Agent Julian Balme scours the British Secret Service archives for 007’s finest drives. In a year chock-full of automotive anniversaries, James Bond’s half-century on celluloid seems a worthy excuse to shake the Martini mixer. In all of the 24 films (the 25th, Skyfall, is due for release this year), cars have played an unforgettable part, be it as a humble extra or a scenestealing leading role. Indeed, the 007 approval has made stars of vehicles that might well have been overlooked were it not for their involvement with Ian Fleming’s famed secret agent.
Bond’s creator was forever dropping various references to cars into his books, most notably in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in which he drives: ‘A 1954 Continental Bentley with the R-type chassis, the big 6 engine, to which, against the advice of Rolls-Royce, he’d fitted an Arnott supercharger.’ Battleship Grey was his colour of choice, not only for the Bentley but also, in Goldfinger, for an ‘Aston Martin DB MkIII from the car pool’. He and the car later tangle with Tilly
Masterton’s TR3; for the cinematic version they are updated to that DB5 and a Ford Mustang. Fleming was dismissive of American cars: “They lack personality and the patina of individual craftsmanship that European cars have.” Yet by the time Bond became a global phenomenon, the films were saturated with Yankee iron, a favourite being Goldfinger with its supporting cast of Fords. How did they crush 2 tons of
Lincoln Continental, including its 430cu in V8, into a cube that would fit in the back of a ’64 Ranchero? Or flip a Mach1 Mustang in a narrow alley during Diamonds Are Forever: it exits on the two wheels that were in the air as it entered. When Roger Moore was granted the licence to kill, good taste was the franchise’s foremost victim. Aside from the Esprits and the ambitious stunts, the automotive content was ordinary.
Tim Dalton was only around long enough to have a punch-up in a Landie and drive two V8 Astons, before the arrival of the two Bs: Brosnan and BMW. The idea of James Bond in a German car was too much and, despite a chase between the resurrected DB5 and a Ferrari F355, Golden-Eye is remembered more for Bond’s use of a BMW Z3. In recent years, 007 has returned to Aston Martin, both Daniel Craig and the DBS going some way to restoring the glamour expected from cinema’s greatest spy. Jason Bourne may drive the wheels off a Mini, but Bond cars should be exclusive, aspirational… and rear-wheel drive!
Thanks to Eon Productions and the National Motor Museum, whose Bond In Motion exhibition runs until the end of 2012; see www.beaulieu.co.uk
1 Aston Martin DB5 Goldfinger
Familiarity has bred discontent among car snobs over the years, but the impact of the big-screen debut of Bond’s DB5 on both Newport Pagnell’s finest and ’60s cinemagoers the world over was colossal. An undeniably great-looking car, the gizmo-laden GT was a hit among schoolboys of all ages, several of whom have since been responsible for swelling the number of cars repainted in the then-distinctive Silver Birch. The combination of Sean Connery and the Aston, particularly in the scenes filmed along the Swiss Furka Pass, remains as iconic now as it was 48 years ago. Goldfinger, the third Bond film, was aimed at more of a family audience and, like many of my contemporaries, I was mortified when 007 smashed up the car at the end of the chase sequence around the baddie’s factory, but was equally overjoyed to see it resurrected in the subsequent movie Thunderball. My eighth birthday coincided with the launch of the gadget-heavy Corgi toy: the best 9s 11d my parents ever lavished on me. Anorak fact Four were built: one had the gadgets, but was returned to road spec in ’68; one was used for ‘road’ scenes; two were for promotional duty, both owned in the late ’60s by Sir Anthony Bamford.
2 Sunbeam Alpine SII Dr. No
Admittedly, Elizabeth Taylor looked even better in her red Series I in Butterfield 8, but Sean Connery still cut a dash in this Lakewood Blue Sunbeam Alpine. Set on the island of Jamaica, 007’s encounter with Dr. No had no use for a long-legged grand tourer and, although not as butch as his future wheels, the Rootes ragtop was nonetheless absolutely perfect for James Bond’s big-screen debut. With the villains only equipped with a prewar LaSalle hearse, which changes into a Humber during the chase scene and its subsequent demise – and then back again – the performance of the Alpine isn’t ever really put to the test. Despite that, this incredibly stylish little roadster is still the best value for money Bond car that any aspiring double-O agent can buy today. Anorak fact The Sunbeam Alpine Series II wasn’t the first car Bond drove on screen; that was a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air taxi.
3 Mercury Cougar XR7 On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
An inspired piece of casting, Tracy di Vicenzo’s XR7 was the antithesis of actress Diana Rigg’s previous on-screen wheels – the Lotus Elan from The Avengers television show. Of the 4024 1969 convertible Cougars, few were equipped to the same spec as that of the ill-fated Mrs Bond, with a Ram-Air CJ428 big-block V8, conservatively rated at 335bhp. No doubt a logical progression on the ‘heroine with ragtop Mustang’ theme of earlier films, the car’s rarity and muscle-car credentials only increased its currency in a film that also appears to be more appreciated with the passing of time. The highlight is obviously the ice-racing, but the fact that George Lazenby asks a hotel concierge “who owns the red XR7?” – particularly in an era when such initials sounded like a rocketship rather than a repmobile – must have made the Ford boardroom glow with pride. Did I mention the über-cool French licence plates? Anorak fact Rigg was schooled to drive the 3343lb behemoth by Austrian rally driver Erich Glavitza who, with the rest of the Ford rally team, drove the other cars in the race sequence.
4 Lotus Esprit S1 The Spy Who Loved Me
Lotus Esprits would turn up again in later Bond movies, but this, the first involvement in the franchise for the Norfolk marque, was its finest 125 mins and helped to define the car. In S1 guise, the lines of the Giugiaro-designed wedge were at their purest, emphasised further by 007’s car being finished in white. Screaming along a Mediterranean cliff-top, dodging between lorries, the Esprit looks a credible successor to the cars that preceeded it and is certainly the only decent car Roger Moore’s incarnation of Bond got to drive. But then it all goes horribly wrong when the pursuing motorcycle launches a rocket disguised as a sidecar and the plot descends into farce, as Moore drives off the end of a jetty into the sea, whereupon the car turns into a submarine. As any Lotus Esprit S1 owner will tell you, keeping the elements at bay is hard enough as it is without submerging the cars in water. The following scenes, culminating in the destruction of Naomi (Caroline Munro) and her helicopter, are plain silly. Shame. Anorak fact With a nod to Little Nellie, the autogyro in You Only Live Twice, the Esprit sub was christened Wet Nellie by the crew.
5 Rolls-Royce Phantom III Goldfinger
The great thing about Bond’s adversary Auric Goldfinger’s cinematic conveyance was that it was such an unlikely choice. Like owners and their dogs, the stout ’37 Rolls-Royce perfectly reflected the physique of its villainous owner, played by Gert Frobe – both were as lithe as a pork pie. It could never threaten our hero in a car chase and, although it might have been black, it was hardly sinister, with great swathes of yellow down its flanks. Yet chauffeured by the rotund Odd Job, the gold-smuggling duo in their then 27-year-old Phantom III make an unpredictable and memorable picture, ace production designer and genius Ken Adam avoiding obvious clichés. In every scene in which it appears – be it at the Stoke Poges golf club, being loaded into the Carvair or parked in a layby in the Swiss Alps – the Rolls immaculately complements its occupants. Anorak fact The Phantom III also turns up in the film Octopussy, this time to transport Bond’s antagonist Kamal Khan.
6 Aston Martin DBS Casino Royale
At last a Bond that’s closer to the character of the books, in the form of Daniel Craig, and a revival of the relationship with Aston Martin – although, to be fair, it was reignited with the Vanquish in Brosnan’s final outing, Die Another Day. Times may have changed, and these days a DBS threading its way through London streets conjures thoughts of a Premiership footballer heading to Boujis rather than 007 rushing to the headquarters of Universal Export for a briefing with M, but the Aston still cuts a dash outside the casino in Monte-Carlo. For me, the stunt (a high-speed roll) was spoilt as Bond went from Monaco to Millbrook Proving Ground by rounding a bend in the road. Anorak fact The aforementioned stunt set a new record for an air cannon-assisted roll (seven and a half turns), destroying three cars in the process.
7 Ford Mustang Goldfinger
Today we’re blasé about Mustangs in movies, but when it made its cinematic debut in September ’64, the car was riding on a wave of popularity. Launched six months earlier, as filming commenced, the pony car’s maker was so keen to see it in the blockbuster that it supplied a new Lincoln Continental to be crushed in front of an incredulous crew. The white Ford suffers ‘a double blowout’ while driver Tilly Masterson (her name altered from the book) dices with the tyre-slashing Aston. Thunderball features another soft-top ’Stang, in pale blue with white hood, as the action switches to the Bahamas. Mustangs starred in future movies, notably Diamonds Are Forever, but the early cars represent the USA’s contribution to the worldwide phenomenon of Fleming’s creation. Anorak fact Henry Ford II appears in Thunderball.
8 Aston Martin DBS On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
Following the DB5 was almost as tough as George Lazenby taking over from Sean Connery, yet with the passing of time both Aston and the Aussie Milk Tray man have aged well. Neither could compete, yet both brought something different to the role. Painted metallic green, the six-cylinder S looks great in its pre spoilerand-skirts incarnation – indeed, with the surfeit of silver DB5s around, there is an argument to suggest that this Bond Aston is the coolest of the lot. Decked out in flowers and accompanied by John Barry’s brilliant soundtrack, the late Mrs Bond couldn’t have been killed in finer surroundings. Anorak fact Another DBS turns up in Diamonds Are Forever, lurking in the background of Q’s workshop.
9 BMW Z8 The World Is Not Enough
If Britain’s finest spy is going to drive a German car, it might as well be a good one. Inspired by the beautiful and exotic 507, the Z8 looked special, something Bond’s previous Bavarian roadster failed to do. The only snag was that the maker of the ‘Ultimate driving machine’ hadn’t built any by the time shooting started. Despite desperate attempts to get a finished Z8, only body panels could be delivered in time, so these were attached to a Dax Cobra, a fullsized model being used for the interior shots. Supposedly equipped with an arsenal of Q-branch gadgets, the BMW is sliced in two by a circularsaw- wielding helicopter after firing a solitary rocket. It was also the second Bond Beemer capable of being driven by remote control. Anorak fact Shirley Manson of Garbage was filmed driving a Z8 while singing the movie’s theme. At the time, she didn’t hold a licence!
10 Toyota 2000GT You Only Live Twice
If the DB5 was exclusive, this was positively exotic. Toyota displayed its stunning coupé prototype at the Tokyo show in ’66, before going on to produce just 337 cars. Built on an Elan-style backbone chassis and powered by a 2-litre ‘six’, the E-typeinfluenced car attracted the attention of producer ‘Cubby’ Broccoli. His only concern was that the closed cockpit was restrictive for filming. Eager to please, Toyota offered to lop the roof off and in two weeks created a gorgeous roadster for Bond’s Japanese chauffeur. Unlike the subsequent Corgi, the car didn’t have rockets and, though memorable, its appearances in the film were tantalisingly brief. Anorak fact Aki’s car could have been the new 1967 Chevrolet Camaro had GM got its way.
Bond’s worst cars
Citroen 2CV For Your Eyes Only
Whoever thought of having Bond try to outrun a Peugeot 504 with a 2CV must have plumbed the
depths to find two more un-Fleming-like vehicles.
BMW Z3 GoldenEye
Just plain wrong. Even with the less-thanstatuesque Pierce Brosnan behind the wheel, the Beemer still looks like an overgrown slipper.
BMW 750iL E38 Tomorrow Never Dies
To make things worse, he drives this one from the back seat with his product-placed mobile phone.
AMC Hornet The Man With The Golden Gun
By the time AMC began offering free cars in 1974, the plot lines were so pedestrian that even rotating a car through 360º while jumping a canal couldn’t revive flagging interest.
Renault 11 A View To A Kill
Admittedly it wasn’t intended for our hero, but even cutting it in half couldn’t make this taxi as interesting as those of the earlier movies.
THE MOON BUGGY Diamonds Are Forever
Having been wooed back into Bondage, Connery found himself driving Robbie the Robot in a franchise increasingly influenced by Benny Hill.
Jaguar XKR Die Another Day
The Jag may be a blood relative of the Aston, but in this guise, decorated as an enemy gunship, it comes off second best.
CORVORADO Live And Let Die
When Brett Sinclair took on Shaft, style was always going to be a casualty, this Stutz-inspired pimpmobile being a prime example.
Alfa Romeo GTV6 Octopussy
Like the Datsun 240Z, the GTV6 is a great car, but not for James Bond – even if he did steal it.
Morris 1000 Convertible Thunderball
One of cinema’s more incongruous sights: Bond being driven to his hotel in a ragtop jellymould.