Dr. No to Skyfall: The Boldest Rides of James Bond

Today, theaters across the globe will be showing Skyfall, the 23rd film in the James Bond series. We here at Bold Ride will all be going to see it when we’re done scribbling away about supercars and such. While details are a bit vague at the moment, it’s known that a character from one of the early movies will have a role. No, not Sean Connery, but a car that the legendary actor drove in 1964’s Goldfinger: an Aston Martin DB5 The vehicle’s appearance highlights the role automobiles have played during the five decades of 007 movies.

How It All Began:
In 1953 Ian Fleming, a former British naval intelligence officer, published his first novel, Casino Royale. Its central character was a dapper but deadly spy named James Bond. The fictional secret agent would go on to become the best-known character in English fiction since Sherlock Holmes. Like his literary predecessor, Bond was devoted to fighting crime and safeguarding the public. Unlike the great detective, however, he had an eye for the finer things in life. He also enjoyed the aid of several high-tech gadgets, including some of the coolest vehicles to ever appear in print.

In 1962, the dashing 007 made his film debut. Most of the motifs from the books were carried over into the films, including the cars. Over time, many of them have become as famous as the secret agent himself. Here’s a look at the ones we remember most fondly:

The Aston Martin DB5:
In the 1964 film Goldfinger, there’s a scene in which 007 is being outfitted for his latest mission. He asks the head of the weapons division, known only as “Q,” if he will have use of a Bentley. Instead he’s given what has become the most famous car in the history of the Bond franchise: a silver-birch Aston Martin DB5.

In the 50′s and 60′s, the Aston Martin company released a series of grand tourers in honor of its president from 1947-72, David Brown. The DB5, the fifth in the line, appeared in 1963. With a length of 179.9 inches and a width of 66.1, it made up for its small size with a sleek, eye-pleasing shape.

Grand tourers are designed with luxury and drivability in mind. This is reflected in the DB5’s layout. Standard features include twin fuel tanks, full leather trim, electric windows, chrome wire wheels, reclining seats, pile carpet, and an oil cooler. The body is crafted from a magnesium alloy, making it both light and exceptionally sturdy.

(PHOTOS: See more Aston Martin Cars)

The car used in the film was a 2 + 2 coupe, but a convertible model was built as well. Powered by an all-aluminum 4.0-liter straight-six engine and three carburators, the production model went from 0 to 100 km/h (62 mph) in a respectable 7.1 seconds. It created 282 hp and topped out at 145 mph.

A small number of high-performance units were built as well. Known as the DB5 Vantage, they included twin Weber side draft carbs and modified camshafts. The Vantage could generate 315 hp, but sacrificed some of the cars’ legendary handling ability in exchange.

Bond’s DB5 was modified by Q to include some unique accessories not available to the driving public. Those included a smoke screen device, twin machine guns, built-in radar to track quarry, tire slashing retractable spikes, and, perhaps most famous of all, an ejector seat . The front license plate revolved at the turn of a switch, making the DB5 legal to drive in any country.

Bond made good use of these enhancements, but still managed to get captured by Goldfinger’s men after a lengthy chase. Fortunately, Q recovered the DB5. He put it back together and reissued it to 007 in time for his next film, Thunderball, which premiered in 1965. DB5 models have made appearances in GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies and Casino Royale. The upcoming 2012 release Skyfall will feature one as well.

Lotus Esprit S1

Imagine this: you’re driving along a twisting mountain road with a beautiful woman by your side. Suddenly you find yourself pursued by a missile-launching motorcycle, a helicopter, and a sedan driven by a hulking monstrosity with jagged steel teeth. What do you do?

If you’re James Bond then the answer is simple. You maneuver the cycle into crashing, you spray the sedan’s windshield with a chemical goop, and you blow the copter out of the sky with a surface-to-air missile. Then you get set for an underwater cruise in your Lotus Esprit S1, which turns into a sub after you drive it into the sea.

(PHOTOS: See more Lotus Cars)

Lotus Engineering was founded in North London, England by Colin Chapman in 1952. In 1976 the company released the Esprit S2, one of which was driven by Roger Moore in the 1977 Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me. Presented to 007 by Q during a meeting in Sardinia, Italy, Bond takes off in it before the master gadget maker can brief him on its unique accessories. Fortunately our hero acquaints himself with them before the chase scene described above.

James Bond Exhibition

The real-life S1 lacked the rockets, underwater capabilities, and other refinements of the movie version. It was, however, an exceptionally maneuverable machine, though it suffered from a disappointing lack of power due to its 2.0 liter engine. Despite this handicap, it achieved 0-62 mph in eight seconds. The vehicle’s exceptionally light weight (2205 lb.) went a long way towards compensating for the four-cylinder engine, which turned out a maximum 160 hp and a top speed of 133 mph.

The original Lotus firm went bankrupt in 1994, but it has been reorganized and is currently planning a series of five vehicles. The first, a new Esprit, is set to be released in 2013. Powered by a 4.8 L V-8, reports say it will go from 0 to 60 mph in 3.4 seconds and deliver over 600 hp. With performance like that, don’t be surprised if you spot Bond driving one.

The Cars from Die Another Day

This 2002 release was the highest-grossing Bond film prior to the 2006 movie Casino Royale. There are many reasons for its popularity. It stars the popular Pierce Brosnan in the role of 007. It features a scantily-clad Halle Berry as the Bond girl. It also includes one of the most stunning car chase scenes in any of the films: a duel to the death between Bond’s Aston Martin Vanquish and an equally formidable Jaguar XKR.

“Aston Martin calls it the Vanquish. We call it the Vanish,” says Q in the scene where he presents the vehicle to Bond. The reason for his quip quickly becomes apparen t. The car is outfitted with an advanced optical array that makes it nearly invisible.

It also has what Q calls “the usual refinements,” including torpedoes, an ejector seat, and a pair of target-seeking shotguns. It’s later revealed that the tires are equipped with retractable steel spikes, giving them the ability to keep traction on frozen surfaces.

(PHOTOS: See more Jaguar Cars)

Later in the film the British agent gets to use these features in a battle with Zao, a North Korean bad guy with a penchant for stolen diamonds. The villain has his own super-car, a Jaguar XKR equipped with missiles, mortars, and a Gatling-style machine gun. It also has a thermal imaging device that defeats the Aston Martin’s invisibility cloak. Better yet, the battle between the two takes place on a frozen lake.

The roughly equal armament of both vehicles, combined with the surroundings, makes the sequence especially riveting. To me the most memorable scene is where 007 uses the ejector seat to flip the overturned Vanquish onto its wheels. He does so just in time to evade one of Zao’s missiles, which misses the Aston Martin by a fraction on an inch.

Jaguar XKR Roadster

The real-life Vanquish was unveiled at the 2001 Geneva Motor Show. It’s powered by a 6 liter 48-valve engine that takes it from 0 to 100 km/h (62 mph) in 4.3 seconds. Its top speed is 189.5 mph, and the engine creates 450 hp, although later refinements boosted that to 514 hp.

The film’s producers modified both vehicles for the chase scene. They replaced the original power trains with 5 liter V-8s and four-wheel drive transmissions from the Ford Motor Company. To pull off razor-sharp turns, they equipped the cars with hydraulic handbrakes to lock the rear wheels.

Other Vehicles
The 1974 film The Man With the Golden Gun featured a pair of AMC models. One was a Hornet. It was used in one of the more memorable scenes from the franchise, in which Roger Moore as 007 executes a corkscrew turn mid-air while leaping over a river. The actual driver was a UK stuntman known as “Bumps” Williard. During filming two frogmen stood by, to rescue the driver in case the stunt went awry. There was no need; Williard performed it perfectly.

The same movie also showed a 1974 Matador that was converted into an airplane, by the addition of wings and a tail assembly. It could actually fly a distance of around 500 yards. But the movie’s plot called for it to make a long distance trip to an island in the China Sea. So the aerial shots were filmed using a 39 inch-long remote control model.

In the 2006 film Casino Royale, 007 drives an Aston Martin DBS with a V-12 engine. The car is astonishingly under-equipped for a Bond vehicle. It has a secret compartment for the agent’s sidearm and a first aid kit, but no missiles, smoke screens, or other gadgets.

Aston Martin DBS - Casino Royale

The 1987 movie The Living Daylights has Bond driving an Aston Martin V-8 Vantage Volante. In addition to the “usual refinements” (rocket launchers, tire slashing lasers, etc.) it also had a self-destruct mechanism. Some confusion occurs due to the fact that, when the Volante is first seen, it’s a convertible. But later in the movie it becomes a hardtop.

The James Bond Exhibition, Keswick

Various Bentleys make appearances in the films, including a 1930 model in Moonraker, a 1953 Mark VI in the same movie, and a 1937 Gurney Nutting 3-Position-Drophead Coupé in Never Say Never Again.

In Tomorrow Never Dies from 1997, Bond (Pierce Brosnan) tools around in a BMW 750iL enhanced with self-inflating tires, missiles, and unbelievably tough unibody construction.

A number of Rolls-Royce models show up as well, including a Silver Wraith in From Russia With Love, a 1937 Phantom III in Goldfinger, a Silver Shadow in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and a Silver Cloud II in A View to a Kill.

See Them for Yourself
If you’re ever in the pleasant English village of Hants be sure to visit Beaulieu. It’s a combination auto museum/amusement park. Among other attractions, it has 50 vehicles on display from various Bond films. These include a DB5, Lotus Esprit, Rolls-Royce Silver Phantom II, and a Citroen 2CV.

In addition, you’ll see a variety of water and air vehicles used by the legendary secret agent during his long career. You’ll also find go-carts, a monorail, and the National Motor Museum, home to over 250 cars, trucks, and motorcycles.

If you arrive on a bicycle, they’ll give you 20% off the normal admission fare. Drive there in an Aston Martin armed with machine guns and missiles and you’re likely to get in for free. However you travel, I hope that you enjoy your visit, and that you like your martinis shaken not stirred.

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