Hot Car & A Cool Star: Tom Selleck Was the Ultimate ’80s Detective in ‘Magnum, P.I.’

MAGNUM P.I., Tom Selleck, (1980), 1980-88.
TV Guide/CBS/Courtesy Everett Collection

Maybe it was the setting in sun-splashed digs of Oahu, Hawaii. Maybe it was the cushy gig of patrolling a 200-acre beachfront estate. Or maybe it was all the cool cars. But who are we kidding? Tom Selleck provided the high-voltage appeal to the Emmy-winning CBS series Magnum, P.I that kept TV viewers throughout the ’80s tuning in to CBS on Thursday (later Wednesday) nights. Costar John Hillerman played the caretaker of Robin’s Nest whose by-the-book style was frequently at odds with Magnum’s more easygoing methods. (Hillerman passed away in late 2017.)

For eight seasons (1980-88), which ended on May 1, 1988, Tom Selleck donned a half-buttoned Hawaiian shirt and drove around Oahu in an open-top Ferrari 308 GTS to play Thomas Sullivan Magnum IV, a Vietnam vet turned private investigator living a luxurious island lifestyle. While the mustachioed Magnum brought plenty of sex appeal to the long-running series, when he slipped into that red-hot convertible, he smoldered. Producers originally intended to use a Porsche 928 for the show, but the automaker wouldn’t concede to modifications enlarging the sunroof for aerial shots. It was their loss. Having a sexy male lead in the driver’s seat on one of television’s hottest shows was good business for Ferrari — so much so that the Italian car manufacturer gave Selleck a car for his own personal use. “I couldn’t drive that around Hawaii — I would have looked ridiculous,” Selleck admitted. “I ended up sending it back to L.A., and my dad got to drive it.”

Magnum’s own ride suffered countless mishaps — it was stolen, keyed, blown up (a few times) and driven off a cliff. But when the series ended in 1988, all of the surviving Ferraris used in the series were auctioned off. In 2017, one of them — the 1984 308 GTS — sold for $181,500 at auction to a private buyer.

It was rebooted by CBS in 2018 but canceled in 2022, NBC then picked it up and is still currently airing on Sunday nights.

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April 2018

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