Saints Alive!

The many vehicles of the Sainthood.

Roger Moore as The Saint. Image: odessasteps

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.

Image: Volvo Cars

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.

Ian Ogilvy as Simon Templar pictured with the Return of the Saint’s Jaguar XJ-S. Image:

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.

The US Saint’s Countach. Image:

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.

A Saintly Volvo C70. Image:

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. 

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

8 thoughts on “Saints Alive!”

  1. Good morning Andrew. That white early XJ-S with its industrial grade black bumpers was a very different looking beast to the later chrome-laden models. I rather like it:

    That said, I’m not sure that ‘ST1’ was the best number plate for a ‘bird-puller’ like the Jag…😁

    There was also a little remembered 2017 film that starred Adam Rayner (No? Me neither!) in the title role. The cast included both Roger Moore and Ian Ogilvy, not that that helped the movie much. Here’s a trailer for it, in which you briefly see The Saint’s latest wheels, a McLaren of some sort:

    1. One of my favourite (I use the term loosely) car memories of the 1960’s TV series features a Bentley S type. A bomb has been planted in it and it explodes. The subsequent scene shows the car on fire. Except that it’s clearly a different car.

      According to IMCDB, the burning car is an Austin Sheerline. Presumably cheaper to destroy than a Bentley.

    2. The black bumpers are so gracelessly bad they are invisible. And then one forces one´s attention towards them and their awfulness explodes with full force.
      Such is the oddness of that car that in this instance it looks like a prototype or a mule. “Stan Eales and his team put together the rear of the XJ-2, the front of a Ford Monarch and the doors from the Austin 1340, much to the bemusement of Coventry citizens who watched the Frankencar rack up the miles on Coventry´s infamous ring road. When BL boss Sir Arthur Buce-Cuffe saw the car he insisted it was put into production as it was.”

  2. Lovely article – thank you, Andrew. I hope it’s one of a series.

    Daniel, I hadn’t come across the 2017 film, but it looks marvellous. It’s nice that the trailer features a ‘Stop, or I’ll shoot!’ – oh no, he’s escaped while I was saying that – moment.

    Back to the Roger Moore version; Bob Baker, one of the producers, envisaged The Saint wobbling around in a Jaguar MK X, but Jaguar wouldn’t guarantee to provide their new top-of-the-range model for the whole series. A member of the film crew had noticed a rather nice coupé at Volvo Mayfair, so, in desperation, they negotiated the use of that car, initially.

    Re product placement – as a young, car-mad child, I was given a model of the Volvo P1800 as a present, along with various other ones, such as the car from The Man from U.N.C.L.E. However, these shows were scheduled way past my bedtime, so the vehicles meant little to me until much later.

  3. I got a Corgi Aston Martin with a switch to send James flying through the roof sometime in the later 60s but my favourite product placement car came a couple of years later… The Persuaders, with Roger Moore as best supporting actor to the Aston Martin dbs

    1. When I received the Aston Martin DB6 with the ejector seat figure, I lost the figure within five minutes of opening the box. It is a source of complete mystery as to where it went to. The room didn´t have much in it; the carpet was dark brown. We tidied up and moved things very thoroughly. I imagine many children lost the figure fairly soon and back in those days getting spares involved interaction with the postal system and using typewriters and so on.

  4. I actually have seen the 2017 film and sadly have to report I found it pretty uninspiring. I can’t imagine who thought having the Saint driving a Lambo was a good idea, even in the eighties, though: if ever there were a hero written for a GT, rather than an outright supercar, it’s Simon Templar…
    It’s worth googling Leslie Charteris himself, actually – he seems to have been quite a character. The Saint’s antics may well have been wish fulfilment on his part, and the pre-war stories in particular are very dated now, but they make good light entertainment, and he did very well from them. Well enough to buy a new Lagonda in 1935, in fact…

    1. Slightly off topic (as in not-cars), the trailer for that film was a medley of clichées. There´s the witty repartee, the predictable image-cutting (when the Saint looks at the opened-safe, the machine-gun bit), the CGN-style good-looking ladies (whenever I see any pop videos it looks like the same set of clones have been used since 2002), the Costa del Crime scenery and the stop-start/fast-slow edits, the colour palette.
      You know your editing style is passé when TG use it routinely.
      I believe Mr Butt, our Hamburg correspondent, is a filmophile so he may have the technical jargon to put words on all these stale cinematographic tricks I am gesturing at.
      Would I be right in suggesting the 2017 Saint flick was an attempt to get into the Stupid Action Film genre occupied by Mr Bond James Bond? If so, they forgot to spend money on the script and didn´t know they needed a director who was not going to deal in old tropes. The lead actor seems to have been chosen for his charisma-free personality. He looks like the kind of anonymous bloke you see on a pack of supermarket underpants. I feel really sorry for female actresses asked to appear in sexist rubbish like this film. There´s a reason I haven´t watched a film in more than a decade and the next film I want to see is one I saw before and was made in 1977.

      “Old tropes, Mr Bond? No, I expect you to dye your hair a new colour ….mwah ha ha! “

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