GQ, April, 2020 (PDF)
James Bond’s cars are both a guilty pleasure and a weapon of choice. We look into how the machines embody the myth of the man.
"James, is it really necessary to drive quite so fast?” MI6 evaluator and Bond girl Caroline (Serena Gordon) nervously asks Bond (Pierce Brosnan) in GoldenEye. Entering pursuit with a Ferrari ‘F355 GTS’, Bond glances over. “More often than you think.” This scene is a perfect summation of our British antihero: a man of few words with precision delivery, accented by his mode of transport. Had 007 been American, this exchange would be very different. We would likely not have the cult of the British sportscar, nor would we have the 007 altar of cool. Not even Steve McQueen could match the crafted restraint and seductive shrewdness that has defined Ian Fleming’s spy for seven decades.
British culture owes a lot to James Bond. The suits, the watches, the drink, the wit, the sex. And don’t forget the holy trinity he worships: cars, gadgets and women. Bond’s attitude towards the latter hasn’t dated well, but his penchant for kit is legendary. While his influence on fashion is seemingly eternal, it is only topped by the apparent inability we have to talk about Aston Martin without the words ‘Bond, James Bond’. However, it’s a little-known fact that Fleming’s Bond actually drove a Bentley. This was, of course, wrapped up in a wry little bow during Goldfinger’s bullseye product placement. “Where’s my Bentley?” Bond asks Q. “Oh, it’s had its day, I’m afraid,” replies Q, before revealing the most iconic film car of all time, the Aston Martin ‘DB5’.
“The ‘DB5’ is still the ultimate Bond car,” says Ian Callum, one of the world’s most respected car designers, who has worked with Ford, Aston Martin and Jaguar, among others. “It worked because Aston Martin is and was one of the most exotic British marques.” Not unlike Sean Connery who first drove it, the ‘DB5’ is strong, with square shoulders and an understated air of smug. And like many of Bond’s suits, it was designed in Italy but crafted in Britain. “It had a certain amount of restraint and elegance about it that reflected a lot of what Bond is,” says Callum. “It’s about knowing. It wasn’t vulgar and it wasn’t loud.”
With an oeuvre pages long, including the Jaguar ‘I-Pace’, ‘F-Type’, Aston Martin ‘DB7’ and ‘DB9’, the sparring star cars in Die Another Day (Bond’s Aston Martin ‘Vanquish’ and Zao’s Jaguar ‘XKR’) and the shark-like Jaguar ‘C-X75’ in Spectre, Callum is well-versed on the internal combustion support cast of Bond. “The ‘Vanquish’ had to have a sense of movement and power, in a slightly assertive way,” he says.
Last year, the designer revisited his creation with the ‘Vanquish 25 by Callum’, which could be the best incarnation of a Bond car yet. “When you see the car on the road now, it has a lot of presence. That’s something I’ve exaggerated even more for the series 25. So it was important for me that car had stature.”
Bond’s modern rides are all lean lines and haunches – something of a signature for Callum, a legacy that lives on long after his final Aston concept. “The analogies to the human body are not by coincidence. I wanted the car to be muscular, with a sense of visual strength that was not intimidating, but hugely confident.”
The perfect Bond car must be exotic, it must be British, and like any co-star, chemistry is essential. “They need to be fast and be very capable, as Bond is,” says Callum. Each must possess the attributes of their spy. “If you think of Roger Moore, he always has this very wicked sense of humour, almost tongue-in-cheek,” muses Callum. “Moore drove a Lotus, probably the coolest car there was at that time... Which, of course, became a submarine and looked a little like a speedboat. The Lotus suited Roger Moore’s character.”
If the Lotus was mischievous like Moore, the ‘Vanquish’ debonair like Brosnan, the ‘DB5’ subtle like Connery and the Aston Martin ‘V8 Vantage’ aggressive like Timothy Dalton, where does that leave the Bond cars of No Time To Die? The ‘DB5’ and the ‘V8 Vantage’ will return, and Daniel Craig also slides into Aston Martin’s futuristic hypercar, the show-stopping 2021 ‘Valhalla’. However, it is the monstrous Aston Martin ‘DBS Superleggera’ that is worthy of the on-screen association. It oozes grit, force and prowl – Craig’s Bond in a nutshell. The stunning supercar (a nameplate first seen in On Her Majesty’s Service) is a close relative of the ‘DB11 V12’ and replacement to the ‘Vanquish’. It costs half a million dollars in Australia and growls from a 5.2-litre twin-turbocharged V12 with a roaring output of 533kW and 900Nm of wall-smashing torque. What’s it like to drive? Symphonic, swift, sticky, responsive and neck- snappingly fast. From the sexy, languorous ‘Superleggera’ stamp on the bonnet to the long, lean shape, the ‘DBS’ is a dashing creature of craftsmanship. However, with a flex of the right foot, it can coax you to 100km/h in 3.4 seconds; a prelude to its gurgly overrun that makes passengers quiver. It certainly has its menacing moments. Naturally, though, the ‘DBS’ star qualities are its refinement and versatility – particularly when neck-and-neck with Italian nemesis, the Ferrari ‘812 Superfast’.
It’s hard to say where British car culture would be without Bond, let alone Aston Martin – there have been marques just as alluring that have long faded into obscurity. Alas, conjuring mystery, myth and notoriety is, too, a spy’s game. “I always felt [Aston Martins] had to have that slightly annoying smirk,” muses Callum of his days working with the marque. “Like a character that just knows a little bit more than anybody else – a bit like Sean Connery. That kind of understated knowingness.”
The whispers in the room, of course, now revolve around the fear that Bond’s preferred type of car (and fuel use) could date as fast as his objectification of women. Perhaps that’s because Bond is a reflection of our carnal desires and we forget he’s fiction, not a role model. Besides, nobody’s talking about his flagrant use of semi-automatics. “I wouldn’t suggest Bond is the most politically correct person in the world. But I think it fits into his character,” comments Callum. “I’m often asked if I think he would go electric and become politically correct. But I’m not sure he’s a good enough guy for that.”