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The Roadster and the Clock
Written January 1, 2023


In the early Seventies, when I was a young man still living at home, my parents and I often watched TV shows dramatizing the capturing of crooks.  Some were police procedurals like Dragnet or Adam-12.

Many, however, featured heroic private investigators operating on their own, like Jim Rockford or Frank Cannon or Joe Mannix.

Invariably, about 20 minutes in, the private eye would be shot or beaten up by the bad guys.  But he'd get bandaged, continue his pursuit, and prevail in the end.

Recently on the MeTV network I ran across an old Mannix episode.  Shot on film, it was now in high definition, which of course looked even better than I recalled it.

However, I didn't actually remember this particular episode.  It turned out to be from the first of the eight seasons.  That was a year before Gail Fisher joined the cast in the office role of Peggy, and in those days I was still in college. 

And in the role of Joe Mannix, Mike Connors was driving a fantastic-looking machine I'd never seen before.

A large muscular vehicle, it had no roof.  Its rear seat was covered by a tonneau, making it a two-seater roadster.  And look at those futuristic headlights with their wide aspect ratio!

The car somewhat reminded me of a 1967 Olds Toronado.  My father, a dealer of Chevrolets and Oldsmobiles, had one of those parked next to our house. 

I actually got to drive it once, carefully obeying the speed limit.  It was a rather intimidating 4500-pound “personal luxury car“ with a 425-cubic-inch engine and front-wheel drive.

After viewing the episode, I did an Internet search and discovered that the Mannixmobile, customized by Batmobile creator George Barris, was indeed based on a '67 Toronado!

Modifications included James Bond-inspired accessories like a hidden gun compartment, a short-wave radio, a tape recorder, and of course a handy telephone for summoning the real police.

In that Season One episode, I also observed that one villain had an illuminated digital clock on his desk that was just like the clock my grandmother had atop her television set in the Sixties.

It was a TELE-VISION model — color television, no less, with numerals of red and blue and green.

They were flipped by a constantly-rotating seconds wheel driven by a little electric motor.  To set the time, as I recall, one would reach around to the open back and turn the drums manually.

Further research reveals that these novel gadgets were introduced in 1938 by the Pennwood Numechron Company, originally marketed as a “Tymeter” for ham radio operators.  The styling of later models capitalized on the latest fad of television.  

Pennwood Numechron was located at 7249 Frankstown Avenue on the east side of Pittsburgh, shown here.

Yes, the Internet has all the answers!



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