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.
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.
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.
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.
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.