By on June 26, 2015

Patrick Macnee’s son Rupert announced his actor father passed away in California at the age of 93. He was best known for portraying secret agent John Steed in the 1960s British television show, The Avengers.

I was a young teenage boy when the series began syndication in the United States so you’ll excuse me if I paid a bit more attention to his co-star Diana Rigg and Emma Peel’s Lotus Elans than to Macnee and John Steed’s prewar Bentleys. However, Steed’s talent and his deadpan delivery were major factors in the show’s success. It ran for 6 years on the BBC, was syndicated for decades in the U.S. and you can still probably find it in reruns somewhere in the cable universe.

With the classic Bentleys and the Elan, The Avengers has been a favorite of car enthusiasts since the show first ran, but I had no idea just how car-centric the series was.

p07-the-avengers-john-steed-bentley-emma-peel-lotus-elan

Somehow, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Thrush Buster didn’t catch on the way the Dukes of Hazzard’s General Lee did.

Of course, any secret agent movie or TV show will necessarily have a car chase or three, so there are bound to be some cool cars used in filming, but the number of cars-of-interest-to-enthusiasts used in The Avengers is truly impressive. While Macnee’s character has been associated with Bentleys, Steed originally drove a Rolls Royce, followed by an A.C. Greyhound, a Triumph Herald, an Alvis, and a Lagonda before using mostly Bentleys starting in season four.

A shot of Emma Peel's blue  Series 3 Lotus Elan because Diana Rigg.

A shot of Emma Peel’s blue Series 3 Lotus Elan because Diana Rigg.

The Avengers Forever website has five pages devoted just to John Steed’s cars, along with sections for the vehicles that the Peel character drove (plus the cars driven by Peel’s predecessor Cathy Gale, played by Honor Blackman, better known as Pussy Galore in the James Bond Goldfinger movie), as well as vehicles associated with secondary characters Tara, Mother, and Forbes. Someone on the production team must have liked Lotuses, since in addition to the white and blue Elans Peel drove, the show also featured an Europa and an Elan +2. A site devoted to the John Steed character (and Macnee), John Steed’s Flat, also has a detailed section on the cars driven in the series. If that isn’t enough, if you like British cars, you can get lost for hours at the Internet Movie Car Database’s Avengers page.

My favorite John Steed car was from the later The New Avengers series. In that show Macnee drove a Rover 3500 SD1 and a flared fender Jaguar XJ12C, essentially a road-going replica of a Jaguar Broadspeed race car. The XJC (the C is for coupe) is the most beautiful iteration of one of the best looking cars of all time and the Broadspeed cars were the maximum versions of the XJC.

jag1 (2)

As for the late Macnee, he owned 2.5% of The Avengers’ profits so he could probably afford both classic and modern Bentleys, but it so happens he wasn’t much of a car guy. If Steed’s interest in cars appeared genuine, it was due to Macnee’s skill as an actor. When the show became a success, he bought a fashionable Jaguar S Type sedan, but he didn’t like to drive. In a 1968 interview with the Schenectady Gazette newspaper, he said, “I don’t enjoy driving. I do run a Jaguar S type, but I hate it and often lend it to my friends. As for driving in the tiny sports cars used in the series, it frightens me to death”.

Nobody would describe a prewar Bentley as a tiny sports car. They’re large vehicles no matter how sporting they were. While Macnee may have shot scenes behind the wheel of more modern machinery, the Bentleys on The Avengers were mostly props. Macnee never really learned how to drive them, keeping them in third gear for all of the motion shots where he was filmed in the car. At slow speeds, the cars would be pushed into the frame by hands in the crew. Genuine action shots required a double/stunt driver.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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26 Comments on “Remembering Patrick MacNee and The Many Avengers Cars...”


  • avatar
    cartunez

    I loved this show when I was younger and the Man from Uncle

  • avatar
    FThorn

    Read/heard today he was a nudist.
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02vmh1n

  • avatar
    thornmark

    MacNee was w/o peer but I loved Emma.

    I read recently that that name – Emma Peel – was chosen because it was close to “man appeal”. And she certainly did.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    That’s one menacing looking Jag.

    I like it.

  • avatar
    shaker

    I had this model car as a kid:

    http://www.amazon.com/AMT-Piranha-CRV-Super-Spy/dp/B00OHMG4UW

    Loved “The Man From Uncle” – “The Avengers” later (in reruns).

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Diana Rigg was simply superb and a treat for my eyes. I didn’t catch “The Avengers” when it played on TV, but “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”, on the big screen, she was fabulous!

    Oh – the show? Who cares!

  • avatar
    Steve Biro

    While Emma Peele was my favorite Avengers girl (and my second TV crush), Tara King’s Lotus Europa was my favorite Avengers car, at least during the time I was watching the show during its first U.S. run on ABC back in the day. Of course, I had no idea at the time what a god-awful car the first-generation Europa was.

  • avatar
    mdensch

    The Avengers was one of my favorites as a kid growing up in the 1960s. I’ve watched a few of the episodes more recently and they’re still just as fun though they look a little campier to me than they did when I was 12. Given how dated those ’60s fashions look to us today, especially the “mod” and Carnaby Street trends, Diana Rigg’s allure still seems very contemporary, timeless even.

    Original episodes have been released on DVD and at least one season is available on iTunes.

  • avatar
    Sals

    Thanks Ronnie, I always appreciate your history features. Maybe I haven’t been paying attention, but have you done similar for other TV series? Would be fun to see more like these.

  • avatar
    bunkie

    Does anyone remember the Sterling ad featuring Mr. MacNee?

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      ‘You were expecting someone else”. A great line when he gets out of the Sterling.

      Emma Peel in her one piece jump suit? Changed my young life forever.

      MacNee had rather a fascinating life. Was a officer in the Royal Navy during WWII commanding an MTB (PT boat for Americans) in the Channel during the war.

      He got his major acting breaks in Canada in the early 50’s.

      Appeared as the young Ebeneezer Scrooge in the classic Alistair Sim version of Scrooge.

      His autobiography is called ‘Blind in One Ear’ and he comes across as a very nice and self-deprecating gentleman.

      Personally, minus the bowler hat I would love to be able to pull off wearing his Pierre Cardin inspired wardrobe.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        Bit of a brain cramp, he appeared as young Jacob Marley, boy with my avatar that is a mistake that I should never have made.

        Also he became an officer late in the war.

  • avatar
    Irvingklaws

    I always liked the “New Avengers” as a kid. It wasn’t until much later I learned about the original show. I like both, but still prefer the former, even though it wasn’t as popular and had a short run.

  • avatar
    NeilM

    Ah, Diana Rigg, or as she was sometimes known at the time, “The thinking man’s crumpet.”

  • avatar
    jim brewer

    Emma Peel. Holy-Moley. For some reason I associate her with the Europa. The shows were very camp, involving absolutely massive conspiracies.

  • avatar

    I had that Man From Uncle Car when I was a kid, but I remember mine as being dark blue. The thing on top was some sort of clicker and I think it was supposed to make the sound of the guy shooting his gun.

    As for the Avengers, I too liked the New Avengers which aired late nights on CBS when I was a kid, but I much preferred Gambit’s XJS. I read somewhere that it was actually a pre-production car and that it spent almost as much time sitting around broken as it did actually working. I can’t tell you how much that disappoints me, I still really want one of those…

    Still waiting for someone to make “The Interceptors.”

    • 0 avatar
      CV Neuves

      Also had the blue UNCLE Oldsmobile Super 88. When you pressed the clicker on top the driver, Napoleon Solo in a white smoking jacket leant out of the window and it made a shooting click sound. On the passengers side was Ilya Kuryakin.

  • avatar
    mjz

    Dear god this was my favorite show as a kid. Best opening music/visial intro in TV history. Don’t get me started on Mrs. Peel in her leather cat suit with that zipper down the front. Great cars. Great stars. Great show. R.I.P Steed.

  • avatar
    Joss

    60’s optimism very cliche. I think it was a Sydney Newman televised Bond.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I didn’t watch that much of the Avengers and the Man from Uncle because I was busy studying in school but in later years I saw reruns of the Saint. I always liked Roger Moore and that Volvo.

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