Published on October 23rd, 2015 | by Swamp Thing0
The Name’s Martin. Aston Martin.
The Aston Martin DB5 is James Bond’s car. 007 has been seen behind the wheel of numerous pretenders to that title over the years, including several more recent Aston Martin models, but when it comes down to it, most fans of the movie franchise will pick the DB5 above all others as James Bond’s vehicle of choice. Since first appearing in Goldfinger in 1964, the Aston Martin DB5 has appeared in Thunderball, Goldeneye, Tomorrow Never Dies, Casino Royale and Skyfall. It would have appeared in The World is not Enough but its scene ended up on the cutting room floor (though the outline of the DB5 can still be made out in the thermal imaging sequence at the end of the film), and it appears (very) briefly in the background during the trailer for Spectre, though the Aston Martin DB10, a bespoke two-door coupe, is to be ‘the’ car for the new Bond movie.
To confirm the DB5’s iconic status and association with all things Bond, including the spoofs, Roger Moore drove one in Cannonball Run and George Lazenby (playing a character call ‘JB’) appears behind the wheel of one in The Return Of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
Why an Aston Martin DB5?
Technically the fact that Bond drives an Aston Martin in Goldfinger wasn’t product placement; Aston Martin themselves had nothing to do with it, unless they secretly approached Ian Fleming when he was writing Goldfinger. That’s unlikely, given that David Brown, the famous Huddersfield tractor manufacturer who was Aston Martin’s owner at the time and the man whose initials provided the DB part of the car’s model name, was reluctant to get involved with the film’s production and took some persuading to sign up to having the new DB5 appear in the film. Bond’s second most iconic vehicle (as voted by the fans) was the Lotus Esprit S1 that appears in The Spy Who Loved Me, and that was the result of some serious product placement by Lotus themselves. The DB5 appears in Goldfinger because in the novel, written in 1959, Bond drove an Aston Martin DB Mk 111 (reportedly because Ian Fleming received a letter from a member of the Aston Martin Owner’s Club who suggested it was time the author had the decency to to fix Bond up with a decent bit of machinery). By the time the novel made it to film, the newest Aston Martin model was the DB5, so that’s what Bond got.
Although in Goldfinger, he didn’t quite get a DB5. The wonderful gadget car in the film is actually the original DB5 prototype based on a reworked Aston Martin DB4. Aston also supplied a second car for Connery to drive in the non-action sequences, but the gearbox gave up in the scenes filmed in Switzerland so the modified gadget car ended up being used more than was originally planned.
There is another twist to the story, though. James Bond may have driven an Aston Martin in Goldfinger the novel, but Bond producer Cubby Broccoli wanted Bond to drive an E-Type Jaguar in the film version. The E-Type was already a massive success and there was clearly an alpha-male logic to putting James Bond into the most phallic motor vehicle that has ever been built. Legend has it that Broccoli approached Jaguar boss Sir William Lyons and requested to borrow two E-Types for Goldfinger (some versions of the legend suggest Broccoli asked for three). Lyons refused, not so much because he didn’t want the Bond association, but more because Jaguar were already struggling to meet public demand for the E-Type. With the Jaguar out of the picture, it was decided to approach Aston Martin based on Fleming’s choice in the novel. This was a genuine case of life reflecting art: in the novel, when Bond is selecting a temporary replacement for his beloved Bentley he has to choose between the Aston DB MKIII and a Jaguar. He decides the Aston is the better option, but only just. In the film of Goldfinger, a distilled version of the sequence in the novel finds its way into the scene where Q is introducing the Aston Martin DB5. Bond asks ‘Where’s my Bentley?’, to which Q responds ‘It’s had its day, I’m afraid’.
For fans of useless factoids, this is a good one – the DB5 in Goldfinger has the number plate BMT 216A and the car’s colour is officially designated as silver-birch. That same number plate, BMT 216A, is seen on a Dubonnet-red Aston Martin DB5 in The Saint (an episode called ‘The Noble Sportsman’), starring Bond-in-waiting Roger Moore, which aired in January 1964, eight months before Goldfinger hit the cinemas. This was indeed the same DB4 based DB5 prototype that was passed to the Bond production team by Aston Martin prior to getting a respray in the now familiar silver-birch finish. It seems that Aston were prepared to take the publicity afforded their new DB5 by The Saint on television but not so keen to jump into bed with Bond. Though in fairness to Aston Martin it seems likely, given the pacier filming schedule for a television programme compared to a big-budget film, that the Bond appearance was a done deal before the DB5 was delivered to ITC for its debut in The Saint.
The Aston Martin DB5 has been described as one of the most beautiful cars ever made, but Desmond Llewellyn (‘Q’) is quoted as saying ‘It’s the gadgets which were actually famous – not the car’. That ‘s probably true, at least in part. The DB5’s looks would undoubtedly have made it memorable, but linking those looks to some seriously fun optional extras elevated Bond’s Aston Martin in Goldfinger from memorable to unforgettable. BMT 216A had revolving number plates, front-wing machine guns, smoke screen, rear bullet-proof screen, oil slick, radio-telephone concealed in the door, chariot style tyre-slashers, extending front over-rider rams (not seen in use in the film but a favourite ‘springy-out bit’ for owners of the Corgi die-cast replica), radar-scanner dashboard tracking system, and of course that wonderful ejector seat. Only the smoke screen was originally scripted, all of the other gadgets were added to later script drafts and during production as the crew started having some fun of their own. Legend has it that director Guy Hamilton suggested the revolving number plate as a wry response to a string of parking tickets he’d received prior to the start of filming.
Amazingly, only the ejector seat and tyre-slashers were studio effects. All of the other gadgets were physically installed in the DB5 prototype by production designer Ken Adam and engineer John Stears.
As we’re due a factoid, the DB5’s final scene in Goldfinger, where Bond is tricked into driving the car into a brick wall, was filmed twice and it was the second take that was used in the film. In the first take, the car went right through the wall rather than crash and stop, which would have caused continuity problems with the next scene. As this first take looked more spectacular it was used in the trailer.
For Thunderball, the car also acquired rear firing water cannon. The only gadgets on display are these water canon and the rear bullet-proof screen.
The DB5 then took extended leave as Bond spent thirty years trying to pick just the right replacement, even trying another gadget-packed Aston Martin along the way, but in 1995’s Goldeneye the iconic DB5 made a comeback with Pierce Brosnan behind the wheel. This DB5 had a new number plate – BMT 214A – and seems to be gadget-free (unless a champagne chiller and a fax machine qualify as gadgets). BMT 214A also appears in Tomorrow Never Dies but only barely, and does nothing other than look pretty. As mentioned earlier, the Aston Martin’s scenes in The World is Not Enough didn’t make it to the final cut.
In the rebooted Bond universe of Casino Royale, Daniel Craig wins a DB5 in a card game. As Bond is in Nassau at the time, the car has blue Nassau plates, number 56 526. As it’s not a Q branch vehicle it’s gadget free, and shock-horror, it’s a left-hand drive. Presumably this car gets a serious make-over from Q branch, as by Skyfall it’s right-hand drive and would appear to have the originally gadgetry from Goldfinger back in situ (the wing machine guns get a solid workout and a passing reference is made to the ejector seat). It also has the original BMT 216A number plate. As Bond clearly isn’t going to keep his no-claims bonus at the end of Skyfall we shall have to wait and see if the DB5 in Spectre is BMT 216A resurrected or a new incarnation, assuming it actually makes an appearance as the glimpse of it in the trailer doesn’t suggest that it will be doing anything other than just looking pretty again.
The Also Droves.
At this point I’m going to assume that everybody hates the BMW’s that Pierce Brosnan’s Bond drove. For most Bond purists it was a product placement too far to put 007 into non-British vehicular product, and let’s be honest the Z3, Z8 and 750iL were just a tad…dull. The Z3 makes a brief appearance in Goldeneye before Bond swaps it for a plane, the Z8 looks good in The World is Not Enough but gets sawn in half before it really gets going, and the 750iL does get a nifty car chase gadgets sequence in Tomorrow Never Dies but has all the aesthetic appeal of an empty polystyrene burger box . The best of the BMWs was the R1200 motorcycle from Tomorrow Never Dies.
Bond’s first screen car, as seen in Dr.No, was the humble Sunbeam Alpine and over the years there have been several vehicles elevated to ‘Bond car’ status simply because they were the nearest one to hand when 007 needed a ride. That list includes a Ford Mustang Mach 1 Fastback in Diamonds Are Forever, an AMC Hornet in The Man With The Golden Gun, a Citroen 2CV in For Your Eyes Only, an Alfa Romeo GTV6 in Octopussy and a Renault 11 in A View To A Kill. There have also been buses (Live and Let Die), tanks (Goldeneye), rickshaws (Octopussy), fire-trucks (A View To A Kill) and moon buggies (Diamonds are Forever). Plus, of course, the gorgeous Toyota 2000GT from You only Live Twice, though that’s not Bond’s car and it’s Aki who drives it (and in fact Sean Connery didn’t fit into the standard coupe version, but Toyota were so keen to get their creation into the film they specially built two open-topped versions).
An interesting inclusion for the list is the 1935 Bentley Mark IV Drophead 3.5 Litre that Bond uses for his picnic with Sylvia Trench at the beginning of From Russia With Love. It’s there because Bond’s true automotive love – according to Ian Fleming – was his Bentley 4.5 litre that was badly damaged in a crash in the novel of Casino Royale (the role – or is it roll? – filled by the DBS V12 in the film).
To date, Bond has only once appeared in a Bentley 4.5 litre, albeit briefly. That unique moment occurred in Never Say Never Again, the ‘unofficial’ 1983 remake of Thunderball, pairing the first car Fleming wrote Bond into with the first actor to play him on the big screen. The Bentley was a slightly later model than Fleming had stated and Sean Connery was wearing the worst hairpiece in the history of everything everywhere, but it was still, as they say, a moment.
But for a car to be a true ‘Bond car’, it needs the Q branch stamp of approval, and that brings Aston Martin to the fore again. Following the DB5’s appearances in Goldfinger and Thunderball, the next Bond Aston was a DBS driven by George Lazenby’s Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. No mention is made of its gadget capabilities, but we can rule out bullet-proof glass. Next came Timothy Dalton’s Aston Martin V8 Vantage Volante in The Living Daylights with its full complement of gadgets including ski outriggers, laser hubcaps, missile launchers and rocket propulsion. Seen side-by-side, the DBS from O.H.M.S.S. and the V8 Vantage from The Living Daylights are strikingly similar looking vehicles, and there’s been speculation that the reason Aston Martin fell out of favour with the Bond producers was the that the cars didn’t change in appearance over the course of two decades.
Pierce Brosnan’s Bond was eventually surgically removed from his BMW product placement deal in Die Another Day and transplanted into an Aston Martin V12 Vanquish, also fully-loaded with rockets, self-targeting shotguns and that good old passenger ejector seat. Sadly they went a gadget too far with the Vanquish, as they did with the film as a whole, by allowing the car to become invisible using some pseudo-science drivel that should have had the writers hanging their heads in shame. In both Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace it’s a DBS V12 that Bond gets to drive around in. Very fast sometimes. It has no gadgets, but does have some handy hidden compartments with must-have accessories like defibrillators and Walther P99s.
As for Spectre’s DB10, we’ll just have to wait and see what Q branch brains have been installed into all that Aston brawn. One thing that we do know is that the DB10 is not going to be a production car. Aston Martin have said that they are building just ten of them, and eight of that number are specifically for use on Spectre. Consensus amongst the automotive journos, based on ‘insider’ information, is that the true replacement for the current DB9 will be called the DB11 and Spectre‘s DB10 is a preview concept for the next generation of V8 Vantage, slated to appear in 2017. It’s a measure of how strong the relationship between Aston Martin and the Bond productions have become since David Brown’s reluctance to get involved with Goldfinger that now, with the DB10, not only have Aston produced a car specifically for a Bond film, director Sam Mendes is rumoured to have been involved with designing it.
Yet for all the impressive Aston Martin muscle on show over the years, second place in the list of favourite Bond cars went to a non-Aston pretender, and rightly so. Roger Moore’s tenure as Bond may not be well regarded, but the submersible Lotus Esprit S1 in The Spy Who Loved Me provided a car chase and gadgetry sequence that had an impact at the time not dissimilar to the DB5’s Goldfinger appearance.
Time for a factoid. Bond cars hold two world records. On 1 January 1974, The Guinness Book of World Records recognized The Man With The Golden Gun as featuring the first ever ‘astro spiral’ jump on film, performed by a stunt driver named Loren Willert in the AMC Hornet. It was the scene where Bond has to jump a river using a twisted and collapsed bridge and the car spins through a full 360 degrees during the leap. The stunt is astounding to watch, and completely ruined by the ridiculous comedy swan-whistle sound effect. The second record is from Casino Royale when stunt driver Adam Kirley put the DBS through 7 cannon rollovers in the crash scene (without use of a ramp – the DBS was too heavy so had to be flipped at high speed with a gas pressure gun). For a while there was also a third record, from Die Another Day, for the largest breakaway glass structure smashed by a car (for a scene with the Aston Martin Vanquish driving through the ice palace) but that record has since been broken (sorry). Bond does hold another vehicle based record though – in Live and Let Die a 1972 Glastron GT-150 speedboat leaps over a road, setting a world record distance of 36.5 m (120 ft) for a boat-jump in a film.
The Bond Connection.
Product placement has been around since before the birth of the motion picture. There are many documented cases of theatre performances dating back to before the 1900s where commercially available products were mentioned in the script, and some historians of the subject even class Dicken’s The Pickwick Papers as a form of product placement as the name Pickwick is taken from a real carriage company that is mentioned in the novel. The term ‘product placement’ wasn’t coined until the early 1980s, and it’s generally accepted that the first time the public at large became aware of it and its potential power was when The Hershey Company placed their peanut-butter candy product ‘Reece’s Pieces’ into E.T., the biggest grossing film of the 1980s (‘Reece’s Pieces’ are the multi-coloured sweets that Elliot leaves as a trail for E.T. to follow). The advertisers, however, had been aware of it for some time before the rest of us. Bond’s association with Omega watches came later, but in 1977, Lotus worked at getting the new Esprit S1 into The Spy Who Loved Me specifically because of the impact of the Bond connection on sales of the Aston Martin DB5.
Aston had considered the DB4 to be a big seller, but the DB5 sold twice as fast and there’s no doubt that the connection to Bond gave the DB5 significant additional cache in its challenge to the E-Type to be the sports coupe of choice for the discerning gentleman. The DB5 needed the help: the E-type was faster, had a better reputation for overall performance, and cost half as much as the Aston Martin.
There’s no way of knowing exactly how much impact the Bond connection had on sales of the DB5, but his reluctance to be involved with Goldfinger might potentially have cost David Brown his company. In 1964, Aston Martin was going through another of its fairly regular financial crises, and the success of the DB5 flung the wolves away from the door more impressively than any ejector seat.
Nor was James Bond the only cool dude to be associated with the Aston Martin DB5. In 1964, the year that Bond was handed his DB5 by Q, a Sierra-blue example with black leather interior was acquired in more conventional fashion by Sir Paul McCartney (shortly after The Beatles completed the filming of A Hard Day’s Night and just before the band embarked on their 1964 world tour). Bond and a Beatle? That amount of cool would make anything a red-hot property.
The continued appearance of the Aston Martin DB5 in Bond films is beginning to cause a ‘head and heart’ division amongst Bond fans. The DB5 is iconic, and associated with James Bond in a way that nothing else is. But this is a new Bond, and the DB5 is an old car. It’s an old car, and frankly it wasn’t that great a car to begin with. In Skyfall, Judi Dench’s M makes mention of the fact that Bond’s DB5 is ‘not very comfortable’. That wasn’t the half of it. The DB5 had unpredictable road-holding, especially when cornering at speed, and reliability issues (as mentioned earlier, the gearbox gave out on one of the two Goldfinger cars during filming). Nor could the DB5’s performance match rivals like the E-Type Jaguar: the Aston had a 0-60mph time of 8.1 seconds and topped out at a not inconsiderable 143 mph; the Jag hit 60mph in 7 seconds and officially could just about sneak over 150 mph.
Very quick factoid: for those currently tutting and thinking ‘why make cars with those kinds of top-speeds when the maximum speed limit in the UK is 70mph’, that upper limit wasn’t introduced until December 1965, after both the DB5 and the E-Type were made. Until then there had been no upper limit on roads where no other limit was specified (30mph had been around since 1934 for built-up areas), and the 70mph limit was classed as ‘temporary’ at the time, so in theory they could remove it any day now.
Back to the petrol-head stuff. It was true that the DB5 did keep a few more horses in its 6 cylinder 4.0 litre power plant (282 compared to the E-Type’s 265 from both the 3.8 and 4.2 litre Jaguar engines) but the Aston was 150kg heavier which made it slightly more sluggish and added another quarter-inch to the driver’s bicep muscles (this was before the days of power steering). Add to all that the fact that the Aston would have cost you £4,175 for the standard coupe version but you could have bought an E-Type for £2000 less, then it becomes clear that the DB5 had an appeal that went beyond performance numbers and price tags.
Perhaps it was just too damn beautiful to ignore. Not that the E-Type wasn’t a stunning looking vehicle. For many, the E-Type beat the DB5 for looks as well, though there were some who thought the Jaguar’s styling to be just a bit too radical. Plus the Jaguar came with its own reliability issues, and owners soon discovered that the magical 150mph mark achieved in the pre-production cars simply couldn’t be replicated in a production model. There was still that £2000 price difference though…
In many ways, the Aston Martin DB5 was comparable to most of James Bond’s other companions: costly, high-maintenance, stunning to look at, but not practical on a daily basis. Could it be that now that M has been updated for Spectre and the last remnants of the old Bond have been erased, it’s also time to garage the DB5 once and for all? If nothing else, it would take all of Q’s skill and valuable time just to get it through its M.O.T. The head says ‘yes’ – as Daniel Craig’s Bond was meant to be a fresh reboot to make Fleming’s spy relevant for the modern ‘Jason Bourne’ audience, you have to question why BMT 216A appeared at all – but the heart still shouts a resounding ‘no’. There might also be an element of self-preservation involved, as I’m the same age as that DB5 and I’m not yet ready to accept that I’m obsolete either.
So bring on Spectre and the DB10, and if it transpires that Aston Martin DB5 BMT 216A has finally been laid to rest after its dramatic demise in Skyfall, then let us not forget the debt of gratitude it is owed by Bond, Aston Martin, and us, the fans, for its sterling service over the last fifty years.