James Bond may be a secret agent, but he’s hardly inconspicuous on the road.
Luxury cars have figured into Agent 007’s wish-fulfillment appeal since the character’s debut in Ian Fleming’s 1953 novel “Casino Royale.” In the early going, readers are introduced to the spy’s “only personal hobby,” a gray Bentley convertible coupe he bought in 1933, keeps meticulously maintained (including annual service by a mechanic who takes “jealous care” of it), and drives “hard and well and with an almost sensual pleasure.”
The cinematic Bond gets off to a rougher start on the road in “Dr. No” (1962). Sean Connery’s 007 is picked up in a dashing Chevrolet Bel-Air convertible at the Kingston, Jamaica, airport, but there’s no time to enjoy the ride. The chauffeur, as these things go, is an enemy operative. When Bond confronts him, things end badly and the hero must take the wheel. In an ungentlemanly move, when he arrives at Government House, Bond leaves the car, and the body, for the men at the door to handle. After that he actually takes a couple of taxis before getting hold of a Sunbeam Alpine roadster for the film franchise’s first explosive car chase – he’s pursued by no less than a hearse.
“From Russia With Love” (1963), better known for its intrigue and action aboard the Orient Express, only gives a nod to its hero’s personal taste in cars before boarding the train. He’s seen being interrupted during downtime with a female friend and answering duty’s call via the phone on the dash of his Bentley. But the car is parked, and the big-screen Bond is never seen steering a car from his literary inspiration’s beloved brand.
It’s not until the third installment, 1964’s “Goldfinger,” that the movies’ driving passion hits overdrive. When 007 inquires about that trusty Bentley, Q (Desmond Llewelyn) says it’s “had its day” and introduces him to an Aston Martin DB5 with, ahem, “modifications.” What a machine it is – bullet-resistant windows, rotating license plates, retractable tire-slashing blades, radar, smokescreen, oil slick, rising rear bulletproof screen, and twin machine guns. And, oh yes, a passenger ejector seat. (The actual gadgets were installed by a team led by special-effects expert John Stears, who won an Academy Award for his work on 1965’s “Thunderball” and shared another for “Star Wars.”)
All that, and the sleek silver grand tourer is devilishly handsome too in its road mischief with Tilly Masterson’s Ford Mustang (those tire slashers come in handy) and on the run from Auric Goldfinger’s henchmen. The other defensive mechanisms – ejector seat and all – are deployed in that chase, but can’t keep Bond out of Goldfinger’s clutches. The DB5 is left partially covered in rubble as the film’s action moves on, but no one who’s seen it has forgotten it.
Over the decades, Bond movies have featured other brands (who can forget the Lotus Esprit submarine car from 1977’s “The Spy Who Loved Me”?), but the character is most closely associated in moviegoers’ minds with Aston Martin. So it’s only fitting that 007 is back in a DB5 for “Skyfall.”
Take a spin with Q Branch’s least favorite driver through his wild history with wheels in the gallery above. Do buckle up.
– Blake Hennon
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