Classic Sports Car
Martin Buckley Backfire
Ithought I knew quite a lot about the futuristic ‘SHADO’ cars that starred in UFO. But when I was recently given cause to look into their story a little deeper, it seems there was a lot more to know – and some has left me confused. Yet this is the sort of confusion that merely adds to my enjoyment of the programme. I’m not a sci-fi fan, but I make an exception for this live-action Gerry Anderson series. Set in his 1969 vision of 1980, it follows a secret group that is all that stands between mankind and the organ-harvesting activities of aliens in wobbly flying saucers. From its Barry Gray theme tune to the ladies in clinging beige jumpsuits, there is almost nothing I don’t like about this glimpse of a future I thought we might be living in by now. To be honest, I’d take the aliens over most of the nonsense we’re being exposed to at the moment.
The cars were built by Alan Mann Racing for Anderson’s first puppet-free film, Doppelgänger, and based on MKIV Ford Zephyrs. I’d always thought there were two, recycled for UFO, but it seems there were three, identified by different lights, scoops and louvres. They took six months to make at a cost of £8500 each, complete with fake telephones, switchgear made from hairspray can tops and gullwing doors that wouldn’t stay raised without the assistance of prop men.
There was talk of 8-litre engines and 144mph when Graham Hill was pictured promoting the new film alongside star Loni von Friedl in October ’68. But for some reason Mann used a Cortina 1600GT lump with a manual ’box, its lever hidden to maintain the illusion of jet propulsion with supposed 200mph potential (in reality, they were good for about the ton).
The body shape was designed by ‘some of the younger lads’ at Ford’s design studio with help from Len Bailey. Both Mann and special-effects maestro Derek Meddings confirmed that these 8ft-wide, 18ft-long four-seaters were horrid to drive with their disappearing extremities and weird supine driving positions, plus the added complication of left-hand drive – Anderson thought we’d all soon be driving on the right.
After ITC boss Lew Grade cancelled the show, the toffee-coloured Ed Straker car went on a tour of Ford showrooms and was featured on Tomorrow’s World. It was almost reborn as a production vehicle, too, when property tycoon David Lowes, at the suggestion of his friend Sydney Carlton, proposed to build a glassfibrebodied version renamed the Quest. Its £3000 price-tag included £1100-worth of new Zephyr
‘These 8ft-wide, 18ft-long four-seaters were horrid to drive, with disappearing extremities and weirdly supine driving positions’
from Ford; even so, Lowes could see a profit and claimed to have sunk £25,000 into the venture, including the cost of buying the rights. Nothing came of it other than a single prototype.
Meanwhile, the TV cars were sold for £2000 each: Radio 1 DJ Dave Lee Travis bought the Straker car in 1974. Not noted for his shy and retiring personality, the ‘Hairy Cornflake’ drove it all over the UK as a promotional tool, painted white with ‘UFO’ signwritten on the doors, before selling it to a man in Birmingham. At that point ‘SHADO 1’ dropped off the radar: as far as I know it’s still in a back garden. After decades of searching, a UFO obsessive tracked it down via Google Earth, penned in by a garage that had been built after its arrival. He couldn’t persuade the owner to part with the wreck, but was allowed to take a mould – so he’s building his own.
The Col Foster car narrowly avoided starring in a porn film, while the original Doppelgänger car – which only ever appeared in that movie – disappeared for three decades before turning up in a Bristol barn. Both are now with enthusiasts.
The nearest I ever got to one was the Dinky model and, because I’m going through a second childhood (it began immediately after my first), I recently got the urge to track down a ‘Straker’s Car’. The ebay bidding soon outranked my need for ownership, so I contented myself with a £7 cardboard reproduction of the box it came in. Which was probably the best part anyway.