Meeting Magnum, P.I.: Navy Lacoste Shirt and Ferrari 308 GTS

Tom Selleck as Thomas Magnum in the Magnum P.I. pilot episode, "Don't Eat the Snow in Hawaii"

Tom Selleck as Thomas Magnum in the Magnum P.I. pilot episode, “Don’t Eat the Snow in Hawaii”

Vitals

Tom Selleck as Thomas Magnum, private investigator and former Navy SEAL

Hawaii, Spring 1980 to Summer 1981

Series: Magnum, P.I.
Episodes:
– “Don’t Eat the Snow in Hawaii, Part 1″ (Episode 1.01, dir. Roger Young, aired 12/11/1980)
– “No Need to Know” (Episode 1.05, dir. Lawrence Doheny, aired 1/8/1981)
– “Don’t Say Goodbye” (Episode 1.15, dir. Winrich Kolbe, aired 3/28/1981)
Creator: Donald P. Bellisario & Glen Larson
Costume Designer: Charles Waldo (credited with first season only)
Costume Supervisor: James Gilmore

WARNING! Spoilers ahead!

Background

Let’s continue #CarWeek with one of the most famous and popular cars in TV history, the bright red Ferrari 308 GTS driven by Thomas Magnum (Tom Selleck) as a semi-permanent “guest” on author Robin Masters’ Hawaiian estate.

Today is a particularly suitable occasion to write about this set of wheels as we first meet Magnum⁠—and the Ferrari⁠—while our protagonist is clad in a Lacoste tennis shirt, innovated by French tennis icon and Renaissance man René Lacoste, who was born 116 years ago on July 2, 1904. Despite dominating the tennis game in the 1920s with seven Grand Slam singles titles and two back-to-back Davis Cup titles, Lacoste’s name is best known to some for the comfortable shirts he had revolutionized for the court.

Rene Lacoste, French tennis champion and innovator of the classic pique polo shirt.

René Lacoste, French tennis champion and innovator of the classic pique polo shirt.

Prior to the development of the Lacoste shirt, tennis players were required to wear long-sleeved white shirts, ties, and trousers, which Lacoste felt too restrictive for play. Inspired by observing the Marquis of Cholmondeley sporting a polo shirt on the tennis court, Lacoste had a run of wool and cotton pullover shirts made for him that he debuted at the 1926 U.S. Open in New York City.

Over the next few years, Lacoste’s nickname in America (“the Alligator”) was translated by the French as “the Crocodile”, which he embraced as his own personal symbol so his friend, ice hockey player Robert George, designed a green crocodile that would be embroidered on Lacoste’s blazers and shirts on the court.

Together with André Gillier, Lacoste officially founded La Société Chemise Lacoste in 1933, the year after he retired, manufacturing and marketing the comfortable tennis shirts bearing his name and reptilian symbol. The brand continued to grow, aided by a partnership with Izod for marketing in the United States that lasted from the early 1950s until the 1993 when the partnership ended; by this time, Lacoste had been so firmly entrenched in American culture that the company could successfully take control of its own brand.

What’d He Wear?

Thomas Magnum’s tropical-printed Aloha shirts have become a pop culture staple, but the first shirt that Tom Selleck wears on screen is actually a navy blue pique polo, easily identified as a Lacoste product by the familiar green crocodile embroidered over the left breast. In fact, it’s a shot of Magnum in this shirt as he peels away in Robin Masters’ Ferrari that would be used to introduce Selleck in the opening credits across Magnum, P.I.‘s eight-season run.

MAGNUM PI

… but I’m getting ahead of myself, as Magnum isn’t wearing any shirt at all when we first meet him, emerging from the waves onto Robin Masters’ estate clad only in his blue polyester swim trunks.

Detailed with green, white, and yellow side striping, these short-inseam trunks would be worn in several other first season episodes. The trunks have a simple elastic waistband, likely with an inner drawstring to tighten the fit, and a small pocket on the right side, covered with a flap closing through a single white button.

Clad in his swim trunks, Magnum works the first of several locks as part of his job testing the security of Robin's Nest. The rope around his waistband is connected to his waterproof bag of additional gear.

Clad in his swim trunks, Magnum works the first of several locks as part of his job testing the security of Robin’s Nest. The rope around his waistband is connected to his waterproof bag of additional gear.

Tied around Magnum’s waist is a waterproof bag filled with clothing and equipment for the next legs of his mission, first picking a gate lock before evading “the lads” and picking his way into the cockpit of a sleek red Ferrari 308GTS:

Don’t look at the dogs, work the lock… you looked at the dogs!

Magnum pulls from the bag this navy Lacoste shirt, which he’s already wearing by the time he gets to the Ferrari. The short-sleeved pullover shirt is detailed with Lacoste’s signature cotton petit piqué body, ribbed collar and cuffs, and two mother-of-pearl buttons on the placket.

MAGNUM PI

A note on nomenclature: the term “polo shirt” originally referred to the woven shirts with button-down collars innovated by Brooks Brothers at the turn-of-the-century, but the colloquial appellation seemingly shifted as polo players embraced the less restrictive type of shirt pioneered by Lacoste. Encouraged by marketing shortcuts and the popularity of Polo Ralph Lauren’s line, this trend has resulted in many except the strictist purists considering the terms “polo shirt”, “golf shirt”, and “tennis shirt” to be relatively synonymous when referring to these types of collared pullover shirts.

“As happens with many menswear icons derived from sports clothes, the practicality of the design soon saw the polo shirt being worn away from the tennis court or field of play,” Josh Sims described in Icon’s of Men’s Style. As discussed earlier, Lacoste shirts had been around since the 1930s and grew in popularity over the decades to follow, firmly established as a prepdom staple by 1980 when it was referenced in the tongue-in-cheek The Official Preppy Handbook to the extent that the book’s editor, Lisa Birnbach, recalled that she spent much of the decade autographing Lacoste shirts. (“Don’t Eat the Snow in Hawaii” was filmed in February and March of 1980, according to Magnum Mania!, predating the shirt’s inclusion in Birnbach’s volume by several months.)

Forty years after Magnum, P.I. debuted, Lacoste’s brand has evolved in a series of mergers and acquisitions but its growing product line keeps René’s original “12-12” polo shirt intact (via Lacoste and Amazon), available in an array of 36 colors as of June 2020, including navy blue as worn by Magnum.

Upon reaching his destination, Magnum senses the decorum of Hickam AFB and promptly pulls on a pair of blue Levi’s jeans—his khaki web belt already rigged through the belt loops—over his swim trunks.

Even when stepping out of a Ferrari in paradise, Thomas Magnum puts his pants on one leg at a time, just like the rest of us.

Even when stepping out of a Ferrari in paradise, Thomas Magnum puts his pants on one leg at a time, just like the rest of us.

Magnum’s preference for Levi’s denim is thus established early in the series, and these particular jeans have the unique “orange tab” on the back pocket, which Levi Strauss & Co. used to denote non-basic items such as bellbottoms and boot-cuts or unorthodox denim washes and stitching variations from the 1960s through 1999. In addition to these orange tab Levi’s, Selleck would also wear traditional Levi’s 501 “red tab” jeans and four-pocket naval-style dungarees over the course of the show.

Magnum’s everyday belt is made of khaki cotton webbing, similar to the durable belts he would have worn with his khaki service and working uniforms in the Navy. During the first season, his belt closed with a plain gold-toned brass slider buckle as found across government-issued and commercially available versions of these web belts from companies like Rothco, though he would adopt a more personalized belt from the second season forward with USN Surface Warfare insignia and “MAGNUM” embossed on the buckle.

MAGNUM PI

Apropos his laidback, beachside lifestyle, Magnum’s everyday footwear rotates between classic boat shoes, athletic trainers, and canvas deck sneakers. With this outfit, he seems to prefer the latter, wearing two-eyelet deck sneakers with creamy off-white canvas uppers, white rubber outsoles, and side-lacing that resembles Sperry’s classic boat shoe while lacking the traditional Top-Sider’s more structured, moc-toe profile.

This shot was featured in "No Need to Know" (Episode 1.05), though Magnum wore tan trousers in this episode and was already wearing his team ring on his left hand, as he would in all but the first episode of the first season. Thus, I suspect this particular shot was recycled from footage filmed during the production of the pilot episode and re-inserted during the car chase in "No Need to Know".

This shot was featured in “No Need to Know” (Episode 1.05), though Magnum wore tan trousers in this episode and was already wearing his team ring on his left hand, as he would in all but the first episode of the first season. Thus, I suspect this particular shot was recycled from footage filmed during the production of the pilot episode and re-inserted during the car chase in “No Need to Know”.

As with the pilot episode, “No Need to Know” (Episode 1.05) begins with Magnum wearing this navy Lacoste polo as he breaks into the Robin’s Nest, returning early after being “off on one of his cases” and out of Higgins’ hair for a week, thus frustrating the irascible majordomo upon his arrival. Though the upgraded security personnel literally rub Magnum the wrong way, he’s only slightly more charmed by the two lovely flight attendants who are evidently among the unseen Robin Masters’ latest houseguests.

With his expansive and colorful wardrobe, Magnum rarely repeats a shirt within a single episode but “No Need to Know” is an exception as Magnum again dons his navy Lacoste polo for the episode’s climactic finale, having emerged from his unsuccessful underwater recon just in time to encounter Mandy (Robin Dearden), the flight attendant who reveals herself to be an IRA assassin targeting fellow houseguest Brigadier Ffolkes (Richard Johnson).

In addition to the polo, he pulls on a pair of plain tan cotton trousers with an elastic waistband, side pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms, worn over his black swimming shorts and with his same off-white deck shoes.

Magnum's navy short-sleeved polo shirt and tan trousers proves its timelessness as a comfortable tropical ensemble as James Bond (Daniel Craig) would take the same sartorial approach a quarter century later for a dressed-down day in the Bahamas in <em>Casino Royale</em> (2006).

Magnum’s navy blue short-sleeved polo shirt and tan trousers proves its timelessness as a comfortable tropical ensemble as James Bond (Daniel Craig) would take the same sartorial approach a quarter century later for a dressed-down day in the Bahamas in Casino Royale (2006).

The third and final episode to feature this shirt, “Don’t Say Goodbye” (Episode 1.15), again features Magnum dressing in this shirt after a swim, this time interrupted by Higgins (John Hillerman), who is indignant that the private investigator hasn’t been paying his phone bill as it forces Higgins to relay messages from “virtually every scoundrel on this island, including tasteless, provocative messages from your floozy girlfriend,” who turns out to be prospective client Agatha Kimball (Mercedes McCambridge).

Magnum wears a pair of dark green swim trunks with an elastic waistband and button-closed pocket on the right thigh though, this time, he doesn’t pull on any pants over them as he doesn’t leave the house.

Magnum's navy Lacoste polo made its final appearance in "Never Say Goodbye" (Episode 1.15).

Magnum’s navy Lacoste polo made its final appearance in “Never Say Goodbye” (Episode 1.15).

Like his brothers in arms T.C. (Roger E. Mosley) and Rick (Larry Manetti), Magnum proudly wears a large gold signet ring with a gold French Croix de Lorraine (“Cross of Lorraine”) embossed on the large oval, black enamel-filled face. Replicas abound, such as this relatively well-reviewed piece offered on Amazon.

Also known as a double cross or patriarchal cross, the Cross of Lorraine became a symbol of resistance during wartime France, and the experts at Magnum Mania! have suggested that this as a reasonable connection for why Magnum’s team chose this symbol for their own memento. The symbol has no known association with the U.S. Navy or Marine Corps, the branches for which Magnum, Rick, and T.C. served, though it has been the insignia of the U.S. Army Reserve 79th Infantry Division since the division’s defense of France during World War I.

In the pilot episode, Magnum wears his team ring on the third finger of his right hand, but then inexplicably wears it on the same finger of his left hand for the rest of the first season. At the start of the second season, Magnum again wears the ring on his right ring finger as he would continue to do for the duration of the series.

Magnum's Croix de Lorraine team ring gets significant screen-time in the pilot episode, such as when our hero cracks open a much-needed beer.

Magnum’s Croix de Lorraine team ring gets significant screen-time in the pilot episode, such as when our hero cracks open a much-needed beer.

For the first three seasons of Magnum, P.I., Magnum wears a stainless steel Chronosport Sea Quartz 30 dive watch on a perforated black leather strap, revealed in flashbacks to have been the same timepiece he sported during his Navy service in the Vietnam War. (According to a Redditor’s research, this has some historical integrity as some Navy SEAL teams evidently did wear Chronosports during their service in the early ’70s!)

Magnum’s Chronosport has a black dial printed only with “Quartz” (the full “Sea Quartz 30” designation would be added in 1982), detailed with luminescent hour markers including numerals for 12, 6, and 9 o’clock as well as a black day-date window at 3:00. Per its diving functionality, the watch has a slim black tick-marked rotating bezel.

By the fifth episode of the first season, Magnum was wearing his team ring on his left hand with his Chronosport dive watch strapped to the same wrist.

By the fifth episode of the first season, Magnum was wearing his team ring on his left hand with his Chronosport dive watch strapped to the same wrist.

It wouldn’t be until the series’ fourth season that Magnum would swap out the Chronosport for his recognizable Rolex GMT Master with the red-and-blue Pepsi bezel, an in-universe inheritance from his father, as well as Selleck’s own POW/MIA bracelet recognizing Kenneth Ray Lancaster.

The Car

Any discussion of Thomas Magnum’s enviable world would be incomplete without reference to the bright cherry red Ferraris that powered him around O’ahu on his cases. As the Ferrari was always one of three vehicles in the automotive stable of Magnum’s enigmatic host and benefactor, Robin Masters, ROBIN-1 may be the most significant example of a character’s iconic car that wasn’t even owned by its primary driver!

The opening sequence of the first episode, and every set of opening titles to follow, magnify this connection between car and character as we see Magnum smirk, shift into gear, and peel away in a controlled slide behind the wheel of the first ROBIN-1, a 1979 Ferrari 308 GTS.

Speeding ahead in Robin Masters' Ferrari, Magnum cuts off Higgins' Audi in "No Need to Know" (Episode 1.05).

Speeding ahead in Robin Masters’ Ferrari, Magnum cuts off Higgins’ Audi in “No Need to Know” (Episode 1.05).

Had Tom Selleck been a little shorter, the Ferrari may have never been introduced to Magnum’s world as the producers originally had their eyes set on a Porsche. However, Porsche reportedly refused to make the modifications necessary to comfortably fit the 6’4″ actor while Ferrari was all too pleased to chop away at the 308 GTS to make room for Magnum. (Even still, Magnum Mania! points out that you rarely see Magnum driving the Ferrari with the top closed, and Selleck’s head almost always sticks out above the top of the windshield!)

Magnum, P.I. neatly chronicles the evolution of the 308 GTS series, its 1980-1988 production timeline overlapping with much of the Ferrari 308’s own history from its debut at the 1975 Paris Motor Show through the final model year in 1985. In addition to Robin’s ’79 Ferrari 308GTS in the first season, the series would feature a 1981 Ferrari 308GTSi for the second through sixth seasons and a 1984 Ferrari 308GTSi quattrovavole for the final two seasons, all of which would undergo varying abuse from fender benders to car bombs as chronicled by Magnum Mania!

Leonardo Fioravanti at Pininfarina designed the low, sleek 308, introduced by Ferrari to replace the mid-engine Dino series that had been in production since 1967. The first 308 models were strictly close-topped “Berlinetta” GTB models until the targa-topped GTS model was unveiled at the 1977 Frankfurt Motor Show. By that time, Ferrari had already begun phasing out the 308’s ambitious fiberglass bodywork, and less than a thousand “vetroresina” fiberglass-bodied 308s left the Maranello factory before converting to heavier all-steel bodywork in June 1977.

For its first five years of production, the Ferrari 308 was powered by a 3.0-liter Tipo V8 rated at 252 bhp for the European models, though emissions control devices downrated American models to 237 bhp.

MAGNUM PI

1979 Ferrari 308GTS

Body Style: 2-door Targa top sports car

Layout: mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive (MR)

Engine: 2927 cc (2.9 L) Ferrari Dino “Tipo F106 AB” V8 with Weber 40DCNF 2-barrel DOHC

Power: 237 bhp (177 kW; 240 PS) @ 6600 RPM

Torque: 181 lb·ft (245 N·m) @ 5000 RPM

Transmission: 5-speed manual

Wheelbase: 92.1 inches (2340 mm)

Length: 172.4 inches (4380 mm)

Width: 67.7 inches (1720 mm)

Height: 44.1 inches (1120 mm)

The development of Bosch K-Jetronic mechanical fuel injection saw the evolution to the 308 GTBi and 308 GTSi for the 1980 model year, further dropping the power output to 211 bhp in Europe and 202 bhp on American models. Robin adopted a 1981 model for his fleet in the second season, replacing it after it was bombed in “Did You See the Sunrise? Part 1” (Episode 3.01).

It wasn’t until the seventh season, debuting in the fall of 1986 more than a year after the final Ferrari 308 rolled off the production line, that Robin upgraded to the latest and last generation. While cosmetically similar and powered by the same 2927 cc Tipo V8, this heavier 308 quattrovavole introduced at the 1982 Paris Motor Show benefitted from four valves per cylinder that boosted power back to 230 bhp on American models, still less powerful but ultimately faster than the first generation of 308s.

Good news for Magnum, P.I. fans: Andrew Newton wrote for Hagerty last October that these models are “increasingly affordable”, a relative term for sure given the demand for these instantly recognizable cars but pleasantly welcome news for collectors looking for an iconic ride for hitting the open road.

The Ferrari in the pilot episode (and the opening credits sequence) was fitted with license plates #56E-478 before the iconic ROBIN-1 vanity plates would be adopted.

The Ferrari in the pilot episode (and the opening credits sequence) was fitted with license plates #56E-478 before the iconic ROBIN-1 vanity plates would be adopted.

The Ferrari 308’s starring role on Magnum, P.I. arguably led to the car’s greater exposure in other media, including Dean Martin’s own ’79 308 GTS in The Cannonball Run (1981) and Christie Brinkley’s ’81 308 GTSi, from which she distracts a dizzy-eyed Chevy Chase in National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983). Perhaps worth noting is that Chase’s hapless family man Clark Griswold cycles through a few Lacoste polo shirts of his own in Vacation, illustrating that you don’t have to be a tropical-dwelling private investigator with a Ferrari to dress like one!

How to Get the Look

Tom Selleck as Thomas Magnum on Magnum P.I. (Episode 1.05: "Never Say Goodbye")

Tom Selleck as Thomas Magnum on Magnum P.I. (Episode 1.05: “Never Say Goodbye”)

Thomas Magnum is introduced to audiences wearing neither the bright Aloha shirts or Detroit Tigers cap that would become associated with the character, instead sporting a navy Lacoste tennis shirt with his swim trunks and jeans, illustrating the timeless versatility of this preppy staple which Magnum repurposes as a warm, dry layer after a day in the water.

  • Navy cotton petit piqué Lacoste polo shirt with two-button placket
  • Light blue denim Levi’s vintage “orange tag” jeans
    • Alternative Levi’s 501 “red tag” in medium stonewash available via Amazon
  • Khaki web belt with gold-toned slider belt buckle
  • Off-white canvas two-eyelet, side-laced deck sneakers with white rubber outsoles
  • Chronosport Sea Quartz 30 stainless steel dive watch with black rotating bezel, black dial (with luminescent hour markers and 3:00 day-date window), on perforated black strap
  • Gold Croix de Lorraine team ring
    • Replicas available via Amazon

Do Yourself a Favor and…

Check out the entire series.

I also highly suggest exploring the extensively researched Magnum Mania! site for fans of the series. For obvious reasons, I recommend the site’s comprehensive Magnum Gear page that includes brief descriptions and links about the clothing and accessories worn by not just Magnum but also Rick, T.C., and Higgins.

The Quote

Funny the things a grown man will do for a living.

4 comments

  1. Teeritz

    I always thought their signet rings were a reference to “Casablanca”. Magnum’s buddy Rick owned the club (King Kamehameha?) and he sometimes wore a white dinner jacket there. Or am I drawing a long bow here?
    Great show. I have all 7 seasons on DVD. Tried to get my kids into it, but they grew up in the HBO era ( thanks to their cool parents) and they find 80s television production values and cinematography lacking. The snobs.

  2. Sonny

    As always, an informed and entertaining article. Hopefully we’ll see another (Read: “My favorite”) 80s show Ferrari (…sort of) in an upcoming car week. I know you’re not a vice detective or anything; but, I’d be willing to bet you can crack the case of which show I refer.

    Happy 4th.

  3. Millisa Adams

    This was and still is one of my favorite t.v. shows I still watch the reruns all the time thank you for making such a clean show to watch even today

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