By on November 12, 2013

Long before Knight Rider’s KITT, back in the mid 1960s there was a television show about a car that talked. I’m not sure just how they pitched the idea to the network, my guess is that it had something to do with the popularity of the Mister Ed show. If a horse could talk, why not a car? Anyhow, the 1965 show was called My Mother The Car and it’s generally acknowledged to be one of the worst tv sitcoms ever. Some feel it may even be the worst television show, comedy or drama, ever, though it managed to last a full season, 30 episodes. The show starred Jerry Van Dyke whose character discovers, while shopping for a used car, that his late mother, played by Ann Sothern’s voice over the car radio, has been reincarnated as a 1928 Porter. Don’t bother doing a search, there was no 1928 Porter, unlike Jack Benny’s Maxwell. Though there has been a couple of car companies named Porter, Mother, the car, was fictional, created just for the tv show, said to be named after the show’s production manager. The car used in the show was originally made by customizer Norm Grabowski, who’d already made cars for the television industry, like the T Bucket Edd Byrnes‘ “Kookie” character drove in 77 Sunset Strip, which started a hot rod fad that continues to today. As with other tv cars, George Barris managed to get involved, in this case making a replica used for stunts. From Wikipedia:

For the TV show, assistant prop man Kaye Trapp leased the producers a 1924 Ford T-tub hot rod he recently bought from his friend and its builder, Norm Grabowski. Both Grabowski and the car had earlier appeared in the B movie comedy Sex Kittens Go to College (1960).

The 1928 Porter touring car sported diamond-tufted naugahyde upholstery, oversized white tonneau cover, plush black carpeting, chrome windshield braces and half-moon hubcaps. Trapp and studio special effects man Norm Breedlove (father of land-speed-record-setter Craig Breedlove) modified the car to give it an elongated engine compartment, palladian-style brass radiator with “Porter” script, a spare tire mounted on the running board, outboard fuel tank and antique cane-clad trunk. (It was later fitted, as needed, with special effects hardware, such as an oil tank drip to simulate a smoking engine and “tear ducts” in the headlamp bezels.) Off-camera operation of electrics was by umbilical cable. The signature features gave it an anachronistic look, resembling cars of earlier eras.

The power train was the rod-grade 283 cu in V8 (Chevrolet small-block) engine mated with Powerglide automatic transmission. The “Porter” was registered (as a modified Ford) in 1964 with the contemporary yellow-on-black California license plates PZR 317 evident throughout the show’s run. Though it bore a few design similarities with the FRP Porter, which may have suggested the television car’s moniker, it is rumored that the car was named after the show’s production manager, W. A. Porter.

When series production was approved, the Grabowski rod was retained as the “hero” car, and a second — “stunt”, or special effects — car was commissioned and built by celebrated car customizer George Barris, whose Barris Kustom Industries licensed it to AMT for model kit production (an inaccurate rendering) and also toured it after series wrap with other of his creations. The stunt car, not conventionally driveable, was ingeniously equipped with apparatus to let Mother “drive herself” via a system of levers and mirrors operated by a short human driver concealed on a tractor seat below the removed rear floorboards. It also had other special mechanical features, such as gimbaled headlamps.

Both cars had the dashboard-mounted radio head with flashing dial light through which Mother “talked” (though only to her son). These scenes were filmed with a stand-in; actress Ann Sothern’s voice was dubbed to the soundtrack in post-production. Generally, the hero car was used for driving shots and close-ups, and the stunt car for long shots and special effects sequences. Either was available as a stand-in in case of mechanical breakdown on set. Though made to represent one car, they can be distinguished by minor details, and actually appeared together in one episode.

Even though the Porter in My Mother The Car was fictional, and even though the show is just about as bad as reported, you still might want to watch the video above of the first episode, if only to see Hollywood’s idea of a used car lot circa 1965. Yes, that’s Sammy Davis Jr. singing the theme song. It’s worth noting that Alan Burns, the show’s creator, went on to have a hand in some of television’s most successful shows, like The Mary Tyler Moore Show and its spinoffs Rhoda and Lou Grant. James Brooks, who produced Room 222 and Taxi and is the executive producer of The Simpsons, got his start writing an episode of My Mother The Car. There were talented people who worked on the Edsel and Pontiac Aztek too.

If you can sit through the entire episode you have a higher tolerance for bad comedy than I do, but I encourage you to check out the video below about Dave Bodnar, of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Bodnar bought and restored Mother, the “Porter” that Grabowski, Trapp and Breelove put together. As you might expect about someone who would buy an artifact of such a notorious failure, Mr. Bodnar is a bit eccentric, but endearing. In a way, he’s funnier than the sitcom.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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15 Comments on “One Man’s Love For His Mother, The Car...”

  • avatar

    Wow.. that is one bad show. Someone actually signed off on this? I do like the two Chryslers on the right side of the Porter though. Looks like a New Yorker wagon and sedan.

    “Don’t pay a cent more than 200 dollars. I am not worth it” ok, that was sorta funny.

  • avatar

    I remember that show – it was hilarious, in a “who approved this?” kind of way. There were other dumb shows, like The Flying Nun, but Sally Field was so cute in that, everybody gives it a pass.

    The part about the car having a radio in 1928 is glossed over. The radio shown in the show looks like a 1960s unit, with its instant-on feature. My older sister’s ’57 Pontiac still had tubes that needed several seconds to warm up.

    I still wonder why they went to the trouble of inventing a fake model, since there were plenty of car companies in that era, or even why they went back to that era at all. Of course, in the 1960s, a 1928 car was like a 1970’s car today. If they do a remake today, they could use a ’74 Chevy Nova!

  • avatar

    I remember this show , Mom said I wasn’t allowed to watch it , much like many other of the low grade 1960’s shows .

    Oh well .


  • avatar

    Jerry VD was the Jim Belushi of his day, the Brand X brother.

  • avatar

    11 year old me thought that the show was pretty funny, but I doubt that was the target demographic the network had hoped to reach.

  • avatar

    Apparently a third car was used but not often, its the one that shows up in the used car lot. And considering theres an episode where the cars “shrunk”, I assume that theres a fourth scale model car that was simply one of George Barris’s licensed models.

    I remember watching clips of this and it was a bit hokey and a bit dumb, but more bearable than the legions of reality shows starring guys in tattoos who go around buying and selling stuff.

    EDIT: If any Herbie fans read this I highly suggest watching the last episode ‘I’m through being a Nice Guy”, we get to see the stunt and hero Porters together, but we also see a VW that was probably used in “The Lovebug”.

  • avatar

    This was also the era of a talking horse – Mr. Ed, the talking pig – Arnold – of `Green Acres` and any number of talking animals and objects on `Bewitched`.
    Also, networks took great pains to avoid identifying any brand of car so as not to alienate any potential ad revenue from Detroit.

  • avatar

    Here’s Pernell Roberts of Bonanza pulling into Virginia City in a 65 Corvette.

    It totally ruined the illusion of the show for this 11 year old in 1965.

  • avatar

    My folks bought a new color TV and this POS, this very episode, was the first thing we saw in color on it. My dad’s comment, “I paid all that money to watch crap like this in color??”, cracked me up. Even at 9 years old, I thought this was a really bad show. Mr Ed was funny, this was just really bad. I would love to hear the thinking behind putting MMTC on, or the just cancelled, “We Are Men”, another stinker that never should have made it past the proposal stage.

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    Honestly thinking back I hated Mr. Ed even more back then . Seeing this clip reminded me of why I could still remember the awful theme song of this turkey even tho I was only 11 years old when this came out – they played the stupid lyrics of the theme song every week . For reasons I never understood an older sister was always allowed to make the TV decisions for the whole family when I was a kid and she always had a soft spot for Jerry Van Dyke so we watched this and she always wanted a horse so we watched Mr.Ed but as a kid I wanted to watch “Combat ” or maybe ” The Rat Patrol” . Instead it was this awful crap and I would usually go outside or to my room .Actually this seems more witty now than it did at age 11 but it does seem hard to believe that such unusual and ridiculous sitcom concepts were actually given the green light .

  • avatar

    This was essentially “Mr Ed”, with a car. Also, Jerry Van Dyke was eager for a hit show. After ‘Mother’ was canned, he got ‘Accidental Family’ which also bombed.

    Nick at Night showed the pilot once, and I would agree the premise was silly, show quality was no worse than “Gilligan’s Island”.

  • avatar

    True story. I was 3 when “My Mother The Car” was on. I don’t remember, but I apparently loved it a lot. Talking car? Pretty cool. I cried when I was told “MMTC” wouldn’t be on any more. My father wrote to the network what was probably the only letter to protest the cancellation of “MMTC.” While he considered the show garbage, a father’s love made him consider it his duty to try on behalf of a 3-year-old future consumer. Thankfully, the ploy didn’t work.

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    I was wondering if the other twenties looking car , that driven by Jerry Van Dyke’s brush-mustached nemesis or neighbor or whatever he is – I didn’t make it thru the whole thing – was a Barris custom or a real period car . Actually think that actor was a bit more successful as a sixties TV character actor than Jerry Van Dyke who even as a pubescent kid back then I was aware of was just Dick Van Dyke’s brother .

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