Andrew Miles is watching the detectives.
Watching television was once a simple act. As youngsters, the choice was scant, yet memory suggests programs containing both interest and drama. With modern day 24 hour, on-demand supply, choices of what and when to be entertained with often raise anomalies when one is forced to observe a production that might not be one’s first choice.
Attempting to pay attention to the main subject often finds your correspondent’s attention drifting, as there’s usually something more interesting occurring in the background. Was that a sage green Vectra – surely that can’t be a Renault Talisman? A one off view of a Chrysler Le Baron convertible duly noted.
The Eurocentric TV drama, The Missing (2014), had, towards the end of episode one, a huge American wagon honing into view. Fully awake and interested, but at what am I looking? Turning internet detective procured the answer: a Chevrolet Caprice Wagon. Hmmm.
The Caprice, languishing in the background for the remainder of the series rather sadly, is almost as enigmatic as the character Julién Baptiste (played by Turkish born, French actor Tchéky Karyo *) who drives this General Motor. A wise, influential yet humane French policeman of some forty years service, the show’s writers and researchers clearly thought this seasoned character deserved a suitably eclectic ride.
Baptiste does raise the rev counter briefly in a short but high speed car chase, him piloting a green Renault Laguna saloon in pursuit of a black BMW E39, before crashing into a silver Mondeo Estate – (the Caprice parked safely away at home or the station, presumably). Baptiste is ok, the Laguna needing a repair shop and fresh fluids. The Mondeo? Had it.
Full marks must be given to crew members who sourced the Caprice when any of Europe’s touring versions would be easier to purloin. I was rather taken by the wagon and previously knew nothing of this formica-clad wonder from 1981. The car is hardly a looker in reasonable company but for reasons other than size alone stood out – it’s different. In the modern-day European milieu of jelly-moulded metal, the Caprice cuts quite the dash.
Garish being just one descriptor when pointed in the direction of that faux-veneer. The front engenders plain, yet heavy adjectives along with the set square rectangular additions for the lights, paired with our old friend the egg crate grille. But our eyes then reach towards the rear and we can discern what appears to be a rear three quarter section from perhaps the truck-end of Louis’ range of vehicles. Lengthy is the side view without doubt – five and half metres.
This section of the car demands closer scrutiny, for the impression it gives is that of something welded on from another vehicle. Is this the fault of the wider chrome surround? Do the roof bars add visual or literal weight to the rear end? Is that roof section higher than the rest of the car? All three questions answered in the affirmative but also with a puzzling ‘rightness’ to proceedings. Remarkably this vehicle has in fact been put on a diet, aluminium use shaving off many pounds of excess fat seen in previous incarnations.
Knowing full well some of our readership will have forgotten more about this vehicle than I shall ever glean, research into this extensive American staple found the Caprice to have enjoyed an enduring and interesting life span. Hailing from 1966, the wood being appliqué vinyl. The car’s name is taken from either a restaurant in New York that Bob Lund frequented or the daughter of an Indy Car official, depending on who you ask. Aimed squarely at the upper end of the mid-market with more fake wood inside, thicker carpets along with an altogether more upscale ambiance.
283 cubic inches (4.6litres) was the standard fit V8 but an upgrade to the exemplary sounding Turbo-Jet V8, creating some 325bhp was offered for a time. Monsieur Baptiste’s would have a V8 fitted, not that the programme ever allows us to hear the mill, nor sees the officer under the hood or even checking the oil – (where’s the drama in that)? With a stonking great 226 cubic inches (4.7 litres) the engine shoved out a paltry 115 bhp – skins off a rice pudding, anyone?
More decorous to be a reserved load-lugger on endless straight freeways than a tarmac tearing law enforcement weapon of choice. Another shame being why Baptiste’s choice of car is never alluded to. In the show, he spends long periods away from home in hotels – he could live in the back of Caprice should he wish, with nearly ninety cubic feet of toe wriggling room.
A scene in a later episode sees the Caprice Wagon parked alongside a riverbank. These TV vehicles are probably barely driven half a mile in actual footage and are, in all honesty, a mere prop to support the actors. It won’t do the running gear any good mind, all that cold running playing havoc with un-warmed oil. Next time you watch anything with a car in the show, look how white that exhaust smoke is.
Authenticity and realism are facets of most shows. Why not give these background details some more thought and let a thirty year old American wagon show us what it can do: however sloth-like, uneconomically or with masses of understeer come the first bend. For one thing, it would keep us entertained. Probably just me, then.
* The stand-alone series named Baptiste filmed in 2018 sees our investigative friend driving a French registration navy blue Jaguar X-Type diesel estate. The interior’s wooden veneers feature quite heavily whilst the car gets involved in a bonefide car chase come the final episode.