Thursday, May 15, 2008

The hunt for Harry Potter's Stolen Car

The hunt for Harry Potter's Stolen Car
By Paul O’Connor

The disappearance of a 1962 Ford Anglia from a film studio in Cornwall made international news. Police suspected a Harry Potter fan or a classic motor enthusiast but the truth is even stranger.

The small blue car entered movie folklore after displaying its flying capabilities in the ‘Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets’ blockbuster. An illustration of the car also appears on the front cover of the J.K Rowling book. In the movie, the vehicle is granted special powers by the Ministry of Magic and flown by teenage wizards Ron and Harry to Hogwarts school.

The theft of the movie icon hasn’t worried the owner of Britain’s other infamous flying car. Pierre Picton, movie mechanic and owner of ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’, said he wasn’t optimistic about anyone finding the Harry Potter car as ‘unlike Chitty who is a unique icon, there were so many blue Ford Anglias produced’ he said.

Forty years since Ian Fleming’s ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ flew across the silver screen the all terrane vehicle is still popular. Built by mechanics and boat-builders from Windsor, the car includes salvaged brass fittings from the wrecks of Edwardian ships. The dashboard plate was fitted from a British First World War fighter plane. Movie mechanic and Chitty owner, Pierre Picton informed me that the cars licence plate GEN11 is derived from the Latin term for ‘magical being’.

When asked about extra security for the movie car, Mr Picton said that apart from people stealing the tax disc a few years ago he hasn’t experienced any problems. ‘She lives in a former coach house near my home covered in blankets’.
This week a group calling themselves the ‘Cornish Piskys’ have claimed responsibility for removing the movie icon from South West Studios in St Agnes. Their intention is to transport the vehicle with licence plate 7990TD to Brussels to highlight what they see as misuse of European development money in Cornwall. They may have some success as flying motorcars have been capturing the public imagination since the 1960’s.

This month, a movie car fetched £1 million during an auction in Arizona. The 1964 Aston Martin DB5 with revolving number plates, two machine guns and ejector seat, appeared in the James Bond movie, Goldfinger. The silver one of four cars produced for Sean Connery’s 007 character. However even the car of an international spy is not safe. In 1997 the silver Aston Martin used for close-ups in the feature film was stolen from an airport in Florida.

Other movie vehicles to disappear without trace include the motorcycles from the counterculture movie ‘Easy Rider’. The Harley Davidsons, one with a stars and stripes painted fuel tank, were stolen from a garage two weeks before final filming. Peter Fonda, star of the cult movie has a relaxed view of the theft saying ‘If you understand anything about stolen vehicles, the engine went one direction, the frame went another way.Some people have said that it's a tragedy, but I say that it's a scattering of the ashes. There must be five or seven people riding around with a part of the original bike and don’t even know it.’

Harry Potters Ford Anglia may not have the allure of Bond’s Aston Martin nor the iconic status of an Easy Rider but some believe the car is still valuable. The flying car with licence plate 7990 TD could be worth £20,000 to a collector according to Cooperowen, the largest film and rock music auctioneers in the world.

Taken to Cornwall to join an exhibition of film memorabilia, the car was abandoned following the collapse of the company last year.

Rather than going to Harry Potter freaks or classic car lovers, the car has fallen into the hands of a group of struggling artists who want to highlight what they see as ‘corporate scams’. They believe much of the £340 million in EU grants allocated for Cornwall is being ‘squandered on unrealistic projects.’

South West Film Studios in St Agnes, north Cornwall was hailed as the ‘Hollywood of the West Country’. The studio, where the car was taken from, received a grant of more than £2 million before collapsing last year. Other grants that have attracted criticism are those to private art galleries and established artists. Critics of the funding include Andrew George, the Liberal Democrat MP for St Ives.

The Cornish artists returned the car to 14th-century Carn Brae Castle in Cornwall to highlight that ‘it should be the poorest people in Cornwall who benefit from EU grants rather than rich Londoners building film studios with no future.’

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