Pop Culture

This ‘Seinfeld’ Episode Cemented Its Status as a Show for Car Lovers

With the tides of nostalgia changing as they do, there exists a perpetual lust to revisit the good ol’ days – even if they really weren’t all that good to begin with.

My generation has managed to idealize the 1980s and ’90s – an era fraught with conflict, crisis, and questionable taste – and emerged with nothing but fond memories of the Sony Walkman and Surf Style windbreakers. Then there’s the way we look at the automobile of that era, with a vibrant cottage industry of events dedicated to memorializing even the most mundane motor vehicles that weren’t especially adored at the time.

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For those suffering this sick compulsion (I’m not here to throw shade; as the owner of a 1995 Mazda Miata, I’m afflicted, too), there’s no better television show than Seinfeld for those craving a trip down automotive memory lane. Running the gamut from dull to delightful, the show about nothing is the ultimate time capsule of the so-called rad era. And if there’s one episode in particular that sums it all up perfectly it’s season three’s “The Parking Garage.”

While Jerry Seinfeld is a renowned car nut, and a Porschephile in particular, this 1991 episode is packed with proof that automotive enthusiasm extended well beyond the show’s namesake. Rather than making do with whatever random cars were available – although it seems there were plenty of those, too – “The Parking Garage” presents as an expertly curated cross-section of some genuine coolness that makes it must-watch TV all these years later.

The Plot

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The schtick was simple. The setup wasn’t.

Staged at an unnamed New Jersey shopping mall, the gang is heading home after an apparent attempt to track down cheap air conditioners (as it turns out, only Kramer manages to buy one). Soon after entering the parking garage, they realize that none of them remembers where Kramer’s car is parked. Monotonous hilarity ensues.

However, these were the early days of Seinfeld, before critical acclaim and big budgets had entered the picture. Shooting on location somewhere – anywhere – simply wasn’t an option, so the production team got creative. They cleared the traditional sets from the soundstage on which the show was filmed (Jerry’s apartment and the coffee shop, as well as the bleachers for the live studio audience) and turned it into a makeshift parking garage.

It was the second time in as many seasons that Seinfeld produced a so-called bottle episode, wherein the entire show takes place in a single location; the other was “The Chinese Restaurant.” Mirrors were used to make the set look larger than it was, with the gang wandering around aimlessly for the better part of its 22-minute runtime looking for Kramer’s Ford LTD (interestingly, it’s the only appearance of that particular car, with the K-Man moving on to an older Chevrolet Impala in later episodes).

The Cars

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Where the vehicles used in the episode were sourced is unclear; they could’ve just as easily belonged to the show’s staff as they could have been from a rental company specializing in such props. What’s undisputable, however, is just how spectacular the selection of cars, trucks, and SUVs is throughout the entire episode.

The very first scene sets the stage, with the gang emerging from a staircase to reveal a scintillating sampling of the day: a Subaru SVX parked next to what appears to be a Ford Pinto Runabout, while a first-gen Ford Escort cuts across frame and an E30 BMW 3 Series two-door backs out of a space between a Mk1 Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet and what later turns out to be a Geo Metro convertible. It’s a collection that’s as bizarre as it is beautiful.

From there, the camera picks up bits and pieces of more strange and stunning automobiles: a GMC Syclone, the desirable performance pickup that used a turbocharged V6 to sprint to 100 km/h in about 4.5 seconds, which was incredibly quick for the day; a first-generation Subaru Legacy sedan; a Geo Storm; another Geo Metro convertible (seriously); a two-door Geo Tracker. (OK, there was something strange going on with all the Geos.)

There’s a Volvo 940 sedan, a Mazda B Series pickup, a Honda CRX – there’s even what looks to be a Pontiac Firebird Trans Am, plus a pair of Honda sport bikes. Hindsight being what it is, all of these are looked back on more fondly than they were at the time, which is surely some kind of statement about nostalgia.

A Mercedes-Benz SL-Class of the R129 vintage makes an appearance, too, as does a Ford Mustang GT convertible and a Honda Accord coupe. And the list goes on and on. Continuity issues abound throughout the episode, as the cars mysteriously reappear in different spots, but none of it’s egregious enough to take away from the excitement that comes with spotting these now-classic rides.

The End

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Finally, after all their hijinks, Jerry, Elaine, and George find it – the elusive LTD, parked next to a Merkur XR4Ti. Except there’s one problem: no Kramer. And so they wait around the dust-covered car until their hipster doofus friend shows up, air conditioner in hand, looks of exhaustion and defeat written across their faces.

With the oversized air conditioner somehow stuffed in the trunk, the ensemble climbs inside the sedan for the drive back to the city. Except as Kramer turns the key in the ignition, the car refuses to start. Despite how perfectly it plays into the storyline, this wasn’t the intended outcome. If you watch carefully, you can see Jason Alexander, who plays George, begins to break character just before the camera cuts to a wide shot.

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As both a microcosm of the era and of Seinfeld itself, “The Parking Garage” is perfect. The Larry David-written episode sums up what made the show so spectacular, while simultaneously showcasing the great (and not-so-great) automobiles we look back on so wistfully all these years later. For all the nothing, that strikes me as a whole lot of something.