Friday October 12, 2018
If you happened to be reading The Daily Mirror on January 2nd 1980, glumly contemplating the return to work in the new year, the following headline may have caught your eye – ‘Big, extravagant, and drinks like a fish… (and that’s only the car)’. Yes, ‘Wild man Oliver Reed has taken delivery of a monster car that can match his thirst and flamboyance. It is a ten - miles-to-the-gallon, 130 mph limousine’.
So far, so early-1980s tabloid newspaper, but the vehicle itself itself is undoubtably fascinating. Between 1974 and 1985 the Panther De Ville was the archetypal transport for pools winners and successful entertainers who regarded the Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow II as just too low-key. The hand-crafted coachwork was inspired by the Bugatti Royale, power was from your choice of Jaguar units and the interior was pure “1970s Nouveau Riche”.
Naturally you could specify your De Ville as a saloon or a convertible and the list of optional extras included a television set was an optional extra’ the late 1970s was a time when most families were only just starting to consider buying their first colour receiver.
The asking price was inevitably steep and the De Ville was once Britain’s most expensive car. Indeed, £60,000 would have also bought you 30 Lada 1200s in place of one Panther, although few multi-millionaires were known to contemplate this move.
In short, this was a proudly excessive machine, one that laughed at the mere notions of understatement or restraint. It was the car favoured by Elton John while Johnny “The French Elvis” Hallyday drove a De Ville with gold “JH” lettering on the wheel covers. And there was Mr. Reed, whose new car helped to mask the fact that his film career was now heading towards B-features along the lines of Venom, an everyday story of escaped snakes and ham acting in London -
Fortunately, we will be covering two of the pictures he made with Michael Winner in the 1960s, The Jokers and I'll Never Forget What's 'Isname later this year -
The cars in both features are splendid, as is Reed’s acting when he was at the height of his career, but for now we return to The Daily Mirror:
Like outrageous Olly, it’s unique a one-off job that took four men nine months to create by hand. And like film star Olly, it’s always full of grog…. stored in a refrigerated booze cabinet.
And so, to my favourite detail of the De Ville which relates to neither its engineering nor the lavishness of its cabin but to the coachwork. Some elements look awfully familiar, for while the drophead used MGB parts the saloon very obviously employed a certain aspect of the BLMC 1800/2200 and Austins 3-Litre and Maxi.
For some of us, it is very difficult not to be distracted by those famous Landcrab doors whenever we are watching the 1996 re-make of 101 Dalmatians or the video for I’m Still Standing -
Of course, the terms ‘Bugatti Royale replica’ and ‘Morris 1800 Mk. III’ rarely belong in the same sentence - but you cannot deny that they lend the Panther a homely touch. Sadly, history does not relate whether this was a deciding factor for Mr. O Reed placing an order for a De Ville, but here he is a young actor, leading a gang of Teddy Boys, menacing Norman Wisdom – and no doubt dreaming of the day he would one day own a limousine -
PS – Yes, the sailor is a young Michael Caine…