Recreating the Rockford Files with Jim Suva’s Firebird

This February 20011 issue’s featured car is the ‘77 Firebird of Jim Suva. Here is the story of his “Rockford Files” Firebird. Here is the story

Jim Suva's Rockford Files Firebird On April 27, 2010, I received an email from someone named Marie Bublitz, inquiring about the Rockford Files Firebird. She is a Project Coordinator for Boettcher/Trinklein Television, Inc., which produces the PBS series Pioneers of Television. Their production company has already won six Emmy’s for their work in television.

Steve Boettcher and Mike Trinklein, the producers, were in Los Angeles in February 2010 doing interviews for their latest episode, which will be based on crime stories. They interviewed James Garner and Steven J. Cannell for The Rockford Files portion of the series. During the interviews, both of them had raved about the Firebird and how James Garner personally picked the Firebird for the show. James Garner is an accomplished off road racer, and he did all of the stunt driving for the series himself. He said in a number of interviews that the Firebird could do anything. In fact, he has stated he sometimes does not remember specific shows, but if someone mentions a stunt, he can recall that with clarity.

Steve and Mike decided they wanted to recreate some scenes from 1977, and they needed a Firebird. Marie found my website/blog and contacted me. Needless to say I was ecstatic, and joyfully loaned them my Firebird for the show. I would get to drive the Firebird on film! I have to say this was a fantasy come true for me. To actually play James Garner portraying Jim Rockford was the best! Of course no one could ever come close to the talent of James Garner, but I was going to try!

Recreating the Rockford Files with Jim Suva's '77 Firebird

Recreating the Rockford Files with Jim Suva's '77 Firebird

Recreating the Rockford Files with Jim Suva's '77 Firebird

On September 11, 2010, my friend Don French loaded my Firebird onto his trailer, and transported it and us to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. My son JJ, who is 16, came with us. At 6:30 a.m. on Sunday September 12, we were picked up at the hotel and taken to the site of the shoot.

It was a beautifully perfect morning. It had rained the day before, but on this morning everything was clear and sunny. We filmed the segments on N. Lincoln Memorial Drive, which doubled for Pacific Coast Highway in California. Lake Michigan became the Pacific Ocean.

B/T Television hired actors to portray the Rockford Files film crew members. They dressed all of them in ‘70s-style clothing, and had rented period-correct equipment. Lights, cameras, light reflecting stands, etc. They went all out to make it look and feel like 1977.

We started filming around 7:30 a.m. and filmed all the driving scenes in between regular traffic. To do this, Steve would call Marie in the parking lot where I was waiting in the Firebird. Then I would have to wait until all traffic cleared, so that the Firebird was the only car on the road. I had so much fun doing this. I actually felt a little like Jim Rockford.

Then we staged the parking lot for a scene where Jim is getting into the Firebird before he films a driving scene. My son JJ got to play a crew member, cleaning the windshield of the car. I think he cleaned the windshield a dozen times! We shot multiple angles and takes on this scene. I have never gotten into and out of my car so many times in a row! Of course I would have been willing to do this all day if they needed me to.

There were a couple of Milwaukee Sheriff’s Officers who stopped by the shoot and asked to have pictures taken with the Firebird. The officers had been influenced in their career choices by the police shows on TV in the ‘70s, and in particular The Rockford Files. I think that is what actually gives me the biggest joy of owning this Firebird, the look on fans’ faces when they recognize the car.

We wrapped up around 10:45 a.m. Before everyone left I wanted a picture of the whole cast and crew on the set, which turned out great. I hope everyone had as good a time as I did.

I have to thank Steve Boettcher, Mike Trinklein, and Marie Bublitz. They made our stay in Milwaukee very nice and it was a pleasure to work with them!

Please watch for the crime stories episode of Pioneers of Television on your local PBS station. It is tentatively scheduled to air at the end of January 2011.