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HomeCar Culture‘Leave It to Beaver’ actor’s first car comes back to him, 50...

‘Leave It to Beaver’ actor’s first car comes back to him, 50 years later

Tony Dow played older-brother Wally on the popular family TV show

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When they’re not at car shows, many Baby Boomers are reliving their childhoods on Saturday mornings watching reruns of television Westerns such as Gunsmoke, The Rifleman, Bonanza and Have Gun Will Travel.

Recently, while eating my morning bowl of Cheerios in front of the television set, I discovered that at 8 a.m. every weekday, one of my favorite family sitcoms is on. Leave It to Beaver ran from 1957 to 1963. 

The storyline followed a curious and often naïve boy Theodore “The Beaver” Cleaver, played by Jerry Mathers, and his adventures at home, school and around the neighborhood. Barbara Billingsley and Hugh Beaumont played his parents, with Tony Dow as The Beaver’s older brother, Wally. 

Each episode ended with an important message that taught life lessons, and not just to the kids but to parents as well, and with a touch of humor.

Leave It to Beaver, ‘Leave It to Beaver’ actor’s first car comes back to him, 50 years later, ClassicCars.com Journal
Coloring book cover

Fast forward several decades, and it turns out that while Tony Dow wasn’t the typical car guy, he was involved with cars throughout his acting career. 

He also has had a long friendship with Fireball Tim Lawrence, a Hollywood concept artist responsible for designing more than 400 Hollywood movie cars, including Batmobile 1989 (designed while Fireball was a student at The Art Center College of Design), as well as cars seen in The Avengers, The Dukes of Hazzard, Starsky and Hutch, The Green Hornet and the Fast and the Furious.

One of Fireball’s current endeavors is publishing Kustom automotive (and sea life) coloring books and trading cards (www.fireballtim.com). Subjects of the coloring books include the likes of Gene Winfield, Gary Wales, Syd Mead and — Tony Dow.

The Tony Dow book, written by Tony and his wife Lauren and illustrated by Fireball Tim, covers everything from Leave It to Beaver to cars, sailing, and Dow’s work as a sculptor.

Tony Dow and Fireball Tim
Tony Dow and Firebird Tim Lawrence signing at Autobooks-Aerobooks

Boomers, myself among them, flocked to Autobooks-Aerobooks in Burbank, California, for a book signing session featuring the Dow, still humble and with his shy smile. 

Fans asked questions and Dow conversed naturally and happily. 

Among things we discovered was that Dow was an accomplished swimmer and, at age 14, held five national records and also was the top-rated junior diver on the West Coast. 

As the story goes, he landed the role of Wally pretty much by accident. The Beaver pilot has another teenager in the role, but that actor was maturing too quickly for the TV show. So old-time Hollywood producer Harry Akerman had a casting call that drew thousands of hopefuls. 

He wasn’t satisfied with any of them, but knew Dow from another pilot project.

Leave It to Beaver
The Beaver and Wally | Publicity photo

Dow got the “Wally” part almost by accident when the original pilot had cast some other kid as “Wally” but grew up too fast so an old-time Hollywood producer, Harry Akerman, knew Dow from a previous pilot and offered him the role.

“I had almost no acting experience,” Dow said, “which was probably the best thing about me and was not affected by that whole Hollywood scene.” 

While Leave It to Beaver was not a car-orientated series, there were many automotive experiences throughout the episodes, and future drag racing star “TV Tommy” Ivo played a character named Duke in a few episodes. (Book plug: Ivo wrote the forward to my book, Top Fuel Dragsters of the 1970s, which is available on Amazon.)

Dow told how as a youngster, “my buddy and I used to take the engine off his dad’s lawnmower and make these cool cars we’d drive around the neighborhood.” 

“The writer of the show heard the story and wrote a script about it and even rented my car for the show,” Dow recalled. 

Over the years, Dow owned a bunch of cars and in the show, a 1958 Chevrolet Corvette and a 1957 Triumph TR3A made appearances as vehicles owned by members of The Barrons, the school car club.

Wally spends $220 for a 1953 Chevrolet in one episode, and in another, he bases his father’s 1963 Plymouth Fury.

Leave It to Beaver, ‘Leave It to Beaver’ actor’s first car comes back to him, 50 years later, ClassicCars.com Journal
Reunited: Dow and his ’62 Corvair | Fireball photo

The first car Dow bought in real life was a 1962 Chevrolet Corvair Spyder. 

“I had the Chevy factory in Van Nuys paint it Midnight Blue with a black interior.” 

In 1965 Dow sold the car to a prop man, Al, at Universal Studios. Two decades later, Al did a ground-up restoration of the car, installing a turbocharge spider engine with alcohol injection that boosted its horsepower to 245.

Al became ill in 2015 and passed the car on to his friend, Marty, but with instructions that if they could find Tony Dow, the car would go back to its original owner.

“So after 50 years, my first car has returned to my garage,” Dow said, his eyes illuminated as he starred ahead. “It’s painted black now, but the original plate is still on it with a frame that reads ‘“unsafe at any speed” — Ralph Nader’.”

After selling the car to Al in the ‘60s, Dow bought a Sky Blue 1962 Corvette. He was going to buy a Mercedes-Benz 300SL — until he discovered a tune-up would cost him $300.

After Leave It to Beaver, Dow appeared in other shows, including The Love Boat, Knight Rider, Babylon, Quincy ME and Mod Squad. He even stared in a West Side Story production in Cleveland.  

Dow eventually became a director and a visual effects supervisor working on movies including The New Lassie, Swamp Thing, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, and Babylon 5.

Dow was part of an artistic family, and he and Lauren devote their time to creative projects, including Tony’s sculpture, with designs in burl wood and modern pieces in bronze. 

Leave It to Beaver, ‘Leave It to Beaver’ actor’s first car comes back to him, 50 years later, ClassicCars.com Journal
Tony and Lauren | Fireball photo

Underscoring his artistic capabilities, Dow received a call one day several years ago from a Beverly Hills gallery owner informing the former childhood actor that one of his bronzes had been accepted in the Salon 2008, Carrousel du Louvre, Paris.

As it says in the subtitle to the Dow coloring book, “From ‘Leave It to Beaver’ to cool cars, sailing, animals & Sculpture… This is Tony Dow!”      

Howard Koby
Howard graduated with honors from the Art Center College of Design in California. He has been a photographer and automotive journalist for 35 years out of his Los Angeles studio. He has been published in Hot Rod, AutoWeek, Road & Track, Car and Driver, Jaguar Journal, Forza, Vintage Motorsport, Classic Motorsports, Robb Report, Motor Trend Classic, Hemmings Muscle Machines, and 50 Years of Road & Track (MBI Publishing). He has served on the Advisory Committee of the Transportation Design Department at Art Center College of Design. He is the author of the books Top Fuel Dragsters of the 1970s and Pro Stock Dragsters of the 1970s, both available on amazon.com.

57 COMMENTS

  1. Tony
    It’s good to see how cars make you feel when they return. We watched your show as young one’s and watch the reruns. Boy times sure were easier back then.

  2. “WALLY”——YOU ARE THE MAN.
    GREAT SHOW, GREAT PEOPLE—–THE CAR IS A TTREASURE. BE SAFE. WEAR MASK.

  3. Dear Mr. Dow,

    Glad to see you are doing well and still creating. My wife and I just wanted to say a huge “thank you” for your very special work over the years. To this day when we want an escape from these crazy times we can always find an old episode of Leave it to Beaver and you and your cast mates never fail to deliver a laugh and a smile. To you and your wife, all the best!

  4. Tony/Wally
    It would be awesome if you could get the Chevy convertible that was your first car on Leave it to Beaver. In restored condition it would be the perfect car for you to have.
    Johnmloghry

  5. Dear Tony Dow,
    I know of no one that didn’t love your character in the “Leave It to Beaver” series. I remember hearing of how “normal” your are, and were.
    You did have Hollywood good-looks and see that you met the one lady that complements your looks. What a beautiful couple you make! Thanks for being an unforgettable individual. Sure you’ve changed over the years but you sure look happy.
    Only wish I’d have been able to meet you at your signing, living over an hours drive from Burbank it would have been tough, with the China Virus and good ‘ole Gov. Kevin taking “care of us” but would love to have known about it.
    Have a very happy remainder of your life. Sincere love and good memories, Bob Fish
    P.S. would also love to trade car stories with you. I’ve owned the same ’57 Bel Air since 1968, on returning from serving our great (but troubled) country in Vietnam. Stay well….

  6. Tony,
    What a great article, watched the show as a kid in the 60’s. I’ve owned corvettes for 43 years. Do you ever get to Hot August Nights in Reno, Nevada

    • Sure was less scary back then growing up they out at night used to play hide and seek in the neighborhood not so good these days sorry to say

  7. Dear, Tony- You & You’re Wife Look So Happy. Good Luck to The Both Of You guys & God Bless You. I Also Wanted to Say Thank You So Much For Doing “Leave it to Beaver” I Love The Show & Watch it All The Time! Thank You SO Much & God Bless You guys. Peace & Happiness Always!🧡😊🧡🧡😊🧡

  8. I enjoyed catching up on Tony Dow. Memories of such a wonderful show are great. Next, I have a comment about all the errors in the article. Do you not have someone edit it before it is printed for the public? I won’t go through all the errors, but I’m amazed. I’m just saying.

  9. Lighten up buddy. You take yourself way to seriously. It is not necessary to be the grammar police. Enjoy the article for what it is, a trip back to many of our childhood and catching up with good memories!!!

  10. Thanks for sharing this great story! My first car was a used 1966 Monza 500.I fell in love with the Corvair! I just recently soud my 1969 .

  11. Hi Tony. My first car was a 1964 Corvair purchased in 1970. I loved that car. I also still love watching you on TV. You were my first crush. I love your art work, especially the Diver. Thanks for being you. Jill Mozena

  12. Yo Tony still enjoy watching you and the beaver every morning when life was better growing up, when the kids did’nt have cell phones or all the technology the kids have to
    Day it wa s safer growing up. stay well. Mr.Paul

  13. I had a chance to meet Tony back I. The 90’s in Sterling Hts. Michigan. I worked on the road and heard you and Jerry Mathers were going to be at a municipal park signing autographs for some type of benefit. But as I was driving by the park I was so concerned about the time and my job that I decided not to stop. I said to myself that I’m going to regret this someday because I’ll probably never get another chance to meet both Tony and Jerry ever again. Well here I am regretting that decision to this day.

  14. Love the show more now than when I was growing up. Interesting article, I also was attracted to the corvair due to the “See The USA in your Chevrolet “ commercial during Bonanza. I remember a yellow spider flying down a hard packed beach with the top down. They were fun in the dunes too!

  15. I see my self as Jerry growing up I was always getting in trouble taking the car out of the driveway or something else like getting over spray of paint all over the garage oil on floor always something..lol To this day I love watching Leave it to Beaver..

    • Everybody feels that way to a certain extent. But you are correct in those days things happening today would of seemed pure twilight zone stuff. And it had to be easier for a parent back then , just fewer pitfalls for a child to be ensnared in those days. Biggest difference, fists and knuckles settled hot headed arguments then. Also things just seemed more attainable price wise back t hose times.. A dollar sure brought a dollars worth..Good Luck to You!

  16. Still watch the show every day. Hard to believe a show could stick around all of these years later. But that’s how good the show is. Sad that you have lost some of the cast, I’m sure you were crazy about them. Great to see the article. God bless You and Lauren.

  17. Its good to see good things happening to good people. The show wouldn’t of been the same without him and the quality casting job of them all. Fascinating to see the “One Lunger” go kart was actually Tony Dows.,also one of my favorite episodes. Larry Mondelo then later Gilbert, always egged on and got “The Beave” in trouble. Tony really was a great swimmer in real life, they wrote that into the script alot. Really cools cars and taste, still confused on were those Tony’s own car in the Duke episodes? Sorry to see Ken (Eddie Haskell) has left us, was there a more perfect real life character than him.. Yes Mam, Yes Sir, biggest wise guy behavior behind thier backs you ever saw.. “Perfect” character write; there was one in every neighborhood. Saw Tony for a quick blip, “but the perfect piece”, in a music video that was big and being played around the Covid lockdown.It is called” I WILL WAIT ” by the group call UTOPIA Tony “has that look” while thumbing through a book. Short but perfect, its a really good heartfelt song and nice collage video made to it..Thanks Mr. Dow for all your hard work over the years, and the pleasure you’ve bought so many!

  18. Dear Mr. Dow:
    I loved watching your reruns of Leave It To Beaver in the 70’s and 80’s. I remember an episode when all of you went to Prom. All of you looked so nice in a tux. Even Eddie and Lumpy! I got a big laugh when his Dad called him Clarence and he in returned called him Daddy. Great show! I still watch it now in my 50’s.

  19. I watch leave it to beaver everyday. It bring back memories how I was raised. I wish I could meet you guys in person. I wish the kids these days were raised and had respect. Lot of them do but a lot don’t. I will never stop watching you guys.
    Beverly Ambush Dawson

  20. Hey Tony, I am 63 years old and Leave It To Beaver was one of my favorites. I had 1963 Chevrolet Corvair Spyder that I wish would come back to me…so cool. Thank you for some wonderful memories. Stay healthy brother…

  21. My husband, my kids and I would love to meet you in person. We’re big fans! Will you be making any more public appearances? I know that in these crazy times it may not be possible. Please take care. All the best to you.

  22. “Foreword” – not “forward”…….nice car though.

    (Should I get another example of my first car from 45 years ago – a 2-litre Triumph Vitesse? Probably not – but am currently re-building my third car – a 3.8 Mark 2 Jag – into a fresh shell.)

  23. Thanks for your great portrayal of “Wally” on “Leave It To Beaver”, a show I still love to this day. In spite of what some critics say, the show was very true to life as it was in much of 1950’s and early 1960’s America. I remember those times in extreme detail.

  24. FANTASTIC as Usual
    Thanks 4 the Memories
    # one Octogenarian Fan,,looking forward to
    The Nongerian Era,,,
    Colonel Hank HANDKE DCH QDJR Niagara Falls ont Canada

  25. I’ve always and still do love the old show and watch it every mon thru fri at 8am! I was born in 1965 but somehow got hooked on it!..wish I grew up in those times! You Rock tony!

  26. I was in USAF basic same time as Jerry Mathers. But he was ANG and had it better than us USAF GUYS. I wonder who helped him to get in, I tried for 1 1/2 years . At least he served (sort of). Joe Dunn

    • The ANG wasn’t created for people who tried to get out of regular Air Force. He served, not sort of. Be proud of your military service. And, don’t t denigrate someone else’s.

  27. Hello Wally the Leave It to Beaver show was my all time favorite show when it was on the air in the early years of television. I certainly can have real feelings for the Beaver because of the number of times I got in trouble and had to face my father. Ward reminded me so much like my father. I watch the show every morning here in Spokane. Thanks for the great memories. Keep up your great works. Wished I could meet you and the Beaver. I’m 70 years old and still watch the show every morning. Can’t get enough of the shows.

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