Some cars are just destined to be found and restored. So it was with this very special Oldsmobile off road racer driven in Baja by actor James Garner. Best known for his television work on the “Maverick” and “Rockford Files” television series where he did his own driving stunts.
Garner was so good at one particular maneuver that it was named in his honor. To this day it is known as the “Rockford”. Garner became an auto racing fan during the filming of the 1966 blockbuster film “Grand Prix”, where he played a Formula One race car driver. In real life, Garner’s love of and involvement in motorized competition rivaled that of fellow actors & racers Steve McQueen and Paul Newman. Off road racing was another of Garner’s pursuits, which is how he came to be behind the wheel of this Olds 442 Baja car.
In 1969 the first of three cars that would be built by legendary car designer Vic Hickey and raced by Garner in Baja was dubbed the “Good Year Grabber” thanks to sponsorship from Good Year tires. The second model would be called the BANSHEE which featured a body designed by George Barris. The third was a modified Oldsmobile CUTLASS. The whereabouts of The GRABBER became a mystery for over 30 years and it was considered vanished for eternity. Fabrication ace Vic Hickey had turned the Detroit muscle car into a very competent off-roader. Garner, an excellent all-around driver, pushed it to it’s limits in the 1969 NORRA Mexican 1000. He was in the lead of his class for most of the race by almost an hour until a flat tire and oil problems slowed him down. Nursing the car over the finish line, Garner still nabbed second place. He would race the car five more times in the next two years, then it was sold off and essentially forgotten about for the next three decades. In 2008, Rod Hall came across a classified ad for a basketcase 442 race car. Interested in salvaging some of the parts, he had no idea the rusty wreck was actually the GRABBER, James Garner’s car, until it arrived back at his garage. After restoring it, Rod posted videos of the car on YouTube which eventually got the attention of the aging actor. Garner wrote a letter to Rod Hall expressing his longing to put on his racing gloves and get behind the wheel on more time. The current owner of the GRABBER still brings it out to race at the annual NORRA races and it is still a tough competitor!