Rounding out a week devoted largely to James Bond Cars is this chapter from Jeremy Clarkson's 1998 Book, Planet Dagenham.
As fans of Top Gear know, Clarkson is a big fan of James Bond and often plays music from the series on the show. There are even entire episodes of Top Gear devoted to James Bond's cars. So it should come as no surprise to discover that in his book about "Drivestyles of the rich and famous" he devotes a whole chapter to 007 and his cars. In fact, James Bond spills into adjoining chapters too.
Clarkson begins the book by explaining to us "Why all film car chases are wrong". His basic argument is that the producers obviously know nothing about cars, or simply don't care that one is so much faster than the other. For example the Ferrari 355 vs Hummer in The Rock:
LICENSED TO THRILL - BOND ON FILM
Photo: Bond. Aston. Aston. Bond. Sherioushly shuited.
James Bond, as we all know, changes his women like Blair changes his mind. But when it comes to serious matters such as cars, the man’s fidelity is normally of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward proportions: Goldfinger; Thunderbolt; On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, all saw him at the wheel of Astons. And when he wasn’t driving one it was either because he was abroad or on top of a broad.
But then, lo and behold, in The Spy Who Loved Me, Q pops off the Sardinian ferry at the wheel of a Lotus Esprit and the Aston is left thrashing about in the piranha tank. So what went wrong? How did Norfolk stick the poison shoe into Newport Pagnell?
In truth it was a move 007 himself would have been proud of. On one ordinary cold British day, Don McLauchlan, the Public Relations boss at Lotus, went to visit a friend who worked at Pinewood studios. Like any British sports car executive, he would have given his marriage implements to poach Bond from Aston Martin, and when his friend told him The Spy Who Loved Me was in the middle of shooting, he decided to seize the day.
‘The new Esprit wasn’t even ready,’ says Don, ‘but I rushed back and hurried them into finishing off a prototype version, then returned to see my friend at Pinewood.’
Don parked the car outside the Bond offices, then sat with his friend and waited for the production crew to break for lunch. Naturally, when they came out, they formed a big crowd around the strange new Lotus. The next bit, for Don, was the biggest gamble of all: ‘I really wanted to create some mystique against the Aston,’ says Don. ‘So I walked out and, instead of talking to the Bond people, forced myself to ignore them and just push through the crowd and drive off.’ Don was hoping the Bond people would make the effort to find him, and sure enough big Bond boss Cubby Broccoli rang Lotus the next day.
Spool forward to Sardinia and the filming of the mountain chase and underwater sequence. It’s early morning and Don is up with the larks, or whatever the Sardinian equivalent is, washing the Lotus before filming starts. His hand goes for the bucket, but a second hand gets there first and grabs the spare chamois. A voice says: ‘Good morning, would you like some help cleaning the car?’ The name was Moore... Roger Moore.
There have been 18 Bond films, providing you don’t count the misguided flop that was Never Say Never Again or the precursor to it all - Casino Royale, which had David Niven cast, rather incongruously, as the hero. Now, in that time, Bond has been everywhere and slept with everyone up to and probably including Major Boothroyd - a.k.a. Q. He knows everything and has driven, flown and sailed pretty much every type of vehicle. There have been a great many cars, too, but despite the best efforts of BMW we all know that the great man drives an Aston Martin DB5. Aficionados of the books will tell you that he actually has a Bentley, and for sure we see the car in question in From Russia With Love. But it was in Goldfinger, the first of the true 007 blockbusters, that we were first introduced to that modified Aston.
Photo: If he’d had the Z3, Bond would still be in the shed.
At the time, Aston were a well-known force in the world of motor racing but in Botswana, frankly, no one had ever heard of them. It was a call from a Bond producer to the company’s HQ in Newport Pagnell that changed everything. All over the world, Aston Martin is James Bond.
The government car issued to 007 for his one man war with organised crime was the 4 litre DB5 - gentlemanly, elegant and, with a top speed of 140 mph, powerful, too. He used it again in Thunderball and remained loyal to the brand on his wedding day when he and Diana Rigg set off for their honeymoon in a DBS. It was a puny six-cylinder version, incidentally, but wore V8 badges and was subjected to a V8 soundtrack to hammer the message home. It could even squeal its tyres on sand.
By this stage, though, film-makers were starting to realise that companies with a little more financial clout than Aston could be used to help market the films and so the links with Aston were severed. And they stayed broken until 1987, when Timothy Dalton took over for The Living Daylights. Three Vantages were supplied to the film-makers for the chase sequence, which saw Bond evading the entire Czechoslovakian army, and a V8 Volante was used for sequences in England.
LOTUS: Loads Of Trouble, Usually Serious
Several years later, while wandering around the Pinewood Studios, where the Goldfinger chase sequence was filmed and where all the Bond films until Goldeneye were made, I found those Vantages, stacked on top of each other in a shed. Cry? I wept buckets. And then I wept some more when news trickled out that BMW had waved a big cheque under M’s nose and, as a result, had been given permission to provide the cars for Goldeneye. Bond in a BMW. It was a ridiculous notion. And obviously the film-makers realised this because at the beginning of the film we saw him back where he belongs, in the DB5, racing a Ferrari 355, vanning and at the same time charming a girl out of her knickers. The only time he ever actually used the Z3 was to dry his hair. But then, as we know, that’s all the Z3 is good for.
Here’s the question though. Are there any cars that Bond has driven over the years which really would make a better companion today than the great DB5?
Photo: Bond checks his look in the mirror, only to find that he’s being followed by a hearse. The chase, naturally, is on...
Dr. No - SUNBEAM ALPINE
Had it been the Tiger version with the 4.7 litre V8, then maybe, but the Alpine with its engine lifted out of a toaster was not fast enough, noisy enough or cool enough. Nice in its time but today - way past its prime. Of course, had he used the Tiger it would have been Bond and not the pursuing villains in their hearse that went over the ravine. And this would have spoiled the film somewhat. And rather curtailed the opportunity for a follow up.
From Russia With Love - BENTLEY
In a bid to stay faithful to the original Ian Fleming books, Bond was seen to be driving a Bentley, but while there is a strong argument for putting him in the Arnage today, I’m not sure the intervening models would have been suitable. They’re too big, and they don’t go round corners fast enough. It would have been really rather embarrassing if the Czech army using Ladas had caught Bond’s Mulsanne. And I suspect they would have.
You Only Live Twice - TOYOTA 2000 GT
Obviously, with the film set in Japan, Bond had to use a Japanese car, which today would have been easy. They would have given him a Skyline GTR and that would have been that. But remember, we’re talking here about 1967 -just 22 years after two major Japanese cities were flattened by atom bombs. The Japanese car industry had been eased off the ground with help - can you believe it - from Austin, but it was still in the nest, sitting there with its beak open. Bond needed a sports car though and that meant it was either a Honda S600, which was too weedy, or a Toyota 2000GT which had exactly the same sort of chassis as a Lotus Elan, all independent suspension, rack and pinion steering and magnesium alloy wheels.
It was, therefore, advanced and with a 2.3 litre straight six and a five speed manual gearbox it was pretty nippy, too. Top speed was 135 mph. However, at nearly $7,000 dollars it was pricier than either the new Porsche 911 or the E Type Jaguar. And it was a coupe - not a convertible -something that the producers had specifically requested. Toyota, however, made two special soft tops for Bond and how did he repay them? By coming home and never driving the 2000GT again. Mind you, who can blame him? He had a DBs, remember.
Diamonds Are Forever -FORD MUSTANG MACH ONE
Bond first experienced a Mustang in Thunderbolt, where he could be seen glancing at the speedo and wondering how, when it said 100 mph, they appeared to be going at 500 mph. Oh the joys of speeded-up film. Of course, for the epic Las Vegas chase, it wasn’t the classic ’65 but one of the last of the great pony cars. Called the Mach One, it had a 350 cubic inch V8 which developed 330 bhp and was therefore an enormously powerful and enormous car which could do 0-60 in 6.5 seconds.
It was the biggest Mustang ever made and as the Vegas police force found out, it was also just about the fastest... and the cleverest. In the chase it goes into the narrow alley on its two left-hand wheels and comes out at the other end on its two right-hand wheels. Clever stuff, but soon afterwards the oil crisis hit and the Mustang was emasculated by a muffled 2.3 litre four cylinder motor. Sad, but that’s not the issue here. The issue is this: would Bond have been better off today with a Mach One Mustang than with a DB5?
To which the answer is a resounding no. A Mustang may be alright for a maverick New York policeman with an errant wife and a drink problem, but Bond is a Commander in the Royal Navy and you can’t turn up for dinner in Whitehall in the motorised equivalent of a cheeseburger.
The Man With The Golden Gun -AMC HORNET
Yes indeed, the Torville and Dean leap with rotation stunt was very clever and the performance from Sheriff JW Pepper made audiences around the world laugh. But AMC made joke cars and the Hornet used by Bond was the punch line. He was, of course, chasing a Matador Brougham which turned itself into a plane, but then 007’s Hornet wasn’t exactly standard either. It had toughened suspension, a six-cylinder engine, a centred steering wheel and a special fuel system to stop the car from stalling as it turned over.
The Spy Who Loved Me - LOTUS ESPRIT
And into the breech stepped Lotus who provided Bond with the first incarnation of its Guigaro-designed, 2.2 litre, four-cylinder, mid-engined Esprit supercar. There’s more. In the film, it could go underwater, drop mines and shoot helicopters from the sky with its surface-to-air missiles. Wow. But at this stage of Bond’s career, diehard fans - and I count myself among their number-were becoming just a little bit irritated with the jokey direction our hero was taking. And the Esprit seemed to typify this. It was fun, but unlike the Aston it wouldn’t hit you in the face with a hammer.
For Your Eyes Only - CITROEN 2CV
Photo: Not Bond’s first choice. The 2CV - a lawnmower with a roof.
After the debacle that was Moonraker, the script-writers brought Bond back to earth with a simple Brits v the Russkies yarn. But while the essence was back, the Aston wasn’t. Bond started out with a white Esprit which, thankfully, was blown to kingdom come, but they then replaced it with a bronze turbo, which as far as I know is still parked outside a bar in Cortina - very appropriate.
This film, however, was memorable mainly for Bond’s first ever outing in a Citroen 2CV. Needless to say, he was immediately familiar with the layout of the gearbox and managed to outrun the baddies who came at him in a selection of Peugeot 504s. Most ended up in trees or spinning around on their roofs in a hilarious fashion. Bond meanwhile kept the 2CV in one piece even though it too had been upside down and back to front and rolled down a hillside. I really can’t imagine why anyone would want to go back to the DB5 after this.
Octopussy - ALFA ROMEO GTV6
Photo: Alfa Romeo GTV6 - in which Bond races to stop a nuclear explosion. Good job it had just been serviced.
Here’s what happened. Desperate to save the world from a nuclear holocaust, Bond leapt into an Alfa Romeo GTV6 and, right under the nose of the German police force, used it to reach the bomb just in time. Phew. But here’s what would have happened in reality. Desperate to save the world from a nuclear holocaust, Bond would have seen the GTV6 and clocked it, rightly, for a sporty Italian coupe with enough punch to get him to the bomb on time. So he would have leapt inside only to find that if he put the seat in the right position for his legs, he wouldn’t have been able to reach the wheel. Moving it forwards would have put his knees behind his ears. And all the while, air would have been escaping from the tyres. But hey, this wouldn’t have mattered because it wouldn’t have started anyway, and even if it had, the gear linkage would have disintegrated.
But let’s just say that had he got it going, he wouldn’t have gone very far before all the electrics packed up. Mind you, this would have been a good thing because come the first corner, he’d have been unable to move the wheel - partly because he could never have reached it and partly because there was no power assistance for the steering.
I know all this because I used to have a GTV6 and I therefore know he’d have arrived to diffuse the bomb, on foot, about 25 minutes after it had gone off. He’d have been reduced to his component parts, Russia would have invaded Western Europe, we’d all be Commies now and the world would never have heard of Tony Blair. Damn. Why did you have to make it on time James? Just for once, you could have been late. But I do understand why you never drove an Alfa again. When you’re in the business of saving the world, you need reliability above all else. A Corolla, perhaps. Or a DB5.
A View To A Kill - RENAULT 11
Photo: Right, I’m going back to The Persuaders.
This one may have featured the best looking of all the Bond babes-Tanya Roberts - and for sure it had the best baddie, in the shape of Christopher Walken. But car-wise, it was something of a low point. In a bid to save California from becoming a giant swimming pool, Bond was forced to tear through Paris in a Renault 11. But fortunately for us, Paris did the decent thing and tore through the Renault 11. The roof was sliced off by a barrier and then, in another collision, the rear end was removed. In his Aston that would have been ‘game over’, but the front drive layout meant Bond could keep going and California was allowed to carry on imposing no smoking rules in bars and cafes.
Licence To Kill - A LORRY
After a brief trip round Florida in a rented Lincoln Mark VIII, Bond’s only high speed action came at the wheel of a Kenworth truck. Bond, lorry. Lorry, Bond. The words, I’m afraid, don’t sit together terribly comfortably.
Goldeneye - ASTON MARTIN DB5
Bond gets his Aston back. And long may he stay in it.
The Car Chase Oscars
MOST IMPROBABLE SOUND EFFECTS
And the nominations are: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Herbie Rides Again, The Cars That Ate Paris, Mad Max (I-III)
* And the winner is - On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, where in his first, and last, outing as 007, George Lazenby climbs into a Aston Martin DBS which is parked on a sandy beach. As he sets off we hear the tyres squeal. George was sacked for this and Sean came back in a wig.
Photo: Norman Wisdom... sorry George Lazenby as Bond in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, with Diana Rigg as, yes, Mrs Bond, in the last sighting of the Aston Martin for some time.
[Source: Planet Dagenham P.9, 14-23, 36. published by Chameleon. Text copyright © 1998 Jeremy Clarkson. Design copyright © 1998 JMP Ltd. James Bond Photos © 1962-1995 Danjaq LLC and United Artists Corporation. All rights reserved.]
If we can draw any conclusions from this, it is that Clarkson firmly believes James Bond belongs in an Aston Martin.