At the age of 10, my childhood Sunday night ritual was always the same. And while school on Monday wasn’t a thrilling prospect, Sunday night television always offered up a little excitement to finish the weekend. So, after my (weekly) bath and hairwash, I’d be sat in my dressing gown in front of the TV. It was 7.24 and I would be waiting for my favourite programme of the week. Which was not only enjoyable, but put off bedtime – and Monday – too.
Back then, ITV had a run of hit escapist adventure series: The Avengers, The Baron, The Prisoner, and of course The Saint. All at 7.25. They had lots in common: exotic locations, handsome stars, and great cars.
The Avengers featured Steed’s vintage Bentley and Emma Peel’s Lotus Elan. The Baron drove a Jensen C-V8 and The Prisoner had a Lotus 7. The Saint should have been driving an Aston Martin. But instead he had a modest 1.8 litre Volvo.
A Volvo! It sounds ridiculous. But Volvo did make one really exciting car then, and it was called the P1800. Designed by Pietro Frua, it was a handsome 2 seater coupe, even if was based on the tough old Amazon saloon. And it was driven by The Saint himself, Roger Moore.
The Saint was a Robin Hood style playboy character. He would pop up in fabulous locations around the world – even though it was all filmed on the studio lot in England. He appeared to have no source of income – so his Robin Hood activities must have involved some retention of the money he stole from the rich to give to the poor. The modest price of the Volvo may suggest he could have hung on to more.
The nearest I could get to the Saint’s Volvo back then was the Corgi model, complete with the Saint logo on the bonnet. But here I am, almost 50 years later, sat behind the wheel of a real 1967 P1800. Yes, it is classic car time again.
Now, readers of my little blog will know that an awful lot of classic car heroes turn out to disappoint. Will the old Volvo do the same?
So let’s have a look round. The interior is light and airy and the brown vinyl seats surprisingly comfortable and unworn. Good old Swedish quality. The dashboard has a touch of Americana with very large numerals on the instruments. The steering wheel spokes are sportily perforated but the plastic wheel rim is decidedly ordinary. The steering is not power assisted and is a little heavy at low speeds. But the car tracks straight and true. And the brakes are equally reassuring. It rides very well with very few groans and creaks for a car built when I was 10 years old.
The engine starts with a push button – this could be 2016. But the challenge of a choke isn’t. It’s only a four cylinder 1.8, but the twin SU carburettors mean it pulls like a small train. An electric overdrive adds some longer legs to the four existing gears.
Do you know, this really is a lovely car. But in the end, it’s not really a proper Sunday night adventure machine is it? Even so, The Saint helped Volvo sell a lot of them.
Well Roger Moore may have thought that he could do better too. After 7 years of The Saint, he was finally promoted to the greatest adventure role of them all – James Bond. He said goodbye to his character and his Volvo.
While Roger was at the helm he never got to drive the iconic Aston Martin. He was stuck with the rather ordinary – a Citroen 2CV, an American Motors Gremlin, half a Renault 11… and even a bus with top sawn off. Oh dear Roger – you should have hung on to your Volvo.
But Roger did get an Aston once, in another ITV adventure: The Persuaders. The DBS/V8 was the very first machine that I borrowed from the Classic Car Club. But you know, that car was a real disappointment. The AA had to rescue me and it was all noise with very little real performance.
The P1800 was no disappointment at all. It may not be a handmade aristocrat, but it’s a quiet Scandinavian treasure. Solid as a rock, it got as many thumbs up from other motorists as anything else I’ve borrowed from the club. Well done Volvo!