Friday, 19 November 2010

Geezer's Wheels

Top Ten Seventies Crime Fighting Cars

You've got to feel sorry for the 1970s. The fashions may have been awful, but the music was great. There may have been a strike every other week, but people were mostly better paid and happier than today. Alas the decade before had been the Sixties, when everything was brighter, fresher and cooler.

The same is true of star of the small screen and their cars and their cars. In The Avengers Diana Rigg drone a Lotus Elan, in The New Avengers Joanna Lumley drove a TR7. Nothing wrong with either really, apart from the bumpers (the car's not Ms Lumley's); the latter just weren't quite as good as the former.

In a time when drugs were still relatively rare, and Maggie hadn't yet closed the mines and the factories, crime on the streets was actually fairly low during the Seventies. On the small screen though there was a crime wave like no other.

And along with his shooter and his Brut 33, every crime fighting Geezer had to have his wheels. In these innocent days when Climate Change was of interest only to handful of science geeks and women were less likely to make unfavourable comparisons between a man's wheels and intimate parts of his anatomy, the Geezer's motor was his status symbol.

Here is my highly selective list of the top ten cars from that decade - as seen chasing baddies in old Jaguar Mark IIs round disused factories.

10. Starsky and Hutch's Ford Torino
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When Paul Michael Glaser ('Starsky') first saw this car he apparently hated it, which shows he has taste at least. True, it's iconic, but then so's Rambo and he's cr*p too. A big, ugly Yank tank, the production crew had to lower the gear ratios to make it accelerate at all and stick a warning note on the dashboard as the engine then went bang at 50mph.

The car though has proved more memorable than any of the episodes of the series. Being American they had guns, which gave them an edge over Brit cops, but the cardigans and the male bonding are cringe worthy today and you can even make a case for Starsky and Hutch being TV's first openly gay couple. However I've never seen a gay man drive anything as tasteless as this car, so I'm not going to go there.

9. Jim Rockford's Pontiac Firebird Esprit
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A more serious program than Starsky and Hutch was The Rockford Files, and the Firebird was a more serious car. Jim Rockford may never have picked up a gun, but his choice of ride shows he was still a seventies man. Slightly toned down from it's sixties muscle car roots, the Firebird still showed that there was no substitute for cubic inches.

At the end of the day though it was still a Yank Tank and in a chase around the houses it would have been hard pressed to catch an Austin Allegro. And I hated the colour.

8. Regan's Ford Granada
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Ordinary seventies blokes drove Ford Cortinas, but a Gaffers like Jack Regan in a world of "fags, slags, blags and Jags" drove the Granada. Leg room in the front, leg over room in the back and plenty of grunt, what more could a man want?

Unfortunately it was still a Ford, so your car keys are likely to be the last ones left on the table at the party, and being a Ford the thieves wouldn't actually need the keys to get into it.

7. Bodie's Ford Capri
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The Professionals was a series seemingly written by a fascist and featured two cops without personalities. That it survived past the pilot episode was solely down to the fact it provided more car chases, shootouts and general mayhem in 50 minutes than any preceding British TV series.

The car most associated with it the Ford Capri. Basically a Cortina in drag, the Capri was the chosen car for pub poseurs for a decade or so, which was really what it was best at. Should you actually try to drive one quickly you'd swiftly find a worrying lack of power in most models and a distinct tendency not to go round corners.

As a result a Ford Capri has about as much chance of catching a baddie in a decent car as you have of pulling whilst drenched in Old Spice. As most of the baddies they chased drove Rover P6s we can only assume that either Bodie was a demon driver or that the terrorists were giving them a sporting chance.

6. The Saint's Jaguar XJS
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If you want proof that the seventies would have been great if it hadn't been for the sixties look no further than this car and this TV series. The XJS was fast, comfortable, stylish by seventies standards and featured tires that didn't explode at 80mph. The Return of the Saint featured a star who could act below the eyeline and real location filming.

But just as Wings wasn't the Beatles, the XJS wasn't the E Type and Ian Ogilvy wasn't Roger Moore.

Case proved.

5. Sam Tyler's Rover 3500
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I could have done a Top Ten of cars from Life on Mars alone. The main car used was the slow and heavy Mark III Cortina, but the best was the three and half litre Rover P6. As well as Sam Tyler, Grace Kelly had one and the big Rover was proof that not everything that came out of British Leyland was rubbish.

The P6 was possibly the best engineered British car of the decade. Monocoque chassis, de dion suspension and all round disc brakes may sound like a load of techno-waffle, but it meant that although this was a large car, it could stop and corner like a hot hatch, which was just as well as the big engine could propel it forward at quite a lick.

When the last one rolled off the production line in 1977 it may have marked the end of this country as a manufacturer of mass produced quality cars.

4. Doyle's Ford Escort RS2000
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Lewis Collins complained that when they wrote The Professionals it was Martin Shaw that got all the cool stuff. Not only did he get the clothes and the hair, he also got the car.

Fast and stylish, the RS2000 may have only shared a body shell with the rally winning RS1800, but it was still a decent bit of kit in its own right and for years British Road Rallying consisted of RS2000s and the occasional other car.

When the decade ended the Escort went front wheel drive and Doyle went into a Capri and the world was the worse for it.

3. Steed's Broadspeed Jaguar XJ12C
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Steed is another character who can claim he was hard done by the 1970s. Just as James Bond had to swap his Aston Martin for a Lotus, Steed lost his vintage Bentley for a Jaguar.

But look what a Jaguar he got.

Broadspeed were given the job of turning the short chassis version of the ultra smooth, twelve cylinder, big cat into a potent World Touring Car Championship winning machine. They gave it sufficient pace to show a clean pair of heels to the BMWs, but then the money ran out and the Krauts beat them on reliability.

The TV version may have only been a body kit on a standard XJ12, but it looked the bees knees. In one scene Steed uses one to chase and overhaul a single seater racing car on a race track, which wasn't artistic license but was well within the ability of the Broadspeed original. Add Patrick Macnee in a bowler hat and you have the pinnacle of late seventies cool. It was all downhill to Punk and Thatcherism after that.

2. Lord Brett Sinclair's Aston Martin DBS
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An Aston Martin has always been an Englishman's drawing room fitted with a massive engine. Everyone remembers the one from Goldfinger, but the seventies DBS was probably the better car.

Similarly we now remember Roger Moore for his eyebrows and safari suits, but until he took the 007 gig he was an icon of British cool. Okay, rather posh and slightly annoying cool, but still the real thing. Had he still possesed it, and the DBS, when he made The Spy Who Loved Me it possibly wouldn't now be remembered as Alan Partridge's favourite film.

1. Danny Wilde's Ferrari Dino 246
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And it's a one-two finish for The Persuaders!

Tony Curtis was a lucky man. Not only did he get to marry Janet Leigh and have an affair with Marilyn Monroe, he also got paid to drive this gorgeous car. The TV series itself was nothing to write home about, but the opening scenes of Curtis and Moore (or rather their stunt doubles) racing their cars around Monte Carlo can't be beaten.

The chase starts because Wilde is jealous that the girls seem more interested in Sinclair's Aston, but that's hard to believe. From the rasping V6 engine that went on to power the Lancia Stratos to the curvateous Pininfarina bodywork, this is a work of art rather than a vehicle. It takes something special to give a DBS second billing, but the Dino does the job.

So is the baby Ferrari conclusive proof that the seventies can match the sixties in the cool car stakes?

No.

The Dino was designed in 1968.

So were the sixties better,? Find out here.

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