The Saint Volvo: 60th Anniversary TributeOctober 4, 2022
By Film Historian Andrew Roberts MA PhD FRSA
It is 8 pm Thursday the 4th of October 1962, and scheduled between Legends of the West and the news, is ITC’s adaptation of The Saint. When the end credits of The Talented Husband finally rolled, many ITV viewers had arrived at two conclusions… Firstly, Roger Moore was equal, or even superior to, Louis Hayward, George Sanders, and Hugh Sinclair, who all portrayed Simon Templar in films. Secondly, what type of car was that magnificent Grand Tourer, registration “ST 1”??
This confusion regarding The Saint‘s transport was understandable, as Volvos were not a particularly common sight sixty years ago in the UK. Their official UK sales commenced in 1958 when the Amazon-series saloon appeared at the London Motor Show. Over the next few years, the marque chiefly appealed to affluent motorists who sought an alternative to a Humber Hawk. The P1800 coupe debuted at the 1960 Brussels Motor Show, with a RHD version available by March 1962. It cost as much as a trio of Ford Anglia 105Es and Autocar thought it ‘out of the ordinary in being completely free from any vice’.
The World Beater, the last of 118 editions, aired on the 9th of February 1969. By then, viewers across the world instantly associated the P1800 with The Saint. In 1964 Moore told The Daily Herald, “Its performance matches its looks. Road holding is excellent. It corners beautifully and I can drive it in comfort on wet and icy roads”. White was now the most popular colour choice for the P1800 due to the impact of its television fame. Corgi chose the Volvo for their first TV/film spin-off model the following year, predating their James Bond Aston Martin by several months. By the end of 1965, the company had sold 312,000 examples.
Yet, Robert S “Bob” Baker and Monty Berman did not initially approach Volvo when they acquired the rights to Leslie Charteris’s Saint novels. Templar drove the fictitious “Hirondel” in the books, and the producers decided on a Jaguar for the television stories. In 1967, a spokesman for ATV informed The Sunday Mirror the E-Type was the original car of choice, but the producers ruled it out due to extensive delivery times. However, the Jaguar in question appears to have been the Mk. X and their flagship saloon caused a sensation on its debut in 1961. It was vast but with road manners that belied its bulk.
Equally notably, the Mk. X was capable of 120 mph and had plenty of space for villains/acolytes/a camera crew on the back seat. That distinctive front grille would look undeniably menacing when glimpsed in a wrongdoer’s rear-view mirror, and a large saloon would have been more practical than the E-Type. The latter’s high sills would have made for difficulty if our hero needed to make a dramatic exit. In the event, Baker and Moore’s plans to use the Jaguar both in filming and offscreen came to nothing. The company refused the loan of any press-fleet car and not even offers to purchase the Mk. X could put their names at the top of a long waiting list.
When Moore later reflected on Jaguar’s attitude, he observed “They had so many orders that they didn’t need publicity. I’d say they dropped a clanger there. In America car firms fall over themselves to give cars to studios”. The stubbornness of Browns Lane meant the production team approached other manufacturers. At one point, a Mercedes-Benz seemed a plausible option, but the concessionaire could not guarantee continuity – essential to a long-running television series. Fortunately, a crew member named Malcolm Christopher saw a very handsome coupe in the London showroom and learned it was a Swedish car called a Volvo. He told the production supervisor, Johnny Goodman, about this promising-looking car, who in turn urged Moore to pay a visit to the importer’s Mayfair offices.
After negotiations, Volvo sold a newly registered demonstrator at a reduced price to New World Productions. As with all early P1800s, 71 DXC actually hailed from West Bromwich as the company subcontracted the work to Jensen Motors due to their lack of factory space. Chassis No. 3018 left the plant on the 23rd of March 1962 and arrived at Elstree within four days of the agreement, together with a mock-up interior for the studio sequences. As for the ST 1 number plate, it was borrowed from the Chief Constable of Stirlingshire.
Templar used 71 DXC on the screen until The Miracle Tea Party of the 8th of October 1964, when he began driving a “Pearl White” P1800S, with the actual registration of 77 GYL. The “S” suffix denoted a Swedish-built model; in 1963, Volvo decided to transfer production to Gothenburg following complaints about quality issues. However, the show disguised the new P1800 as the earlier Jensen-built version until 1965’s The Frightened Inn-Keeper, when a gang of fiends led by Percy Herbert, planted a bomb in 71 DXC’s engine bay. The hoods’ getaway vehicle was a Vauxhall Victor FB, so jealousy was probably their prime motive.
The story concluded with Simon taking delivery of a “new” car – i.e., 77 GYL now sans disguise. With A Double in Diamonds from the 5th of May 1967, the latest ST 1 was a facelifted model, with alloy wheels for that touch of Carnaby Street dash. An additional fan helped cool the interior during filming, while a more powerful 115 bhp engine proved invaluable when evading a back-projected Ford Zodiac Mk. IV travelling at 250 mph. Devotees of The Saint also came to expect an overdubbed enhanced exhaust note to accompany Simon Templar’s latest adventure.
Volvo provided two cars, NUV 647 E and NUV 648 E, the former primarily for the star’s personal use. The P1800S joined Moore’s fleet in early 1967, and two years later, he sold it to Martin Benson, that splendidly menacing ITC actor who specialised in plotting a coup d’état in Somewhere Foreign. Meanwhile, 71 DXC appeared to make a surprise comeback in the highly entertaining two-parter The Fiction Makers.
Twenty-two years after the final edition of The Saint, a design engineer named Kevin Price was approached by a gentleman in North Wales who claimed to own one of the cars from the series. He discovered that the white P1800 was indeed 71 DXC, although by 1991, it was definitely in need of care and attention.
Three years later, this writer had the privilege of riding in the original Saint Volvo when it made a triumphant return to Elstree Studios. Even now, it is difficult to convey the sheer joy of travelling in a car that was an essential part of my childhood, and I hoped we might have to dramatically crash through a “border crossing” made from cardboard. In the event, we decided the Shenley Road was somewhat less perilous, but all the while I still kept a lookout for Inspector Teal’s Wolseley 6/110. Worse, a Mercedes-Benz 190 “Fintail” containing Paul Stassino, Vladek Sheybal, John Carson, and George Pastel, with Burt Kwouk behind the wheel, might be lurking behind Tesco.
Of course, The Saint was not the first ITC series associated with fine motor-cars. John Drake piloted an Aston Martin DB Mk. III in the first episode of Danger Man and an Austin-Healey 100/6 was the vehicle of choice for the Invisible Man. Yet, the combination of the Volvo with Roger Moore remains one of the finest in the history of television, and the P1800 was as essential to the show as Edwin Astley’s theme tune and the opening “halo” sequence.
If one had to select a favourite episode, it would have to be The Power Artists. It has the Volvo, Roger Moore, and Ivor Dean at his finest and even makes a bold (if misguided) attempt to engage with “Youth Culture”. Who could possibly demand more from a television show?
With Thanks To Kevin Price and Mike S
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