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License to drive: Best cars from James Bond films

License to drive: Best cars from James Bond films

Over the last half century Ian Fleming’s iconic cinematic secret agent has piloted just about every manner of vehicle ever conceived in the long-running series of James Bond films, from a helicopter, fire engine and jet pack to a snowmobile, Russian tank and even a lunar rover. Still, it’s agent 007’s seemingly endless fleet of exotic cars – in some instances they’re virtually disposable within the context of the storylines – that are the movies’ un-credited co-stars.

To help celebrate the golden anniversary of the franchise – the first James Bond film Dr. No premiered 50 years ago – we’re revisiting our fan-crazed selections from earlier this year for what are arguably the best 007 vehicles of all time.

Note: Car nuts and 007 aficionados alike can still check out the “Bond in Motion” exhibit at the National Motor Museum in Beaulieu, England (about 87 miles southwest of London). This exhaustive aggregation of 50 of the most recognized 007 vehicles – including ones from the 23rd film in the series, Skyfall –runs through January 6, 2013.


Aston Martin DB5

First seen in the 1964 film Goldfinger, the venerable DB5 is arguably the car that’s inexorably associated with James Bond. A luxury grand touring car produced between 1963 and 1965 that came powered by a 282-horsepower 4.0-liter engine, the DB5 packed such then-upscale amenities as reclining seats, wool pile carpets, electric windows, chrome wire wheels, full leather upholstery and even a fire extinguisher. The DB part of the car’s name stands for David Brown, who owned Aston Martin throughout much of its post-WWII glory days.

Bond’s version featured such essential secret-agent accessories as a front-firing machine gun, passenger-ejection seat, smoke screen, oil slick dispensers, a bulletproof barrier, revolving multinational license plates and front and rear retractable ramming arms. It also came with extendable wheel hubs that could disable an adjacent vehicle by slashing its tires. The durable DB5 also saw duty in Thunderball (1965), GoldenEye (1995), Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) and Casino Royale (2006); it was even used as the basis for the spy character Finn McMissile in the 2011 animated film Cars 2.




Lotus Esprit

As seen in 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me, the low-slung Lotus Esprit served double duty as an on-road sports coupe and a compact submarine. Roger Moore’s 007 takes the Esprit deep below the surface to engage in a reconnaissance of the villain’s underwater facilities. As if that’s not enough, the Esprit was also handily equipped with anti-aircraft missiles, which Bond subsequently uses to blow a helicopter out of the sky. For its submerged skills the cinematic version of the vehicle earned the nickname “Wet Nellie.”


Meanwhile, the road-going version of the wedge-shaped Esprit was manufactured from 1976-2004, with the first generation, dubbed S1, being the model featured in the film. It came powered by a rear-mounted 2.0-liter engine that generated a modest 140 horsepower in its U.S. configuration. While it wasn’t a particularly fast car, the lithe and lightweight Esprit made up for a lack of power with its tenacious handling abilities.




Ford Mustang Mach 1

Diamonds are Forever (1971) marked Sean Connery’s return to the Bond series after a one-film hiatus. Here, the vehicular star of the show was a 1971 Ford Mustang Mach 1 owned by diamond smuggler Tiffany Case (1970’s bombshell Jill St. John) In the process of preventing the villainous Blofeld from controlling the world, Bond pilots the Mach 1 to out-maneuver pursuing police cars down the Las Vegas Strip that leaves assorted collisions in its wake. The sequence’s signature maneuver is an extended escape down an otherwise too-narrow alleyway with the Mustang somehow squeezing through on only two wheels.

While Ford may not have recommended drivers try that trick at home with the stock Mustang Mach 1, the sports coupe was an impressive performer in its own right. In production from 1969-1978 and available as a dramatically styled fastback model, the Mach 1 offered a choice of no less than four V8 engines, with the top powerplant being a 429 Cobra Jet Ram Air version that was a mammoth (even by classic muscle-car standards) 7.0 liters large.



BMW Z8

Noted automotive stylist Henrik Fisker designed this sleek high-performance roadster that had a brief production run from 1999 to 2003. This is the same Henrik Fisker who would later form his own automotive company and create the Karma plug-in luxury hybrid. In the real world, the Z8’s chassis and body were fabricated from lightweight aluminum and it came powered by a blazing 400-horsepower V8 engine. Unique features included novel neon exterior lighting touches.

In The World is Not Enough (1999), Pierce Brosnan’s Bond gets his Z8 equipped with unique features like radar-guided stinger missiles and remote control pads on the keyfob. In the film it winds up being sliced in half in Azerbaijan by a helicopter that was fitted with tree-cutting saws. Apparently Q couldn’t think of everything.




Aston Martin DBS

Another old-school British-club-like car, the original DBS was featured in 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – the only film in which George Lazenby portrays 007. The latest iteration was Daniel Craig’s ride of choice as Bond in the 2006 version of Casino Royale and the subsequent 2008 installment, Quantum of Solace. Unlike the gadget-laden DB5 above, the Aston Martin DBS featured in either film stands on its own merits without being retrofitted with assorted armaments.

Both elegant and aggressive, the current DBS (pictured here) is Aston Martin’s flagship model and offers a stunningly modern take on its predecessor’s old-money British sports car styling. Available as a closed-roof coupe or Volante convertible, the DBS packs a hand-assembled mid-mounted 6.0-liter V12 engine that brings a full 510 horsepower to the pavement. In Casino Royale, the car performed a record-breaking seven-roll stunt maneuver after which it was cannoned into the air. Three models were reportedly destroyed during the filming.




BMW 750iL

Perhaps Bond was beginning to feel his age in the 1997 release Tomorrow Never Dies with Pierce Brosnan’s 007 taking to the wheel of BMW’s flagship 750iL sedan, which, then as now, is more typically seen populating country club parking lots than it is traversing the globe on the secret agent circuit. And at that, in the movie’s signature chase scene Bond isn’t behind the wheel at all, but rather is driving the car while hunched in the back seat – not to mention engaging all manner of weaponry including flash grenades, tear gas, rockets and a metal spike dispenser – using his specially modified Ericsson cell phone as a remote controller.

The cinematic chase ends with the BMW sailing off the roof of the building (with 007 leaping from the car in the proverbial nick of time) and crashing into a rental car facility across the street as an onboard system voice says, “Congratulations on a safe journey.” Fifteen BMW 750is were reportedly destroyed in the making of the film.