Straker’s Car – An Obsession
This weekend’s guest blog comes from Straker’s Car obsessive Sean Robinson. Many of you will already know about Sean’s quest to own/restore/rebuild/replicate Straker’s Car, but you may not know the whole story.
“It was early 1970. I’m six years old. Christmas had come and gone and I had used up my quota of presents for the foreseeable future. My parents were not particularly well off but we three kids wanted for nothing, until the day my two friends and I wandered into the local ironmongers.
The ironmongers was an incredible place, packed to the rafters with everything anyone would ever need including us kids – one corner was an entire toy shop. And there were shelf after shelf of everything a kid could ever want. There was a set of shelves just for Dinky cars and my eye went straight to one in particular. It was new; it hadn’t been there yesterday. I knew because I had scanned the shelves for anything new. A new Dinky car was exciting in itself, but this one was something else altogether because this car was the toy version of a car that had captivated me some months earlier. It hadn’t just captivated me; it had me mesmerized. It was Ed Straker’s car from the new Gerry Anderson series, UFO.
Now I will tell you, the ironmonger had only one of these cars, and there were three kids all wanting it and running home to ask their parents to buy it for them. One of the fathers turned up later with cash in pocket and duly bought it. The ironmonger asked the guy, “who is this for?” The father replied, “I’m Sean’s dad.” The ironmonger said, ”I knew he would get it.” And he was right because I was obsessed with all things Century 21, and in particular, that car.
This car was incredible because it was real and I knew it was real and what a stunner! I remember sitting on the sofa with my dad waiting for the first episode of the eagerly awaited new series UFO and on it came and there in the titles was this incredible car and I was hooked, mesmerized and obsessed within a few seconds. I wanted it and not just the toy: I wanted the real thing and I was going to have it.
I was born in a Sunderland council house in the summer of 1964, the son of a mechanical fitter. We were not wealthy, but that did not change the fact that I wanted this car more than life itself.
During my childhood and early teenage years I followed the work of the man that for me was everything I ever wanted to be in life. That man was Derek Meddings. The man that could make magic happen! Apart from designing the effects on all of the shows, he designed all of the Thunderbird machines, the SPV, SPC, Angel Interceptor, Mac’s car and hundreds of others in those shows. He also, of course, designed Straker’s car.
Thanks to magazines such as TV21, Lookin and others, I tracked the car’s progress after the show ended and found out that the DJ Dave Lee Travis bought it straight from the production company.
I know that he used to show the car around the country in the mid-seventies but it never made it to the northeast so I missed out. The last photograph I saw in a Lookin magazine was the car with Dave after it had been sprayed white (I have no idea what possesses some people!) but after that I lost track and the car seemed to have disappeared.
I entered the film industry in 1990 where I started work for BBRK at Shepperton studios. It was a busy time and an exciting one but one thing in particular blew my mind. On my first day, I met Derek Meddings! To say this changed my life forever is a drastic understatement; it rocked it to its very core.
I was very lucky to have a friendship with Derek that lasted until the day he died. A sad loss to all of us he had inspired, and those who still work in the effects world. I talked a lot to him about Straker’s car and how he designed it. He told me that although it was a pig to drive, being built on top of a ford zodiac, he was really pleased with the way it looked and he was very fond of the design. This only fueled my burning passion to own it. But it had disappeared from the face of the earth.
It wasn’t until early 2000 that a photograph appeared on the Internet. It was in a terrible state and in someone’s back garden – location unknown. But it still existed! The fire was burning again even more fiercely than ever; I had to find this car…
I approached several people, including one or two who are known around the collecting fraternity regarding the car’s location. They either point blank refused to help me or deliberately pointed me in the wrong direction (they know who they are!) It took me another twelve years of searching though and in 2012 I decided to go all out to find this thing before it killed me. I was eventually very kindly given a clue to the town where it was and after spending a few hours on Google earth I saw what looked like the car under a tarpaulin.
I jumped into the car and had a two-hour drive ahead of me. I had a case of stage fright as I knocked on the door. After a rambling explanation to the lovely and understanding present owners, I was allowed around the back to come face to face with the car I had spent more than 42 years looking for. A very strange feeling I can tell you! But there it was. My next problem was how to get my sweaty little hands on it…
I developed a friendship with the owner and then summoned up the courage to ask him to sell it to me. After thinking about it for a few weeks he decided that he couldn’t sell it for very personal reasons. This was a disaster – after 42 years of looking there it was just out of reach! I wasn’t prepared to give up and I came up with a plan B. Would he allow me to mould it? He agreed and for the first time I really felt that I could own this car (or at least an exact replica). The only problem I had was I that I would have to mould this car in situ – meaning in the back garden of a house in the midlands.
I gathered a small team, and we decided the best and only real option would be to take a plaster cast of the whole car, and then bring the cast back to my workshop, cast out the sections in fiberglass and reassemble the pieces back into a car. Only once we had done that could we start to repair the car as it has been battered, corroded, collapsed, walked on, and is in a terrible state.
We waited for the weather to break and then went for it over a weekend last spring. Over the course of a day and a half, three of us worked like crazy to finish the mould. Then we had to disassemble the sections and carry them over a hedge, through another garden and out onto the road where we loaded them into our large van. The owner’s family was amazing, every one helping out with the loading. By Sunday afternoon, the plaster casts were in my workshop.
We quickly cast out the sections in fiberglass and pulled them out of the moulds, the plaster moulds were then skipped and we assembled the pieces back into the car. We at last had a copy of Straker’s car sitting in the workshop and the real work was about to begin. We then spent several months filling and sanding, straightening and re-fibreglassing until we had something decent.
We then made a new set of fiberglass moulds from this master and then cast out a new shell. I realized that I needed help to make it into a real car. I never wanted just something to look at. I want to drive it and for this I will need a specialist.
Being in the film industry I’m lucky that I can tap into a network of experts in their trade. I decided to approach Edd China from Wheeler Dealers’ fame and was very lucky to have hit on just the right guy. Edd is a genius and this project is right up his street. He loves the car and we have become great friends in the process.
Our plan now is to have the cast fiberglass shell scanned so that Edd can put right all of the discrepancies in the cast and make the bodywork symmetrical, (something the original car never was and even less so now). We then will have a perfect body laser cut in foam and we’ll make a new mould from that. It is our intention to fit the car with a gas turbine engine which could run on eco fuel, it will go like a rocket, sound the way it did in the show and have an actual turbine engine as was depicted in the show. It will also have a flawless body and working Gull wing doors. All this and it will be road legal.
I do pinch myself when I walk into the workshop to be greeted by this car and the best thing is, I will be able to drive it every day. Dreams really do come true, eventually!”