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One of the many attractions of the Leslie Charteris The Saint books was the Hirondel, the fictional vehicle used by hero Simon Templar in his battles against crime: ‘He was on his way; and if the rest of the population objected to the manner of his going, they could do one of two things with their objections.’
Films and television opted for more orthodox machinery in their various on-screen adaptations, but which of these is the ultimate ‘Saint car’?
First was the Volvo P1800. In 1962 there was much speculation as to what Templar might pilot in Robert Baker and Monty Berman’s television series.
Charteris wrote: ‘For the Saint drove with the devil at his shoulder, and the Hirondel took its mood from his,’ but to create a mocked-up Hirondel was obviously beyond the resources of New World Production.
It was probably for the best, because Elstree Studios would likely have constructed an elaborately decorated Sunbeam Rapier SIIIA Convertible.
Instead, Baker and Berman intended Templar to use a Jaguar MkX, but Browns Lane refused to sell them its flagship saloon, let alone issue a press car.
However, a member of the film crew named Malcolm Christopher saw a Volvo in a London showroom and shortly afterwards an ex-demonstrator, registration 71 DXC, arrived at the studios.
The P1800 had taken its bow at the 1960 Brussels motor show, and an Autocar test stated it was: ‘Out of the ordinary in being completely free from any vice.’ Wholly appropriate for saintly transport.
Volvo’s UK arm commenced selling cars in 1958, and Jensen initially built the P1800 in West Bromwich.
Production of right-hand-drive models began in March 1962. Meanwhile the first episode of The Saint, The Talented Husband, aired on 4 October.
For an idea of just how exotic ‘ST 1’ would have appeared to the average Briton, take a look at 1960s newsreels, their streets populated by rusting Standard Vanguards.
In contrast, a svelte-looking coupé represented the good life for countless ITC viewers. Such was the P1800’s fame that it became the basis for Corgi’s first TV spin-off model.
In 1963 Volvo provided The Saint with a Swedish-built P1800, 77 GYL, while villains destroyed the original vehicle in The Case of the Frightened Inn-Keeper.
The show subsequently employed other press cars and the 1800 series became as essential a programme ingredient as the ‘ITC White Jaguar of Doom’ and the regular supporting cast.
No episode would be complete without a Volvo, plus Ivor Dean scowling and Burt Kwouk, Paul Stassino, Roger Delgado, George Pastell or John Carson looking fiendish.
The Saint ended its run on 9 February 1969, and 22 years later Kevin Price was approached by a gentleman in north Wales who claimed to own one of the principal Volvos.
Upon further investigation, this P1800 turned out to be 71 DXC and Price finally bought the car in 1997.
After another 10 years he eventually accumulated all the necessary parts for its restoration, and in 2012 the Volvo was unveiled at the Classic Motor Show, where it caused a sensation.
The P1800’s impact at the NEC was akin to that of The Sweeney Ford Consul GT in 2019; the return of a car that defined so many childhoods.
Baker devised a sequel in 1985, provisionally entitled Son of the Saint, which eventually developed into a new Templar series featuring Ian Ogilvy.
This time Jaguar was keen to help, not least because a stellar XJ-S could only boost its profile and that of British Leyland.
The star car was a 1975 manual-gearbox model, the 138th example to leave the factory and a former Longbridge test vehicle.
The white XJ-S was registered as PWK 530R and, because the series was due to air on 10 September 1978, Jaguar altered its appearance to match the latest versions.
Browns Lane also fitted the latest ‘ST 1’ with an electric sunroof plus a radio-telephone, as befitting a car driven by the dashing knight errant.
Templar would surely have agreed with Autocar that the Jaguar was a joy to drive: ‘In its combination of performance with docility, it is unapproached.’
The producers employed two dealer-sourced back-ups: one for the British and French episodes, and one for the Italian stories.
The Jaguar proved just as suited to the role as Ogilvy, but Return of the Saint entered production in the twilight of ITC’s international man of mystery genre.
Some of the stories were decidedly sub-par – One Black Wednesday, with Stephen Greif and his gang of heavies in a well-used Ford Zodiac MkIV was especially hilarious.
Nor was the XJ-S entirely trouble-free, and Ogilvy recalled: “It often had to be pushed on to the set because it was forever breaking down.”
After filming had concluded, the car seemed to vanish. However, it was rediscovered in 1993 and is now alive and well.
‘Our’ Jaguar is a 26,000-mile 1979 example that Charles Porter acquired mainly as a result of his appreciation for Return of the Saint.
The first episode of the series, The Judas Game, made quite an impression on the 14-year-old Porter: “I bought the Corgi model and the 1979 annual!”
His devotion to British ‘action TV’ of the 1970s has also resulted in a Joanna Lumley New Avengers-style Triumph TR7 joining the fleet, and he bought another diecast XJ-S plus its full-sized counterpart seven years ago, accurately describing its condition as: “Unrestored and fresh out of the box.”
Better still, the Jaguar more than lives up to his Saint fantasies. Browns Lane equipped post-1977 automatic versions with a GM400 transmission rather than the older Borg-Warner Model 12: “It is definitely more refined,” Porter says. “As an American ’box, it is far better suited to powerful cars.”
For a long time, as Porter observes, many enthusiasts frequently misjudged the XJ-S as an E-type replacement – a role for which the Jaguar was never intended.
“It is a proper grand tourer,” he says, “so quiet and elegant. If you read magazine group tests of the period, the XJ-S always comes out on top against the likes of the Aston Martin DBS and the BMW 633CSi.”
Alas, he has not yet played a cassette of the John Scott Return theme while driving, primarily through fear of resembling Alan Partridge.
The third on-screen incarnation of The Saint arrived in the late 1980s, in the form of six two-hour television films made by DL Taffner Ltd.
To portray Templar, Simon Dutton was selected from 250 actors – and met with the approval of Charteris – while the budget allowed for extensive overseas filming.
There was also an über-naff theme tune, any number of very 1980s hairstyles, and a 1975 Jensen Interceptor III that Dr Shan Chetiyawardana now owns.
During pre-production, the filmmakers decided on a British grand tourer, with a shortlist including Aston Martin, Bristol and Jensen.
The XJ-S was ruled out because Inspector Morse by then already featured a Jaguar.
However, as Chetiyawardana notes: “Aston Martin was not interested, and Bristol couldn’t provide a car within the timeframe, especially in the Brienz Blue colour the producers preferred.”
Fortunately, when the owner of OND 954P took the Interceptor to the West Bromwich factory for a routine service, Jensen’s Bruce Collard made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.
Albeit not in the manner of a typical Saint heavy.
The firm upgraded OND to Series IV specification, as per the production company’s requirements, and, as with the previous ‘ST1’, the Interceptor gained an electric sunroof and a telephone. Such modifications cost Saint Productions Ltd £4423.
For overseas filming, the car was driven to France and Germany by the company’s John Page, who stayed with the Interceptor for the project’s duration.
Unfortunately, The Saint did not prove especially popular in its intended US market, and UK viewers largely ignored London Weekend Television’s screenings in 1989.
At around that time Chetiyawardana lived near the Jensen works and, as a devotee of the marque, sought an Interceptor.
On visiting the factory he was informed by Peter Thomas, then a company director, that Jensen would be restoring the car when it returned from filming.
Post-The Saint, OND was resprayed and rechromed, fitted with new power steering and alternator, and the cabin was re-Connollised.
Chetiyawardana acquired it on 2 March 1990 and Simon Dutton autographed a copy of the registration document.
The Interceptor has since been awarded several prizes at the Jensen Owners’ Club National Concours, and is a truly splendid machine.
Indeed, the Chetiyawardana Interceptor is ideally suited to any future small screen interpretations of Templar’s escapades.
Finally, we have a car from the 1990s, that now remote era.
When Paramount initiated plans for a version of The Saint, Val Kilmer’s Simon Templar would once again drive a Volvo – this time a C70 finished in Garnet Red.
Based on the 850, with a considerable amount of development work by Tom Walkinshaw Racing, the model used the film as an essential advertising tool.
Variety noted: ‘Paramount and Volvo’s cross-promotional efforts will include national and local TV spots and print ads, as well as promotions at auto shows, in-dealer displays and a website’.
The C70 made its debut on 30 September 1996 at the Paris Salon, and British sales commenced the following June.
The Saint opened that April, but one underwhelmed cinemagoer was Volvo enthusiast Andrew Howard.
He had been fascinated by the new coupé ever since he noticed spy photos in a motoring magazine in 1995: “It was just rear three-quarter shots, and my jaw dropped.”
Alas, the Phillip Noyce-directed picture contained: “Too little Volvo and too much of Val Kilmer. He was not the Charteris character.”
The film virtually vanished from public consciousness, even if some unkind sorts nominated its leading man for a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Actor.
Fortunately, this did not deter Howard from buying a C70 T5 coupé with a manual gearbox some eight years later.
“It is a 2002, last-of-the-line model,” he says, “built four or five months before production ceased. It is mechanically identical to the specification of the car in the film.”
“It is very solid and sure to drive, better built than the 850 because Volvo thoroughly re-engineered the C70 to create a proper GT,” he continues.
“The styling is the ultimate icing on the cake; I find it reminiscent of Lancia and Alfa Romeo coupés of the 1950s and ’60s.
“You can see that a great deal of time and effort went into creating a beautiful and beautifully detailed shape. Today the C70 is coming into its own as a classic.”
Ultimately, choosing the finest screen transport for The Saint has to be subjective, based on the programme or film that most impacted your younger self.
To pick the P1800 is partially because it is one of the few cars to merit the term ‘television icon’.
It didn’t matter that many sets appeared to be made from balsa wood or that ‘Paris’ bore a quite remarkable similarity to Hertfordshire when the P1800 was evading a back-projected Vauxhall Cresta travelling at approximately 250mph.
The other reason for selecting the earlier Volvo is that it was the perfect choice of transport for one of Britain’s most likeable stars.
Roger Moore’s talents were often underrated, not least by himself, but his interpretation of Templar was wholly his own.
Fittingly, his final screen credit was a cameo in the 2017 made-for-TV revival and he was arguably better suited to The Saint’s wit than the safari-suited excesses of 007.
As if to prove it, the two-part The Fiction-Makers has all the ingredients for fine television: Justine Lord, Sylvia Syms, Kenneth J Warren chewing the scenery and Sir Roger at the wheel of his Volvo.
Cue the Edwin Astley theme tune.
Images: Olgun Kordal
Thanks to Kevin Price; Mike Smith; The Classic Motor Hub
- Sold/no built 1975-’80/14,800
- Construction steel monocoque
- Engine all-alloy, sohc-per-bank 5343cc V12, Lucas fuel injection
- Max power 285bhp @ 5800rpm
- Max torque 294Ib ft @ 3500rpm
- Transmission four-speed manual or three-speed auto, RWD
- Suspension independent, at front by semi-trailing wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers rear lower wishbones with driveshafts as upper links, radius arms, twin coilovers per side; anti-roll bar f/r
- Steering power-assisted rack and pinion
- Brakes discs, with servo
- Length 16ft (4872mm)
- Width 5ft 11in (1791mm)
- Height 4ft 2in (1265mm)
- Wheelbase 8ft 6in (2591mm)
- Weight 3763lb (1707kg)
- 0-60mph 7.5 secs
- Top speed 145mph
- Mpg 13
- Price new £14,472
- Price now £5-18,000*
- Sold/no built 1961-’73/39,414
- Construction steel monocoque
- Engine all-iron, ohv 1778cc ‘four’, twin SU carbs
- Max power 100bhp @ 5500rpm
- Max torque 108lb ft @ 4000rpm
- Transmission four-speed manual, optional overdrive, RWD
- Suspension: front independent, by double wishbones, anti-roll bar rear live axle, torque arms, Panhard rod; coil springs, telescopic dampers f/r
- Steering cam and roller
- Brakes discs front, drums rear
- Length 14ft 5½in (4407mm)
- Width 5ft 7in (1702mm)
- Height 4ft 3in (1295mm)
- Wheelbase 8ft (2450mm)
- Weight 2464lb (1118kg)
- 0-60mph 13.2 secs
- Top speed 104mph
- Mpg 24
- Price new £1836
- Price now £10-25,000*
Jensen Interceptor III
- Sold/no built 1971-’76/3419
- Construction steel tubular chassis, steel body
- Engine all-iron, ohv 7212cc 90º V8, with Carter four-barrel carburettor
- Max power 284bhp @ 4800rpm
- Max torque 383Ib ft @ 3200rpm
- Transmission Chrysler Torqueflite three-speed auto, RWD
- Suspension: front independent, by double wishbones, coil springs, anti-roll bar rear live axle, semi-elliptic springs, Panhard rod; telescopics f/r
- Steering power-assisted rack and pinion
- Brakes vented discs, with servo
- Length 15ft 8in (4775mm)
- Width 5ft 10in (1778mm)
- Height 4ft 5¼in (1353mm)
- Wheelbase 8ft 9in (2667mm)
- Weight 3931lb (1783kg)
- 0-60mph 6.4 secs
- Top speed 140mph
- Mpg 10-14
- Price new £6981 (1973)
- Price now £15-60,000+*
Volvo C70 2.3 T5 GT
- Sold/no built 1996-2005/70,031
- Construction steel monocoque
- Engine all-alloy, dohc 2319cc ‘five’, with turbo and Bosch Motronic fuel injection
- Max power 237bhp @ 5100rpm
- Max torque 243Ib ft @ 2700-5100rpm
- Transmission five-speed manual, FWD
- Suspension: front independent, by MacPherson struts rear beam axle, trailing arms, coil springs, telescopic dampers; anti-roll bar f/r
- Steering power-assisted rack and pinion
- Brakes discs, with servo and anti-lock
- Length 15ft 6in (4720mm)
- Width 5ft 11½in (1820mm)
- Height 4ft 7½in (1410mm)
- Wheelbase 8ft 6in (2600mm)
- Weight 3203lb (1453kg)
- 0-60mph 6.7 secs
- Top speed 155mph
- Mpg 26
- Price new £30,540
- Price now £1-5000*
*Prices correct at date of original publication
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