Get your car-nerd on while watching some binge-worthy TV.
Been watching a lot of telly lately? Yeah, me too. And like other car people, I love paying attention to the cars with either a starring role or a brief cameo. If you haven’t seen Breaking Bad yet, then I thoroughly recommend you try it out in between binge-reading CarAdvice (naturally). You could also scour the 'net for some of the diecast models of these cars, proving just how iconic they are in the pantheon of 'cool screen cars'.
Here, then, are some spoiler-free cool cars to look out for.
The Pontiac Aztek is extremely prevalent in early episodes of Breaking Bad. It’s Walter White’s main car, before he starts 'breaking bad'.
The Aztek isn’t really a cool car (although its starring role in the series has granted it some 'cool' factor) except for what it stands for as an abject automotive failure. One wonders how a company like General Motors, with all of those resources, focus groups, designers and engineers, could turn out such an unmitigated dud. But by Jove, they did it.
Post-mortem says General Motors was conscious of its risk-averse behaviour, and wanted to design something that would go against the grain. They wanted innovation, something that would stick out. In 2001 came the Aztek, and it stuck out. Like dog’s balls.
It was Pontiac’s first Sports Utility Vehicle, marketed as being adventure-ready, versatile and unique. It had a camping accessories, and you could host a ‘tailgate’ party from it. The centre console doubled as a removable cooler.
You could option up to all-wheel drive, but all featured just the one powertrain: a 3.4-litre V6 good for 138kW and 285Nm, running through a four-speed automatic transmission.
The design, equal parts unique and hideous, was done by Tom Peters. He also designed good things, like the current Chevrolet Camaro, and C6, C7, C8 Corvette.
The Aztek never sold enough, and got chopped after a short production run in 2005. It was replaced by a re-bodied Chevrolet Equinox, named the Pontiac Torrent.
While he spends some time in a Chevrolet Monte Carlo, Jessie Pinkman’s other ride is a (in my opinion) a way-cooler Toyota Tercel. It was an SUV before SUVs were cool, following the lead set by Subaru’s Leone - practical wagons that had a nice dosage of off-road ability.
Like the Tercels sold in Australia during the mid-1980s, Pinkman’s Toyota is a 4WD Wagon. There’s no low-range, but it had a granny gear and proper 4X4 for decent off-roading ability. And to make yourself felt extra adventurous, inclinometers told you what angles you were on off-road, or whipping around the multi-story carpark.
They’re a rare sighting in Australia these days, but Tercels can be found amongst the Leones. And a quick look on Gumtree shows that they’re pretty cheap buying.
Under the bonnet is a 59kW 1.5-litre petrol engine, which runs through a five-speed manual gearbox. Pushing 1110kg, the Tercel isn’t exactly fast. But I reckon it’s cool.
Want a Tercel, but a bit bigger? Don’t forget that us lucky Australians also got the Corolla SR5, which was also a 4WD wagon.
Also known as the ‘Krystal Ship’, the 1986 Fleetwood Bounder RV is a strangely-shaped motorhome that looks right at home on an American open road, burning through vast quantities of fuel in the process.
The particular Breaking Bad centrepiece is a 1986 model, with a 31-foot floorplan. Powered by a Chevrolet V8 in between the two front seats, most featured a 454 cubic-inch (7.4-litre) petrol engine to propel the (around) 5.5 tonnes of motorhome along the highway. I can only imagine how soul-crushing the fuel economy would have been.
Fleetwood is one of the big names in American RVs, and it still makes a range of Bounders. They’re a bit more modern these days, with prices starting from USD$178,000 (AUD$294,000.)
Jeep Grand Wagoneer
A personal favourite of mine, with an allotted spot in the Sam Purcell Garage of Dreams. Skyler White drives a big ol’ 1991 Jeep Grand Wagoneer, what is often referred to as the ‘first luxury 4WD’. Yes, before the Range Rover: the Jeep SJ Wagoneer first appeared in 1963. 1991 was the last of the SJ breed, before Chysler-owned Jeep moved across to the Grand Cherokee.
Under the bonnet is a 360 cubic-inch (5.9-litre) petrol V8, which averaged a claimed 21 litres per hundred kilometres running through a three-speed automatic. Along with lending itself to family and towing duties well, it was also a good off-roader with all-round leaf springs, limited-slip centre differential, low range gearing and a decent tyre diameter.
While we didn’t get this exact model in Australia, small numbers of locally assembled Jeep SJ Cherokees were sold in here. They were expensive and thirsty however, which meant they didn’t sell big numbers, and was only available for a short period of time.
Badger, Pinkman’s doofus mate, has a pretty cool mid-engined sports car that some Australians might think is a Toyota W10 MR2. We didn’t get Pontiacs in Australia, so this Fiero is understandably a lesser-known model.
It’s a similar idea to the MR2: an efficient take on the sports car that could be used as a reasonably competent commuter. It was available with the 2.5-litre ‘Iron Duke’ four-cylinder engine, which made 73kW and 183Nm, but used as little as 4.7 litres per hundred kilometres on the highway. As memories of the 1979 oil crisis faded, Pontiac shoved a 2.8-litre V6 in the bum that made 104kW and 230 Nm.
It was gradually improved over the years, with the final iterations being the most sought-after by fans and enthusiasts. Although it was successful (outselling the MR2 in the USA, for example), reported engine fires and a less-than-stellar reputation is touted as a big reason why production was canned in 1989, even though a new generation of Fiero was in prototype stages.
There are plenty more cars that make an appearance in Breaking Bad than just these five, which are my own favourites. Let us know in the comments below which cool wheels from the series you'd like to see added to the cast.