We recently received an email from Mike Hammond, former owner of a car that UFO fans should be very familiar with! He’s very kindly offered to share some of his memories of owning one of the cars used in the 1969 feature film Doppelgänger (more commonly known as Journey to the Far Side of the Sun) and the TV series UFO.
As I am sure you know the cars were designed by special effects man Derek Meddings and Ford Motor Company stylist Len Bailey. The Byfleet based racing manufacturer, Alan Mann Racing, was commissioned to build the two cars. (They also built Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, but that’s another story). They cost £10,000 each, which was a lot of money in 1968. They were built out of hand-beaten alloy and measured 17 feet long, 6 feet wide and 44 inches high. They were based on Ford Mk 4 car chassis.
I have always been a great fan of Gerry Anderson right from the start of the Supermarionation days of Supercar through to the first season of Space:1999. (He was certainly the reason why I got involved in film making). So it followed when I saw an article in the Daily Express newspaper back in 1968 entitled ‘Presenting the £10,000 Doppelganger, a car you just can’t buy!’ I was hooked. The photo shows one of the cars with Graham Hill and star Loni von Friedl.
I know there were definitely two cars built for the film; yet in one scene there appears to be three. I understand the third was probably a mock-up for filming purposes.
Later both cars, like most of the actors from the film, turned up in the live action series UFO. Both cars were physically changed slightly; one painted gold (Ed Straker’s car) and the other lilac (Paul Foster’s car). After filming stopped the cars were bought by a certain Ian Linscott who lived in Hatfield. He had a franchise with ITV giving him options to purchase any props coming up for sale. (Incidentally he also owned the full size FAB 1). In 1975 Radio 1 D.J.Dave Lee Travis bought Straker’s car.
Foster’s car, the lilac one, ended up being bought by a film company called Oppidan and was re-furbished at a reputed £8,000 to appear in a sex film entitled Fluff. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) the money for the film ran out and it was never made. However, the re-furbishment was completed before the money ran out. It remained, un-used, in the hands of said film company for a few year until December 1979 when…I bought it!
It was only by chance that I had seen an article and a photo about the film and the car in Screen International, the film and TV trade magazine. I contacted the production company and made them an offer. I think they were only too happy to sell it!
When the car arrived from London, on the back of a low-loader to my home in Blackpool, it was in a very sorry state. It had been painted brown, was water logged and had no intention of starting. I spent 12 months (and a lot of money!!) getting it back into a presentable condition. Luckily it wasn’t in as bad a condition as first thought and I think that must be down to the fact that it was extremely well built. The shape of the car was fine except it was missing the original bonnet which was replaced by a hideous air scoop. Also missing were the side bulges which would have made the doors even heavier to lift. Still, it looked pretty good.
In the film and the TV series the huge gull-wing doors were operated by an off-screen technician, but since then electrically operated pneumatic rams had been fitted which enabled the doors to open and close at the touch of a button. Pretty cool! In the film and series the cars only had perspex windscreens which meant they could not be legally driven on the roads (except when filming). Fortunately the film company had gone to the trouble of having a laminated safety glass windscreen specially made and fitted, so the car was the only one to actually be street legal. I had to insure the car through Lloyds of London.
I had the car sprayed red (not sure why I did that but anything was better than brown) and ran it for a couple of years. You can imagine the looks I got when driving down the road or filling up at a petrol station. It was amazing how many people recognised it from the series. Taking it for its MOT test was always a nightmare….!
Driving the car was a challenging experience, to say the least. How on earth Michael Billington (Colonel Foster) or anyone else for that matter was able to actually drive the car when it was in UFO is beyond me. First of all the pedals were too far away to reach, even for someone 6ft tall. Secondly the gear lever was buried inside the large central tunnel which divided the driver and passenger seats. I had these all altered so it became easier to drive.
After running the car for a few years it was mothballed until I eventually decided that it should be given a make-over and have it painted in the original UFO colour – and get it back to how it looked originally in UFO. So work began stripping it down and buying a new engine and automatic gearbox etc.
Over the years I received many phone calls, visits and letters from people requesting to see that car, and of course the answer was always ‘yes’. However, in 1993, I received such a letter from a really nice guy who came up from Suffolk to see the car…and there and then made me an offer to buy it. So I accepted, and a few weeks later this huge army tank transporter arrived to collect and take it back to Suffolk. What a way to go! Sadly that was the last time I saw the car and I am not sure what ever happened to it next. (I owned the car from December 1979 to July 1993 – 14 years.)
Still, I had great fun owning and driving ‘A Car You Just Can’t Buy’!