Cars in Film : The Fourth Protocol

The Fourth Protocol is perhaps one of the only times you’ll see Pierce Brosnan playing the baddie – Major Petrofsky – out to plant a nuclear bomb near an American air base in East Anglia, that could destroy NATO.

Secret Service agent John Preston (Michael Caine) is given the responsibility of stopping him. Cue the cars, a few stunts and the misuse of a Ford Transit, much to the detriment of a Mini… and a few others!


The Fourth Protocol – Cold War car fest…

Fourth Protocol: Rover SD1

If there’s a scene that sums up this adaptation of Frederic Forsyth’s novel, it’s an apparently throwaway scene on a tube train. The hero, Michael Caine’s tough guy spy, sees a black youth wearing a CND badge reduced to tears by the racist invective of a pair of Nazi skinheads. Hilariously, Caine punches both of them simultaneously unconscious, before nonchalantly exiting the train. The first instinct was to applaud this altruistic act of militant anti-fascism.

However, the CND badge foreshadows the film’s climax, where a US airbase is under threat from a rogue Soviet agent (Pierce Brosnan) with a homemade nuclear device, as antiwar demonstrators march on the base. From the film’s tone, we’re supposed to think: ‘How misguided they are! If only they knew the work our brave security operatives are doing to protect their freedom to march, the treacherous swines!’

Talking of traitors, one is played by Anton Rodgers, who appeared in the Rover SD1 promotion film ‘Two more for the road’. But I’ll never be able to hear his gentle soothing tones now, without thinking of Ian Richardson threatening Rodgers with blowtorches and pliers. Michael Caine is being played for a fool by Richardson (his boss), the revelation of which leads to a classic Caine put-down: “You belong in a facking museum!”

As for his steely adversary, the casting of Pierce Brosnan is interesting in retrospect, in the light of his subsequent career as one of the more successful latter-day James Bonds. Here he plays the kind of all-round bad guy 007 is always tackling. However, this villain’s ruthlessness and relentless sex drive are remarkably similar to the Her Majesty’s favourite secret agent.

Unlike Bond, though, Brosnan’s character here swings both ways, and as soon as he has finished with his conquests, he dispatches them with Siberian sang froid. As for the other Russians, they speak English amongst themselves for some unknown reason – they don’t even bother to put on Russian accents. And whose idea was it to cast Ned Beatty as a Russian?

On the whole, The Fourth Protocol is a forgettable 1980s Cold War thriller that can be filed alongside the Lewis Collins vehicle Who Dares Wins (1983). Just ignore the scaremongering and wallow in nostalgia for a time when there were two superpowers.

Lord of the manner…

Fourth Protocol
Just like the Mini in The Professionals, this Range Rover being driven outside some stately home in Yorkshire by intelligence-leaking Secret Service agent Barensen could well have come from the cover of a BL brochure.

Role reversal…

Fourth Protocol
Bad Boy Brosnan: the car of choice if you are a KGB agent looking to plant a nuclear bomb on an American air base is an Escort XR3i.

Handbrake turn

Fourth Protocol
Barry executes a handsome handbrake turn on the platform at *St Pancras Station, just as the train Preston needs to catch is leaving.

Traffic jam…

Fourth Protocol
Some British gems, including the white Princess up at the front, a white Land Rover, behind which is a BMC 1100. What looks a little bit like a Rover P6 or a Triumph Dolomite behind Petrofsky’s XR3i is actually a Lada… You might also spot a black Metro.

Marines in a Montego

Fourth Protocol
The SAS arrive by chopper, to be taken to Preston’s base near Petrofsky’s house in a brown Austin Montego…

Crash! (Pt 1)

Fourth Protocol
Preston sees Petrofsky just as he is driving off. Preston immediately turns around and starts running back towards the Transit and shouts, ‘Pull out, Barry!’, so Barry drives straight forwards, into the back of a Mini 1000, which in turn goes into the back of a Renault 14, making its avantgarde rear look even more avantgarde!

Crash (Pt 2)

Fourth Protocol
Create a bit more room for yourself by reversing into a Citroën GS.

Drive out!

Fourth Protocol
Proceed by ploughing down the wrong side of the road towards oncoming traffic, avoiding policemen, where possible. Note the Honda Prelude heading in the opposite direction…

One way traffic

Fourth Protocol
Preston smells a rat when Petrofsky is shot dead in the mission to disarm him. Preston wants answers from his boss and rushes to the funeral of the head of the Secret Service, the wrong way down a one way street, in his *Jaguar XJ6/XJ12, probably to the dismay of whoever was driving the MGB.

*But did you spot the mistakes?

TFP was a film that was actually fraught with turmoil and bad luck throughout its filming and shortly prior to its general release. If you watch the credits closely you will notice Caine’s name appear in the Producers credits during the closing titles. The film was one of Michael’s first forays into movie production and he did in fact stump up a great deal of his own personal money in order to get the film into the can. There were a whole host of problems during filming which included a major scene relocation when a local Council got cold feet about the film and its content.

When it came to final release the distribution company folded which meant the film never got the same level of distribution and publicity it deserved. This was a great shame as Frederick Forsyth novels always made for a superb film – notably The Day of the Jackal being a prime example.

But for the keen eyed, did you spot one or two errors in the film and continuity? There are a couple of bobby dazzlers for the keen viewer, here are just a few of them for when you next watch the film:

The Rover Journey to the Station:

How many of you noted the background noise sounding like the SD1 was a manual car when it could be clearly seen to be an automatic. Also, the engine noise was definitely something four-cylinder and not Rover in tone either.

Finally, there was the well-executed handbrake turn on the platform of St Pancras station. But what were they doing there of all places? They should have been a few miles east at Liverpool Street for Preston’s  ultimate destination. I wonder how far he got before realising he’s actually on a commuter train bound for Bedford…

Tracking the Motorbike and the Traffic Jam Scene:

Petrofsky swaps his BMW bike for the car and the MI5 guys track the bike in the Transit. Did many of you spot the van change its colour slightly and flit from a Custom model to an L trim vehicle in those scenes. Also you may have noted the disappearance of the front number plate as the van goes off-road then re-appearing refitted shortly after – something to do with Ford getting nervous about their press vehicle Transit getting wrecked so the production team bought a used one for the film.

Fourth Protocol

The Closing Scene With Preston and His Son:

During the funeral of the MI5 boss, Preston goes to have it out with his immediate superior. Look closely when the Series 3 XJ slews towards the kerb and when John Preston hops out. You can just make out the actor playing his young son in the front passenger seat has been clearly replaced by a dummy.

Finally… A bigger BLARG Spot:

Discerning fans of the bigger vehicles may note the arrival of Mrs Petrofsky as she hops off an airport link Berkhof Everest-bodied Leyland Tiger.

Leyland Tiger

Keith Adams
Latest posts by Keith Adams (see all)

11 Comments

  1. That scene in the traffic jam was filmed on the then un opened Colchester By Pass I think.

    The face on Anton Rogers playing Agent Barrenson is a picture when he finds out he’s dropped a clanger unwittingly passing on files to the KGB.

    VASTLY under-rated film!

    • It was the Chelmer Valley Way, Chelmsford Mike! It was just completed and not opened yet when they used it. I can remember it being shown on BBC local news. I can remember the film sounding great, to see it later on and thinking how poor it was when the book is excellent.

  2. I thought the traffic scenes were on the newly built and unopened Chelmer Valley Road (A1016) in Chelmsford. I only remember this as I was in ‘The Cricketers’ in Moulsham Street at the time (probably underage) and the locals were full of Michael Caine being in the locality filming, he may have even popped into one of the Moulsham Street pubs that week. When I watch the film I can certainly recognise the road as the Chelmer Valley Road.

    • Blimey forgot about the Cricketers! Amazing how many pubs we have lost in Essex.

      So The Fourth Protocol is your starter. What other films were shot in Chelmsford?

  3. Sounds like a ‘must watch’ for Autoshite viewing.

    Incidentally, Peirce Brosnan played an IRA baddie in another great Autoshite movie- The Long Good Friday.

  4. Pierce Brosnan in a Ford Escort just looks like a juxtaposition compared to the BMWs and Aston Martins he piloted as a secret agent…

    The Transit looks strangely modern, though I suppose it was a new model and the silhouette lived on until the late 90s.

    • @ Adrian, it was one of those films that was good at the time, being released just after the Falklands War and interest in the SAS being at an all time high, but which was quickly forgotten. I do remember the woman terrorist driving a Lotus Esprit.

  5. Sadly the film does not do justice to the book in the way Day of the Jackal does. Not sure if it is just that the production values are a bit light, clearly they did not have a big budget, or if it is because early 80s Britain is too familiar whereas 70s France is not, so looks more exotic than it really is.

    A few years ago, I showed it to a Russian friend in Moscow, he enjoyed it, although thought that the Soviet Union would not undertake such a dangerous and murderous enterprise (this was before Salisbury) and in fairness the operation lacks the context it is given in the book.

    He did have however have a big issue with a senior KGB officer choosing to have a Volga estate as his personal car, in the Soviet Union the estate was used as an ambulance and not available as a private car, because if you were the sort of person who had a Volga, you were not the sort of person who got their hands dirty, the estate was instead sold as a “poor man’s” Volvo in export markets, Finland being a relative big market for it. I think they filmed the Soviet scenes in Finland and so that is why they ended up using a Volga estate. Because in Finland if you had a Volga, you most certainly somebody who got their hands dirty.

  6. Those were the days – those were the cars… My brother owned a 1981 white Honda Prelude at the time, it was a lovely car.

Add to the debate: leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.