, which, along with their performance and durability, made them popular with the force.
AMC revised the Matador for ’74, and its heavier weight hurt handling and performance. Though the real-life LAPD returned to Plymouth in 1975, Adam 12 would use the preferred ’72 and ’73 Matadors until the end of the series. Besides seeing Plymouths and Matadors in action, a further benefit of watching Adam 12 (or pretty much any other TV show filmed in late-’60s/early ’70s LA) is the rich mix of vehicles in the background.