Inspector Clouseau Just Wanted To Do Burnouts
Peter Sellers was enigmatic, infuriating and a comedy genius. He was also a diehard car enthusiast with exquisite taste.
To those in the U.K., Peter Sellers is Peter Sellers; to Americans, he is Inspector Clouseau. Whether you know the man as speaking with clipped British syllables or fluted French ones, he’s an icon of film comedy. An actor whose fluid physicality and unrelenting dedication to a bit put him on-par with stars of an earlier generation, like Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. At once, a Sellers’ character like Clouseau could be a twitching ball of neurosis and bizarre affect and a soulful human. Does your dog bite, he’d ask. And once he was inevitably bitten, you’d laugh, then feel his bewilderment.
As is often the case with actors, especially in the pre-Internet days of unrestrained celebrity hijinks, some of Sellers best stories occurred off-screen. Ten days after meeting Swedish actress Britt Ekland, he married her. They went on to have a tempestuous union, fueled in part by Sellers’ (unfounded) fears of Ekland’s infidelity. Once, after taking a boatload of amyl nitrites and hopping into bed with Ekland, Sellers had a series of eight heart-attacks, about which Billy Wilder remarked, “you have to have a heart before you can have an attack.”
A surprise to many, though, is how indulgent Sellers was in realms beyond sex and drugs. By the time he was 39, in 1964, Peter Sellers had owned more than 80 cars. Among them, some of the Sixties’ best: Astons, Maseratis, Ferraris, Mercedes and a highly-customized, high-horsepower Radford Mini Cooper built especially for Ekland. In particular, he had a taste for British luxury cars, many secondhand. In the fifties, he purchased Cary Grant’s old Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud I and later a Bentley S1. As a signing bonus on his Casino Royale contract, Sellers was given a Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud III, then bought another used in 1967, to sit alongside his Ferrari 500 Superfast, because when you’re rich enough, mine and mine supercars seem reasonable.
And, amid all that heavy luxury, Sellers owned a lithe ’66 Lotus Elan S2. It’s for sale right now, with a picture of the man himself hamming it up in the cabin, zippered to the neck by car’s cover. Besides a full-size souvenir for the Sellers aficionado, this Elan S2 is a pristine example of one of the best handling cars in the world. However, if you do ultimately crash the featherweight fiberglass Lotus, the results will be, uh, completely fatal.