The Saint, Volvos, and Nostalgia

published: Sat, 5-Nov-2005   |   updated: Tue, 20-Dec-2016

Every now and then I get a little homesick, and there's usually some nostalgia thrown in for good measure. So this week it was triggered by watching the old TV series, The Saint, on DVD and, of course, that then triggered some wondering about my Volvo 1800S. I don't know about your childhood, but mine was highlighted by my parents allowing me to watch episodes of The Saint, starring Roger Moore, and of The Avengers, with Diana Rigg and Patrick McNee (called, bafflingly, Chapeau melon et bottes de cuir, in France, which translates as Bowler Hat and Leather Boots).

A&E Home Video have been doing a stellar job in putting these old TV series onto DVD, faster than I can earn money to buy them in some cases. They've already put out all the color episodes of The Saint, and I've watched them all, sometimes for the first time, but now they're starting to issue the the black and white episodes. Just recently I bought The Saint, The Early Episodes, Set 1, and I've been slowly making my way through them.

To be honest, the juxtaposition of the last episodes versus the first ones is all very interesting. The later Saint episodes were, in my opinion, rather dull. Some of them were so dull that it became a sort of game to spot how often they could reuse the same Elstree street lot from episode to episode. The most hilarious one was one episode (The People Importers, I think) where one of the outside scenes was the exact same street they'd been using for the outside of the Saint's flat.

Another game to play is "is that really Roger Moore in this outside scene"? Thing was, for the longest time they used to use a double for him for all the real outside shots. So, we see the Saint park his car and walk into some doorway: not Roger Moore. In the very last episodes (from 1969), we start seeing Roger Moore outside again (maybe there was more money for those later ones?).

Anyway, in the earliest episodes (from 1962) we actually see Moore in Rome (episode 1.2, The Latin Touch) or in Paris (1.4, The Covetous Headsman). Much better. And the street scenes look a little more believable, although in episode 1.3 The Careful Terrorist, that really wasn't a street in New York (the cars in long shot looked awfully British).

But the really nice thing about the first episodes is that the plots are better, and more gritty in my view. One reason might be that they're based on original Leslie Charteris stories (Charteris being the author of the Saint books), whereas the later ones are written for TV. Also maybe it's because Roger Moore is younger, less famous in the first episodes, whereas later on he was more the star than the character. The emotions tend to be stronger as well, less jokey perhaps, in the early episodes. And early on they'd use Charteris' words ("The Ungodly" for the baddies, for example) which sound a little stilted to these ears.

So all in all, I'm enjoying the first series much more than the last series.

And then, of course, there's the white Volvo 1800S. When I was a boy, that was the car I wanted to have when I was old enough to drive. The Saint drove one: it was ipso facto cool. James Bond had his Aston Martin DB5, but the Volvo looked better. I even had the Corgi die-cast model of it (now a collector's item).

Well, Volvo discontinued them in 1972 (by then it was known as the 1800E; to us aficionados, the model was too plasticky in that 70s way) and I bought my first car (a Ford Cortina Mark III) in 1979 when I started work. Couldn't afford a Volvo.

Eventually, I did manage to buy one, a red one. A 1969 1800S, with an original 2-litre B20 engine, the last year of the S before they bought out the 1800E. I bought her in 1989 from someone who lived Slough way. I loved that car. I found this garage that specialized in 60s Volvos, including the Amazon (the 120 series), in Rochester, Kent. Miles away from where I lived in Hammersmith, completely the other side of London, but they took care of her beautifully.

I have lots of stories about her that can wait for another day (such as driving her through France to go skiiing in the Alps, the evening I pressed on the clutch and the cable broke, the day the speedo cable broke and I was guessing my speed from the tachometer for a month or so afterwards until the replacement arrived, the evening I drove across London in third gear because the gearbox was fried, the afternoon I was rear-ended by a BMW in Sloane Square, the day I spent with a photographer in Rochester having her photographed for Classic Cars Magazine's 1991 calendar--Miss October!).

When I got the job in Colorado in 1993, I had to leave her behind. My brother-in-law's parents, Bob and Doris, were gracious enough to let me store her in their unused garage and Bob promised to start her up once a month until she'd warmed up. At the time, I only envisaged working in the States for a couple of years so I was anxious to make sure I could have her again when I returned. Well, two years came and went, Mum and Dad took her in instead, but eventually I had to sell her. The damp air was starting to wreak havoc on the sills and wheel arches, rust was starting to bubble. Bob found someone who wanted one to do up and £2000 exchanged hands, and ABW 77G was no longer mine.

So, last night, I was feeling nostalgic and a bit homesick from watching a black-and-white TV show for an England I barely remember (no, I don't remember much about England in the early 60s!) and decided to surf looking for pictures of Volvo 1800s. Before long I happened on the Volvo 1800 Picture Gallery, a web site maintained by the Swedish Volvo P1800 club.

They have thousands of pictures of 1800s. From all over the world. They index them by year. They detail chassis numbers. It was beautiful. I spent a fun quarter of an hour, just looking at pictures, remembering minor details about the various model years, details I could quote at a moment's notice when I had one.

And suddenly, there she was. The photos were dated 1-Sep-2003. I don't know if that was when the photos were uploaded, or when the car was photographed. The photos seem to be outside a modern looking Volvo dealership in England, I don't know which one or where. Was she for sale? Or just there in the car park waiting for a service?

There are some changes: the wing mirrors weren't there when I had her (and they're horribly fake looking anyway). It looks like a new paint job. The grill is wrong and looks awful. The gold VOLVO letters on the rear are the ones I'd had put on after the accident with the BMW and they still look classy. The interior looks the same with those beautiful dials with the light blue background, the huge thin steering wheel (there is no power-assisted steering so you needed that width to turn the damn front wheels). The radio/cassette was the one I'd had installed (and now regret). And the number plates are the ones I'd bought and installed (I remember the Rochester photo-shoot: the rear plate hadn't arrived and so the photographer had to concentrate on the front and sides of the car--the photo chosen for the calendar was the one right outside Eastgate House and it shows the front and driver's side of the car).

Ah, nostalgia. Now of course I have to track her down. Not that I can afford to buy her and garage her on the off-chance that we may go back to live in England. No, you know, just in case. After all, you never know. I might win the Lottery or something.