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July 19, 2023

FAB 1: The World’s Biggest and Most Expensive Car

FAB 1 is a pink, six-wheeled car seen in the 1960s British science-fiction television series Thunderbirds, its three film adaptations and its reboot, Thunderbirds Are Go.

In the original Thunderbirds (1965–66), as well as the feature films Thunderbirds Are Go (1966) and Thunderbird 6 (1968), FAB 1 is depicted as a modified Rolls-Royce. Owned by International Rescue agent Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward, the car is usually driven by her butler, Aloysius Parker. The driver sits in a central position at the front of the passenger compartment, which is covered by a bulletproof bubble canopy.

FAB 1 was modified by Brains, the inventor of the Thunderbirds machines, to include weaponry and gadgetry such as front- and rear-mounted machine guns. The car is also equipped with a smoke screen canister and oil slick dispenser, extendable tyre studs (for increased traction), and hydrofoils and skis (for travel on water and snow).

On the choice of make, series co-creator Gerry Anderson said: “Considering [Penelope’s] personality, and the role she played in International Rescue, it could only be a Rolls-Royce.” AP Films (APF) approached Rolls-Royce Limited, which consented to the use of its brand. In 2004, Rolls-Royce’s head of public relations in the 1960s said that the company “couldn’t see any harm in [APF’s] request, and as the series was aimed at children we thought it would be good for the cars – give them a modern image and, you never know, inspire a child to own one, one day.” In return for its co-operation, the company asked that all on-screen references to the make of the car use the full brand name “Rolls-Royce”, rather than the abbreviation “Rolls”.

To distinguish the look from that of real-life cars, designer Derek Meddings gave FAB 1 a six-wheel drive. He said that his decision to place two sets of wheels at the front, instead of at the back, was motivated purely by aesthetics: “My excuse [...] was that the engine was so big and powerful it needed them, but it wasn’t done for any technical reason.” He remembered FAB 1 for its “outrageous styling, which bore no resemblance to any Rolls-Royce ever produced.”

Two shooting models were built: a six-inch-long (15 cm) miniature and a puppet-size version, measuring six or seven feet (1.8 or 2.1 m), to accommodate the 1⁄3 human-scale marionette characters. The latter – constructed from plywood, aluminium and chrome-plated brass – cost approximately £2,500 to build in 1964 (£53,900 in today). It had fully-functional steering and headlamps with a removable canopy, doors and underside to facilitate puppet filming. The headlamps incorporated parts from bicycles. Rolls-Royce supervised the construction and supplied one of its own radiator grilles (costing £100), complete with a Spirit of Ecstasy figure. This was used for close-ups of the larger model, including shots of the car firing its machine guns and a stock photograph of the bonnet featured in the series’ closing titles. As the car was the most expensive prop to be built for the series, special security measures were followed whenever it was used on set.

Noting FAB 1’s weaponry and gadgets, Robert Sellers and Marcus Hearn liken the car to the modified Aston Martin DB5 driven by James Bond in the films Goldfinger (1964) and Thunderball (1965).


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