In programmes such as Top Gear, the cars are placed in the limelight, but over the years cars have played an important role in other types of TV shows such as dramas and comedies. Cars have become such an intrinsic part of our everyday modern life that we even dedicate entire TV shows to them. The choice of car associated with a much-loved character can tell us a great deal about them (Alan Partridge, we learn, favours ‘a coffee-coloured Lexus’). In some cases the cars that have enabled our favourite TV characters to get from A to B have become stars of the show themselves.
To give you an idea of the importance of cars to TV shows, here’s our pick of ten iconic vehicles without which some classic British TV programmes just wouldn’t have been the same:
10. 1960 Mark II Jaguar, Inspector Morse
Besides real ale, opera and crosswords, the love of Morse’s life is his burgundy Mark II Jaguar. Perfectly fulfilling its designer’s intent to provide ‘grace, pace and space’ the 2.4 litre-engine classic driven by Oxford’s foremost Detective Inspector symbolised attention to detail, reliability and refinement – characteristics discernible in Morse himself. The 1960 Mark II Jaguar was driven by Morse star John Thaw in all thirty-three episodes that were made, becoming indelibly associated with the character.
9. Lotus 7, The Prisoner
Nothing was conventional in the surreal world of the 1960s series The Prisoner, including the choice of car for the lead character Number Six, played by Patrick McGoohan. Eschewing the director’s suggestion that Number Six should drive a Lotus Elan, McGoohan himself picked out the Lotus 7 arguing that the lightweight two-seater sports car better reflected Number Six’s maverick and freedom-loving persona.
8. Volvo P1800, The Saint
Roger Moore’s embodiment of the suave Samaritan Simon Templar meant that nothing less than an ultra-cool car would suffice. Initially a Jaguar was sought, but the company turned down The Saint’s producers fearing that the programme would be unsuccessful. Whoops. For the next seven years Moore drove instead a Volvo P1800: a stylish 2 litre sports car that symbolised Simon Templar’s virtuous, good-looking, sophisticated yet adventurous nature. Roger Moore was so impressed by the Volvo P1800 that he bought one for himself.
7. Mark III Ford Capri, The Professionals
Tough, reliable, responsive, fast and able to cope in a sticky situation. Are we talking about the car or Bodie and Doyle, mercenary crime-fighters a.k.a. ‘The Professionals’? With its menacing throaty growl, the souped-up 3 litre Mark III Capri stood out in a series that featured many other cars that are considered classics today. With demanding car chases a staple of this action-packed show, the Mark III Capri was a natural choice, not only for its speed but for its (then) sleek lines and agile handling.
6. Mark IV British Leyland Mini 1000, Mr Bean
Is the original British Mini, a car design classic, an intrinsically funny car? Compact, reliable, economical and practical – certainly. But funny? Place it in the hands of Rowan Atkinson’s hapless and mute comic creation Mr Bean and suddenly a humble citron green Mini 1000 becomes not only funny, but also iconic and even desirable. Okay, so Mr Bean’s mini has doors that bolt on the outside and a removable steering wheel for security, but these modifications don’t detract from the fact that the Mark IV British Leyland Mini 1000 is a worthy co-star: can you picture Mr Bean driving anything else?
5. 1983 Audi Quattro, Ashes to Ashes
“Fire up the Quattro!” barks Detective Inspector Gene Hunt. This is the 1980s, and Hunt’s sporty, four-wheel drive, red Audi Quattro is perfect for throwing around corners and mowing down piles of cardboard boxes in the high-speed pursuit of villains. Getting from 0 to 60 mph in less than six seconds and a top speed of 140mph helps. And Gene Hunt would no doubt be delighted to know that thanks to his patronage of the classic Audi Quattro demand for 1980s models doubled. Proof, as if further proof was needed, of just how iconic the cars used in British TV shows can become even now.
4. 1947 Triumph Roadster 1800, Bergerac
What’s the deal with solo British TV detectives and classic cars? Jim Bergerac’s choice for pootling around Jersey and solving improbable crimes was a gleaming burgundy Triumph Roadster. With a 1.8 litre engine and a maximum speed of 75mph sticking to Jersey’s blanket 40mph speed limit wouldn’t have been a problem, but the size of this undeniably beautiful car (it’s 64 inches wide) makes it a somewhat impractical choice for navigating narrow island roads. Once again though, the car became strongly associated with the star, even though in reality John Nettles who played Bergerac was said to hate it.
3. Fiat Cinquecento, The Inbetweeners
Four hormonal teenage boys, one small, decrepit, yellow Fiat Cinquecento. It’s cruel, but of course the tiny three-door hatchback with its woeful 704cc engine is exactly the sort of first car that mild-mannered Simon Cooper would own upon passing his driving test. Here again the car reflects the character; faintly embarrassing, unreliable and picked upon. However, without the humble Cinquecento and its comical shortcomings The Inbetweeners would have been deprived of some of its funniest episodes. The Cinquecento recently sold for £21,000 in an eBay charity auction, which is roughly 50 times its market value!
2. Ford Granada (various), The Sweeney
Jack Regan, as played by John Thaw (again) was the hard-hitting no-nonsense guv’nor in this 1970s cop series based around the crime busting exploits of the Met’s flying squad. Only a tough-looking dependable brute of a car such as the Ford Granada would do for Jack. Swapping between the Granada S and the Granada Ghia at will, Regan and his sidekick George Carter would routinely chase the baddies at high speeds in these 3 litre beasts before leaping out and cuffing the miscreants with a cry of ‘You’re nicked, Sonny’! Luckily for the production team, not only was the Granada good looking, gruff and well suited to Regan’s character it was also light for its size making it a good choice for stunt work.
1. Reliant Regal Supervan, Only Fools and Horses
The ultimate in iconic British TV vehicles, Derek Trotter’s beloved yellow Reliant Regal Supervan is the summation of all that ‘Del Boy’ is about. For a market trader with delusions of grandeur it’s a practical vehicle for shifting hooky gear from A to B. As a company vehicle it proudly bears the name ‘Trotters Independent Trading Co.’ Only someone as blinded by optimism as Del could fail to notice that his company’s initials spell ‘TIT’ and that his beloved van is on its last legs as it backfires and rattles its way on another misguided adventure. Cushty!