James Bond is well-known for his gadgets, saving the world and, most of all, his iconic car history. The Aston Martin DB5 is the first to spring to mind, but 007 has been behind the wheel of plenty more since he first appeared in Ian Fleming's novel, 'Casino Royale' (1953).
So, in preparation for the release of 'No Time to Die', join us on a trip through James Bond's varied car history. You might even find one or two unexpected surprises along the way...
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Ian Fleming's James Bond
Ian Fleming wrote most of his James Bond novels during the 1950s. With memories of WW2 fresh and the swinging Sixties still to come, 007 was originally a very civilised gentleman spy.
And that meant that a Bentley was the only suitable vehicle.
Yes, that's right - Bond originally drove a Bentley. A 1930's Bentley 4 1/2 litre Turbocharged to be precise.
While many of us are familiar with the gritty modern James Bond, Fleming created a sophisticated character who drove for pleasure rather than business. Even though he was still a man of hot passion and cold fury, he loved his Bentley more than anything. It took an intervention from Q before he changed the wreck of his 4 1/2 litre in 'Moonraker'!
Even though he was loathe to part with it, Bond eventually drove four Bentleys across Fleming's 12 novels and 2 short story collections. This included a Mark VI and a Mark II Continental.
In short, Ian Fleming created a traditional James Bond who did his job quietly and efficiently. There was no Hollywood flair and the only 'spy-car' was the Aston Martin DB3 in 'Goldfinger'. And even this was tame by Bond's standards. It only featured a hidden pistol, steel bumpers, a homing device and switches to change the colour of the lights - but it was 1959.
So, where did the 'spy-cars' we know and love come from? Well, eventually, from the mind of Albert Broccoli, the producer of 16 James Bond films.
But we'll have to wait a little bit longer for that.
Safe and Uninspiring - The Early Years
'Dr No' and 'From Russia With Love' were both released before the end of 1963 and followed the Fleming novels closely. Sean Connery drove the dull and civilian Austin A30, Hillman Mink and Sunbeam Alpine in 'Dr No', and a Bentley Mark IV featured in 'From Russia With Love'. There was no Mark IV model - Fleming created this specifically for Bond!
But, with Goldfinger released just a year later, in 1964, why were the first two films so tame?
Well, the Cold War was only just beginning to heat up, so the emergence of real-life secret agents hadn't captured the public's imagination yet. On top of that, Ian Fleming died in 1964,so was still alive for production on the first two films. Maybe Broccoli felt an obligation to honour the original stories which sold 30 million copies in Fleming's lifetime?
Either way, 'Goldfinger' was the start of the James Bond franchise as we know it. And its success was driven by one particular vehicle...
The Aston Martin DB5 & 'Spymania'
It was, of course, the Aston Martin DB5. The most iconic 'spy-car' of all time? Quite possibly.
This was where Q branch started developing their bold and brash gadgets. The DB5 featured a homing beacon, a tyre-slasher, bulletproof windows, smokescreen, machine guns, ejector seat and an oil dispensing rear spout. These gadgets elevated the DB5 to icon status and has seen it appear in seven James Bond films: 'Thunderball', 'GoldenEye', 'Tomorrow Never Dies', 'Casino Royale', 'Skyfall' and 'Spectre'. It is also due to feature in 'No Time To Die'.
The DB5 was the first step towards the 007 we know and love today. But his transformation from sedate and safe gentleman spy to international playboy may never have happened without a craze known as 'Spymania'.
Specialised spy books and films thrived during the 1960s thanks to the continuing tension in the Cold War. Real-life examples of espionage were everywhere and they sparked the public's imagination. As a result, many of the early Bond films feature Soviet villains. Ernest Blofeld, one of the most famous Bond villains, was Polish - a country that was under Soviet influence in the 1960s.
As a result, the Bond films grew in popularity. By the time 'Thunderball' became the highest grossing James Bond film ever in 1965 - a record it still holds to this day -, Sean Connery's character was almost unrecognisable from Fleming's books. He was a gritty but charismatic man who knew what he wanted and took it en-route to saving the world on a regular basis. While the DB5 merely facilitated this, it fueled the 'Spymania' craze. Without this buzz, the franchise might not have become as popular as it has.
Some of Bond's Greatest Hits...
The DB5 raised the bar of ambition and saw Bond drive more outrageous cars and use more bonkers gadgets. And, as the franchise became more popular and the locations more exotic and varied, so too did his cars.
And many were massive hits.
One of the most underrated vehicles is the Toyota 2000GT from 'You Only Live Twice'. A revolutionary new super car in 1967, its production would lead to the fearsome Nissan GTR many years later. It is also Daniel Craig's personal favourite Bond car. Add in the fact it helped 007 thwart another of SPECTRE's evil plans and costs about half a million pounds today, and it's clear the 2000GT was the perfect vehicle for Bond.
With high-powered American muscle cars flooding the market during the 1960s and 70s, it made sense for James Bond to get behind the wheel of one. Even though they were never caught on in the UK and it would have been unrealistic for Bond to drive one anywhere but America, the films reflected the trends of the era. And so, as the USA grew into a global superpower, Roger Moore's 007 headed stateside.
And that's why he drove a Ford Galaxie Sedan and a Mustang Mach 1 in 'Diamonds Are Forever' and a Chevrolet Impala in 'Live and Let Die'.
While none of these cars hit the same heights as the DB5, they reinforced Bond's cool and chic image. And it wouldn't be long before the most iconic vehicle of the Moore era made an appearance. And this one could never be described as short on gadgets.
Lotus Esprit S1
This submarine car proved that nothing was a match for James Bond - not even the sea itself. And, because the transformation wasn't enough, Q branch also included torpedoes, surface to air missiles, mines, a periscope and cement spraying cannons to help 007 in 'The Spy Who Loved Me'.
While that arsenal is pretty impressive, it proved to be a bit hot to handle. In fact, Bond drove three different Esprits across two films - mainly because the Lotus destroyed itself twice! Another nice nod to realism as the sight of a broken-down Lotus in 1970s Britain was very common.
However, it hasn't always been plain sailing for James Bond. There have been some dodgy casting decisions made when it comes to his car companions.
...And Some of His Worst Misses!
This is not to say these are all terrible cars. In fact, we'd say the very opposite of the Audi 200 Quattro driven by Timothy Dalton in 'The Living Daylights'. They're just not very Bond.
The Audi Quattro was a cool car in the 1980s, but it's more at home on a gravel track than a motorway in the Italian Riveria or the South of France. The same goes for the Range Rover convertible from 'Octopussy' and the Ford LTD and Renault II from 'A View to a Kill'. They're all far too mundane for an international superspy like James Bond.
But the worst was yet to come. John Gardner decided that his Bond should drive a SAAB 9000 in his books.
While it's far more inconspicuous than his other rides, these sensible Swedish cars don't quite belong in James Bond's garage. Especially as he owned three different SAABs across Gardner's sixteen books.
Yes, a good spy should be able to blend in and work undetected (which you can't say about the films) and Gardner was writing during the 1980s when the UK was hit by a big recession, but we don't think 007 suits a SAAB at all.
The BMW Years - James Bond's Midlife Crisis?
Contract issues meant that the film franchise stalled after 'Licence to Kill' in 1989, and it wasn't until 1995 that we saw Bond on the big screen again. And he'd gone all German on us.
Pierce Brosnan's Bond reflected the leading manufacturer of the mid-90s, but Bond in a BMW? Was sensible, mundane James Bond back?
Well, no. Far from it. Although the BMWs were a far cry from what Bond was traditionally associated with, Q branch had got their hands on them. WHich meant lots of gadgets. The Z3 from 'Goldeneye' featured stinger missiles, an ejector seat and radar system. However, it didn't feature much in the film.
The 750iL in 'Tomorrow Never Dies' was much more prominent. It also featured plenty of gadgets, including some technology that is commonplace today. It had electric door handles, a rocket launcher, re-inflating tyres, a cable cutting device and a fingerprint safe equipped. If that wasn't enough, Bond could also control it remotely by radio. He loved this gadget so much it was also included on the BMW Z8 in 'The World is Not Enough'.
The BMWs might not be classic Bond, but they heralded a new era of spy gadgets. As the world changes, so does James Bond. That much has always been clear.
Brosnan's Bond certainly meant business. His cars weren't half bad either, even if they were more mainstream than the luxury Bentleys and rare muscle cars fans were used to. However, while the 750 iL wasn't quintessential Bond, it's another contender for the title of greatest spy car of all time.
But we've saved the best for last. The DB5 is clearly Bond's most famous Aston Martin, but it's not the only model to appear in the franchise.
The Other Aston Martins
Bond has driven 6 Aston Martins across 24 films. George Lazenby's only outing as 007 in 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service' brought the DB3 from the 'Goldfinger' novel to the big screen. While both Lazenby and the DB3 only had short-lived appearances, Timothy Dalton had a slightly longer run in an Aston. He roared on to our screens in an Aston Martin V8 Vantage in 'The Living Daylights'. It was a leaner, meaner car for a much darker portrayal of Bond.
The Vantage came with side skis, spiked tyres, rocket propulsion, hubcap lasers, missiles and a self-destruct system. It was the perfect 'spy car' to drive the franchise into a more technological age. But then came the hiatus and Brosnan's BMWs instead.
Thankfully, Brosnan switched back to an Aston Martin for his final film, 'Die Another Day'. His V12 Vanquish could turn invisible and featured rockets, bonnet-mounted shotguns and an ejector seat. Even though the villain's Jaguar XKR had a machine gun mounted on the back, it stood no chance. Bond isn't Britain's best for nothing.
While the appearances of Aston Martins were sporadic in the 20th Century, Daniel Craig's Bond has definitely reignited the relationship. While they were short on gadgets and didn't survive too long, Bond was back where we believe he belongs. That's what matters the most.
While the DBS V12 Craig drove in 'Casino Royale' and 'Quantum of Solace' only had one or two tricks, the DB10 from 'Spectre' was much more of a spy car. Q Branch fitted it with flamethrowers, machines guns, an ejector seat and HUD target lock. With these gadgets attached, it was more than a match for a reimagined Blofeld.
Considering that the DB5 made an appearance in all of Craig's films except 'Quantum of Solace', there has been plenty for car lovers to drool over in recent Bond films. Even if they have become more serious, and trick briefcases and cigarette darts seem out of place in the technological era.
But there's one final question to answer:
What Comes Next?
With Daniel Craig saying goodbye to the role after 'No Time to Die', attention has turned to the future of Bond. While most people are eager to know which actor (or actress) will take up the mantle, we're far more interested in what car they'll be driving. Will we see Bond behind the wheel of an Aston Martin hypercar, such as the Valkyrie? Will it be something fast and European, like a Ferrari? Or might it even be something fully electric, such as a Tesla?
Whatever the case, we can't wait to watch James Bond roar back onto our screens in 'No Time to Die', which releases in UK cinemas on the 30th September 2021. And we're hoping that he is going to drive a couple more cool cars that we can add to his awesome car history!