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James Bond's Best Car
CAR: Middle East Online
Shahzad Sheikh
09 November 2008

'James Bond drives an Aston Martin.’

Ask anyone and that’s the answer you’ll get. In fact, Astons have been driven by every actor that has played 007 in the official movie series, except for Roger Moore. Although he did drive a DB5 in The Cannonball Run in a spoof portrayal of himself.

Indeed, the 1964 classic has appeared in the most number of movies in the series: Goldfinger, Thunderball, Golden Eye, Tomorrow Never Dies (briefly), and Casino Royale. But the DB5 is not the best Bond car. And there’s no reason why an Aston Martin should be the default Bondmobile.

Go back to Ian Fleming’s original spy novels and you’ll find the secret agent not only originally drove Bentley’s, but had a great passion for the marque. He did drive an Aston in the Goldfinger novel, but it was a DB3 not a DB5.

Frankly though, he was never that loyal to any brand, driving everything from a Citroen 2CV to a Mustang Mach 1. A lot like his treatment of the Bond girls, 007 was quite casual in the way he would use, abuse and discard just about any car that suited him and the mission at hand.

But never have I felt such horror, and been as distraught, at seeing one of his rides obliterated as when the bad guys tried to force their way into his white Lotus Esprit towards the beginning of For Your Eyes Only. Q Department did of course immediately issue him with another one, this time in bronze with a ski rack attached, but the senseless and tragic waste left me scarred more than any portrayal of a human death in the series.

Why? Because I’d fallen totally in love with the white 1976 Esprit S1 in the previous installment: The Spy Who Loved Me. And I wasn’t alone. In fact with an aim to one day owning a Lotus Esprit myself, I have spoken to many Esprit owners and fans, and to a man, every single one attributed his passion for the car to have come from that iconic third outing for Roger Moore on Her Majesty’s secret service.

Why did it have such an impact? It was a car so sleek and futuristic, that there was nothing like it at the time, and even today it would appear entirely contemporary if seen out on the road. Unlike the DB5, this was a car that looked like it was warping time and space even as it stood still. On the move it was convincingly quick enough to outrun a helicopter, and its sure-footed handling and flat cornering had never before been witnessed in a dramatic celluloid chase sequence.

Famously, the driving dynamics of this car were so advanced that the stunt drivers had trouble getting the best out of it, and the producers resorted to employing the services of Lotus’ own development driver. It was so quick that the camera car was another Esprit – the only thing that could keep up with it!

Even its audition is the stuff of legend. Lotus simply left an early prototype Esprit parked in front of Pinewood studios. As soon as it was spotted, the producers knew it had to be Moore’s ride. It was also entirely believable as a car that could supposedly dive straight into the water and convert into a submarine. Plus it could fire rockets, torpedoes and even drop mines. So it’s quicker, handles better and is deadlier than the DB5, as well as being a two-in-one vehicle.

Inevitably the Esprit is as inextricably linked with Moore’s insouciant portrayal of the superspy as the DB5 is with Sean Connery’s. So let’s first debunk a few myths about Moore being a poorer Bond and his movies being lightweight compared to Connery.

Moore was the longest serving James Bond, lasting for 12 years, and appearing in seven official movies – one more than Connery. Apart from Daniel Craig, he is the only other Englishman to have played the British secret agent, and along from Timothy Dalton, the only other RADA-trained actor. But most importantly, he was Fleming’s preferred choice for the first Bond movie over Connery, but wasn’t available due to his commitment to the hit TV series, The Saint.

As for The Spy Who Loved Me, it is highly acclaimed by critics and regarded as one of the best 007 movies, being described by reviewers as ‘suave and sophisticated,’ and the film was nominated for three Academy Awards. But most notably for us, The Times has named the Esprit as the second best Bond car in the series behind the DB5.

However, The Times is wrong – the Lotus is not second best. James Bond is meant to be debonair and irresistibly attractive, a sharp dresser, with extraordinary wit and guile, displaying quick-thinking ingenuity matched only by a flair for spectacular lethality. All of which can be said as much about the Lotus Esprit as the main character.

Bond is a technophile, he loves gadgets and intuitively adapts to technology. When the Esprit was first introduced, it was ahead of its time, using lightweight materials, advanced design and clever engineering to combat the likes of Ferrari and Lamborghini. By comparison, Astons of the time were lumbering behemoths harking back to the old-school style of British musclecars.

The gentleman spy might certainly like to collect classic Bentleys and Astons, but out in the field, you get the sense that he would need something that could keep up with his own superhuman dexterity.

So the best Bond car was the Lotus Esprit. QED.

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