Iconic '74 Mercury will be seen again, in pilot for new 'Hawaii 5-0'
N?N?KULI ? It took a few tries, but the ignition finally sparked and the '74 Mercury Marquis roared to life. John Nordlum tapped the gas pedal and grinned. He loves this big, black car, now more than ever.
Gently, he slipped the transmission into reverse, released the parking brake ? the only working brake on the car ? and backed out of his driveway. Nordlum's feet tap-danced again as he shifted into drive and then he was off.
The car rumbled, and the bench seat rocked a bit. It's not bolted to the floor anymore. That didn't faze Nordlum, a lanky, graying stuntman with 30 years of experience in TV and movies. He's no stranger to rough rides, and his face lit up as he guided the boatlike monster.
"It goes like hell," Nordlum said.
That's for sure. The Mercury still has some go in it, and besides, it is no ordinary vehicle.
This car has provenance.
This was Steve McGarrett's trusted ride ? the car Jack Lord drove when he played the square-jawed crime fighter during the heyday of "Hawaii Five-0."
After the CBS series ended in 1980, Lord gave the car to Nordlum, who had been his stunt double and the man often at the wheel of the Mercury whenever it chased the bad guys through Honolulu.
Ever since, Nordlum has wondered why his friend did that, but found his answer last month ? when CBS borrowed the car for its remake of "Hawaii Five-0."
"Jack's spirit is in that car, and he is going to live again in this show through that car," Nordlum said. "That's why he gave me that car."
The Mercury Marquis was the second car used in the original "Hawaii Five-0," which premiered in 1968. McGarrett drove a 1968 Mercury Parklane Brougham through the 1973 season, then got the keys to the Marquis.
torn seats, rust
Nordlum was a diver when Lord saw him during filming at the Makai Pier in 1971. The actor offered Nordlum a part in an episode and eventually that led to a full-time job as a stunt double and stand-in for Lord.
After "Hawaii Five-0" ended, Nordlum grew a mustache and worked as Tom Selleck's stunt double and stand-in on "Magnum, P.I." He made stunt work a career and founded the Hawaii Stunt Association on Lord's suggestion.
For years, Nordlum drove the Marquis everywhere he had to go. Sometimes, fans recognized the car and Nordlum let them pose for photographs. And despite reports to the contrary, he never wanted to sell it.
The " 'Five-0' car," as his neighbors refer to it, is a landmark on Nordlum's street. He's maintained the engine himself, kept the big, 460-cubic-inch V8 running ? and running loud ? but has not kept the rest of the car in vintage condition.
The headliner is tattered and the seats are torn in so many places that the springs are visible. Flakes of rust litter the floor.
Still, the police radio mike and cord that marked it as McGarrett's ride are there.
Early last month, friends who belong to the Teamsters, one of the unions that work in the film industry, asked if CBS could use the car for the remake. Nordlum secured the deal on the strength of a handshake in his driveway.
"They put it on a trailer in front of my house and when they drove down the road, it was like they took my baby," he said. "They drove it down the street and I cried."
Nordlum worried the whole time it was gone, he says. When it was returned a month later, it had a shiny new paint job, but its rectangular hood ornament and radio antenna were missing.
Still, it had a part in the "Hawaii Five-0" remake.
"It's one of the stars of the show," Nordlum said. "It's going to be McGarrett junior's baby."
This is no cameo for the Mercury. The car appears at the beginning and the end of the pilot, Nordlum said.
The new version of "Five-0" follows the creation of an elite police unit, led by a younger McGarrett, son of the original top cop, so it would hardly be possible to refer to the car's role in the previous series without some kind of funky flashback. Instead, the car has a place in the current story.
When McGarrett, a former Navy SEAL, returns to Hawai'i at the beginning of the pilot, he finds the car in storage. It had belonged to his late father and needs fixing up.
The car is seen again at the end of the pilot, and McGarrett is tackling the project.
In the new "Five-0," the detective calls the project "the restoration of a lifetime."
That hits home for Nordlum, who has been in that car and felt he wasn't quite alone.
"We see that he works on the car, and it is part of his hobby, his meditation, and he communicates with his father through the car," Nordlum said. "I felt very good when I heard about that scene.
"When I am working on the car, I swear I can remember Jack Lord in this car," he said. "I think he communicates with me through this car."
The car is ready for its comeback, Nordlum says. It will always be running, a rumbling tribute to Lord.
"His spirit is in this car," he says. "That thing doesn't quit. Nearly 200,000 miles and there is no stopping that car. It's like McGarrett. It goes on and on like the character."
John Nordlum says Jack Lord's "spirit is in that car," referring to the big, black Mercury Marquis given to him by the TV star in 1980.
MIKE GORDON | The Honolulu Advertiser
"Hawaii 5-0"?starred Jack Lord as Steve McGarrett, head of an elite state police unit.
Advertiser library photo
John Nordlum's 1974 Mercury Marquis still has the radio mike and cord used by Jack Lord in the original "Hawaii 5-0."