But it is a myth that started to lead a life of its own and once the lie was printed, others copied it verbatim without further research and the lie became the George Orwell new-speak truth. Fact is that the car was built in 1967/68 (well after the movie’s premiere) and, if anything, promoted Thunderbird Six as well as the television series in general when used for opening shop events and other usage.
It can be seen in a BBC Blue Peter programmme of June 13th, 1968, footage of which is included as an interlude on the Network "Filmed in Supermarionation" bluray disc. Presenters Valerie Singleton, John Noakes and Peter Purves brought the fully functioning life-size replica of Lady Penelope's Rolls-Royce, into the studio.
The car is quite a big beast, difficult to hide all that time between the two movies if it had existed to promote Thunderbirds Are GO!. And why should they? Why not make the most out of its presence?
One of the reprinted articles not only has a picture that shows some of the many scale models of FAB1 (each with their own unique features as with the many Thunderbirds models that should look the same), it also describes when the model was made and what it was used for.
The construction was entrusted to the Toby Baxter company located in Biggleswade, Bedfordshire county in England, under the supervision of Sylvia Anderson.
Given the impressive size of the FAB 1 (6.5 meters 3 tonnes) and its system of 4 steerable wheels on the front, it was decided to use the chassis of a Bedford Duple Vega bus.
This chassis was narrowed in length and the axles enlarged to fit the original model. The gasoline 6 cylinder Bedford engine was kept. The automatic gearbox is a Powerglide to 2 General Motors speeds. A weighted tubular chassis was mounted on the Bedford base. A fiberglass body was attached to this. The wheels were provided by Land Rover, bullet aluminum shocks were created for the occasion by a specialized company and the windshield bubble was manufactured in Perspex, a plexiglas. 2 parts of the bubble could rise on an auger system to allow boarding FAB 1. As on the original, the 2 doors open vertically and fold under the body.
But what about the grille? A false front grille was built, inclined forward, with movable vertical slats to allow the machine gun to come out. The radiator cap and Rolls Royce logo were used on the replica without the permission of Rolls Royce. The Spirit of Ecstacy was later replaced by an "LP" symbol on demand of Rolls Royce. As per final specifications, license plates were rotating, with the famous FAB1 on one side and the true registration (CPP 1F) on the reverse side, to allow it to be driven on British roads. A Plexiglas cover was added to protect the system from weather. The car’s interior was reproduced quite faithfully with a central driving seat and a back seat. White leather trim on the seats was also reproduced as well as a microphone attached to the driver’s seat.
The creators, Len Bailey and Alan Mann were associated with Ford but the fullsize FAB1 used Vauxhall and Bedford parts, backing up accounts that a different company (Toby Baxter) was used rather than Ford.
What happened to the car after its publicity purpose remains a bit of a mystery.
In 1989 it was eventually traced by Peter Nelson, owner of the (now closed) Cars of the Stars museum in Keswick, Cumbria who successfully outbid Lord Montague of Beaulieu and the Bee Gees manager to acquire it, although by then it was in a state of total disrepair. At that time it had its original license plate CPP 1F attached.
Nelson commissioned Mellor Coachcraft of Rochdale, better known for making minibuses, to carry out a restoration.
A year later the revitalised FAB1 was the star of the 1990 Great British Film Rally where Nelson encountered the men from Crewe. "I had received a letter from Rolls Royce saying I couldn't use the radiator but there was already that letter dating back to the original request, giving permission. Then I was approached on the rally by a Rolls Royce representative asking if I'd sell. It seemed pretty obvious to me that if I did, the car would disappear for good. So I refused." [Telegraph 2004]. Sadly, the car no longer resides in the UK as it was sold to the Dezer Car Museum in Miami, Florida in early 2013.
A second full-sized FAB1 replica was later commissioned by Gerry Anderson. This vehicle was a modified Rolls Royce Silver Spirit with the bonnet line extended to house the front four wheels, using double Ackermann steering. It did not have the bubble canopy or centre-mounted steering of the original and apart from the pink paint job and re-trim, the passenger compartment was standard Rolls Royce. This model attended Anderson’s funeral on 13 January 2013.
Let’s hope we can finally put the myth about FAB1 being built for the Thunderbirds Are GO! feature film to rest. Definite proof like purchase orders or invoice billing from the manufacturers might exist in the bowels of Century 21’s successors but hasn't been seen so far.