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Home Car Culture Vintage ‘Perry Mason’ showcases trove of mid-century classic cars

Vintage ‘Perry Mason’ showcases trove of mid-century classic cars

Courtroom drama features array of LA street scenes from the 1950s and ‘60s

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Perry Mason is one of those vintage TV shows that’s lived long past its prime time, still enjoyed as six-decade-old reruns along with such classics as The Andy Griffith Show, The Twilight Zone and Leave it to Beaver.

There are loads of reasons for watching crime-solving Los Angeles attorney Perry Mason, artfully portrayed by Raymond Burr, investigate myriad crimes and wring courtroom confessions out of murderers and thieves. But for many viewers today, it’s the parade of beautiful automobiles from the era, mostly driven by Mason and his defense team. 

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Raymond Burr as Perry Mason in a 1957 Buick

Perry Mason is actually a smorgasbord of mid-century cars, which can be seen on the road or in the backgrounds of the many street scenes, an apparent effort by the show’s producers to dress up the series with automotive eye candy, as well as helping the automakers to push their current models.  Most are American iron, although there are a few foreign jobs sprinkled in there.

Many of the car spottings were the result of car company sponsorships, as was the product-placement system of the time, with Ford and General Motors pretty much trading off seasons during the nine years that the show was on the air, from 1957 through 1966. 

The show’s first season in 1957 bounced back and forth between Ford and GM.  Part of the time, Perry’s classy ride was a Fairlane 500 Skyliner, the iconic hardtop convertible, shown mostly with the top was down as Perry cruised to the latest forensic venue.

But then there were episodes with a black Cadillac Series 62 convertible – the defense attorney was apparently a major fan of driving al fresco. There also was a certain white Buick Special convertible.

Mason and company in the 1958 Cadillac

Many of the lawyer’s most memorable rides were Cadillacs, in particular a chrome-laden 1958 convertible that seemed to suit the looks of Raymond Burr to a T.  The following year, he drove a 1959 Caddy with those dazzling tail fins. 

One of Mason’s cars was featured in the final year of the series in the only Perry Mason episode filmed in color, the better to see the electric-blue shade of his classic Lincoln Continental convertible.

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Mason’s Lincoln Continental before it gets stripped by thieves

Alas, in this episode named The Case of the Twice-Told Twist based on the Charles Dickens novel Oliver Twist, a youthful street gang led by a Fagin-like character strips the Lincoln while it’s parked on the street, an incident that becomes central to the story.

Mason’s people also were shown in premium rides, such as Mercurys and Buicks, which sometimes seem like blatant plugs for certain models.  There are a few 1958 Edsels in what seems like a vain attempt by Ford to attract buyers.

The suspects often drove cool cars, too, such as one escape artist in an Austin Healey 100 roadster who evaded capture via the agile handling of the British sports car.

Speaking of sports cars, Mason’s indomitable and quite suave private investigator Paul Drake, played by William Hopper, seemed to have an endless array of cool rides, with his switching between Ford Thunderbirds and Chevy Corvettes in the early seasons reflective of the sponsor tradeoffs.

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Paul Drake sporting the 1957 Ford Thunderbird

But Drake also drove more-exotic fare as well, being seen at times in a classic Lancia Aprilla Pinin Farina cabriolet from Italy.  In real life, Hopper apparently owned one of these, perhaps even the one shown in the series.

Perry Mason reruns are still being shown, providing opportunities to watch one of the best crime-investigation shows from the first decade of TV, as well as lots of chances to spot great cars from the post-war years. 

To dig deeper into cars shown on Perry Mason, check out the Internet Movie Cars Database, through which you also can explore some of your other favorite old shows. 

Bob Golfen
Bob Golfen is a longtime automotive writer and editor, focusing on new vehicles, collector cars, car culture and the automotive lifestyle. He is the former automotive writer and editor for The Arizona Republic and SPEED.com, the website for the SPEED motorsports channel. He has written free-lance articles for a number of publications, including Autoweek, The New York Times and Barrett-Jackson auction catalogs. A collector car enthusiast with a wide range of knowledge about the old cars that we all love and desire, Bob enjoys tinkering with archaic machinery. His current obsession is a 1962 Porsche 356 Super coupe.

39 COMMENTS

  1. I still watch the show on late night tv and enjoy seeing what they are driving during the show. Love the 58 Caddy and the Lincoln convertible.

  2. Wow, Sherman and Peabody make use of The Wayback Machine to capture old Perry Mason vehicles. I very much enjoyed the article.

  3. The one ‘Perry-mobile’ I don’t see above was a TWO-DOOR Lincoln Continental Perry drove in one episode – like the model shown above, but earlier – and rarer! Good Stuff, though. Plus, the final Perry Episode was about a gang of “kids” who took a Lincoln apart (stripped it) as timed by their crime-boss, which also featured the ‘Angels Flight’ tram in L.A., long gone. Now, about ‘Ironside’…!

  4. It is worth keeping an eye on the cars that are “extras,” just background and chosen apparently because they are convenient. There one GM ((it’s been awhile so I forget the make) whose stance looks a bit off. Then you realize that the tires are at least four inches too wide and that they’re slicks!
    One question for which I’d like an answer: what did Della Street drive? I’m thinking something conservative… but very stylish.

    • Della’s car was never shown until the final season. She drove a ’65 Chevy Impala in one episode and a Ford Galaxie in another.

  5. When I was in elementary school in the early ’50s, I read a lot of Perry Mason novels. Obviously, in those books Mason could not be driving the cars mentioned here. I don’t remember any specific reference to car makes or models but I do remember being struck by the description of his car as a ‘turtleback’ a term I had never heard but one I could easily picture. If you Google turtle back you will see photos of mid-century cars with a sloping back that we tend to call a ‘fastback’ nowadays.
    I never pictured Mason driving such upscale cars — more like turtleback Ford sedans of the 1940s.

    • The novels were written in the 20s and 30s and 40s by Earl Stanley Gardner and in those Perry was more a tough guy than a lawyer. The cars can that era too. The show was a fictionalized account of a fictional character.

  6. Thanks for the great read. It just needs a small correction.

    ‘But then there were episodes with a black Cadillac Series 62 convertible – the prosecutor was apparently a major fan of driving al fresco. There also was a certain white Buick Special convertible.’

    It should read ‘the defender’

  7. The only reason I watch P.M. is the autos and to really see them used. A 57 skyliner conv and ragtop Caddy. Mr Paul Drake went from a 58 corvette to a 58 square bird. Mr Mason, criminal lawyer made good money. The Ford and the Cadillac both came to about 8 to 9 thousand dollars in 1958. Dont forget to see what the bad guy or girl was driving. Very good film noir.

  8. Oh- Mr. Golden, you’re killing me here. I was injured rather severely while active duty, and spent many weeks in the exceptional Keesler Medical Center on Keesler AFB, Biloxi, MS. This was when TNT and TBS were running a lot of classic TV during the day, and as I recall ran two episodes of Perry back to back right after lunch. I had nothing I could do, so although I had never seen the show prior became a huge fan, cars especially. That, and the way Mr. Burr spoke as Perry- awesome. So awesome Ozzy Osbourne did a song- “Perry Mason”- as he’s a fan as well. And folks say Ozzy has no taste. Tsk.
    I still watch Mason rip the truth from abject liars, nights on MeTV, along with Alfred Hitchcock, some interesting iron on that series, also.
    This was a great idea and excellent article. Keep this up, you’ll get a raise!

  9. Don’t forget about delivery trucks, pickups, etc. Emergency, Adam 12 and Highway Patrol are great shows to spot cars. Chips gets a little lame…the unusual cars are often sacrificed for a stunt.

  10. Yup, my wife and I enjoy watching old reruns of Perry Mason. I more so enjoy watching the cars (e.g 58 Caddy, 57 T-Bird, 65 Continental, Buick Wildcat etc)

  11. As a nostalgic guy who loves the classic American cars, I feel like I’m wrapped in a cozy blanket every time I watch Perry Mason. Not to mention that the show reeked of class and attention to detail. The expressions on the actors’ faces is always a study in psychology! Perry Mason!!! The absolute best!!!!

  12. That 1957 Cadillac Series 60 Convertible has long been my choice for best (looking) American Car. Especially in black like Mason’s. I have never once seen one come up on the auction block at Mecum or the other one.

  13. You can tell the year that the Andy Griffith show was filmed.The sheriff’s car is always a current Ford model.

  14. Without being political, the USA was in much better condition than it is now. Back then gasoline was 25 cents a gallon, cars were made of steel without computers, cars were made in the USA and sold in the USA, American workers built them. They were made with a lot of horsepower and they all did not look alike with slightly different shades of plastic. Soon only the wealthy elite will have cars. Your freedom to travel from state to state will be taken away soon. Show me your papers is coming.

  15. Thanks, great article Bob. To add to the catalog, recently saw a skein of episodes where everyone was driving 59 Buicks and of course Perry had the convertible. Guess Buick paid the big bucks that season for product placement! Have never seen Paul in the Lancia but would love to catch that. Hopper must have made this happen by driving his own as you mention or insisting they use one since not very likely to have been a paid product placement.

  16. Well what I realized is that if I ever do need a lawyer, I’m hiring Mason! you all do realize of course, he never lost one case, as far as I know!

  17. …catch the Perry Mason episode 11:30 PM on Thursday the 29th….Adam West (Batman TV series) will be on…hope he is driving the Batmobile (only kidding)………GREAT SHOW !!!! GREAT CARS !!!!! Can’t wait to see who jumps up at the very end, as always, and confesses to the crime !

  18. Perry’s Rides (to the best of my recollection):
    season 1: ’57 Ford Skyliner, ’57 Cadillac Series 62 conv., ’58 Cadillac Series 62 conv
    season 2: ’58 Cadillac Series 62 conv, ’58 Continental conv
    season 3: ’59 Ford Skyliner, ’59 Cadillac Series 62 conv, ’60 Ford Sunliner
    season 4: ’60 Ford Sunliner, ’61 Ford Sunliner
    season 5: ’61 Ford Sunliner, ’61 Continental conv, ’62 Ford Sunliner
    season 6: ’62 Ford Sunliner
    season 6: ’62 Continental conv,
    season 7: ’63 Continental conv,
    season 8: ’64 Continental conv, ’65 Continental conv,
    season 9: ’65 Cadillac Deville conv,, ’65 Continental conv,, ’66 Continental conv,

  19. A few additions to this conversation…

    1) In Season Nine’s “The Case of the Wrathful Wraith,” a rather unusual 1965 Corvair Monza 4DR hardtop is seen parked outside the courthouse as Mason is escorting his acquitted client out the back exit to her ride home .I’ve owned four Corvairs, all late-model (1965-1969) vehicles…loved every one of them.

    2) While Ford Motor Co. usually was the primary provider for police vehicles and taxis, for Season Nine (Richard Anderson’s lone season as Lt. Drumm) American Motors’ Ambassador 880s were used for police cruisers. I owned several Ambassadors, too – excellent cars!

    3) The color episode in Season Nine, based on the Dickens story, was Episode 262. The season finale was #271, The Case of the Final Fadeout. James Stacy, Dick Clark and Denver Pyle guest-starred.

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