4-Car Top 10 TV Cars

Glamorous and interesting cars have always added to the pace, action and the sense of location of TV as well as being a succinct way of communicating the personality of the character driving the cars on screen. Nobody understood this better than ITC. This company, headed by the late Lord Grade, produced easily the most memorable action series of the sixties and seventies. It is best known for The Saint – featuring Roger Moore and the white Volvo P1800 – but ITC created an endless stream of one-hour programmes that cashed-in on the public taste for international intrigue, espionage and glamorous locations in the wake of the James Bond phenomena. Under the guidance of the shrewd, Montecristo puffing Lew Grade – surely the ultimate post-war showbiz impresario – the company was hugely successful: so much so that by the early 70’s their were only two countries in the world that were not running ITC programmes. The shows were often made on a tight budget because much of the money was spent paying the stars: Patrick McGoohan was the highest-paid man on television in the sixties.
Lots of stock footage was used: one particular scene showing a white MkI Jaguar careering off a cliff was used several times over in different series from the The Saint to Randall and Hopkirk Deceased. Despite the glamorous international feel of the shows scenes were rarely shot on location. The Pinewood back-lot stood in for everywhere you could imagine and like many of the bit part actors the same cars popped up again and again in different shows. Such evidence of penny pinching is now all part of the genre’s charm for the true connoisseur.
So settle back for our tribute to the motorised co-stars that still inhabit the collective imagination of a whole generation brought up on sixties and seventies television.

1. The Saint: Volvo P1800
Legend has it that Jaguar turned ITC down when they asked for a white E-Type to use its new one-hour Series – Browns Lane didn’t need the publicity – so Grade turned to Volvo who were eager to supply a P1800. The raffish Swede blended perfectly with Moore’s stylishly cut suites and well-groomed looks and the car became one of the symbols of the series: if you were a kid at the time you probably had the Corgi model. Moore liked the car – which at that stage was being produced in the UK by Jensen – so much that he bought one for his own use. The on-screen numberplate – ST1 – was a fake incidentally. The car featured in most of the episodes although Moore occasionally drove more exotic cars when the script demanded it.

2. Thunderbirds: FAB 1
Thunderbirds was the most memorable of the Gerry Anderson puppet series that he produced for ITC. The Thunderbirds were the futuristic craft used by International Rescue, a secret organisation headed by former astronaut Geoff Tracey on a secret Island base. Lady Penelope was Geoff’s London agent who used a pink, nuclear powered six wheeled Rolls Royce (for once Rolls Royce were in full agreement with the use of their trademark) registered FAB 1. The car driven with great skill by her Chauffeur Parker (‘ yuss me Lady’) who was able to deploy a vast armoury of weapons which included missiles and machine guns. If need be FAB 1 was able to water ski too. Fabulously styled FAB 1 became a hugely successful Dinky model and is one of the symbols of a sixties and early seventies childhood. One full size version was built in glassfibre but, sadly, was not nuclear powered: it was based on a six wheeler Bedford coach.

3. The Prisoner: Lotus Super Seven
The green and yellow Lotus Seven featured extensively in the opening credits of the Prisoner, the cult series devised by former Danger Man star Patrick McGoohan. The Prisoner was definitely a cut-above the normal cops and robbers ITC fare, telling the story of a former government agent who is kept imprisoned in a secret village on an Island because he won’t tell the authorities why he resigned. He refuses to conform to the rules of the ‘community’ and each episode plays out the battle of wits between McGoohan (the actor who turned-down the chance to play James Bond three times) and his captors. An E-Type, an Elan and a Lotus Cortina star in various episodes but the only other really memorable vehicles are the white Mini Mokes that the villagers use as taxi’s.

4. The Baron: Jensen CV8
The Baron, John Mannering, was an international crime fighter in the world of fine art and antiques. A Texan living in London he drove a light brown Jensen CV8 – registered BAR 1 – which featured extensively in the opening credits and in many of the 30 fifty minute colour episodes that were screened in 1966 and 67.The car was particularly swish in featuring a radio telephone.  Star of the show was the red haired American actor Steve Forrest (who in the seventies turned up in the American series SWAT) with Sue Lloyd as his side kick, fresh from The Icpress File and yet to feature in Cross Roads. She occasionally drove an MG 1100 or a Daf.

5. Man in a Suitcase: Hillman Imp
American actor Richard Bradford played McGill (we never knew his first name) in this 1967 series about a wrongly discredited CIA man turned bounty hunter willing to take on any job that paid him $500 a day plus expenses. His work took him around Britain and Europe and even as far as Africa with a battered leather suitcase as his only friend. The hunched Bradford was only 30 at time but his grey quiff made him much look older. He looked an incongruous figure in the light green Hillman Imp that was his regular transport, although he sometimes used a MkIII Zephyr. With an eternal roll-up in the side of his mouth he got beat-up most weeks and was never able to form relationships with his female co-stars because the script demanded that he moved on in the quest to clear his name. Laterly Bradford popped-up as Cagney’s father in Cagney and Lacey and seems to specialise these days in fat, corrupt Irish-American cops.

6. The Persuaders: Aston DBS and Ferrari Dino
The Persuaders featured Roger Moore and Tony Curtis as playboy crime fighters Lord Brett Sinclair and American entrepreneur Danny Wilde. Brett Sinclair drove an Aston (which appeared to be a V8 but was actually a straight six on V8 alloys) with the false registration number BS 1. Danny Wild used a red, left hand drive Ferrari 206 Dino which was, apparently, horrendously unreliable. The cars were intrinsic to the glamorous international appeal of the show (the opening episode features an exciting race between the two cars on Riviera roads) which would have gone down a storm in the states if it hadn’t clashed with Mission Impossible. Each episode cost £100,000 to make and looked rather more lavish than was usual with ITC – there was some attempt to shoot on location rather than the Pinewood back lot, at least in the initial episodes. This slipped later. In a scene that is supposed to be a French motorway you can see, if you look closely, that the film has simply been flipped: the number plates on all the cars are back-to-front!

7. Department S: Lancia Fulvia Coupe
Department S was an Interpol branch that specialised in unsolvable crimes, headed by the wonderfully effete Jason King (see below). Among his glamorous young operatives was Annabel Hurst – played by Rosemary Nichols – who drove a white Lancia Fulvia Coupe. This car, registered UBY 96F – featured in several other ITC series. Her colleague Stewart Sullivan – played by Joel Fabiani – drove a Series II E-Type roadster. 28 colour episodes were produced between 1969 and 1970 to the usual formula of supposed exotic locations, glamorised violence and implausible plots.

8. Jason King: Bentley Continental
This was a follow-on series for Peter Wyngarde, the Australian actor who played the hunky, spunky Jason King. King was a thriller writer who solved crimes as if he was writing the plot of one of his books. As usual the scripts took the character all over the world but when the action moved to swinging London King would be seen swishing around in his Bentley Continental. With his flamboyant clothes and trendy moustache Wyngarde was quite a heartthrob yet cut such a slender, effete figure that the fight scenes always seemed rather unlikely. Jason King wasn’t the success Department S had been and in anycase Wyngarde’s career was cut short by an incident in a gentleman’s lavatory. The character was parodied by The Comic Strip in the late eighties as ‘Jason Bentley’.

9. Joe 90
This was another Gerry Anderson puppet series produced in 1968. Joe 90 was a small boy who was provided with amazing powers when he wore a pair of special glasses developed by his scientist father. With the help of ‘Uncle Sam’ Joe helped protect to world from aggressors when he went out on secret missions in his amazing jet powered car. Although the puppetry was more sophisticated than it had been on Thunderbirds Joe 90 never captured kids imaginations in the same way but Joes car – which was a successful Dinky model – was certainly dramatic and was seen to fly rather more often than it drove on land. Uncle sams car was a rather swish two door coupe with a hooped bootlid spoiler.

10. Return of the Saint
Return of the Saint, made in 1978 and starring the rather less imposing Ian Ogilvy as the perfectly coiffeur crime-fighter, featured a white 4-speed manual V12 XJ-S as Simon Templer’s wheels. Jaguar jumped at the chance this time round and the car featured prominently in the opening titles of the show or parked outside Templer’s London mews house. A second attempt to revive the character in the late eighties featured a Jensen Interceptor but neither had the charm of the original sixties series. What became of Ian Ogilvy?

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