Dave Matthews presents the Authorised Guide to

Star Cars

Last updated : 25th May 1998

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Another element retained from the old series was the use of stylish cars in the show. Ever keen to uphold a thoroughly British image, Albert Fennell and Brian Clemens decided to strike a deal with a UK company. Once again Lotus were anxious to become involved but (possibly due to budgetry restrictions) it was felt that the production team’s needs would be best served by one company who could supply all necessary vehicles including those for the crew such as pick-ups and trucks. The Ford Motor Company were very keen to promote their own vehicles but, of course, they are American-owned. In the end British Leyland were chosen – a deal which quickly turned sour.

It’s well-remembered that at the time the UK car industry was in poor shape, with the BL conglomerate arguably suffering from more than their fair share of strife through workers’ disenchantment with their management. Strikes seemed to occur for the most trivial and ridiculous of reasons – in one BL factory the workforce walked out allegedly because they didn’t care for the colour of their new overalls! 1975 to 1978 saw the industrial unrest at its worst, leading to shoddily-built, unreliable cars. At the time BL was a nationalised industry and it’s arguable that a great many of the problems stemmed from over-manning (indeed when it was privatised in 1986, eighty percent of the workforce were made redundant!). As a nationalised company, controlled by the Government of the day, BL was obliged to take on as many staff as possible in a bid to resolve unemployment problems in certain ares of the country. This led to a financial crises, forcing cars to be built using low quality materials. Indeed it seems even quality control itself was thrown out the window.

This was a great shame as, in terms of actual design, BL were capable of dreaming up some very interesting cars – some of which featured in The New Avengers.

All these problems affected Avengers Film & TV, often leading to money-draining shooting delays. Some of the vehicles they were supplied with repeatedly broke down. Promised back-up vehicles would sometimes never arrive.

Later on in the series it was decided that Purdey should have a motorbike in some episodes (not shown here). Although one of BL’s companies, Triumph, were still making bikes at the time, unsurprisingly Brian and Albert chose to look elsewhere and approached Honda. This from Brian: “We went to a Japanese manufacturer and within hours they replied ‘How many bikes do you want? What colours?’ ... If we gave them a little time they would be pleased to produce a special ‘Purdey’ bike for our use! In that one incident I realised why the Japanese industry was growing so rapidly – and the British one was doomed to oblivion. Later, on The Professionals, we involved Ford – a US company – and again received excellent and professional treatment.” (Quote courtesy of 'The Ultimate Avengers' by Dave Rogers.)

Unfortunately for Avengers Film & TV, they were too entrenched in their deal with BL to be able to back out.

Listed below are all the main cars used by the Pat, Gareth and Jo, including those from the French and Canadian episodes. At the time BL were exporting many of their models overseas, so it was not unnatural to see Steed driving a left-hand drive Jaguar through the streets of Toronto!

Car:Rover 3500 SD1 Automatic
Episodes:The Eagle’s Nest’, ‘The Midas Touch’, ‘Hostage’, ‘Medium Rare’, ‘The Lion and the Unicorn
Comments:Rover’s replacement for the well-loved P6 in 1976, this futuristic Ferrari/Citroen inspired design was an astonishing car from such a lowly manufacturer as BL and as an ‘executive’ car, pretty daring considering its hatchback format. Development for the model actually began in 1971 as the “P10” but, under orders from British Leyland, then became a joint venture with Triumph in the shared Specialist Division, under the name RT1. The final car was codenamed simply SD1.

The particular car Pat drove was a pre-production model and, as mentioned above, constantly suffered reliability problems. I assume this is why it was infrequently seen in the series. In terms of the SD1 in general the press raved over during the first few months after it was officially launched (June ’76) but the usual build gremlins, poor reliability and, initially, consequences of using an inexperienced workforce soon revealed its true nature. The most dependable part of the car was the respected Buick-derived three-and-a-half litre engine (which actually dated back to the 1950’s!). Later Rover also issued the cars with 2300 and 2600cc engines (by Triumph) and a rather weedy 2000cc version (from Morris) – none of which were very reliable or long-lived. The rare Italian-designed 2400cc turbo-diesel version was better. Although the car did get better as the years went by it was never as good as it should have been and the damage done in the early years meant it was always cheap to buy second-hand. Leyland dealers even struggled top sell brand new ones! Surprisingly it soldiered on until 1986, when it was replaced by the (initially even worse) 800 series.

Car:Range Rover
Episodes:Cat Amongst the Pigeons’, ‘Target', ‘The Tale of the Big Why’, ‘Obsession’
Comments:BL’s most long-lived car, still in production today (albeit in a redesigned bodyshell). Originally launched in 1970 (Steed’s model appears to be of this vintage – note the roll-top sunroof, though.) and quite amazing that a five-door version wasn’t issued until 1981! An excellent off-roader but prohibitively expensive to buy, run and maintain. Not all that reliable, either, and parts prices often unreasonably high. Second-hand values kept artificially high due to image rather than quality. Pretty rustproof, though, thanks to aluminium bodies which will last a couple of decades if looked after. But build quality nowhere near as good as it should have been until fairly recently. Even newer ones disappoint – the new version figuring well down in the latest JD Power Customer Satisfaction survey.

Car:Range Rover
Episodes:The Last of the Cybernauts...?’, ‘To Catch a Rat’, ‘Cat Amongst the Pigeons’, ‘Tale of the Big Why’, ‘Trap
Comments:Gambit’s Range Rover, a 1975 model.

Car:MG ‘B’
Episodes:The Midas Touch’, ‘House of Cards’, ‘The Last of the Cybernauts...?’, ‘Target’, ‘Faces’, ‘Three-Handed Game’, ‘Sleeper’, ‘Dirtier by the Dozen
Comments:Another beloved manufacturer, things started to go wrong for MG when they were swallowed up by British Leyland in 1969. In 1974 the classy chrome bumpers were replaced by horrible plastic ones (as you can see here). Apparently this was due to legal requirements in the US but why they couldn’t have left the UK cars alone, I don’t know. Money perhaps? Sadly for MG, falling sales as BL wrangles continued meant the range became inviable to produce – mainly as they used a lot of unique parts that couldn’t be shared with other BL cars. MG was closed in 1981 but revived in the mid-1990’s.

As to the the car driven by Jo, Brian Clemens recalls taking delivery of it prior to a shoot and unable to get it into reverse gear. However it was later discovered that the gear knob fitted to the car was actually from an Austin, in which reverse gear was in a different position. Yet another foul-up by BL! Meanwhile the car itself was last registered for road use in 1994 - its fate is unknown.

Car:Jaguar XJS
Episodes:The Eagle’s Nest’, ‘The Midas Touch’, ‘The Last of the Cybernauts...?’, 'Three-Handed Game’, ‘Hostage’, ‘Medium Rare’, ‘The Lion and the Unicorn
Comments:Opinion seems very divided on the success or otherwise of the long-lived XJS. Launched in 1975, it was memorably described as being “designed by three people – none of whom were talking to one another!” However, although never regarded as a real replacement for the E-type, enthusiasts of Jaguar’s sports models seemed more won over, despite the car’s reputation for poor reliability and build quality.

In the series there were actually two Jags used (you can tell them apart by the fact that one of them has a dent in the passenger-side front wing) as neither of them could relied upon to keep going for very long! In fact BL themselves couldn’t supply a back-up when the first one went wrong and the team had to hire the other from a local dealer!

Car:Custom Jaguar XJ12 Coupe Automatic - "The Big Cat"
Episodes:House of Cards’, ‘The Last of the Cybernauts...?’, ‘To Catch a Rat’, ‘The Three-Handed Game’, ‘Sleeper’, ‘Angels of Death
Comments:Actually built for racing, this 5.3-litre V12 car, resplendent in British Racing Green, was loaned to the production team by BL, as part of their publicity drive. And it certainly looks the part!

However the huge tyres (which had to be specially imported from the US) made it difficult to steer and Pat found it a pain to drive. The stunt crew also battled with it – think back to the car park scene in ‘Last of the Cybernauts’!

The car used in the show was last registered for road tax in 1986 and it is rumoured that the mystery current owner has had it in storage ever since.

As for Jags in general, well the usual 70’s problems of rust and unreliability meant pretty low used prices. However in 1986 Rover Group (the new name for BL) decided to sell off Jaguar to Ford US who quickly vanquished all the problems.... good old Ford!

Car:Triumph TR7
Episodes:Hostage’, ‘Trap’, ‘Medium Rare
Comments:Arguably a minor classic – prices for mint ones were pretty high in the late 1980’s.

Launched in late 1974, strangely to the American market first – not available in the UK until ’76. Early ones suffered all the usual BL problems including dodgy electrics and a two-litre engine that was prone to furring up along the waterways. A shame because apart from the ‘7’, Triumph had managed to produce some pretty decent cars throughout the decade, despite all the antics going on within BL. Early four-speed gearboxes were straight out of the Morris Marina and hardly appropriate for a sportscar. In late ’76 five-speed and automatic boxes (which came from the Rover SD1) were made available.

Convertible versions appeared in 1979.

The 3500cc V8 engine from the big Rover was also available to the US from 1980 and shipped in very small quantitles (approx 20, I think) back to the UK where this version of the car was dubbed TR8.

Purdey’s TR7 was only ever seen briefly in the series – reliability problems again?

Car:Rover SD1
Episodes:K is for Kill’ parts one and two

Car:Jaguar XJS Automatic
Episodes:Gladiators’, ‘Complex
Comments:Note the four headlamps, rather than the two large ovoid ones of UK models. I understand this is a requirement in the US – perhaps Canada as well? The American version of the Rover SD1 also had the same twin arrangement.

Car:Triumph TR7
Episodes:Gladiators’, ‘Complex
Comments:As driven by Gambit. Note the white “go faster” stripe – is this why Pat thought some of the second-season episodes were too similar to Starsky and Hutch?!

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