Some of the most iconic British cars were first seen having big adventures on the small screen – but had a huge impact on viewers. Here’s our friends at Lancaster Insurance’s Top Ten.
How many car owners acquired their classic after watching TV action/adventure series in their youth? It did not matter that the ‘exotic locations often bore a remarkable resemblance to the Home Counties or the car park of Elstree Studios. It did not matter that the villains tended to use a Jaguar Mk.1 that inevitably flew off a cliff. Nor did it overly matter that back projection often played a significant role in this week’s drama. What mattered was that the theme tune was memorable and that the heroes’ cars made each episode worth fifty minutes of your time.
DANGER MAN AUSTIN MINI COOPER S
Series two of Danger Man boasted a new title sequence and a new choice of transport for John Drake, an Austin Mini Cooper 1071S. 731 HOP belonged to the BMC, which registered it on March 20th 1963. The press book claimed the Cooper S was ‘the sort of car that can get Drake anywhere at high speeds, can get in and out of places where a larger car couldn’t possibly take him and is unostentatious.’ Better still, the Mini was Stage II converted by Taurus Engineering and driven on screen by Phil Wicks, who used HOP in saloon car competitions.
THE SAINT VOLVO P1800
The original plan was for Simon Templar to drive a Mk.X but this idea was thwarted by Jaguar’s refusal to lend their flagship saloon to the production; Roger Moore could not even buy one. Fortunately, a film crew member named Malcolm Christopher saw a handsome Volvo in a London showroom and shortly afterwards, an ex-demonstrator, registration 71 DXC, arrived at Elstree Studios. The first Saint Car was ‘destroyed’ in The Case of the Frightened Inn-Keeper, but in reality, it survived and is now owned by the Volvo enthusiast Kevin Price. And his white P1800 certainly raises eyebrows wherever it goes…
RETURN OF THE SAINT JAGUAR XJS
The Volvo’s replacement was a rather special Jaguar, as PWK 530 R was the 138th XJS and one of only 352 fitted with a manual gearbox. It left Browns Lane on August 22nd 1975, to serve as a British Leyland test vehicle and joined The Return of the Saint on April 15th 1977. In support were two other dealer-sourced Jaguars with automatic transmission on support duty; one with black leather trim mainly used for European locations and the other tan upholstered example employed for British second unit work. The principal XJS now lives in happy retirement somewhere in the UK.
THE AVENGERS LOTUS ELAN
Series four saw significant changes for The Avengers. It was shot on film rather than VTR; there was a new theme tune and, in place of Honor Blackman’s Dr. Cathy Gale, there was Diana Rigg’s Mrs. Emma Peel and her white 1964 Elan. Lotus provided the S2, which one their directors used after filming ended. For series five, the first in colour, there was a 1966 Powder Blue S3. Meanwhile, Patrick Macnee disliked taking the wheel of his own Jaguar S Type, let alone the vintage machinery, and wanted Steed to be issued with a Bentley Continental or a Maserati.
THE PRISONER AUSTIN MINI MOKE
Possibly the world’s most famous Mini Moke. In 1965 Wood & Pickett converted HLT 709 C into a ‘Beach Car’. As the story goes, when they displayed it in the foyer of the Hilton Hotel, it was noticed by a member of Everyman Films, Patrick McGoohan’s production company. The Prisoner used four Mokes, and unlike the other Village Taxis, HLT is powered by the 998cc Cooper engine. However, No. 1 did not believe in fitting heaters or windscreen washers to his fleet. The Moke is one of only two survivors and was recently sold at the NEC for £69,750.
THE PERSUADERS! ASTON MARTIN DBS
What could be groovier than Lord Brett Sinclair piloting a Bahamas Yellow DBS6 disguised as a DBSV8? Roger Moore believed his character would favour an Aston Martin, but production issues meant Newport Pagnell could not provide a larger engine model. Chassis no. DBS/5636/R left the plant in the spring of 1970, and the circus owner Billy Smart loaned The Persuaders! his “BS 1” number plate. Carl Seager, a factory engineer, attended to the DBS6 on set, and when filming concluded, it had already covered 5,000 miles. Brett Sinclair’s former transport now lives in retirement somewhere in this country
THE PROTECTORS JENSEN INTERCEPTOR MK. II
The press book promised, ‘Money is no object. The Protectors are expensive to hire and are called upon not only by private individuals but also by powerful groups.’ The reality was Robert Vaughan complaining of the scripts “I couldn’t understand them when I read them. I couldn’t understand them when I did them. I never understood them when I saw them on air.” At least ‘Harry Rules’ drove a Jensen Interceptor Mk. II and a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow; the latter was the property of the producer Gerry Anderson. Not to mention the famous theme song… “In the avenues and alley-ways.”
THE NEW AVENGERS JAGUAR XJ12C
When The Avengers’ producers Albert Fennell and Brian Clemens revived the series as The New Avengers they wished to feature British products and approached BL. Steed’s Bentley was augmented by a handsome Jaguar XJ12C, registration NWK 60 P, which was initially a factory experimental vehicle. It was then despatched to Broadspeed Engineering, where it received a body kit, and racing wheels with low-profile racing tyres, although the running gear was standard. But alas, the dire reliability of the Leyland fleet allotted to Steed, Purdy and Gambit led to Clements and Fennel planning to use another manufacturer for their next series…
THE PROFESSIONALS FORD CAPRI 3.0S Mk. III
CI5 first used British Leyland cars until Clements and Fennell negotiated a new agreement with Dagenham. A total of eight Capris were employed over five series, and all of them believed to survive. According to The Professionalsexpert Bob Rocca, the Fords were stored at Mark One Productions in Wembley for the duration of each series. Stunt drivers usually replaced Bodie and Doyle; it is rumoured one of the actors wrecked the front suspension when they hit a kerb. And for those who could not afford a Strato Silver Ford Capri 3.0S Mk. III, there was always the Corgi model.
SHOESTRING FORD CORTINA 2000 Estate Mk. III
One of the most fondly remembered BBC Series of the late ‘seventies, Shoestring featured Trevor Eve as a computer expert turned private eye for a local radio station. Unlike many of the programmes in this list, Eddie Shoestring eschewed an expensive car and favoured piloted a Ford Cortina 2000 Estate Mk. III; two are believed to appear on screen. The show is also worth viewing for the Bristol street scenes and its array of incredibly rare vehicles. You are now more likely to encounter a Renault 14, a Bedford HA or a Škoda 100 in the DVD than in real life…
BUGS FORD ESCORT CABRIOLET SI
Brian Clemens hoped the series would be an Avengers for the 1990s with Ed (Craig McLachlan), Ros (Jaye Griffiths) and Beckett (Jesse Birdsall) fighting crime by using ‘high tech gadgetry’. All four seasons are now a fascinating reminder of how remote the ‘nineties now seem; a realm of the Fiat Punto Cabrio 90 and the Ford Escort Cabriolet Si. There were also several versions of the Jeep Cherokee plus various Mini Coopers, Range Rover Vogues, Rover 800s and Vauxhall Senators. Bugs was not quite an updated Steed and Mrs. Peel but the cars and the clothes lend it considerable appeal.
Andrew Evanson, Senior Operations Manager for Lancaster Insurance, said: “These were fantastic cars from some of the most iconic 60s, 70s, 80s & 90s TV series. We work closely with the Volvo Enthusiasts Club so we know Kevin and his P1800 well, we’ve admired it at many events although the Jaguar XJS which replaced it in the series was absolutely stunning. I’m sure that many owners chose their classics based on their childhood favourite TV shows or movies, we just hope that they drive them more carefully and take better care of them than the stars did, as many of these cars met with a sticky end!
Find more info:
If you were interested in this story, how about these?