According to pop artist Andy Warhol, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes, but even in this celebrity-obsessed age not many people are likely to make their quarter-hour endure for as long as a certain Silver Birch Aston Martin DB5. James Bond’s Aston had a total of only 13 minutes of exposure in the films Goldfinger and Thunderball, yet that tiny sliver of time has now expanded to more than 40 years of stardom.
Its phenomenal impact on popular culture earned the Bond Aston the moniker ‘the most famous car in the world’ yet in reality the title has to be shared between four examples.
Two cars were used in the making of the Bond films and another two were constructed for promotional purposes shortly afterwards. None of them has been on the market for 20 years but now one is coming up for auction. Is it a ‘real’ James Bond Aston Martin? Well, sort of
.When it comes to unravelling the complex history of the four Bond Astons the only reliable source is the definitive book produced by Bond author Dave Worrall in the early 1990s.
In 1964, as an 11-year-old schoolboy, Worrall saw the ‘real’ Bond Aston when it visited Birmingham on a publicity tour, and his interest was rekindled when he read a newspaper article about the sale of the car 20 years later.
The article suggested that perhaps six cars had been used in the filming of Goldfinger but said that ‘the record is a little fuzzy’. Amazed that no-one seemed to know the truth behind such a screen icon, Worrall spent the next six years interviewing as many people associated with the cars as he could track down. It’s thanks to him that we know the story of DB5 body no. DB5/2008/R, the car in our pictures, and the other three Bond Astons.
No. 2008 is one of a pair of Astons that were bought by the Bond film production company, Eon, soon after the making of Thunderball, when it became clear from the huge success of Goldfinger that they needed more cars to parade around the USA and capitalize on all the hype surrounding James Bond. The other car was DB5/2017/R. Neither of them ever appeared in a Bond movie but they were kitted out with most of the famous extras, such as the rear-mounted bulletproof screen and the smoke dispenser, to resemble the film cars. Worrall refers to 2008 and 2017 as the Show Cars, to differentiate them from the other two DB5s (the Effects Car and the Road Car) used in the films.
Not surprisingly, none of the PR men involved in touting the Show Cars around America worried too much about their true provenance. If the public chose to believe that they were looking at a car touched by the hand of Sean Connery himself, then the marketing men weren’t going to disillusion them. Department store Sears, which obtained one of the Show Cars for a three-month tour, transported the DB5 in a truck that was provocatively signwritten ‘You’re trailing an actual James Bond 007 Aston Martin automobile – see it at Sears!’ The word ‘actual’ is used rather loosely in this context...
Given the way that the press was lapping up anything to do with Bond at the time, you can forgive Sears spokesman Bruce Chamberlain for pretending that the DB5 was originally fitted with a spigot for dispensing beer chilled by a refrigerated tank in the boot – he clearly wasn’t aware that Englishmen prefer their beer served warm.
To be fair, the Show Cars were convincing replicas, and contemporary ones of that, of the brace of Astons used in the films. Sadly, the car with the best claim to be the ‘real’ Bondmobile, DP/216/1, has disappeared without trace. It was reportedly stolen from a warehouse in Florida in the 1990s and never recovered, as a result of which its insurers – doubtless with considerable reluctance – paid out over $4,000,000.
The loss of DP/216/1 is a shame because this was the car originally fitted with all of ‘Q’s little extras for Goldfinger. Known by the film crew as the Effects Car, it was registered from new with the famous BMT 216A number that appears in the Bond films. What’s more, it was the prototype DB5 (hence the DP chassis number) and had been road tested by Autocar in 1963, as well as appearing in Aston Martin’s advertising of the time. It was originally painted Dubonnet Red and was only resprayed Silver Birch after Pinewood’s craftsmen had added all the Bond extras, which, of course, involved cutting open the roof to install the ejector seat hatch.
So what exactly was the ‘special equipment’ not available to an ordinary Newport Pagnell punter? The feature that everyone remembers is the ejecting passenger seat. Operated by a button concealed in the top of the gearknob, it flings out a hapless Chinese guard as Bond is being escorted into Auric Goldfinger’s Swiss factory complex in the eponymous film. In reality, the guard was a mannequin, the seat was a lightweight shell ejected by compressed air and the Swiss factory was the exterior of the sound stages at Pinewood.
Oddly, considering that most of the DB5’s screen time in Goldfinger is set in Switzerland, Bond never uses one of the gadgets demonstrated to him by ‘Q’ earlier in the film: the revolving numberplates that give a choice of British, French or Swiss registrations. In fact quite a number of features built into the car never appear on film. They include a weapons tray under the driver’s seat, containing a folding Armalite rifle, Mauser pistol with silencer, hand grenade and throwing knife (beat that, you Jag owners with your little tool trays); extending over-riders front and rear that could be used as battering rams; and a pipe concealed behind the offside rear light cluster that dispensed four-pronged nails called caltrops.
Apparently it was decided that the idea of strewing nails over a road might be just too tempting for urchins who had seen the film...
Other desirable extras that never made it into the final cut were a radar scanner contained within the offside wing mirror and a radio telephone built into the driver’s door card.
Even so, the list of additions that do appear in Goldfinger is a long one. At the front end, twin machine-guns emerge from behind the sidelight lenses. At the rear, Bond uses an oil-spray dispensed from behind the rear nearside light cluster in an (ultimately doomed) attempt to throw off Goldfinger’s goons, along with a smokescreen that is projected from under the back of the car. The trunklid houses a contoured bulletproof shield that can be raised to protect the rear ’screen and the offside rear wheel spinner doubles as a tire slasher. Unashamedly lifted as a concept from the film Ben Hur, this rotating tin-opener is the undoing of Tilly Masterson’s Ford Mustang convertible in Goldfinger, as both cars race along the approach to Switzerland’s Furka Pass.
In reality ‘Q’s gadgets were the products of some brilliant Heath Robinson-esque invention on the part of the film’s special effects men. The revolving numberplates, for example, relied on a spring-loaded mechanism operated by Bowden cables from the center console (on the Show Cars they were electrically operated). The oil spray was actually mixed from water and vegetable dye, and propelled by compressed nitrogen released by an electromagnetic valve. The bulletproof screen was made from duralumin for lightness, and raised by a hydraulic system hidden in the boot. Only the ejector seat and the extendible tire slasher were not permanent, fully functional fittings, for reasons of safety and, of course, budget.
The cost of devising and making all these gizmos for BMT 216A was estimated to have been $32,500 – more than five times the price of a new DB5 – so it’s ironic that, when filming was over, Aston Martin stripped them all out and rebuilt the car as a standard DB5. It was perfectly entitled to do this, since the car had only been loaned to the film makers, but the decision seems incredibly short-sighted given the amount of publicity that the Bond films were generating. The rebuilt Effects Car was sold to an unwitting customer, Gavin Keyzar, as a regular DB5 with the registration 6633 PP in August 1968 – Aston having transferred the famous BMT 216A number to one of the Show Cars, no. 2017, in case it was needed again.
Aston Martin had always been slightly offhand about its association with the Bond franchise, however. The connection with the original Ian Fleming novels was tenuous, since while Fleming had Bond borrow a battleship-grey Secret Service ‘pool car’ DB MkIII in Goldfinger, Bond’s own car was a Bentley – supercharged 4-litre in the early books, Continental Mk2 in the later ones. These big machines were too cumbersome for the film makers to contemplate but the newly introduced DB5 would be ideal for their interpretation of a 1960s Bond; the trouble was that Aston, going through one of its perennial financial crises, was unwilling to provide a car free of charge, and the bean-counters at the studio wouldn’t countenance actually buying one. Only after intensive lobbying by special effects man John Stears did Aston relent and agree to loan out BMT 216A which, after all, had already been put through the mill as a development car.
By the late 1960s the value of the Bond DB5s to Aston Martin’s international image had been proven again and again, yet Aston was still apparently oblivious to the mobile goldmines it had stashed away in the works. In 1969 it sold the brace of Show Cars, 2008 and 2017, for a mere $2000 to Anthony (now Sir Anthony) Bamford of JCB excavator fame. If that was a bargain, then Sir Anthony was doubly lucky when a Mr Kenneth Luscombe-Whyte offered to swap one for a Ferrari 250GTO! Realising that a GTO for $977 was quite a good deal, even in 1969, Sir Anthony accepted the offer and traded the Show Car 2017. He still has the GTO today.
Luscombe-Whyte kept 2017 for only a few months before selling it on, and after a long spell as a curiosity at a Canadian restaurant it ended up at its present resting place in the Dutch National Motor Museum. Luscombe-Whyte had some fun with the car during his short tenure, however: he would occasionally park it in central London, wait until a traffic warden had made a note of the number, then operate the revolving number plates when the warden was out of sight and hide until the warden returned to find an apparently identical Aston Martin with a different registration in the same spot!
Sir Anthony Bamford held onto his other Bond car, 2008, for a couple more years before selling it in 1971 for $6500 to Bruce Atchley’s Smoky Mountain Car Museum in Tennessee. It’s been there ever since, which has ensured its survival in a remarkable state of preservation. Total mileage is still only 18,000 and the car wears its original paint, albeit with a few minor scars and blisters. Most of the ‘extras’ such as the extending over-riders and bulletproof screen are in working condition, although the oil sprayer and smokescreen layer have not been tried out. RM Auctions reckons the car will fetch up to .5 million when it’s sold, which is not inconceivable given that this DB5 has to be the ultimate ‘big boy’s toy’.
And what of the fourth Bond car? It still exists and has been in the care of one American owner, Jerry Lee, since 1969. This DB5, no. 1486, was driven by Sean Connery in both Goldfinger and Thunderball but originally had none of the gadgets fitted to its sister car. It was intended as a stand-in for scenes where it was too risky to use the Effects Car and was referred to as the Road Car, since it was the first choice for action shots. The Road Car was road-registered as FMP 7B but, of course, dummied-up as BMT 216A for filming.
Generally, the Effects Car was brought in for close-ups or shots where the gadgets were being deployed – but the Road Car gets its own moment in the spotlight in the pre-title sequence of Thunderball, where Bond escapes from a French chateau by means of personal jet-pack (of course) and has to stow it quickly in the boot of his DB5. If he’d been using the Effects Car, he would have had a slight problem trying to stuff his jet-pack into the space occupied by a large, retractable, bulletproof screen...
Shortly after this, the Road Car was equipped with the same extras fitted to the Effects Car, which was retired from film use and moved onto the promotional circuit. Now that the Effects Car is missing, presumably dumped or scrapped, Jerry Lee’s DB5 is undoubtedly the Most Valuable Bond Car in the World.
As for the other mechanical co-stars from Goldfinger, the 1937 Rolls-Royce Phantom III driven by Oddjob was auctioned along with the DB5 Effects Car by Sothebys in 1986. But does anyone know what happened to the white Mustang driven by Tilly Masterson? It was brought into the UK for a publicity shoot but was never seen again. Is it still out there, another ‘Bond car’ waiting to be discovered?