Rockford Files Tribute

1978 Pontiac Firebird
Article by Donna Loebler and Larry Crain
Photos by Larry Crain

The Rockford Files starring James Garner aired on the NBC Network between 1974 and 1980. This television show ranks as one of the most popular detective shows of all time. Besides James Garner, the other star of the show had to be his character’s car, a Pontiac Firebird Esprit. James Garner did all of his own stunt driving and personally chose the Firebird to use in the show because of its exceptional handling. Two of this show’s biggest fans would have to be Donna and Jeff Loebler of Leeds, Alabama. If there was any doubt of how big of fans they are, you only to need to spend some time with them and their 1978 Pontiac Firebird Esprit that is a four-wheel tribute to James Garner and the Rockford Files.

Donna and Jeff started discussing the idea of building this car shortly after James Garner passed away in 2014. The idea came about because of how much both of them had loved the show, James Garner as Jim Rockford, and of course, the Firebird that he drove. The decision was made to build an exact replica of the car used in the 5th and 6th seasons, so the hunt was on to find the right car for this project. With quite a bit of computer time and a lot of searching, a good, solid 1978 Firebird Esprit was found in Arizona.

Donna and Jeff spent the first year disassembling and restoring the mechanical side of the car. After all of the wrench turning was over, the car was sent over to Impatient Creations where Dennis Lyons and his crew spent around 7 months getting the body perfect prior to painting. There was no question on what color the car would be; it was painted Universal Studios Rockford Gold using the correct paint code for all 6 seasons of the show.

While the body was getting worked, Donna and Jeff spent time locating the necessary parts to restore the interior to factory and Rockford Files specifications. PUI Interiors was a huge help in finding the majority of the replacement interior pieces and Just Dashes helped save the day by restoring the original dash back to new status. The seats and panels were covered in the factory Camel Tan vinyl by Todd’s Trim and then installed by Donna and Jeff. This couple was so committed to replicating the TV car that they even installed a “Garner Mic Bay” in the console just like the one used in the “sound car” used in all 6 seasons of the show.

The one major difference between this car and the car on the series lies under the hood. For once real life and TV were alike and that was the Firebirds on the show ran a Pontiac 400. Jeff and Donna’s Firebird was given another source of power in the form of a number matching Chevy 350. Other than the motor and transmission change, the engine compartment looks factory fresh. This couple has said that one day they might install a Pontiac 400 that would totally complete the process of replicating the TV car.

This tribute to the Rockford Files has been set up with a beefier suspension using KYB Excel-G shocks along with oversize GM sway bars on the front and rear. Finishing out the look of a period correct Firebird Esprit the car rolls along on a set of factory 15x7 Rally II wheels mounted with Gremax 225/70/R15 radial whitewalls.

Two years after purchasing the car for the project, Donna and Jeff were out showing their beautiful 1978 Pontiac Firebird Esprit. This completed project reminds them so much of the happy times and days watching their favorite television show, the “Rockford Files” featuring their favorite actor as Jim Rockford driving his gold ’78 Firebird Esprit. They send out a special thanks to Jim Suva and Patrick Mckinney for all of their invaluable information about the cars used on the television show that helped them to produce a very fitting tribute car to the Rockford Files.

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