The many vehicles of the Sainthood.
The character of Simon Templar has smoothly transitioned his way from the printed page, to radio and finally the silver screen, both large and small. Created by British/ Chinese author and scriptwriter, Leslie Charteris, the devilishly handsome detective known as The Saint has always needed wheels – real or otherwise – something characterful, with a dash of the debonair.
First appearing in book form in the 1930s with Charteris employing artistic license to empower the Saint’s otherworldly driving skills. Driving a Hirondel (sometimes Hirondelle), a vast red and cream sedan weighing some 5000Lbs. With its eight cylinder engine, prodigious power and noise, it was frequently driven by the Saint with “the devil at his shoulder, the Hirondel taking the mood from his driver.” This bolide was occasionally replaced by the equally mythical Furillac and Desurio. Hardly ideal for chasing the bad guys through London’s purlieus, nor discreet enough for those more delicate missions.
1962 saw the television debut of The Saint with ole eyebrow raiser himself, Roger Moore playing the lead role. Or was that his car, the Volvo P1800? In total, the Swedish firm supplied five cars, the first within a week of asking by the production company. Registration numbers 71 DXC with 77GYL following soon after. DXC was subsequently operated on, allowing for easier access for camera kit and crew with GYL being the screen star. Pelle Petterson’s masterpiece a superb piece of product placement. Corgi even made a small die-cast model.
Volvo were ecstatic, their beautiful design regularly on TV driven by a handsome chap and often with a suitably attractive female companion (with occasional bad guy for a modicum of balance – this was 1960’s England). Gothenburg was happy to indulge with three more coupés, one practically on arrival involved in an off-set crash. Written off, parts were salvaged to keep the others running. NUV 647E became Moore’s personal car, with NUV 648E another screen idol. The show ran from 1962-69 with 118 episodes, 71 of those monochromatic.
As Moore headed off to play James Bond, plans were had to continue The Saint franchise with Son of the Saint, where Simon Templar would have sired a younger version to take over from his esteemed father. The plan went the same way as the Volvo but with a new actor came a new title and car.
1979 witnessed The Return of the Saint bringing Ian Ogilvy as Templar and Jaguar’s XJ-S to the box, a white exterior and cinnamon tan leather. Smarting over not having the E-Type as The Saint’s wheels, British Leyland offered ITC, the production company a 1975 prototype V12, manual gearbox with factory fitted sunroof. Keen eyed continuity observers noticed the XJS suddenly change, mid episode; dealer loaned car sans toit ouvrant.
Contemporary reports suggest this car went and handled better than what Joe public were offered. Just twenty four episodes featured the Jaguar before the show ended in 1978 with motorcycle enthusiast Ogilvy managing to squeeze a BMW R100RS into two episodes as The Saint’s alternative transport solution.
Cashing in on merchandise, the XJ-S played a large role. The largest from Corgi, sonically controlled by a red pistol. Corgi also made a die cast model, replete with a scale model Templar figure, rather aggressively folding his arms. Should the Saint enthusiast wish for a more detailed plastic model (1/25th scale) Revell manufactured one requiring no paint, just snap together. Featuring an opening bonnet, engine and a detailed interior with mobile phone alongside low profile Dunlop tyres.
Presumably on an extended holiday, our haloed friend returned oh-so briefly to the screens in 1987 with The Saint in Manhattan. Simon Templar, now played by Australian Andrew Clarke; the show’s producers somewhat influenced by another fast car driving detective type, Magnum P.I. Thus, this all new rendition of the Saint wore a moustache and naturally drove a Lamborghini Countach.
In American specification, the 5,167 cc engine came with the Bosch K-Tronic fuel injection over the standard European Weber carburettor version. This dropped output from (euro) 455 bhp to an emission friendly 414. As if the Piedmontese cry needed extra adornments, The Saint’s Lambo had the $5,000 rear spoiler and the sound system for another $7,500. Rumours abounded Clarke (possibly a stunt driver) wrecked the Countach as it then disappeared. As did the singular show. Being a pilot episode, CBS held a public poll. Even with over forty thousand votes in favour, the programme was canned.
Sneaking back to Blighty from his time in the Big Apple, another new halo came on the scene in 1989 in the shape of Simon Dutton. And this time, his steed was old school, a 1976 Brienz Blue Jensen Interceptor. Starring in six, two hour episodes, this car was supplied by Jensen with upgraded wheels, grille and radiator in order for this new star to shine when on camera. Number plates had to be changed with the Jensen wearing 1 ST due to ST 1 being in private hands. So too the production – Charteris neither consulted nor involved in these six shows. A second Interceptor was loaned from a private collection as back up though never used.
1997 and The Saint finally hits the big screen. Val Kilmer playing the master of disguise could be seen steering a brand new Volvo C70; the Peter Horbury design a modern homage to the P1800. With 230 bhp from its 2.4 litre turbocharged engine, the car was naturally equipped to cocoon Kilmer should his hazardous lifestyle prove a challenge on (or off) the highway. With a nod to the past, at the film’s end, a radio broadcaster reads out the news – he of the eyebrows once again…
For those seeking a nostalgic Moore as Saint experience, the shows can usually be found on Freeview channel 24, in the U.K.