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The greatest set of vehicles to capture the imaginations of the cinema-going public over the last 50 years must surely be the cars driven by the world's most famous secret agent, James Bond. As much a statement of suave sophistication as the character of Bond himself, these cars appear elegant and stylish, yet are deadly beneath the surface. Despite the passing of over 50 years, the first true Bond car, the Aston Martin DB5, retains its iconic status. When all other aspects of James Bond have been updated and modernised for the 21st Century, including Bond giving up smoking, the introduction of a female M, black actors playing Felix Leiter and Moneypenny, villainous organisation Quantum replacing SPECTRE and even Bond no longer giving a damn whether a vodka martini is shaken or stirred, one thing remains constant: James Bond still drives the same model Aston Martin he did in 1964, and it does not look out of place.
Yet this car is only one of many cars, each more formidable and packed with gadgets than the last, that have appeared in the James Bond series. Here these, the most sophisticated vehicles our imaginations can conceive, are discussed in detail.
What Makes A Good Bond Car?
A Bond car should ideally be British, but more importantly it must be iconic and, above all, rare. Makes of car that two or more of can always be found in a moderate-sized supermarket's car park are not special enough to make a good Bond car, even if, like the Range Rover or Mini, they are classic British designs. A Bond car has to be refined, that something extra special, but still remain at heart a bachelor's toy. Classic and elegant, yes. Rarefied, certainly. But not too respectable and reserved like a Rolls Royce.
The James Bond Films
In the last 50 years James Bond has appeared in 25 films1. In all but one of those films, Bond has driven at least one car at least once. So what cars on the silver screen have been steered by the slick super spy?
In Dr. No, Bond drives a small hired sports car, a blue Sunbeam Alpine. This car was hired by the production team from a local woman in Jamaica, who was paid 15 shillings a day for its use. It takes place in a rather ordinary car chase sequence.
From Russia with Love
As in the James Bond novels, Bond has a Bentley Mark IV Continental convertible, which is seen parked near where Bond is entertaining his first girlfriend, returning character Sylvia Trench2. The car has one futuristic gadget - it contains a telephone. The roof can also be raised for a bit of privacy when entertaining guests in the back seat...
Goldfinger and Thunderball
At the start of Goldfinger, Q announces that M has ordered Bond to drive a new car, a modified Aston Martin DB5, licence number BMT 216A. This classic car appears in both Goldfinger and Thunderball and has many modifications. These include:
- Weapons controls hidden in the central arm rest.
- Front machine guns hidden behind the indicator lights.
- Revolving numberplate3, with British, French and Swiss licence numbers.
- Rear smoke screen.
- Revolving tyre-slashing scythes hidden in the back wheels' hubs.
- Onboard GPS-style map and radar tracking system, to follow vehicles or people carrying homing devices.
- Hydraulic rams in the front and back.
- Bullet-proof shield to protect the rear windscreen.
- Rear oil slick.
- Rear water jet.
- Rear caltrop4 dispenser.
- Phone concealed in the driver's door (not seen in the films).
- Hidden weapons compartment beneath the driver's seat.
- An ejector seat in the front passenger seat, operated by a button hidden in the gear stick.
As Eon, the production company behind the Bond films, did not wish to buy a real Aston Martin, two were loaned by Aston Martin as it is standard film practice to have two identical cars, in case one breaks down. One was used to film the action sequences and was known as the Effects Car, the other the driving sequences and called the Road Car5. Modifying the car to carry the gadgets cost £25,000 when the cars themselves cost £6,000 each, and these cars were returned to Aston Martin for promotional purposes after the filming was completed. The Road Car used in Goldfinger re-appeared in Thunderball, with some gadgets added, with two more Aston Martin DB5s converted for promotional purposes. One of these is in the Louwman Motor Museum6.
The sequence in Goldfinger where Bond drives around Goldfinger's factory was actually filmed in Pinewood Studios itself, and the lane down which Bond drives before crashing is now named 'Goldfinger Avenue'. The car has since inspired many toy cars and even a slot-car racing set.
Casino Royale (1967)
In this spoof Bond film loosely based on Ian Fleming's first Bond novel, with the twist that almost every character in the film is named James Bond 007. Sir James Bond (David Niven) drives a 1937 model Bentley 4½ litre and engages in a high-speed chase with an E-type Jaguar and a milk float. The only gadget inside the Bentley is a remote control used to open the gates to Bond's house. He prefers gardening, and states that 'I would not exchange one single petal of that lovely flower for anything your world has to offer, including an Aston Martin complete with lethal accessories.'
Later, after James Bond 007 Vesper Lynd (Ursula Andress) is kidnapped, James Bond 007 Evelyn Tremble (Peter Sellers) pursues in a Lotus Formula 3. In biopic The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, Peter Sellers is shown driving an Aston Martin DB5 at the time he was making Casino Royale.
You Only Live Twice
For the film following Thunderball the producers realised that they could not equal the impact of the DB5 and decided not to try to emulate the past, but instead try something new. In You Only Live Twice, the fifth Bond film, James Bond does not at any point drive a car. However the film does feature the best ever Bond-girl car – Japan's first ever supercar, the Toyota 2000GT. This small, sexy, stylish set of wheels is equipped with the first videophone seen in a Bond film and driven with distinction by Aki. As the standard hardtop 2000GT was in fact too small for Sean Connery to fit into, Toyota custom made two into convertibles especially for the film, taking only two weeks to do so.
On Her Majesty's Secret Service
As much of the film takes place on top of a snow-topped mountain, Bond does not get much of an opportunity to drive his new Aston Martin DBS. It does at least have a compartment containing a telescopic rifle. Just as in You Only Live Twice, the most skilled driving is done by a woman, in this case Tracy, in her Ford Cougar.
Bond must really be attracted to confident women drivers; he considered marriage to Aki in You Only Live Twice and actually marries Tracy in this film.
Diamonds Are Forever
This film is the nadir when it comes to Bond cars. One is a rather ridiculous moonbuggy. This looks like someone has sat on and squashed Robbie the Robot, resulting in Robbie running around a quarry flailing his arms in all directions as if he is having a fit.
Bond later drives a red Ford Mustang Mach 1, however the car chase sequence has a continuity error. A stunt sequence was planned in which Bond drives a car down a narrow alley at an angle on only two wheels, allowing the car to fit through a narrow gap. The car's approach to the gap entrance was filmed at Universal Studios under the supervision of the director, Guy Hamilton. The exit was filmed on location in Las Vegas, supervised by producer Cubby Broccoli. Unfortunately the stunt does not match up – the car enters the alley driving on the passenger-side wheels, but leaves the alley driving on the driver-side wheels.
Live and Let Die
The CIA do send a car for him which contains a videophone.
The Man with the Golden Gun
Bond borrows an AMC Hornet Hatchback, which is used for a fantastic jump over a river, where the car rotates 360 degrees8. The stunt was calculated using a computer, the first time a computer had been used for stunt work. The reason that both Bond and Scaramanga drive AMC cars is due to product placement.
Bond briefly drives a jeep.
The Spy Who Loved Me
Perhaps the second most famous Bond car of all time, in this film Bond famously drives an iconic white Lotus Esprit S1 capable of converting into a submarine. This, sometimes nicknamed 'Wet Nellie'9 is armed with:
- Bullet-proof windows
- Front underwater harpoon rockets, firing either:
- Stun grenades, or
- Explosive warheads
- Underwater ink screen
- Limpet mine dispenser
- Radar-guided surface-to-air missiles
- Rear Cement-sprayer
- Self-destruct mechanism
The head of Lotus' PR department had deliberately piqued the interest of the Bond producers by parking his prototype Lotus Esprit outside the Bond offices in Pinewood, but with all Lotus logos either covered or removed. In 2012 the BBC television car programme Top Gear, wishing to see whether a submarine car as seen in The Spy Who Loved Me was feasible, successfully converted a white Lotus Excel10 into a car capable of driving underwater.
For Your Eyes Only
A white Lotus Esprit Turbo is destroyed by its anti-burglar self-destruct device at the start of the film. Fortunately Bond is given a replacement bronze Lotus Esprit, although it appears only briefly and we do not see what optional extras it is armed with. Sadly it is not very secure, as Bond's ally Ferrara is murdered while sitting in the car's passenger seat11.
In fact, the car Bond is seen driving the most is a Citroën 2CV12, a car considered an old banger even in the 1980s.
Bond drives a Range Rover towing a horsebox containing a miniature aircraft at the start of the film13. He also later borrows an Alfa Romeo.
Never Say Never Again
Bond drives a 1937 model Bentley 4½ litre as he does in the novels. This is seen only briefly, going along the driveway up to the health resort. Later, Bond is seen riding a Yamaha XJ650 Turbo motorbike with numerous gadgets.
Curiously, Never Say Never Again is to date the only Bond film in which Bond rides a bicycle, although again only for a short period. Surely after the free-running sequence beginning the official Casino Royale, Bond will enjoy a pedal-power chase sequence soon?
A View to a Kill
Bond drives a four-wheel drive Renault 11 turbo taxi that is cut in half around the streets of Paris. He also is knocked unconscious and dumped in a lake inside a vintage 1962 Rolls Royce Silver Cloud, cleverly using the air inside the tyres to stay submerged and hidden. He later hijacks a fire engine.
The Living Daylights
In The Living Daylights, Timothy Dalton's Bond drives the best Bond car of the 1980s: an Aston Martin V8, in Cumberland grey. Two different models of Aston Martin V8 were used. Where the car is a convertible, it is an Aston Martin Vantage. For the snow scenes where the car is a hard top, an Aston Martin Volante is seen. This discrepancy is explained by the car being 'converted for winter conditions'. This comes complete with:
- Either a hard top or convertible
- Retractable ski outriggers for snowy conditions
- Ice tyres with extendable spikes
- Police band radio
- Rear jet booster hidden behind numberplate
- Forward twin heat-seeking missiles hidden behind foglamps
- Front hubcap laser beams
- Bullet proof 'safety glass' windscreens
- Armrest armament controls
- Missile visual display unit on windscreen
- Self-destruct timer
Licence to Kill
All James Bond films include a car chase. In some films, it is a highlight. Only in Licence to Kill is it the film's climax. The best Bond vehicle chase by far occurs at the end of this film, and it doesn't involve cars laden with more gadgets than a Swiss army knife, but simply a convoy of oil tankers. Yes, Bond becomes a lorry driver, and somehow his articulated Kenworth W900B tanker avoids missiles and armed goons while doing wheelies and driving along on one side.
In GoldenEye, Pierce Brosnan's Bond is given a rather dull and controversial BMW Z3 Roadster. It has what Q describes as the 'Usual refinements':
- Five forward gears
- All points radar
- Self destruct
- Stinger missiles behind the headlights
It only appears in two very brief scenes, almost as if Bond was ashamed of the thing. Bond promptly gives the car away to CIA operative Wade, warning him not to press the buttons. The only gadgets that appear are the radar and the parachute.
Instead, Bond prefers to drive his trusty Aston Martin DB5, which curiously has a different number plate to the car in Goldfinger and Thunderball: BMT 214A, not BMT 216A. Presumably 'Universal Export', the cover company for MI6, bought a batch of Aston Martin DB5s at the same time for use by Double-0 agents14. Bond uses it to race Xenia Onatopp's 1995 model Ferrari 355 in the south of France. It does contain a holder for a refrigerated bottle of champagne, colour fax machine and radio. Another fun chase sequence involves Bond driving a Russian T-80BV 46-ton tank.
Tomorrow Never Dies
The ugliest Bond car to date, a BMW 750iL family saloon. Once again, Bond isn't very keen on the car, preferring not to be seen in it by driving it by remote control, before sending it off the top of a multi-story carpark. In fact he would much rather drive a motorbike and again is seen in his Aston Martin DB5. The gadgets the BMW contains include:
- Remote control from a video phone
- Chain cutter beneath front BMW logo
- Gun and safe behind fingerprint-locked glovebox
- Smoke tear-gas cannister
- Flamethrower proof
- Re-inflatable tyres
- Heat-seeking missiles in sunroof.
- Rear caltrop dispenser
- Bulletproof and shockproof windscreens15 and body
- Electric rear windows
- Electric shock defence mechanism
- GPS tracking system
- Annoying female voice
The World is Not Enough
Bond drives a BMW Z8, probably the best looking of Bond's BMWs. Again, it could be driven by remote control and was armed with Stinger missiles hidden in the air vents and a bullet-proof windscreen. All it does in the film is reverse, fire a missile and then is completely destroyed.
A scene in which Bond drives his Aston Martin DB5 was filmed, however, inexplicably, it was all-but edited out of the finished film. All that remains of the DB5 is a scene at the very end, in which Bond's car can be glimpsed in infra-red when R is using thermal imaging to find where Bond is.
Die Another Day
Bond finally returns to behind the wheel of a new Aston Martin, in this case the Aston Martin Vanquish. This is equipped with:
- Fingerprint recognition
- Ice-spikes on the wheels
- Bulletproof windows
- Twin front target-seeking shotguns
- Ejector seats
- Machine guns
- Remote control
- Electric sunroof
- Thermal camera
- Adaptive camouflage system that, through the use of cameras and light-emitting polymer skin, make the car appear invisible16.
The science behind an invisible car is not that far fetched. In 2006 the University of Tokyo used a network of cameras and projectors to make ordinary objects disappear, or at least appear invisible. They developed a silvered garment on which images from a network of cameras and projectors can be displayed. In 2012 Top Gear attempted to test the feasibility of making an invisible car. They covered a Ford Transit van in plasma televisions showing images filmed from cameras on the opposite side of the van. Although from up close the van was obviously not invisible, it did show that the idea had merit and seemed almost convincing from a distance.
Casino Royale (2006)
In Daniel Craig's first film, Bond starts off driving a dull Ford, borrows a Range Rover for a bit before winning an Aston Martin DB5, number plate 56526, in a card game. He later has an Aston Martin DBS V12 containing a gun and a medical kit in the glovebox. Sadly this is crashed, breaking the world record for the most rolls a car has done in a stunt. Bond drives a similar car at the end of the film.
Quantum of Solace
Bond battles Quantum, a bargain-basement bunch of Spectre-wannabes. He begins this fight with a car chase in the Aston Martin DBS V12 seen at the end of Casino Royale.
After the opening sequence involving a Land Rover Defender, motorbikes and a JCB, which results in his being shot, presumed killed, Bond returns to his first trusty Aston Martin DB5, registration number BMT 216A, complete with machine-guns behind the headlights and ejector seat. Sadly this car is somewhat destroyed in the film's climax, leaving Bond with only two Aston Martin DB5s, the one with registration BMT 214A17 and the other with licence number 56526. Bond also drives M's car, a Midnight Blue Jaguar XJL.
No Aston Martin DB5s were harmed in the making of the film. Models and a similar-shaped Porsche 928 cunningly disguised as an Aston Martin were exploded instead. Twelve Land Rover Defenders were used in the film, many of them were written off making the opening sequence.
Of course, James Bond isn't the only one able to drive in the Bond films, and many of the enemy have specially customised cars. Indeed, it's surprising how many Bond baddies buy British. Particularly notable cars include:
|Goldfinger||Rolls Royce Phantom 337||Auric Goldfinger18||Made out of gold for smuggling purposes.|
|Thunderball||BSA A657 Lightning||Fiona Volpe||This sexy SPECTRE assassin's motorbike was fitted with four front-firing rockets.|
|Live and Let Die||Cadillac||Whisper||'Pimpmobile' equipped with poison dart firers in the wing mirrors.|
|The Man with the Golden Gun||AMC Matador||Scaramanga||Able to be converted into an aeroplane19.|
|Die Another Day||Jaguar XKR||Zao||Thermal imaging, Gatling gun, mortars, heat-seeking missiles.|
Best Bond Car per Bond:
|Sean Connery||Aston Martin DB5|
|George Lazenby||Aston Martin DS|
|Roger Moore||Lotus Esprit S1|
|Timothy Dalton||Aston Martin V8|
|Pierce Brosnan||Aston Martin Vanquish|
|Daniel Craig||Aston Martin DB5|
Cars in the Novels
James Bond author Ian Fleming was always a big fan of cars, as can be seen in his other literary creation, Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang. His favourites included a Studillac – a Studebaker with Cadillac engine, which he later wrote into his Bond books as Felix Leiter's car. Another favourite car was his Thunderbird, which he crashed into an ice-cream van. He certainly wasn't the best or most careful driver. At the age of 19 he was speeding and crashed his Morris Tourer on a level crossing into the engine of the Kitzbühel to Munich light railway.
In his first Bond novel, Casino Royale, Bond drives a battleship grey 1933 4½ litre Bentley convertible fitted with an Amherst Villiers supercharger. This was a car that had regularly appeared in narrative spy fiction; Bulldog Drummond had one, as did Steed in The Avengers. Ian Fleming had long been fond of Bentleys, ever since as a young reporter he covered the Le Mans 24 hour race in 1928, which was won by a Bentley 4½ litre. This first Bentley was replaced by a more modern Mark VI Continental Bentley in the novel Moonraker, which was replaced in Thunderball by a Mark II Bentley with the Mark IV engine in battleship grey, called 'The Locomotive'.
In 1957, Ian Fleming included an Aston Martin DBIII in Goldfinger having received a letter from a car enthusiast named Dr G Gibson asking whether Bond would drive a sportier car in his next novel. This car is battleship-grey and has few gadgets other than a switch that alters type and colour of his lights for use in night pursuits, reinforced bumpers, a Colt 45 in a hidden compartment and a radio that keeps track of the homers implanted in Auric Goldfinger's car. For the film of the same name, the DBIII was updated to the DB5.
In the 1980s author John Gardner was hired to write a series of James Bond novels. In these, Bond drives a Saab 900 Turbo named 'Silver Beast' from 1981's Licence Renewed to 1983's Icebreaker. He then replaces this with a Bentley Mulsanne Turbo for 1984's Role of Honour, but by 1993's Never Send Flowers he is back in a Saab 9000.
Since their introduction in Goldfinger, James Bond's cars have defined the character. This can be seen in Bond-inspired spy spoofs such as the Johnny English and Austin Powers films, which have contained jokes about Bond cars. Bond's Aston Martin DB5s have also inspired the look of spy car Finn McMissile in children's cartoon Cars 2. That the vehicles are referenced in unrelated films, not only for children but also including Spielberg's serious Catch Me If You Can, shows that the Bond car impact has transcended that of the spy film genre to become universal and worldwide. The Bond car laden with gadgets has also heavily influenced the cinematic Batmobiles of the 1980s-90s, perhaps Bond's only serious gadget-laden car competition.
On 29 October, 2012 the BBC broadcast a Top Gear television special, hosted by Richard Hammond, entitled Top Gear – Fifty Years of Bond Cars. This discussed many of the cars themselves. Some, though not all, of the Bond cars can be seen in the National Motor Museum, Beaulieu, appropriately enough located opposite their 'World of Top Gear' display.