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'The Green Hornet': Test drive showcases the Black Beauty's sting

I have a confession: I'm not a Green Hornet fan. • Oh, as a kid, I never missed an episode of the short-lived TV series. I admired the Green Hornet's masked chauffeur/sidekick, Kato, played by Bruce Lee. But the man in the green overcoat and fedora? Even as a 6-year-old, I found Van Williams, a.k.a. Britt Reid/The Green Hornet, a little wooden. • No, every week I watched just to hear the Hornet command "Let's roll, Kato," and see that sinister black Chrysler race through a faux billboard on its way to battle the bad guys. • If I could only drive it. • Last month, I did.

Black Beauty No. 27 — one of the 29 cars created for the Seth Rogen movie opening last week — was in town for the Tampa Bay International Auto Show.

Sony invited Times film critic Steve Persall and a few colleagues to the Florida State Fairgrounds to take the Black Beauty — outfitted with prop .30-caliber machine guns, Striker missiles and a host of other armaments — for a few circuits in the huge parking lot.

It was loud, courtesy of a Chevy Big Block powerplant, and it was appropriately menacing. Persall slid behind the wheel first, revving the big V8 and roaring across the lot. I wasn't so confident. I drove tentatively, never really putting the hammer down.

For the record, my excuses: I was freezing. And it took a few runs to get used to the car's clutchless, three-speed competition shifter, which was placed awkwardly below some of the cabin's prop gadgets.

The real reason? I couldn't get this nagging headline out of my mind: "Auto critic kills crime-fighter's car."

Even though I'm used to driving unique cars as a reviewer, this one was different: It had been part of my childhood.

"What I've been surprised at most is the crossing of generations — you get the 16-year-olds and the 55- to 65-year-olds," Sony representative Matt Ford told me of the car's appeal on its nationwide tour.

Persall asked if our car was one that Rogen actually had used.

"Guaranteed," Ford told him.

And for a few moments, so had we.

'The Green Hornet': Test drive showcases the Black Beauty's sting 01/13/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 18, 2011 6:57pm]

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