Why James Bond's Aston Martin Top Trumps the rest
Reg motor maniac Oates gets mechanical - Now pay attention, 007
Bond on Film What car should James Bond really drive? It's a hotly disputed question.
Our man on film is closely associated with the Aston Martin, the DB5 initially and DBS V12 of late. Clearly the producers of recent Bond outings hope to identify their character with the spirit of an earlier time regarded as iconic and special. And they should, because the DB5 is both of these.
Snazzy ... but something's missing
All of which is rather odd, because the book that introduced James Bond - Casino Royale - referred to a 4.5 litre Bentley with an Amherst Villiers supercharger. However, this is Bond’s personal car, and hobby, rather than work vehicle. We’re told he bought it almost new in 1933 and stored it through the war.
“Bond drove the car hard and well and with an almost sensual pleasure.”
The problem with supercharged Bentleys is Walter Owen Bentley said it "corrupted" the performance.
So how did Bond end up in an Aston on the screen?
Legendary Bond producer Albert Broccoli needed a car for his new hero. By the early 1960s Aston Martin was not his first choice. The car maker’s DB4 had been released in 1958 and its next model, the DB5, was not much more than a tweak of the earlier model.
But Jaguar’s E-type had set the world on fire that year. It had a slightly smaller engine at launch than the DB5, but was 500 pounds lighter and looked like no other car before it. By 1964 the engine had increased to a 4.2 litre brute not far off that in Bond's Bentley.
Broccoli supposedly called Jaguar to ask for a couple of E-types – the car had come out the previous year and was welcomed by Enzo Ferrari as the most beautiful car in the world. It cost half the £4,175 an Aston-Martin would set you back.
Craig ready for Skyfall. Good to see the old ways being kept up
So Broccoli rang Jaguar boss Sir William Lyons and asked to borrow a couple for the film. Lyons told him to get stuffed. To be fair to Lyons his firm was already struggling to make enough E-types to satisfy the public clamour for the car.
So Broccoli phoned Aston Martin and Bond ended up in a DB5 instead.
At that time Aston-Martin made about 1,000 cars a year and would be an unfamiliar make to all but the geekiest car fan. The silver-birch DB5 only appeared on screen for about ten minutes in Goldfinger but it has become completely synonymous with the character – it has had cameos in several other Bond films.
In fact the model silver-birch DB5 is still being made and is the company’s biggest ever seller – over a million were sold by the end of the 1960s. Jaguar’s decision has meant that prices for Aston Martin DB5s start at around quarter of a million quid, and an awful lot of them now seem to be silver-birch.
Broccoli of course was right – Connery should have been in an E-type. It was the car of the 1960s, and it put the phallic into phallic symbol. And the ever so slightly caddish Bond would have been the perfect fit with a Jag. How would we look at Jaguars now if they had been Bond's car rather than Austin Powers'?
Aston-Martin, having scored such a massive coup, then failed to recognise the publicity value of the two motors Broccoli used - one car for distance and driving shots and one with the gadgets. Two further cars were made to help publicise the film and one of these sold last year for $2m.
Top Trumps: E-type vs DB5
So just how did the E-type stack up against the DB5? Both cars offered similar performance but the E-type would get you round corners quicker.
It should have been Bond at the wheel, not this fool
The DB5 featured a Superleggera body based on a hard-wearing, lightweight aluminium alloy called Duralumin, as used in Zeppelin airships and other flying machines. It had 4-litre straight six engine, three SU carburettors and five-speed gearbox, servo-assisted disc brakes and offered 282 horsepower at 5500rpm. Top speed was 142mph, and the car could go 0-60 in 7.1 seconds.
The E-Type had all independent suspension, unlike the DB5, with a Monocoque chassis design and an XK engine that was produced from 1949 to 1992. The car packed either a 3.8 litre powerplant that produced 220 horsepower or a 4.2 litre job that produced 265 horsepower, and in 1971 there came an even more outrageous 5.3 litre V12 engine. The E-type also came with servo disc brakes all round. Top speed for the cat beat the DB5 - 150mph flat out and 0-60 in 6.7 seconds.
Neither car was entirely new even then but both perform well enough, in a straight line anyway, to hold up against modern competition. Both have top speeds of around 150 and their 0-60 times at well under ten seconds remain respectable even today.
The E-type drew heavily on Jaguar’s D-type racing machine for inspiration. The DB5 used the same engine as the DB4, which was not far from identical to that in Aston’s racing cars of the 50s. It did get a better, five speed gearbox.
Come on though - the submarine Lotus was pretty cool
Probably the second choice of iconic Bond car is Roger Moore’s Lotus Esprit Turbo – and you can get your hands on one of those for about ten grand, too.
This is how you make a car hard to see
Ignore the cynics who will tell you that it is possibly Lotus’s worst car and that the name stands for Lots Of Trouble, Usually Serious. Focus on how it looked nearly as good as Ursula Andress as it left the sea for the beach.
What of the other cars we've seen Bond drive? Most of the affordable Bond vehicles are those Bond stole, rather than ones issued by Q.
An Alfa Romeo GTV6, from Octopussy, might be within budget if you’re feeling brave. They still look and sound amazing. You could even buy a BMW if you're of that persuasion – not the Z8 but probably a Z3 from GoldenEye or, even better, a 750i.
If you’re feeling really poor you could probably still afford half a 2CV as driven by Roger Moore in For Your Eyes Only. And in fact the widely derided Octopussy, a low point even in the Roger Moore era, does surprisingly well on the car front. You could probably also lay your hands on a Triumph Stag, which had a minor role in Diamonds are Forever.
The name’s Cooper, Mini Cooper
So what else could Bond have driven? For early era Bond the cars he should have driven are mostly available on celluloid in the original Michael Caine Italian Job – a far better film for motor buffs. There’s an E-type, destroyed by the Mafia before the gang get to Milan, along with a DB4 convertible. It’s got the Minis of course but also the great Italian police Alfa Giulias. The film even found a leading role for a Series II Land Rover. Admittedly it would probably have been difficult to put Bond in an Italian car, or indeed a Mini, although Austin Powers - far more a creature of the 1960s - would have had no difficulties.
The Land Rover is the most obvious of the cars missing from Bond’s garage. Admittedly he did drive one, but not until the Living Daylights in 1987 – a bit late in the day. And Roger Moore does drive a Range Rover – another groundbreaking British car – in Octopussy. Bond missed other great British cars – it seems odd that he’s never once driven a Jag, or indeed a McLaren. And we haven’t even mentioned AC, Austin-Healey, Bristol, Jensen, MG or Morgan.
A somewhat less sophisticated drive
Setting aside the wistful might-have-been, it's the DB5 that's become synonymous with the Bond legend. What is it about this vehicle?
Your correspondent is nowadays working in classic car storage for a day job, we're fortunately in a position to find out.
I spent a sunny afternoon recently cruising the winding roads over the South Downs in the DB5 and I can report back that it was pretty bloody brilliant. The DB5 is comfortable and the big steering wheel gives you something to hang onto as it barrels round corners. The four litre, six cylinder engine is calmly and efficiently powerful without making a fuss about it. It’s got electric windows, which is pretty fancy for a car of this age. It handles well for a motor from long ago, and although not the quietest car would be perfectly pleasant to drive a long distance.
The steering, gear change and brakes do require a bit of muscle but nothing excessive. And the Bond girl in your life will be glad to find that you can get out of it without showing your arse cleavage.
Also, it's a car everyone recognises and everyone loves. Should you end up taking a wrong turn and blocking a small country road while performing a nine point turn no-one will hate you – seriously, I tried it. Stalling at junctions? Same thing. Try that in a Lamborghini.
There are some cars which beg the question "how does anyone afford that?" But the DB5 doesn’t create that response – it makes people smile.
For a fortysomething English man it is not really possible to be objective about this car. I had the Corgi model that fired Swan Vestas out of the front bumper, for god's sake. Even if I owned a real one I think it would be impossible to separate from its celluloid sister.
It is like being asked what you think of the Eiffel Tower – it just kind of is.
And driving it, however briefly and gently, doesn’t make this any easier. I could tell you it was tricky to reverse into the garage but you wouldn’t really care. Besides if you’ve got quarter of a million quid for one of these you’re going to pay me to park it, aren’t you?
Fate decreed the DB5 should become Bond's car and I'm inclined to agree fate got it right. And if - like Bond's current producers - you too buy into the DB5's iconic and special status, then you might be happy to learn that my brother-in-law has a lovely one, in silver-birch of course, for sale here.
You can also eyeball the original DB5 price list here (warning: PDF) for some comparison shopping. ®