James Garner starred in the hit 1966 auto racing film "Grand Prix." (Photo: MGM)

starred in the hit 1966 auto racing film “Grand Prix.” (Photo: MGM)

Hollywood lost one of its truly great actors Saturday with the passing of James Garner at age 86.

Perhaps the best description of Garner came from the New York Times, where it was written, “He was most at home as an iconoclast, a flawed or unlikely hero.”

Indeed.

But Garner was also a serious car guy.

Garner starred in the breakthrough 1966 auto racing film “Grand Prix,” where he portrayed fictional driver Pete Aron. The film won three Oscars for technical excellence, produced groundbreaking on-track race shots that dazzled movie goers and set a new standard for movies of this genre. And “Grand Prix” showed that Garner actually was good behind the wheel.

Garner drove the Indianapolis 500 pace car on three separate occasions. (Photo: Photo Archives)

Garner drove the Indianapolis 500 pace car on three separate occasions. (Photo: Photo Archives)

Later on, Garner drove the pace car at the Indianapolis 500 in 1975, ’77 and ’85.

“He enjoyed being the pace car driver,” Tony George, the former president and CEO of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, told indystar.com. “Obviously, he loved motor sports, and he made movies about motor sports. His passion led him to do some competitive driving. He certainly was one of the more notable fans of our sport.”

In the late 1960s and early ’70s, Garner raced off-road in the deserts in the Southwest and in Mexico, driving – of all things – a highly modified Oldsmobile 442 muscle car.

And, of course, no discussion of James Garner and his love of would be complete without referencing the beloved Pontiac Firebirds he drove when he starred as a slightly-off-kilter private eye in the hit 1970s TV show, “The Rockford Files.”

RIP, James Garner. You will be missed.

James Garner drives a Pontiac Firebird in the TV show "The Rockford Files." (Photo: MGM)

James Garner drives a Pontiac Firebird in the TV show “The Rockford Files.” (Photo: MGM)

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