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Motoring

Nobody drove them better: Roger Moore bonded with beautiful cars, and became a Hong Kong motoring legend

Moore’s raised eyebrow and nonchalant shift turned his film cars into stars

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 May, 2017, 8:02pm
UPDATED : Friday, 26 May, 2017, 10:02pm

The death of 89-year-old British actor Roger Moore, on Tuesday, renews Hong Kong car lovers’ debate about the local cars that he used in the 1974 James Bond film, Man with the Golden Gun.

Some local “anoraks” say he stepped out of a Datsun 200 taxi in a brief scene near Western Market, while others insist it was a Nissan Cedric or Toyota Crown.

The cameo cab’s rear door and windows seem Cedric-like on the Jamesbondlocations.blogspot.hk website, but older local taxi buffs might have the final say.

However, there is little doubt that Moore drove co-star Britt Ekland to the Peninsula hotel in a then-new MGB.

So, news of the actor’s passing might raise two questions in the local MG and classic car community: what happened to that mustard coloured convertible; and was its registration really AL 8083? Either way, the Suprememodelsonline.co.uk website shows a 1:43-scale, three-inch model of the car for £22.99 (HK$232), but warns that boxed versions are “hard to find” as “this was not a normal shop release”.

The model also acknowledges that the MGB was much admired in 1970s Hong Kong, even though its seats soon scorched thighs in the tropical sun. The convertible’s roof could be swiftly pulled up in a monsoon and on good days the 1.8-litre 2+2 was a delight on then-quieter, smaller roads in the New Territories.

The MGB reached 100km/h in about 12 seconds, had lots of legroom and made men look successful and women look glamorous, but like many of the best British cars at the time, sometimes blew gaskets and oil in the heat. Even so, many fine MGB examples can still be seen above little pools of oil at local club concours and Sunday drives.

The model MGB also turns Moore into Hong Kong motoring history, and reminds the city’s car community of the actor’s long association with beautiful cars.

As the Saint, the second James Bond, and Lord Brett Sinclair in The Persuaders, Moore’s acting sometimes seem wooden onscreen, but his dry wit and nonchalant shift was often emulated by at least one young driver in the misted windows of 1980s Hong Kong.

The most beautiful of Moore’s cars was his first big co-star, the Volvo P1800 in The Saint, in which he played dapper thief Simon Templar, between October 1962 and February 1969. The series’ producers reportedly wanted a Jaguar for Templar, but Volvo was quicker with a white model.

Volvo started making the two-seater coupe in 1960 and produced 39,414 models in three variants, the P1800S, 1800S and 1800E over the next nine years. Critics at the time said “The Saint’s Car” looked like a Ferrari but handled like a Volvo.

Now rare in Hong Kong, it initially had a 100-horsepower, 1,778cc engine with a four-speed manual gearbox and overdrive, with a top speed of 175km/h. A 108hp version was introduced in 1968, along with a two-litre alternative, and a 120hp fuel-injected, disk-braked variant in the following year. The TV series car was reportedly found rotting in a Welsh barn, but renovated in 2013.

Moore is often linked with James Bond’s Lotus Esprit S1 submarine car in 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me. Launched in Paris in 1975, the Esprit embodied 1970’s medallion-swinging style with a fibreglass body and steel chassis. Fitted with a 160hp two-litre engine and a five-speed manual gearbox, the two-seater weighed about 1,000kg and reportedly reached 100km/h in under seven seconds, and topped at over 220km/h.

Some critics said the Esprit looked faster than it was, but in the film it entertained in a long chase and delighted audiences when Bond modified it into a missile-firing submarine. The white submarine Lotus was said to have cost over US$100,000 to create, and was reportedly bought by businessman Elon Musk at an RM Auctions sale for £650,000 in September 2013. Moore is also linked to an Esprit Turbo in For Your Eyes Only (1981).

He also starred with Tony Curtis in 24 episodes of The Persuaders in 1971-72. Curtis drove a racy Ferrari Dino 246 GT, while Moore drove a suave yellow fastback Aston Martin DBS in playboy locations. The Aston was arguably the real star. Designed to replace the DB6, the DBS had a four-litre, 282hp straight-six engine that was said to top at about 250km/h. Aston Martin even provided a works mechanic throughout the production.

After 5,000 miles of filming, the DBS then clocked 70,000 miles with three owners, but was restored and in 2013 joined the 2013 Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este, in Italy. It then fetched £533,500 at a Bonhams sale in May 2014.

However, one of Moore’s best Bond cars was the Citroen 2CV6 in For Your Eyes Only (1981). This little yellow car took a beating from villains’ Peugeot 504s, but Bond made the 602cc look so cool that Citroen reportedly later made a special edition with fake bullet holes in the back. Moore also trashed a 1.7-litre Renault 11 TXE Electronic in a memorable chase across Paris in View to a Kill (1985).

The actor was also linked to an Alfa Romeo 1600 Duetto Spider in Crossplot (1969), and in Octopussy (1983) drove an Alfa Romeo GTV6 designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro, who also drew up the Lotus Esprit. Petrolicious.com describes the GTV6 as “pornography for engineers” with a 160hp, 2.5-litre engine tonning in about eight seconds and topping at about 205km/h.

Moore was also an avid collector of cars, and even had an electric Smart car for compact Monaco. He has also been linked with a 1956 Jaguar XK150 in Hollywood; a Renault 5, and then a Volvo C70. Nobody raised an eyebrow at The Saint’s return to Volvo. But then nobody drove them better than Roger Moore.