"Thanks to its association with an infamous secret agent, the name ‘Aston Martin’ and the initials ‘DB’ conjure up all sorts of British spy movie connotations. But while the DB5 may well be popular culture’s most famous David Brown "
James Bond: Aston Martin DB5
Images Courtesy RM Auctions
It’s the most famous car in the world. Since the sixties, no small boy’s toybox has been complete without a fully-functioning die-cast model of this car; the 1964 Aston Martin DB5 driven by Sean Connery in Goldfinger and Thunderball. It is easily the world’s most expensive piece of movie memorabilia, a movie star in its own right, and an irreplaceable icon. And the owner let me drive it, for a glorious hour or so, before he sold it at auction for £2.9m in 2010. I also drove the Aston Martin DBS built for Daniel Craig in Quantum of Solace. Despite the 45 years separating them, the similarities between the first and latest Bond Astons are remarkable.
The link between James Bond and Aston Martin is probably the longest-running and most valuable product placement in movie history. For Goldfinger and Thunderball, four DB5s were fitted with ‘all the usual refinements’, as Q described them. The pop-out machine guns, tyre shredders, bullet-proof screen, revolving number plates and ejector seat were designed by Oscar-winning special effects guru John Stears, who went on to work on Star Wars. Two of the ‘Bond’ DB5s were used only for publicity. Of the two cars used for filming, one was stolen from a Florida airport in 1997 and is thought to have been broken up.
So of the two cars that actually appear in the movies, only this one – FMP 7B – remains. It was used in the scene where Goldfinger’s Korean bodyguard Oddjob decapitates a statue with his steel-rimmed bowler hat outside the Stoke Park golf club, in the driving scenes where Bond follows Goldfinger’s Rolls-Royce over the Furka Pass in Switzerland, and in the opening scenes of Thunderball, when Bond eliminates a Spectre agent and escapes with the aid of a jet-pack, this car and the comedy goons who obligingly run directly into its rear-mounted water cannons.
For a movie star and a multi-million pound car it’s reassuringly tatty; drive it and you won’t be worried about destroying its value by scratching it. The grey leather seats graced by the young Connery are worn to a beautiful patina, and the long, heavy tyre shredder – which doesn’t pop out, but needs to be attached by hand – lies casually tossed in the back, along with the lump hammer needed to fix it in place.
The four-litre straight-six engine starts instantly, makes a hard, loud howl when worked, and provides acceleration that still feels fairly urgent by modern standards.Even without the gadgets, in 1964 the DB5 was about the fastest, sexiest thing on the road, and, like the Vulcan bomber that co-stars in Thunderball, one of the pinnacles of period British engineering.
As you drive, your thumb keeps flipping up the lid that covers the ejector seat trigger in the gearknob; fortunately for your passenger, it’s one of the few gadgets that doesn’t work. But the secret panel hidden in the armrest controls the good stuff. The switches marked ‘oil’ and ‘smoke’ can be made to work, but ‘m-gun’ only motors the front machine guns in and out; they won’t actually rip you a hole in rush-hour traffic. ‘Bullet-screen’ erects the rear shield, the rotary switch marked S, B and F rotates the Swiss, British and French plates.
By contrast, there isn’t a single gadget on the Quantum of Solace DBS. Daniel Craig’s 007 is a grittier, more realistic character than previous Bonds and he needed a car to match. The only clues to this DBS’s Bond provenance are the engraved plaques on the door sills and the Italian licence plates used in filming which still sit in the boot. They don’t even rotate: so much for progress. You might not get the gadgets, but you do get a movie soundtrack. The DBS howls and bellows; it sounds feral and, frankly, alive.
But it was the DB5 that helped spark the world’s obsession with Bond in the first place. Does that justify spending millions on a vintage Aston that would only be worth £150,000 if it wasn’t for a bunch of gadgets that now look very low-tech in this Avatar age? Watch the reaction of other road users when you extend the ramming bumpers in traffic, and those millions will feel like a bargain.
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