Downton Abbey returns to television screens this Sunday with the first episode of series five. The incredibly popular period drama has had more than its fair share of dramatic events. Fans of the show are still recovering from the shocking death of Matthew Crawley during the series three Christmas special. In typical TV drama fashion, Crawley seemed to finally be content as he had married the woman he loved who just gave birth to their first child. Driving home from the hospital, Crawley stared into the sky, absolutely content with the world.
The tragic image of his 1927 AC Six overturned and broken, Crawley’s body crushed beneath the wreck, is one of the most iconic moments in British television in recent years.
Here at Creditplus, we love our television and we love our cars, so we’ve put together a list of some of the most iconic cars that have appeared over the years on British TV.
We begin with the oldest car on the list, the 1927 AC Six. Despite the series being set between 1912 and 1924, that didn’t stop the team using the 1927 version of the AC Six for the character of Matthew Crawley. Before his untimely death, the car was often seen whipping the debonair Mr Crawley around as he conducted business running the Downton Estate.
When it comes to cars, the production team don’t seem to be too concerned with historical accuracy, with a number of other cars also travelling through time to the setting of the show. Whether or not this distracts from the show is a question for the internet discussion boards, not here.
The AC Six was a popular sports car in the 1920s, regularly competing in events across Europe, even winning the Monte Carlo rally in 1926. AC Cars are one of the oldest independent car makers in Britain, having been operating since 1903. As well as making cars, they also made railway cars and railbuses. AC last debuted cars at the Geneva Motor Show in 2012.
Nowhere near as glamorous as its American cousin “Starsky and Hutch”, what it lost in style and glitz it more than made up for in British grime and grit. Made by the same producers behind “The Avengers”, “The Professionals” brought action and violence to British television on a weekly basis.
Following the imagined CI5 special branch, “The Professionals” battled criminals, gangsters and terrorists, foiling all sorts of plots and scams. To do this, the two heroes often needed the services of their Ford Capri, the perfect car for chasing wrong ‘uns through the streets of London. Less flashy than the Gran Torino in “Starsky and Hutch”, the Capri had comparable speed and handling.
The model used in the show, the Capri Mark III S was a three litre beast hitting 0-100km/h in 8 seconds. Just what you need when chasing down the villains of the week.
Running for five series, “The Professionals” is one of the most famous action television shows ever made in Britain. And who can forget the iconic opening theme music?
“He’s killed the Quattro! He’s bloody killed my Quattro! Oi! I’m arresting you for murdering my car.”
Following up a series as successful as “Life on Mars”, you need some new twist, something exciting to get viewers watching. No, we’re not talking about the addition of Keeley Hawes as the beautiful Alex Drake, we’re talking about the 1983 Audi Quattro that Gene Hunt sped around the streets of London.
“Ashes to Ashes” blended eighties retro cool, no nonsense seventies police dramas, and surreal flashes that wouldn’t look out of place in a David Lynch film.
The one thing that didn’t look out of place was the Quattro. Despite the car only becoming available in right hand drive in the UK after the time the show was set, the red Quattro used in the series perfectly encapsulates the era of British TV policing, racing around wildly in an outrageously inappropriate police car. A big personality like Gene Hunt needs a car to match his ego. Almost eclipsing the fame of the show, the price of Audi Quattro’s rose as a result of its start turn.
British television has had a huge number of detectives appear on the screen over the years. Perhaps none have embodied the British spirit better than Inspector Morse, played by the late great John Thaw. Flawed, yet brilliant, Morse clashed with his superiors, drank heavily, and still found time to solve countless murders.
An unexpected icon from the series was the car that Morse drove – a 1960 Jaguar MK2. Featuring in every episode, the Jaguar became as much a part of Morse’s character as his drinking or even his sidekick Lewis.
Purchased by the TV production company specifically for the series, the Jaguar MK2 was sold as a raffle prize shortly after the series ended in 2002. The car was then entered into auction, with the hammer going down at £53,200 – almost five times the average price of a 1960s MK2.
In real life, it wasn’t just those on the right side of the law who used the MK2. Because of its excellent acceleration (0-60 in 8.5seconds) and top speed (125mph), the MK2 was used by many criminals as a getaway car. The police soon cottoned on, and eventually began using the MK2 themselves as a motorway patrol car.
Bergerac. Another television detective series, this time set on the glamorous island location of…Jersey? Extremely popular in its heyday, maverick police detective Jim Bergerac (played by John Nettles, who went on to star in Midsomer Murders) played by his own rules to solve crimes taking place on the island.
To match his unconventional approach, Bergerac drove around in a 1947 Triumph Roadster. The car was the first built with the Triumph marque after World War Two, and made to be a direct rival to take on the Jaguar sportscars. The distinctive body was a short wheelbase version of the Triumph Renown 1800cc saloon. 4,500 of the car were made between 1946 to 1949.
The car used in Bergerac was notoriously unreliable, regularly breaking down or failing to start. Nettles hated the car as it banged around when driven, regularly scratching his hands and knees on the frame. The engine sounded so bad, the noise from a Jaguar was dubbed over the footage of the car – the original designers would have not been impressed! The car was eventually sold at a charity auction for Children In Need. The new owner was not impressed with the poor condition, going so far as to write a letter of complaint to John Nettles himself.
From sports cars and luxury sedans to the other end of the scale. In fact you couldn’t get further from the glitz and glamour of the cars previously on this list than the company vehicle of Trotters Independent Traders. Yes the Reliant Robin is not the most exciting of vehicles, but the image of Del Boy and Rodney driving it around East London is probably the most iconic on the list.
The most famous scene is perhaps in the final episode of the series, where Del Boy and Rodney finally make their millions. Parked outside Sotheby’s auction house, where an old watch found inside their lockup has just sold for millions, they both celebrate wildly, rocking the battered yellow van in jubilation.
The Reliant Robin is more famous now for its tendency to roll over when taking a corner. But in its day, the car was extremely economical achieving 70mpg. Built from fibreglass, it has become a cult icon with regular meetings and events to celebrate its uniqueness.
From a plastic car to a plastic driver, the last entry on our list of iconic British TV cars is the modified Rolls Royce used by Lady Penelope and Parker in Thunderbirds. Under the number plate “Fab 1”, the car was modified to have six wheels, to make it stand out from the regular Rolls Royces.
Six wheels wasn’t the only modification. Fab 1 also comes with machine guns, laser guns, smoke screens, oil slicks and a bullet proof chassis. The car can also turn into a boat, with a built in gas turbine aquajet for propulsion.
Fab 1 has top speeds of over 200 mph and can reach 50 knots out on the water. Out of all the futuristic vehicles to appear in Thunderbirds, it is Fab 1 that stands out the most. And who wouldn’t want a trusty driver like Parker to
Illustrations by Tom Wood More from the Creditplus blog: The best car videos of the week. Camera trickery, monster trucks and Mexican car wrestling. The car boot challenge. Which of the Creditplus team’s car came out on top? Find out in our blog. What were your favourite car toys? Luke took a look at some of his favourites in his nostalgia blog. Part one can be found here.