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What's New?Vintage Press InformationAn 'Ironside' Title and Airdate ListingOriginal NBC Stills ArchiveVintage Magazine Features'Ironside' Books and ToysEditorials and Analytical FeaturesLinks
What's New?Vintage Press InformationAn 'Ironside' Title and Airdate ListingOriginal NBC Stills ArchiveVintage Magazine FeaturesIronside' Books and ToysEditorials and Analytical FeaturesLinks
The Van - ExteriorThe Van - InteriorThe Van - Elevator System
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The Van - Exterior
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In the time between watching my last, “first-run” episode of “Ironside,” and rediscovering the series in 1987, I forgot all about The Chief's original mode of transportation: the “Paddy Wagon.”
 
Whenever my memories of the series surfaced, it was always images of “The Van,” rising and dipping within the contours of the San Francisco landscape, that I recalled.
 
Arriving in the closing moments of the third story of “Ironside”’s third year, this stylish vehicle—given to Ironside via the “...courtesy of Commissioner Randall, and the city of San Francisco”—survived the six seasons of production that followed, and was still running smoothly when the show ended in 1975.
 
Apparently taking a 1969 Ford “Chateau 25” Club Wagon as the basis for the vehicle, reknowned automotive stylist George Barris added a V-8 engine, and raised the profile of the roof in order to facilitate the instalation of an effective wheelchair elevator.
 
It is common in feature film and TeleVision series production to have duplicates of important props and costumes, in order to ensure continuity of production in the event of an item sustaining any damage, and it may be that there was more than one “Van” built for the series.
 
This seems unlikely, however, because on the occasions when the van crashes (“The Gambling Game,” “Close to the Heart”), it does so with conspicuous care...
 
The van does undergo a number of minor changes over the years, however, and shooting on the series appears to have started before the vehicle was ready.
 
It is without a license plate in “A Bullet for Mark,” then acquires one bearing the inscription “CALIFORNIA 125631” in “Eye of the Hurricane.”
 
Four episodes later, however, in “The Machismo Bag,” the numbers are transposed to become “CALIFORNIA 135621” (Later, in the Season Six story “The Deadly Gamesmen,” the original registration is employed as that of Commissioner Randall's car...).
 
Intriguingly, in both “Eye of the Hurricane” and “A Bullet for Mark,” the vehicle is without a front passenger seat—a fixture which is noticably present in the story in which the Van is introduced (“Poole's Paradise”).
 
The colour of the Van's bodywork appears to change, too, from time-to-time. In some episodes it appears almost white, while in others it exhibits a much darker, sand-like hue. This suggests that the vehicle may have been treated to a new paint job now and again—but, unfortunately, can equally be attributed to variations in the nature of the film stock!
 
The most conspicuous transformation, however, is the radiator grille, which changes between seasons five and six, and coincides with what is undoubedtly the most important development in the vehicle's history.
 
In the fourth episode of the 72-73 Season, both the driving seat and the partition dividing the front and rear compartments are removed. This enables The Chief to guide his wheelchair to the front of the van where, with the aid of a special lever, he can drive the vehicle himself.
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Note: On an even more trivial note than all of the above, the script for "Eye of the Hurricane" was obviously prepared in advance of "The Van"'s conception; at one point, one of the characters in the story refers to the vehicle associated with Ironside as the "Paddy Wagon"…
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The Van - Inside
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During the first two seasons of "Ironside", The Chief's "Paddy Wagon" was more than just the team's mode of transportation.
 
It served as a mobile office, and it was not unusual for Ironside to conduct much of his investigations from the vehicle's rear compartment.
 
He often interviewed suspects there, or monitored conversations and telephone calls, and examined evidence and formulated strategies.
 
One of the characteristics of "The Van", however, was that it was much more compact, and its internal space was correspondingly restricted.
 
Consequently, the vehicle's rear compartment was rarely employed to the same extent as that of its predecessor, and little is seen of the vehicle's interior generally.
 
Most of the time, any discussions Ironside shared with his colleagues are witnessed through the vehicle's windscreen, but there are a number of episodes which feature the van extensively, and these form the source for most of the images in this section.
 
Even on these occasions, it is noticable that the wheelchair elevator's platform is surreptitiously removed, to give the cast (and the episode's director) more room to work in—even though, later in the same story—it is seen in operation!
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Ironside Going Inside
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In the closing scenes of the third season story, "Poole's Paradise", Ironside, Ed, and Eve emerge from a meeting with the Commissioner onto a San Francisco street.
 
Ironside's beloved "Paddy Wagon" has been destroyed in an encounter with the corrupt law enforcement officials of an isolated community, leaving the Chief without a mode of transport.
 
While Ironside characteristically expresses his disatisfaction with the situation, Mark arrives, accompanied by the Van...
 
We then see the wheelchair elevator deployed for the first time.
 
This also marks the only time the mechanism's operation is given any emphasis, and featured in its totality.
 
As with the braking and gear-shifting lever Ironside uses to drive the van from Season Six onwards, it was considered sufficient to show the routine once, so that the audience could see how it works, and future stories need not expend airtime explaining how The Chief enters and leaves his van.
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Note: Interestingly, in all the location footage for this scene, we only ever see Ironside from the back, suggesting that the actor portraying The Chief in this scene is not Raymond Burr.
 
Raymond Burr appears only in close-up, on a studio set.
 
Adding emphasis to this is the fact that, in succeeding episodes, The Chief routinely backs onto the elevator when entering the van.
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