Petrolheads of a certain age would have watched similar programs while growing up, some programs may have even influence their passion for cars. One TV car that sticks in my mine was not even a real car. The famous Rolls Royce ‘FAB1’ was a model, until 1966, when a full-sized replica of FAB 1, based on a “chinese six” (four front, two back – similar to the one in the original Italian Job film) Bedford Duple Vega coach chassis was built to transport writers-producers Gerry and Sylvia Anderson to the premiere of Thunderbirds Are Go in London. It was constructed by the company Toby Baxter Contracts under Sylvia’s supervision and not by Brains or Rolls Royce.
The full size replica was wide, wider than the coach it was based on. The axles were widened to fit the width of the body, the fact a coach was the donor and not a car gives some idea of its size. The body was a steel-covered framework moulded with filler to simulate the angles of the vehicle as seen in the TV series and films.
Not powered by a jet engine or something exotic but the Bedford coaches six-cylinder petrol engine and connected to a two-speed Powerglide gearbox. The wheels were supplied by Land Rover, and the aluminium bumpers by a specialist welding company.
The replica’s perspex sides lifted up on screws, while the sides of the body folded out and under the vehicle to form a step. The radiator grille, which was not vertical as in standard Rolls-Royce models, was custom-built and inclined forwards at the top, complete with movable slats and imitation machine gun. The registration “FAB 1” had already been issued, so the replica had revolving plates, which read “FAB 1” on one side and gave the real registration number on the other.
On the night of the premiere, the replica broke down after a few hundred yards and the Andersons were forced to make the rest of the journey by taxi. Rolls-Royce were not impressed by the car, which had a poorly built fibreglass body, and made several attempts to purchase it and have it destroyed. For a period, the company were successful in forcing the removal of the genuine RR radiator grille, which was replaced by a version bearing the initials “LP”.
Sadly no longer in the UK as in early 2013, it was sold to the Dezer Car Museum in Miami, Florida.
A second full-sized FAB 1 replica was later commissioned by Gerry Anderson. This vehicle was a modified Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit, with the bonnet line extended to house the front four wheels, using double Ackermann steering. It did not have the bubble canopy or centre-mounted steering of the original, and apart from the pink paint job and re-trim, the passenger compartment was standard Rolls-Royce. This model attended Anderson’s funeral on 13 January 2013.
The 2004 Thunderbirds movie featured an all new FAB 1, this time built by Ford and modelled on their own Thunderbird. This was a full functioning road legal car with a 7.4L engine, a length of 27 feet, 24 inch rims and blacked out glass. To me it seemed Thunderbirds had sold out. Apparently Rolls Royce were asked, but were too busy designing the new Phantom, they said that at that time designing a new FAB 1 would have “muddied the waters”. This car is displayed at the Heritage Motor Centre in Warwickshire.
So what is the current FAB 1? The UK registration mark FAB 1 was originally issued in July 1946 and later assigned to a white Jaguar XJ6 before the number was purchased by broadcaster and ex Top Gear presenter Chris Evans in 2012 for the sum of £75,000. FAB 1 was temporarily assigned to a Rolls Royce Ghost during 2013 used for breast cancer awareness. Rolls Royce donated the bespoke pink vehicle to be used for a year.
As of writing this, a check of the DVLA Car Tax records shows the registration is assigned to a black, not pink Rolls Royce.