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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: March 20, 2012 @ 7:05 am

    All our cars are Bond cars.

    Neil Briscoe

    There is, as I write, a new James Bond film in the works. Called Skyfall, it features Daniel Craig in his third outing as Ian Fleming’s iconic assassin, that “blunt instrument, wielded by a government department.” Sorry to appear somewhat old fashioned, or even passé, but this is a source of rich excitement to me. I’ve been a Bond fan practically since I was first allowed into a cinema or to watch anything on the television that didn’t feature Bugs Bunny. The glamour, the action, the excitement, the gadgets, suits and cars and, yes, the good old sex and violence. Scratch even the most modern and feminist of men and you’ll probably find an unreconstructed Bond fan dwelling just below the dermis.

    Of course, for a car nut, the gorgeous vehicles driven by our screen and literary hero are like a gateway drug to the wider world of Bond. Whether it’s the book Bond and his pre-war Bentley in its battleship grey paint, its Amherst-Villiers supercharger huffing away. Or the screen Bond and his Aston Martin DB5 (with modifications, natch) the secret service wheels are an irresistible pull to the impressionable car nut.

    In the books, the cars are glamorous but relatively simple. Bond’s Bentley has no gadgets and the Aston Martin he drives in Goldfinger (a DB Mk III, not a DB5) has nothing cleverer than some hidden compartments to fox inquisitive customs agents and an under-seat holster for a Colt. 45 pistol.

    Of course, for the movie Bond, that would be nowhere near enough, and producers Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman (himself a wartime intelligence officer) began loading Bond’s transport with all manner of imaginative, unobtainable toys. The 1964 film version of Goldfinger was the starting point, presenting Bond with the silver birch DB5 with its machine guns, bullet-proof glass and, of course, ejector seat. The ironic thing is that Fleming considered the Aston brand to be rather nouveau riche and flash (a bit rich coming from a man who drove a 1955 Ford Thunderbird and smoked cigarettes in an ivory holder) but the badge and the fictional man have become as inseperable in people’s minds as bourbon and branch water.

    I wanted one. Any Bond fan did and for a brief while, it seemed possible. After the orgy of classic car value rises that beset the late eighties and early nineties, DB5 values fell off the shelf to the point where a decent, but hardly concours, example could be had for around STG£20,000. A significant sum, but not beyond the bounds of possibility. Now though, DB5 prices start with a one and carry on for a further five figures, so you can forget it short of a Lotto win.

    There are other options if you want some Bond wheels. The late sixties Aston Martin DBS, as driven by George Lazenby in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service can be had for around that STG£20,000 mark, or if you’re a Roger Moore fan, an eighties Lotus Esprit (not submersible capable) could be landed and registered in Rosslare for under €10,000 if you shop around a bit. Like Timothy Dalton or Pierce Brosnan? Late eighties Aston V8 values are hardening but Pierce’s V12 Vanquish will continue to fall in price for a few more years yet.

    Or you could just spend your money on a humdrum family hatchback or saloon and be said to be driving a Bond car. I’m serious, there is almost no car on sale today that has not been influenced by the good Commander and his film and literary minders. The map screen hidden behind the radio grile in the original DB5 is a TomTom in all but name. You can actually buy a Lotus that can go underwater (from lunatic Swiss coachbuilders Rinspeed) but perhaps a more realistic option is to go for a head-up display as used on Timothy Dalton’s V8 in The Living Daylights (“I’ve had one or two optional extras installed…”) which can now be specified on everything from a BMW to a Peugeot. And Bond never even got to have a car with night vision, but Mercedes (and others) can fit your new car with it today.

    It’s not just gadgets though, but style that Bond and his wheels have equally influenced. The DB5′s beautiful wing vent, bisected by a thin scallop of chrome is these days showing up everywhere, and when Ford launches the new Mondeo later this year, check out the distinctive flared shape of the grille and tell me that the designers didn’t have Sean Connery in mind when they scribbled it. Even the lowly Fiesta, albeit in souped-up ST firm, will this year get a radiator grille that apes the classic Touring Superlegerra lines of Bond’s most famous car.

    More than that, it was Bond who introduced the average reader to the idea of premium branding. It was the coming concept, with or without Fleming, but there’s no doubt that the popularity of the Bond novels was instrumental in introducing the idea of premium aspirations to a populace for whom meat was still a rationed commodity and Bond’s taste for Bearnaise sauce and scrambled eggs with smoked salmon was impossibly exciting. The uniform worn by Bond; his finely cut suits and knitted silk tie, his trusty Rolex Oyster watch and his gunmetal cigarette case, all smacked of closely attended perfectionism and a burgeoning sense of brand awareness. Without Bond’s influence, would the appeal of a finely crafted German saloon have become so important to so many of us? Yes, of course it would, but there’s equally no doubt that Fleming’s carefully honed brand snobbery has percolated its way into the general consciousness. With a third of the globe’s population having seen the films or read the books, how could it be otherwise?

    So yes, that’ll be me, first in line for tickets in November when Skyfall is released, complete with a car chase featuring a Land Rover Defender that the film’s director, Sam Mendes, has described as “pretty bruising.” We presume he means the chase, rather than the car itself.

    Social mores have changed out of all recognition since Fleming first tapped out the opening lines of Casino Royale and since Terrence young exposed the first feet of film on the set of Dr. No, fifty years ago this year. But for all that, there is no getting away from the fact that today, we are all driving 007′s cars.

    Good buy, mister Bond.

    • JOD says:

      From what I’ve seen of late in the Bond franchise as regards Bondmobiles the trend has been to wreck them as fast and as soon as possible. Don’t like seeing vehicular abuse.

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