Great little movers

2nd February 2001 at 00:00
Where do those four-wheeled stars go when they retire? A quiet little place in the Lake District, as Laurence Alster discovers.

People who talk about media movers and shakers usually mean those behind-the-scene bigwigs who fix multi-million-pound movie and television deals.

But there are other movers and shakers in the entertainment world, far more famous than those who brought them to the screen in the first place. They are the weird and wonderful cars that fans sometimes remember from a film long after they have forgotten one exact detail of the plot.

As improbable as some of the cars themselves is the fact that several of the most memorable can now be found in the pretty Cumbrian town of Keswick.

This is where Cars of the Stars, a small, privately-owned collection, brings a touch of Hollywood to a place as different from the glitzy Los Angeles suburb as, say, an Aston Martin DB5 is from a Reliant Regal Super Van.

With both models now resident in Cars of the Stars, visitors can make the comparison for themselves. That particular Aston Martin will forever be linked with Sean Connery as secret agent 007 in the third James Bond film, Goldfinger, while its humble neighbour is instantly linked with Del and Rodney from Only Fools and Horses, one of the most successful of all recent television comedy series. Both illustrate one of the first principles of representation in screen comedy, fantasy and drama (not to say real life): car connotes character.

So what better than a Reliant three-wheeler to reflect the comic failure of Del, a man whose schemes conk out as regularly as his jamjar? Here is the model from the TV series: "Trotters Independent Trading Co - New York, Paris, Peckham" on the sides, fur dice dangling from the rear view mirror and tatty "tax in post" note stuck to the windscreen.

It's a far cry from Bond's supercharged, gadget-packed chariot, as smooth and steely as the man himself.

Q, the tetchy but likeable boffin of the Bond films, would surely have approved of the Knight Industries Two Thousand (K.I.T.T.) computer-controlled car, the prime mover from the television series Nightrider, which starred a pre-Baywatch David Hasslehoff. Its cockpit monitors and banks of flashing lights mesmerise young visitors.

Not quite so much, though, as young Marty McFly's gull-winged DeLorean time machine from the Back to the Future films. This is the one that carried Marty almost beyond braking distance of a love affair with his mom-to-be. Which was, of course, an excuse for all sorts of comical confusion. There was confusion too in Tim Burton's 1989 version of Batman, though hardly of thecomic kind. The eerie, portentous mood of Burton's film is chillingly evoked here by a tableau featuring the caped crusader himself, cowled, cloaked and with breastplated costume to match the sinewy outlines of the Batmobile.

With twin batwing fins bristling from both rear wheel arches and an even larger third curving away from the roof, this contoured colossus holds children, bug-eyed, for longer than any other exhibit. Or perhaps it's the sight of The Joker (Jack Nicholson version) emerging menacingly from the shadows of Gotham City.

While the Batmobile is undeniably the star of the high-tech models, the most popular low-tech exhibits belong to Fred, Barney, Wilma and Betty, solid citizens of the prehistoric town of Bedrock.

From the 1995 release The Flintstones, the three primitive but ingenious runabouts (fossils for wheel hubs, a chassis fashioned from twin-pointed tree trunks, YABADOO numberplate) are even more appealing for being set among amusing Bedrock scenery.

"Yabadabadon't!" was one critic's opinion of The Flintstones, and critics generally didn't like the Herbie series of films much more. Their views didn't stop millions of children from adoring The Love Bug or the other tales of the V W Beetle with a mind of its own. Rusty and battered, here is the car actually used in Herbie Goes Bananas, complete with information on how it appeared driverless in the film.

The critics weren't wild about Chitty Chitty Bang Bang either, but again it didn't matter. A look at the "fine four-fendered friend" of the title song shows why. An ornate, barrel-bonneted fusion of motor car, yacht and flying machine, it is just the thing to confound Baron Bomburst's dastardly designs.

Children stare in wonder at these and other exhibits - most obviously, Lady Penelope's 22-ft, shocking pink Rolls-Royce from Thunderbirds, Mr Bean's Mini and the A-Team van.

Not having seen the actual programmes, some are puzzled by Emma Peal's Lotus Elan from The Avengers, or Roger Moore's discreetly sporty Volvo P1800 from his days as dapper Simon Templar in The Saint. So it's a pity that the collection is rather thin on background material to these and some of the other lesser-known exhibits.

But with their eyes glued and their mouths open, most kids just don't seem to care.

Cars of the Stars Motor Museum Standish Street, Keswick, Cumbria CA12 5LS. Tel: 017687 73757. Open 10am-4.30pm, Feb half term, every day from 7 April to end Nov. Weekends only in December. Phone for details. Admission: more than 20: pound;1.60;children 3 to 14, pound;2.60; teachers andcarers with groups of less than 20; pound;3.adults, pound;2 children.


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