Home » The Car Crashes From The ’70s TV Show ‘CHiPS’ Are Dazzling Dances Of Car Chaos

The Car Crashes From The ’70s TV Show ‘CHiPS’ Are Dazzling Dances Of Car Chaos

Chip Chaos
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Just in case you weren’t aware or have forgotten, television used to be absolute garbage — piping hot, steaming, damp, unmitigated garbage. And I don’t just mean because you were at the mercy of whatever the three networks decided to shovel out, whenever they decide to shovel it, I mean so much of it was absurd, idiotic crap. But, it was kinda fun crap, and, sure, in hindsight it’s baffling that a full-grown human adult would have ever said, something like “Ooh, I need to be back home by 8:30, so I can catch the latest episode of CHiPS,” but I guarantee you; That did happen. A lot. And the reason why a full-grown human adult might utter such a patently ridiculous statement is because CHiPs routinely had some of the most breathtakingly stupid and elaborately choreographed car wrecks ever committed to videotape. These were glorious automotive sacrifices to the gods of chaos, and I need to share some of them with you, right now.

For the uncultured, CHiPs was a crime drama that ran from 1977 to 1983 and followed a pair of California Highway Patrol motorcycle cops, Ponch and John, played by Erik Estrada and Erik Estrada’s blond friend, whatshisname. The show was, charitably, stupid. And the Los Angeles portrayed in the show was also remarkably, even gleefully stupid, especially when it came to the highway network and how Angelenos interacted with it.Chips 1

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To see the show, you might think that California Driver’s Ed Official Best Practices was contained in a pamphlet that read “When unsure of what to do, stomp on the throttle, scream, and saw your steering wheel back and forth, with the same careful precision you may use were you attempting to free your arm from a combine. If possible, clench your eyes shut. Barriers, cliffsides, and trucks should all be targeted and driven towards without fail, at maximum speed. Via these time-tested practices, you should be able to handle any situation traffic throws your way!”

The typical CHiPs traffic situation usually starts with something small, or innocuous, like a sudden stop because someone thought they saw a mink coat on the road, or a yelled slight from one car to another. Then it begins to escalate, ramping up the disaster steadily until it erupts in an orgasm of absolute chaos. It’s kind of like how (I can’t believe this is the second time today this has come up) in childrens’ author Richard Scarry’s Busytown series of books, you’ll have something like a tomato bouncing out of the back of a truck, and that starts a cascade of events that ends with a wrecking crane smashing a jam truck into smithereens.

Of course, even without the elaborate chaotic wrecks, the show still manages to be both cartoony and display a dazzling array of the 1970s California carscape. In this one clip, we get an eye-rollingly cartoonish ending and incredible shots of an old Dodge Tradesman van, a ’73 Beetle like mine, a Studebaker Champion, old Datsuns, Ford F-100s, a glorious wine-colored AMC Pacer, and so much more:Chips 2

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But that’s tame by CHiPs standards, look at this shit, featuring a shit-talking guy in a Mazda RX-2 rotary that escalates into some absolutely unhinged road rage, along with some impressively self-repairing linkages:Chips 3

Of course, absolutely nobody is wearing a seat belt or anything silly like that. Just some good old smash-your-way-to-safety driving going on here! It’s the best!

This next clip is arguably one of the most chaotic; it’s like a Busby Berkley routine, but with flying, flaming cars instead of women dancing in kaleidoscopic patterns. Here, just watch the damn thing:Chips 4

I think you can see some of the cars getting re-used here, like that RX-2 (which gets decapitated). Also, no seat belt for the cop, and note the skillful way that driver of the blue Ford truck reacts, by rapidly shitting his pants and freaking out on that steering wheel, hard. Also, how many different directions of traffic are happening here? And why are cars such good ramps?

Want more? Of course you do, you sickos:Chips 5

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love this one. That lady stops suddenly on the highway because she sees – at like 55 mph – a pile of fur that she identifies not as some roadkill, but a mink coat? And then when a car plows through a truck, it also clears two other cars, improbably parked perpendicular to the line of the road, like you’d see at a monster truck stunt show?

The cars blasting through the truck were okay, I guess, but what if there were two cars that did that? And what if one of the trucks was full of explosives? And what if it was all caused by an inattentive driver in a freaking Auburn Speedster? What then? Well, you can see for yourself:Chips 6

Wow. Man, LA was fucking crazy in the 1970s.

You know, sometimes you want to contain your chaos to one vehicle, just to keep things simple. And maybe you want to mix up the scenery, and really tumble-dry a couple of kids in the back of a somersaulting camper as it rolls down a hill!Chips 7

All this because that Muppety dad took his eyes off the road for just a second! And okay, maybe it makes me a bad person for laughing when mom got flung out of the door, but I think I did emit an unwanted burst of laughter then. Sorry.

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All that stuff flying off the roof! I’m pretty sure they later showed those kids walking out okay, because, you know, Gen X kids were used to this kind of shit. This was just like, a Saturday for those two.

Sometimes it was the little things, like having a stolen ambulance chase, but the ambulance is full of dynamite, and street cleaners don’t give two shits about ambulances driving by with full lights and sirens:Chips 8

How do Ponch and John manage to show up to work every day? Why isn’t the whole next episode just them in the break room, under blankets, staring blankly at walls and muttering “the ambulance was full of dynamite?” over and over?

Oh, I like this one, too – another great example about how complex and difficult jobs involving heavy equipment seem to have been given out to people with the same IQ as a few slices of ham:Chips 9

Was the guy trying to outrun the fire on his own, barely-connected trailer? Did anyone tell him that the truck can be driven at something other than full throttle,  and you can steer without yanking the wheel like you’re trying to judo-flip a guy over your shoulder?

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Here, you probably need something to calm down. Watch this demolition derby episode, which features much more responsible driving:Chips 10

Feel better? Good. Now it’s time to watch a flame-jobbed MG Midget go absolutely apeshit through a golf course:Chips 11

That actually looks like it’d be pretty fun to have done! Also, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an MG with a flame paint job, but I say it works.

Okay, okay, one last one. With kids! In a Ford LTD Country Squire, and a good lesson about why you shouldn’t keep your skateboards in the driver’s footwell when you drive:

Chips 12

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I’m impressed the kids could hear Ponch there, yelling at them. He must really know how to project, from the diaphragm.

There’s so much more. You could view CHiPs today as a sort of dystopian fantasy of a world irrefutably harmed by being populated exclusively with people suffering from intense cognitive impairments as a result of leaded gasoline, dangerous idiots who refuse to ever stop driving, unless presented with an opportunity to drive through a truck, ideally packed with explosives.

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Strangek
Strangek
8 months ago

The chase music is a stone groove, love it! Also, most of those people would have got away with their misdeeds if they just drove normally. What’s with all the swerving around, lol?

Jb996
Jb996
8 months ago

At first, the random swerving and having the brakes, throttle, ignition, and steering all fail at the same time seems unlikely.
But then I remember the build quality of cars in the late 70s, and this all seems very likely.

https://www.theautopian.com/these-old-70s-tv-reviews-of-the-amc-pacer-and-mercury-zephyr-shows-that-most-people-are-wrong-about-which-cars-actually-sucked/
…or any of the Bob Mayer car reviews on YouTube.

Highland Green Miata
Highland Green Miata
8 months ago

This was must-see TV on Sunday nights. Looking back at it now you realize that everything you see was absolutely “real” – No CGI. Clever editing sure, but people were really driving those cars and doing those choreographed stunts. And this was for a weekly TV show.

Jb996
Jb996
8 months ago

These clips really took me back to childhood… Ah nostalgia.

Maymar
Maymar
8 months ago

So, with only a cursory knowledge of its existence, does Alarm fur Cobra 11 get more ludicrous than CHiPs?

MP81
MP81
8 months ago

scream, and saw your steering wheel back and forth

This seems to be how many people deal with the first sight of snow.

For bonus points, add in full panic braking. And more swerving.

Don Mynack
Don Mynack
8 months ago

CHiPs was incredible, because after intense chases they would roller disco with celebrities.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fh5GdUY00-k

Don Mynack
Don Mynack
8 months ago
Reply to  Don Mynack

Nancy Kulp! Antonio Fargas!

Balloondoggle
Balloondoggle
8 months ago

The road rage clip – why no lane markings anywhere on the highway? No wonder they drove like fools.

Rad Barchetta
Rad Barchetta
8 months ago

So much to unpack from that show.
Ponch was a cop, but somehow managed to be a race car driver in multiple disciplines, pilot, skydiver, karate expert, dirt bike racer, and a host of other things. All on a cop’s salary and schedule.

Can we talk about Ponch and Jon’s cars? Jon drove an original Mini Cooper in the early seasons. Ponch drove the RV that he lived in until he bought a 71 Firebird at auction after a perp set fire to it. He and Jon then restored it, only to have another perp steal it and wreck it. These guys may have been fictional, but they were real Autopians.

Chris Reed
Chris Reed
8 months ago
Reply to  Rad Barchetta

Don’t forget Johns sweet blue 1977 GMC K15 Fenderside. Complete with graphics, rallye wheels, a chrome roll bar and KC Daylighters! Pinnacle cool 70’s truck.

Jakob K's Garage
Jakob K's Garage
8 months ago

Lots of E&E in that one, thanks 😀

Last edited 8 months ago by Jakob K's Garage
EricTheViking
EricTheViking
8 months ago

As a kid, watching CHiPs along with a several other serials were mandatory. Back then, the serial didn’t have subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. When I found the entire serial on DVDs recently, I watched from the first to the last with the subtitles, and I couldn’t believe how bad the concept was…

Of course, there were some memorable and stupidly silly episodes.

  • The stupidest episode would be the bank robbers and the massive laser gun in the van with floor-to-roof square window where the sliding door once was and cheesy window curtains. The laser gun was for blinding the customers and security officers outside before robbing the bank.
  • Another one was the van (perhaps the same one repurposed for different scenario) with the forklift mechanism attached to the floor plan on the side. The criminals would look for the car to steal then position the van closer to the car and lift it off the road with the perplexed driver trying to escape.
  • There’s the motorcycle and sidecar that tilts in parallel to the motorcycle. Toward the end of the episode, the sidecar split from the motorcycle, and the extra wheels suddenly appeared in the front part so the sidecar would not tilt over.

I could tell when the great demolition derby was coming up: the cars and trucks suddenly looked older (1960s model years) and coarser. There was one scene that jumped out at me: both cops were “fleeing” slowly from the automobile collision, then the blast wave from the explosion knocked them and their motorcycles down so fast.

There’s another serial that seemed to inspire CHiPs: Emergency! (1972–1978). The latter seemed more “realistic” and had a good amount of carnages.

Opa Carriker
Opa Carriker
8 months ago

I lived in the LA area during this time period and one thing that really caught my attention was the gray haze of the air in many of the shots. That haze was smog! The real deal that burned your eyes, made your nose water, and gave you a headache. If you haven’t lived it, the best example is military gas training “light”.

Nlpnt
Nlpnt
8 months ago

The one that stuck out in my mind is the runaway school bus – driver had a heart attack and yet another skateboard got lodged under the brake pedal. Jon jumped onto the roof of one of the buses from the bridge where Sunset Blvd passes over Myra Ave.

Luckily the bus was equipped with a roof rack whose perimeter bars made good handholds and that had a nice flat wooden deck rather than the domed roof of the school bus. What it wasn’t equipped with was a Watsonian reason to be there.

Marc Fuhrman
Marc Fuhrman
9 months ago

Wait, why in the demo derby clip is one of the dude’s running a ’74-76 Ford Torino? That would have been like a 3-4 year old car at the time.

Unclesam
Unclesam
8 months ago
Reply to  Marc Fuhrman

That was an old car. 5 years in the rust belt would have left you with nothing but the vinyl bits and your tires

Cargeek!
Cargeek!
9 months ago

So I guess Michael Bays dad directed some of these shows?

Also did everyone drive Pinto’s in LA back then?

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
8 months ago
Reply to  Cargeek!

“Also did everyone drive Pinto’s in LA back then?”

Yes. I lived in LA at the time and our family had TWO Pintos!

(It was a different time).

Last edited 8 months ago by Cheap Bastard
Cargeek!
Cargeek!
8 months ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

Tap… Ka-BOOM!!!!!

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
8 months ago
Reply to  Cargeek!

Nah. Ours were of the shooting brake variety so at least THAT wasn’t an issue.

Deathspeed
Deathspeed
9 months ago

Does anyone know why the cars suddenly stopped exploding, around the 1980 season? The wrecks were still massive, but tween-age me was there for the fire and I soon lost interest. It seems like there were other shows that also greatly reduced explosions about the same time, but middle-age me cannot remember what those shows were.

[Not sure what happened to my first attempt to post this; my apologies if it duplicates.]

Last edited 9 months ago by Deathspeed
Fool Name
Fool Name
8 months ago
Reply to  Deathspeed

I wanted to say it was because of this episode but it was in 1978 and it doesn’t sound like they learned anything from it. https://m.imdb.com/title/tt0534446/
I saw this episode recently and there’s a scene where a news camera guy gets hit by flaming debris. When you see it, you can tell it wasn’t the magic of television but a real accident on set. The trivia section on that episode tells you that he was hospitalized.

Robert L
Robert L
9 months ago

Here’s a good one:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fhRwXfxCyVI

Guy robs a jewelry store – his inconspicuous getaway vehicle is a bright red motorcycle, which pairs well with his bright red outfit & helmet. He then proceeds to race down a busy arterial doing a wheelie while passing multiple cops.

Flyingstitch
Flyingstitch
9 months ago

So, 1970s L.A. was entirely populated by Wile E. Coyote’s family?

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
8 months ago
Reply to  Flyingstitch

“So, 1970s L.A. was entirely populated by Wile E. Coyote’s family?”

Before there was Floridaman there was LA.

The Car Accumulator
The Car Accumulator
9 months ago

So that’s why David Tracy won’t drive his old cars over there. Vintage iron doesn’t seem to do so well…BTW, I wonder how many cartons that kid driving the station wagon had to smoke to get that Winston Racing hat…

Max Johnson
Max Johnson
9 months ago

For whatever reason, the episode I remember the most is when the Tomato truck jack knifed on the freeway. Not sure why, but in my 6 year old brain, that looked like blood nd (probably because my Sister had recently forced me to watch Poltergeist) it scared the living beejeezus out of me

MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
9 months ago

That background music was the best.

Steve P
Steve P
9 months ago
Reply to  MATTinMKE
Ricki
Ricki
9 months ago

Oh man, I watched syndicated CHiPs when I was growing up. I have forgotten literally every single moment, except for like three bars of the intro theme.

Now I have to wrangle it up.

MiniDave
MiniDave
9 months ago

I’d like to know how they got all the cars on the Freeway to only drive 20 mph?

Opa Carriker
Opa Carriker
8 months ago
Reply to  MiniDave

Put real cops out front.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
9 months ago

Okay first Larry Wilcox Ponches costar who could act. Second cars driving at such a slow speed stopping was clearly possible but launching into the air and flying 30 feet was not. Also in LA Traffic even attaining that 30 mph on an LA Freeway during the day was impossible. But hot wheels hot women and whatever was the popular activity Ponche and John were experts at it and would bring down a gang of criminals doing it then out to the disco with several ladies in spandex.

Cyko9
Cyko9
9 months ago

Oh, that’s it: I’m making a list of CHiPs episodes based on these clips. I started watching the early ones and they’re a little draggy. These look bonkers!

Matt Wishart
Matt Wishart
9 months ago

I have just been watching series one of ‘CHiPs’ (a show i ADORED as a 7 year old). Based on what i’ve seen, i eagerly await the construction of a time machine. I would travel back to the California of 1977 and become a ‘California Highway Patrolman’ – on a Kawasaki. There are no meth addled gang-bangers, no face eating alumni, not even an alcohol abusing teen. No swearing either, and not a gun in sight. The worst you’ll ever see is a 30 year old bag snatcher with a tan, perfect teeth, blue eyes and a bad attitude. The best part is that all the girls are hot (in a Farrah Fawcett kinda way), and they’re all up for it because i’m a motorcycle cop with an apartment at the marina. 

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
9 months ago
Reply to  Matt Wishart

Oh they had guns, bikers, disgruntled vets, badass bikers, drug addicts, always liberal unfortunates who just sayi g just say no could rescue them with badass dealers usually a couple big ex NFL Linemen.

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
9 months ago
Reply to  Matt Wishart

I never noticed back when I was a kid that neither Ponch nor Jon *ever* take their guns out of their holsters. They just yell “stop!” and the bad guys do it. The squad car officer does draw though, and sometimes is even wielding the shotgun. Also, the other (male) squad car officer is Cmdr. Worf.

Last edited 9 months ago by Jack Trade
Fool Name
Fool Name
8 months ago
Reply to  Jack Trade

And his sergeant is captain Kirk’s dad.

Chris Reed
Chris Reed
8 months ago
Reply to  Fool Name

Robert Pine!

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