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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: October 26, 2012 @ 8:14 am

    I’ve been expecting your insurance quote, Meester Bond…

    Neil Briscoe

    A delightful bit of movie trivia emerged in the run-up to today’s release of the new James Bond film, Skyfall. In a policy quote put together by gadgets magazine Stuff and British-based insurer Churchill (yes, the one with the cartoon dog) it seems that if James Bond were (a) real and (b) attempting to insure the 3.0-litre V6 diesel Jaguar XJ that he is briefly seen driving in Skyfall, he’s have to shell out STG£50,000.

    “This is based on a 40 year old civil servant living in London SW3 driving a highly modified (guns, ejector seats, invisibility) Jaguar XJ L, single driver, zero no claims discount due to many Aston Martin write-offs, excessive traffic offences ranging from speeding, dangerous driving and running traffic lights to talking on a mobile. High mileage and danger to other road users are also considered” said the people from Churchill. “Reinsurers are not happy to allow foreign use as James often appears outside of the EU and in some instances under water.”

    Actually, while £50k seems ridiculously steep for an (entirely fictional) insurance quote, it’s actually not too bad in light of the memory that no less an actuarial risk than Jeremy Clarkson was, back in 1992, quoted a real, serious STG£25,000 to insure a then-current Ford Escort Cosworth. Especially considering that when Bond is driving, people tend to be shooting at him.

    Still it all got me thinking about Bond and his relationship with cars, something that has in many ways come to define the character. After all, it’s all but impossible to think of Bond without subsequently thinking Aston Martin, and vice versa. And while the same may be true of Walther, at least you can legally purchase and use an Aston…

    Bond’s driving life, as with all other aspect of the character, date back to the original Ian Fleming books. Fleming himself wasn’t much of a keen driver and wasn’t really a car enthusiast, although he did come to love the Ford Thunderbird that he purchased with the proceeds from his early book sales.

    Bond in the books drove a battleship-grey Bentley, a car that Fleming referred to as a Mark IV, which seems to have been a fictional model created in the author’s own mind, although the optional Amherst-Villiers supercharger was a real thing. As with a great many such luxury items in the original Bond novels, it’s doubtful that Fleming actually meant the presence of the Bentley to mean anything, more that it was there as a recognisable name and one that conjoured the appropriate amount of reflected glamour.

    Bond’s Bentley, whose only ‘gadget’ is a carefully concealed Colt .45 pistol, is destroyed in a chase in the novel Moonraker, one of the few car chases that Fleming actually wrote (a notable other being a snow-bound one in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) – more regular vehicular mayhem being, as with hidden machine guns and ejector seats, a creation of the Bond films.

    Bond does briefly drive an Aston Martin in the novel of Goldfinger, specifically to suit his cover as a trendy businessman, but it was the weaponised DB5’s appearance in the film of that book that cemented forever Bond’s association with Aston. Since then, he has variously driven BMWs, a couple of Audis, a brace of Lotus Esprits (one underwater, one exploding) and even a lowly Renault 11, but Bond and Aston will be forever inextricably entwined.

    Which is rather ridiculous, of course. Why on Earth would someone working for British Intelligence drive such an ostentatious, expensive car? It would be useless for discreetly tailing a foe, and you’d never be able to sneak up on someone – Daniel Craig’s Bond’s 6.0-litre V12 DBS from Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace makes such an adorable racket that it would sound as if the entire grid from the Le Mans 24hrs was sneaking around the back of the secret hollowed-out volcano base.

    Sadly, the truth is that if Bond were to actually be out there looking for an insurance quote, he would be doing so on a much more mundane vehicle. He is, as the Churchill people pointed out, effectively a civil servant, albeit an adventurous one. Have a quick look on the website of Witham Specialist Vehicles (http://www.mod-sales.com), a UK-based firm which specialises in selling on second hand cars, Land Rovers, fire engines and even tanks, armoured cars and helicopters – direct from their former lives as the property of the UK Ministry of Defence. Yes, you’ll find one or two Range Rovers and there’s a left-hand-drive Jaguar XF 2.2 diesel on there today, but most of the cars for sale are humble Vauxhall and Ford hatchbacks and saloons. Bond wouldn’t drive an Aston in real life; he’d drive an Insignia, and probably a diesel one at that.

    Perhaps we should look instead to that doyen of the realistic spy drama, the original BBC television version of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and its sequel Smiley’s People, in which the hero – quiet, dour, put-upon George Smiley – is at one point seen motoring around in search of clues to find a Russian defector. And he drives a mint green Opel Commodore. Espionage fantasies just ain’t what they used to be…

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