Guns,ejector seat, tyreshredders – we drive the most famous Aston of them all. Aston Martin James Bond of the two Aston Martin DB5s used in Goldfinger and Thunderball one vanished in 1997 and the other broke cover in 2010 after years in hiding. We take it on a mission to explore the reality behind the Bond movie aura
Towering mesh fencing topped with barbed wire keeps prying eyes out of the woods beyond; the only way in is past the guards on the gate. We exchange a few words and the red and white barrier rises with a metallic clank. Inside the test facility I’m due to be issued with a piece of special equipment.
Skulking in the shadow of the control tower is an Aston Martin that looks deceptively like any other DB5. Even the number plate, FMP 7B, would hide its identity from anyone without access to privileged information.
But draw closer and the clues reveal themselves: a detachable panel set into the roof on the passenger side, a iin strip of metal across the surface of the bootlid, a small-bore pipe poking out menacingly alongside the twin exhausts; round the front, the number plate set into a deep chrome plinth. Ejector seat, bullet shield, smoke gun and revolving number plates lie behind them – just some of the devices that helped secret agent James Bond to deal with assorted villains in the Goldfinger and Thunderball films, and guaranteed that actor Sean Connery would forever have to share his fame with a motor car. Never before had a film prop made such an impact, driving more than seven million small boys to demand Corgi toy versions and countless grown-up boys to splash out on real DB5s ever since.
Bond’s Aston also inspired a number of replicas, including two commissioned by film company Eon Productions for promotional tours of America after the 1965 release of Goldfinger. In a plot fit for a spy thriller there were two DB5s playing one part in the films – the more expensive, gadget-laden effects car for close-up work (chassis DP 216/1), and this, the road car (chassis DB5/1486/R) acting as a stunt double for risky action sequences. The film cars also took part in the tour schedule and all four eventually went to private buyers.
You might think that the cars deserved a quiet retirement, but instead they became embroiled in a second round of publicity seeking, identity confusion and legal wrangles. The plot took its most dramatic twist when the original effects car disappeared one night in 1997 from a locked, alarmed and guarded hangar at an airport in Boca Raton, Florida. Replica DB5/2017/R ended up in the Dutch National Motor Museum and DB5/2008/R most recently changed hands in 2006, selling at auction to a mystery buyer for $2.lmillion.
So FMP 7B is the only survivor from the films. On screen it was lightly disguised as the effects car with BMT 216A number plates and a GB oval screwed to its rump, but otherwise it was a stock 1964 DB5, albeit with the more powerful Vantage engine. The replica gadgets were added by Aston Martin for Thunderball.
It’s a privilege just to see this car, which has been locked away in one man’s private Bond lair for decades and only let out on a few occasions. Like Sean Connery, it looks at ease in its Cold War surroundings. The subtle Silver Birch paintwork is a nod to the Battleship Grey Bentley that Bond drove in Ian Fleming’s books, and the shape, styled by Frederico Formenti of Milan coachbuilder Touring, is distinguished and confident without being showy.
Slip inside and the odometer shows just 30,709 miles, but the grey seats look like they’ve seen 60,000 miles of trouser wear, the natural warm brown leather tones glowing through myriad creases in the black hides like lines on a character actor’s face. Most of them were earned post-filming, but the fact that the process was started by Connery, assorted Bond girls and stuntmen really does transport you back to memorable scenes from the films.
Despite the DBS’s dashing Italianate shape there’s plenty of room for secret agents of all sizes. The slim woodrim steering wheel is typical equipment for a GT car of the period and behind it you’re greeted with Aston Martin’s signature dashboard, the glittering array of chrome instruments and switches rounded up in a dark metallic grey binnacle shaped like the radiator grille.
Twist the ignition key and Tadek Marek’s twin-cam straight-six spins eagerly into life, its deeply throbbing idle sounding impatient for action. The DB5 gained an extra silencer box to make it more civilised than the DB4, but this one has been relieved of some baffling for a dash of extra aural drama – just the sort of larger-than-life effect that excites a film audience. With as little as 3500rpm on the tachometer the rounded burble is subsumed by a sharp, blatting rasp that trails the car like pursuing gunfire and cuts deep into the silent woods. Lazy gearchanges will give swift progress, but for pursuing a beautiful woman over Alpine passes hold out for 5500rpm, where you’d find the full 3i4bhp in this more powerful Vantage version – if it still had its original Weber carburettors.
Even on the standard-issue SUs you get enough confident thrust from 3000rpm upwards to dispatch slower traffic with ease. You’ve a fine accomplice in the five-speed ZF gearbox, an option that was standard by the time this car was built in 1964. The 1963 effects car still used the David Brown four-speeder with overdrive.
The lever feels delicate in my palm but demands a solid push, particularly when the gearbox is still cold. Firm springing helps the lever across to the third and fourth plane and fifth is a closer step off to the right. Most British gearbox makers blanched at the Aston’s 26olb ft of torque, which is how the car ended up with the same German fivespeeder used in the Maserati 5000GT.
Feeling your way through the ZF it’s easy to flip the hinged gearknob lid inadvertently, revealing a little red button. Pressing it is irresistible and it’s hard not to flinch, though nothing happens. But it evokes one of the most talked about scenes in Goldfinger, when Bond propels gun-wielding henchman Santos Wong out of the car on an ejector seat. In reality lightweight dummies of both seat and henchman were ejected skywards by a tube of compressed air, and the roof panel lifts out manually. So you can forget settling a domestic argument with one deft press of that button.
With visions of being chased through Black Park Woods near Pinewood Studios by a gaggle of Mercedes, you want to press on through the bends. At first all seems normal as the DB5 leans gently into its cornering stance, rear squatting under power and front tyres starting to scrub wide before the rears join in with chorus of softly howling rubber. It’s all very predictable and the steering keeps up a direct conversation between my hands, the front wheels and back again with an oiled fluidity.
It reaches drift point at lower speeds than a gadget-free car thanks to a 136kg burden of special effects designed by Ken Adam and made real by John Stears and his team at Eon Productions with help from Aston Martin. These days film producers construct a series of cars to simulate gadgets in various states of deployment, but Adam wanted his ideas to be concealed on the car, ready for action at the push of a button.
Pull the leather tab on the driver’s door and a panel drops down to reveal a telephone handset, but a call to MI6’s base is impossible because the cord is connected to nothing more than fresh air inside the door. Below it, in the footwell a pair of levers opens the nearside rear reflector that hides the tyre-shredding nail ejector.
For following Auric Goldfinger’s bugged Rolls Royce Phantom III Bond had a radar scanner hidden behind the radio speaker grille. In the film this was ‘powered’ out of the way by an off-camera lever, but this one is lifted by a chrome tab to reveal a static map of the Home Counties. Then a pair of green lights illuminates, accompanied by a rhythmic beep and a whirring scanner visible inside the wing mirror. Delight turns to hilarity when I notice the white flashing light in the middle of the map is uncannily close to my location.
You’ll soon want to switch off the beeping distraction to concentrate on keeping this overweight DB5 on the road and watching out for assailants. If any approach from the rear you’ve got it covered. Open the armrest lid and you’ll find a panel bristling with switches, each labelled with a deadly function: Oil, Nails, Smoke, Machine Guns, Plates, Bullet-Screen and more.
That last effect has to be one of the car’s most memorable gadgets. I thumb a chrome tumbler switch and the bullet shield whirs up noisily from the bootlid, filling the rearview mirror in an instant. In deference to other test facility users I won’t try the oil spray or nail ejector, both of which use pressurised nitrogen to fling their contents into the path of deadly pursuers from chambers behind hinged rear light reflectors. We’re fresh out of Brocks B4 smoke canisters, too. Pity.
Extending overriders, underseat weapons tray and rotating number plates were never used to save Bond’s life, but on Britain’s speed camera-infested roads today the plates could certainly save his licence to drive. Rotate the knob and the electromagnetic mechanism spins the plates to give JB 007 for Switzerland, FMP 7B for Britain and 007 JB for France. They don’t always land in the right positions, so you may have to jump out to assist manually, which I don’t remember Q mentioning during his famous ‘Now pay attention’ speech. If you were paying attention you’ll remember that both film cars wore BMT 216A for most of the scenes, but with LU 6789 and 4711-EA-62 available on the effects car.
So that just leaves those deadly extendable wheel spinners that projected like the blades on Boadicea’s chariot and carved down the side of Tilly Masterson’s Ford Mustang. As a way of picking up attractive women it was pretty brutal even by the male chauvinistic standards of the Sixties, but none of the switches seems to do the trick anyway. In fact, fitting them calls for a more cumbersome technique, thus – heave open the bootlid against the weight of bullet shield, its electric window winder mechanism and rotating number plate. Marvel at sinister tangle of hydraulic piping and compressed gas cylinders filling much of the space and retrieve copper mallet and tyre slasher parts. Wield hammer to knock off roadwheel spinner, fit replacement with large threaded hole at the centre, screw in extended tyre-slashing spinner and tighten all the above with mallet. Return to car chase, slash Mustang tyres, chat up pretty girl assassin. Of course, Bond also had the luxury of allowing the whole extending, slashing and retracting episode to be handled in the special effects studio at Pinewood. So that’s why he always looked so suave.
Removing the roof panel too allow your unfortunate passenger to be ejected is another trick that you have to perform manually at the roadside. Hold down the switch marked M-GUNS and you’ll hear a heavy click as two retaining pins release the rear edge of the panel. Now you can lift it clear with a flourish, perhaps humming part of the Bond theme as you do so.‘Dada, da-daa, da dadaa’…
If you have the surveillance instincts of a secret agent you’ve probably spotted that some of the gadgets on this car look or work differently from those in Goldfinger, such as a smaller ejector hatch and different controls in the armrest console. Most were operated hydraulically on the effects car but all the gadgets fitted later to FMP 7B were electrically powered, except for the extending overriders.
Here the machine guns are harmless but on the effects car the barrels used an inbuilt spark plug to ignite a mixture of acetylene and oxygen for a realistic bang.
That car had started life as a Dubonnet Red 1964 Aston Martin DB5 Engine 3995cc, in-line six-cylinder, dohc, three SU HD8 carburettors Power and Torque 282bhp @ 5500rpm; 288lb ft @ 3850rpm (std DB5) Transmission Fivespeed manual, rear-wheel drive Steering Rack-andpinion Suspension Front: independent, wishbones, coil springs, anti-roll bar, telescopic dampers. Rear: live axle, parallel trailingarms, coil springs, Watt linkage, lever-arm dampers Brakes Discs front and rear, twin servos Weight 1502kg +136kg(33111b + 3001b) Performance Top speed: 143mph;0-60mph: 8.1sec (std DB5) Fuel Consumption 14.7mpg (std DB5) Weapons Two front-facing Browningmachine guns, rear-facingnail dispenser and oil spray, wheel-mounted tyre slashers, front and rear extendable bumper rams Defence Sysytems Rear bullet shield, passenger ejector seat, revolving number plates, Brocks B4 smoke canister Surveilance Equipment Radar scanner, radio telephone Cost New £4248 (plus £36k for gadgets) DB4 Vantage Series V, modified with the new 3995cc version of the twin-cam straight-six to become the DB5 prototype. I mentioned that with its gadgets and new Silver Birch respray it was meant to do the close up work with the road car standing in for the risky action, but filming with animals, small children and exotic cars is never straightforward. When the road car’s gearbox broke in Switzerland it was only fit for static roles, including the one where Tilly Masterson attempts to shoot Auric Goldfinger, leaving the effects car to handle the subsequent chase and most of the later scenes around the Auric Enterprises factory complex, though the road car was used for the panning shots and security barrier scene.
The road car’s most prominent appearances came when it shared duties in the opening sequence of Thunderball and in the later car chase with the Ford Fairlane, but FMP 7B was also used as a sound double, according to Sixties Aston Martin salesman Mike Ashley, ‘I did all the sound effects with that car because it had the Weber carburettors and the louder exhaust. We stripped out all the carpets and the passenger seat, loaded up sound recording equipment and I had a wonderful day at Silverstone letting it all hang out/ The car was used again as a sound double in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
Identifying features? Apart from the lack of gadgets it doesn’t have side repeaters on the front wings and in Thunderball its front overriders sit close to the number plate plinth; the effects car’s are only just inset from the radiator grille. Also, the plinth on the effects car has squarer ends while that on the road car has more rounded ends. Bet you wish you’d never asked.
Despite relatively little screen time the cars turned Aston Martin into a household name, as recalled by Works Service manager Dudley Gershon in his book Aston Martin, 1963-1972, ‘As soon as the film was shown a massive wave of publicity hit us, all of a sudden every ten-year-old boy knew the name Aston Martin. If we had been able to produce 50 DB5s per week we could have sold them.’
Instead the Newport Pagnell factory averaged 40 per month, but that was a fourfold increase over the DB4’s production rate. I’ve often heard that Aston Martin was reluctant to let Eon use a DB5, and according to Bond historian Dave Worrall it took two attempts to persuade David Brown; but Ashley remembers things differently, ‘As I understand it Cubby Broccoli and Harry Salzman were turned down by Rolls-Royce so they approached David Brown. He said yes right away and contacted [general manager] Steve Heggie to say he wanted the car in the movie. Of course Steve realised it could help our sales in America.’
The gadget-laden DB5s ended up back at Newport Pagnell where BMT 216A was returned to standard before all four cars were sold. Last to go was FMP 7B, bought for $l2k by a Philadelphia radio station owner.
Since then it’s been shown at the 1981 New York Auto Show and 1993 Meadowbrook Concours. But in 2009 Bond fanatic and serial Aston owner Don Rose persuaded Lee to let him see the car, ‘I told him, “You should know I also work for RM Auctions, but this is a personal thing.’ After Rose had looked over the DB5 Lee asked what the car might be worth. ‘When I suggested upwards of $5million he realised he was way under-insured, then he just looked at me and said “My [charitable] foundation could really use that sort of money.’”
So Lee decided to sell. It did the rounds in the UK and embarked on a world tour that culminated in RM’s Battersea Park auction on October 27, 2010 at which banker Harry Yeaggy paid £2.7 million for it. I hope, for the sake of every overgrown schoolkid of the Sixties and since that this piece of our history remains preserved exactly as it is.
The effects cars ability to create publicity prompted a promotional tour,so Aston general manager Steve Heggie called 25-year-old salesman Mike Ashley into his office. ‘He told me I’d got the job of nursingthe car around and lookingafter it;recalls Ashley.
Dean Martin’s producer, Greg Garrison, suggested a trip to Los Angeles where he’d help them get some publicity. ‘My bossJim Stirling wanted me on the cargo plane with the car, but customers weren’t allowed. Animal handlers were, so he sorted me out with a caged bird and an animal handler’s suit .’
As the tour progressed Ashley’s lifestyle became more Bond-like. For the Paris premiere he and Sean Connery drove the car down the Champs Elysees to the Cinema Marignan. Afterwards there was dinner at the restaurant next door. ‘I met these two beautiful models and offered them a ride back to the hotel in my car. I was photographed leaving the restaurant with one on each arm. I thought I was the luckiest guy in the world.’
Even near-disasters gained the tour some good publicity, like the time when he flew the car into Miami and sat inside it ready to make a dramatic getaway from the aircraft for the press. ‘1 don’t know how, but turning on the ignition activated the smoke canister. There was thick black smoke everywhere – everyone thought that I’d blown up the car and the plane.
1964 Aston Martin DB5
Engine 3995cc, in-line six-cylinder, dohc, three SU HD8 carburettors
Power and Torque 282bhp @ 5500rpm; 288lb ft @ 3850rpm (std DB5)
Transmission Fivespeed manual, rear-wheel drive
Suspension Front: independent, wishbones, coil springs, anti-roll bar, telescopic dampers. Rear: live axle, parallel trailingarms, coil springs, Watt linkage, lever-arm dampers
Brakes Discs front and rear, twin servos
Weight 1502kg +136kg(33111b + 3001b)
Performance Top speed: 143mph;0-60mph: 8.1sec (std DB5)
Fuel Consumption 14.7mpg (std DB5)
Weapons Two front-facing Browningmachine guns, rear-facingnail dispenser and oil spray, wheel-mounted tyre slashers, front and rear extendable bumper rams
Defence Sysytems Rear bullet shield, passenger ejector seat, revolving number plates, Brocks B4 smoke canister
Surveilance Equipment Radar scanner, radio telephone
Cost New £4248 (plus £36k for gadgets)