Some photos of my A.M.T. Man from UNCLE Piranha Spy Car kit.
The original U.N.C.L.E. car was to be based on a V8 fastback Dodge Charger, a brand new mid-range passenger car. A classy looking American muscle motor, but it seems the network had second thoughts, thinking the manufacturer would benefit from a lot of free advertising, so the Dodge Charger was dropped.
The Dodge does appear in a few episodes, but if I’m honest, to me it looks like just another huge unwieldy American gas guzzler. I certainly didn’t register its appearance when I watched the series as a youngster.
During the series’ third season which aired from 1966 to 1967 a specially built new vehicle was introduced, a proper UNCLE car with flame throwers, rocket launchers and laser beams – The Piranha!
This low slung plastic bodied sports car was designed by the late Dann Deaver and built by famed car customizer Gene Whitfield, notable as having designed the original Star Trek Shuttlecraft, and later, The Spinner from Blade Runner, amongst others.
The sporty Piranha is sleek with an 88" wheelbase, it's 156" long, and just 41 1/2" high. The frame is made from fibreglass with a steel cage housing the front and rear suspension. The body panels are Cycolac thermoplastic.
Consequently the Piranha wasn't used in many episodes. It appeared in just five Man From Uncle episodes; The Five Daughters Affair ; The Take Me To Your Leader Affair; The Man from THRUSH Affair; The Napoleon's Tomb Affair; and The Test Tube Killer Affair.
It appeared in just a single episode of The Girl from UNCLE, The UFO Affair, where the Piranha appears in the teaser, and it's the only time some of the gadgets are used on screen before UNCLE agent, Mark Slate ( played by Noel Harrison) is run off the road by THRUSH baddies.
Corgi, who, in the absence of an official UNCLE car had already come up with their own Oldsmobile 'Thrushbuster' in 1966 ( covered by me here: https://projectswordtoys.blogspot.com/2020/06/corgi-thrushbuster.html), but went on to produce a small 1:64 scale Piranha as part of their Husky range – The Man from UNCLE Missile Firing Car. This was painted in a similar pale blue colour to what was seen in the TV series, and contained figures of Solo and Kuryakin. The firing mechanism was operated by pressing down the front wheels of the car; the bonnet flicked opened and fired a spring-loaded missile. This model was rebranded in 1970 as a Corgi Juniors on a carded 4” x 4” blister pack for 3/3d. It also came as one of the vehicles in the Corgi Juniors ‘Crimebusters Gift Set’.
In the U.K. UNCLE fans would have got a brief look at the Piranha in glorious Technicolor when the T.V. two- part story, The Five Daughters Affair was theatrically released in cinemas re-titled, The Karate Killers.
However, when it came to Piranha models, the kit to own is A.M.T.’s Super Spy U.N.C.L.E. car.
I've built two of these model kits, and while they do look pretty cool, I have to say they are awful kits to put together. It's a struggle to line everything up accurately, and needs quite a bit of filing down and alterations if you want all the opening features to sit right.
The upper and lower bodies need work to join together properly, which for me had varying success, a slight gap did appear on one of the models even after being held together overnight.
The front wheels which should be able to turn left or right only just fit, and on my first build push the tyres slightly out of line. The second kit I built is slightly better as it's supposed to have been re-tooled .
One thing that I did want to change was hinges on the opening gull wing doors so they looked a bit more like what was seen on screen. Apologies for the rod keeping the door open.
I removed the tiny prongs which are supposed to act as hinges and replaced them with my own hinges at the top of the doors, making sure they open as best I can as it's difficult to dry fit things as the whole kit really relies on all parts being put together first.
Obviously, that would make a decent paint job impossible.
The dashboard is nicely detailed and does have a central console which is designed to revolve; it does, but once the kit is put together it's impossible to get at.
The rear engine cover lifts to reveal a detailed engine, and it's optional whether you fit the turbo exhausts.
Once the kit is assembled most of the detailing can't be seen, though.
When it came to painting my models, one is painted blue and silver as it was seen in the last season of the series, the other is more familiar blue.
There's a couple of gadgets I passed on completely as I reckoned they might have spoilt the overall look of the model. The first is the front grill weapon barrels, and the second is the rear propeller shafts. The jury is still out on whether I fit the parachute under the rear number plate .
Overall its still a good looking model, but I certainly needed to put in a fair amount of work to get things to fit and look right.
For those, like me who loved James Bond’s cinematic outings, U.N.C.L.E. was the perfect TV equivalent. Even Bond creator Ian Fleming had a hand in its creation, coming up with the character names of Napoleon Solo (The series was originally intended to be called ‘Solo’, or Ian Fleming’s Solo, until the producers of the James Bond films, EON blocked that) and April Dancer (initially played by Mary Ann Mobley in the second season M.F.U. episode, ‘The Moonglow Affair, and later in the spin-off series The Girl From UNCLE in which Dancer is played by Stefanie Powers)
Suave secret agent, Napoleon Solo, the titular Man from UNCLE, played with style by New Yorker, Robert Vaughn, was the intended star, until the younger female fans of the series showed a lot of interest in Russian agent, Illya Kuryakin making Scottish actor, David McCallum, the co-star.
Vaughn was happy to share the credit, and along with their UNCLE spy master, the avuncular Alexander Waverly, played by perfect English gentleman, Leo G. Carroll, we had our original UNCLE team.
Barbara Moore joined the cast in the final fourth season as semi- regular UNCLE operative 46, Lisa Rogers, appearing in 10 of the 16 final episodes
The U.N.C.L.E. acronym never intended to stand for anything, as co- creator Sam Rolf wanted to leave it ambiguous, suggesting it could refer to ‘Uncle Sam’ or ‘United Nations’. But concerns about using the United Nations name for commercial purposes resulted in the creation on the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement.
UNCLE’s main adversary, T.H.R.U.S.H. on the other hand never stood for anything in the series (originally it was intended to be called W.A.S.P., but it was found Gerry & Sylvia Anderson’s T.V. series, Stingray was already using that acronym). One of the spin-off books, The D.A.G.G.E.R. Affair, written by David McDaniel has the acronym standing for the Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity.
Another aspect of the series would each week feature an ‘innocent’ character designed to identify with the audience. Usually a young female, although not exclusively. A young Kurt Russell appeared as a schoolboy in the first season episode, ‘The Finny Foot Affair’, and pop duo, Sonny & Cher, appeared in the third season episode, ‘Hot Number Affair’.
Like James Bond 007, the UNCLE series had its gadgets. Mention the phrase, ”Open Channel D” and in my mind’s eye I can see agents, Solo or Kuryakin talking into disguised cigarette packs, open cigarette & lighter cases or the better remembered UNCLE communicator pen.
Each UNCLE Agent or visitor wore a triangular yellow or green badge when in UNCLE HQ denoting various security clearances. The badges are generally placed on the agents entering headquarters by the receptionist who has special security coating on his or her fingers. Waverly is No. 1, Solo is No. 11 and Kuryakin is No. 2. Mark Slate is No. 19 in The Moonglow Affair and No.14 in the spin-off The Girl from UNCLE series, April Dancer is No. 34 in The Moonglow Affair, and No.22 in The Girl from UNCLE. Although there have been various fan theories over the years about what the badge numbers denote, they don’t really mean anything.
THRUSH had their own badges too, worn by operatives when working in one of their numerous secret bases, or ‘Satrap’s around the world.
When it comes to UNCLE guns, I could do an entire separate post on those; even the famous UNCLE special had its own fan club.