Journal: Drivers' Cinema: Bond. James Bond.

Drivers’ Cinema: Bond. James Bond.

By Benjamin Shahrabani
February 18, 2014

Have you ever heard the phrase ‘you are what you drive’? Well, what you drive can say a lot about you.

For some, cars are a status symbol, while others might see them as a necessary evil to get from point A to point B for their daily commute. Depending on one’s work or favored recreational activities, one might prefer a sports car, minivan, convertible, or pick-up truck. Surveys show that your location, your income, your education and your politics can also be reliable indicators of what sort of car you’ll drive.

But what if you were a ‘double-oh’ agent? Undoubtedly, you’d also have special requirements for the car you drove, so the notion that ‘you are what you drive’ is also reflected in the 007 James Bond films and the different actors that pilot them (and sometimes even their adversaries, too). From 1962’s Dr. No to the most recent Skyfall six men have played James Bond (in chronological order): Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, and most recently Daniel Craig. Each actor brought his own personality to the franchise and I’d venture that those personalities are largely present in the cars they drive, as well. Cars have long been props in cinema, be it as background or subliminal advertising, but they have often played more than just a sideline role, and that seems especially true in the Bond movies.

For many, the Aston Martin DB5 comes to mind when they think of James Bond. It first appeared in Goldfinger, then Thunderball, Goldeneye, Tomorrow Never Dies, Casino Royale, and most recently Skyfall (where it was destroyed, but hopefully still salvageable). Three different actors had their turn at the wheel: Connery, Brosnan, and Craig, and I’d argue that these Bond portrayals have a lot in common. All three actors bring strong acting skills, as well as physical prowess and charm to their portrayal of the character. And one might argue that that is what the DB5 has in spades as well.

The DB5 is sexy, but also fairly devoid of technological wizardry. Sure, there is a GPS tracker, a bulletproof windscreen, and an oil slick (a la ‘80s video game “Spyhunter,” I wonder where they got the idea from?). But for the most part it’s Bond and the car itself that do the talking, not the car’s gadgets. The car serves as an accouterment to accentuate Bond’s personality, not overshadow it. The Aston with purposeful lines, sounds, and profile fits these mens’ shared persona like a glove.

Sean Connery is the quintessential James Bond for many when thinking of the character. His Bond drove some very interesting, but understated machinery. Besides the DB5, he drove a Sunbeam Alpine in Dr. No, a Toyota 2000GT (considered Japan’s first collectable car) in You Only Live Twice and a Ford Mustang Mach I in Diamonds are Forever. Varied, interesting vehicles that match his Bond: for his portrayal, he could fit in anywhere at anytime, ready to improvise whatever dire situation he was in.

Roger Moore was the more comedic James Bond. His sense of humor made the character fun and disarming. He also received interesting wheels to suit his personality frequently. A close second to the DB5, Roger Moore drove the then new, wedge-shaped Lotus Esprit car/submarine in 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me. When the car emerges from the sea after being chased by all manner of cars, motorcycles, and even a helicopter, Roger Moore even opens one of the very small windows and throws a fish on the sand.

He drives a similar car in his next outing as Bond, in For Your Eyes Only, this time the joke being that the car’s anti-theft device self-destructs the car when a bad guy tries to break in. Due to this unfortunate event, Bond is forced to commandeer a Citroen 2CV that he pilots through one of the Bond films’ more memorable chase sequences. To Bond fans used to seeing more exciting cars, the 2CV is literally a joke but Roger Moore makes it work. After all, he’s the comedic Bond. In other films in the series, he also drives a small repair van (that is literally eaten by character Jaws), an AMC Hornet (while Bond’s adversary Scaramanga pilots an AMC Matador that turns into a plane!), several Jeeps, amongst others. Certainly some goofballs in this collection much like Moore himself.

Timothy Dalton is arguably one of the more underrated, understated Bonds. His portrayal of the character is more hard edged, brutal, and straight to the point. With the exception of the Aston Martin Vantage V8 used in The Living Daylights, the other cars Dalton drove in his two films are more pedestrian, tools to get from one point to the next. There are a few Audis and some Russian military vehicles. Q certainly wasn’t working on Bond’s vehicles here. Much like his cars, Dalton also took the franchise from A to B. These films are more serious and darker in tone than the Roger Moore era; however, these movies don’t rank highly among Bond aficionados.

Pierce Brosnan is cool and collected amongst his other qualities and so were his cars. His portrayal of Bond, almost a blend of his predecessors—the seriousness of Dalton, with Connery’s cockiness—also coincided with BMW’s sponsorship and involvement with the series. In came BMWs like the Z3, Z8, and 7–series. These cars were more high tech than the machines that Dalton drove and the cool Bavarian character of the cars matches the crispness of Brosnan’s Bond perfectly. Brosnan also drove an Aston Martin Vanquish in Die Another Day after BMW’s involvement with the franchise ended, partly because of fans’ displeasure that Bond was driving a BMW. This vehicle seems to match Brosnan’s Bond very well, serious but self-assured.

Daniel Craig rebooted the Bond franchise. Back to basics here, but Craig brought with him the Aston Martin DBS V12. His car didn’t have the usual array of gadgets, having only a modest few secret compartments for Bond’s gun and a defibrillator. The V12 is a massively powerful and efficient weapon for getting somewhere fast, much like Daniel Craig plays Bond. Craig is a broad shouldered heavyweight killer. Bond’s old DB5 was resurrected for Skyfall much to fans’ delight. Who says you can’t remember where you came from?

But what about George Lazenby? Driving an Aston Martin DBS as Sean Connery’s replacement in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, he lacked Connery’s screen presence. Today, the DBS is not a very collectable model and was short lived like Lazenby’s portrayal, which was pretty flat. Accordingly, it also lacks the DB5’s presence.

Some say clothing makes the man. Well, perhaps, but we’d argue that cars make the man as well. As it turns out, there’s a lot we can tell about a person by looking at what kind of car they drive, even spies.

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David Hutson
David Hutson(@dhutty)
7 years ago

Nice article! A couple of other little things – Dalton’s Aston in The Living Daylights had some Q-branch mods, but for the most part they were of a rather reasonable order. I actually recall when that move was being made, I read a profile of Dalton in Vanity Fair and he said the original script had him and the girl (Kara Milovy) escape Czechoslovakia in a Lada. But, Dalton suggested they change it to an Aston, to bring it harken back to the classic Bonds. I also recall that Dalton’s personal real-life car was a Toyota MR2.

In the continuation novels by John Gardner, he had Bond in a Saab 900 (!!) which at first I thought was ridiculous, but, with reading the books, Gardner really supported the choice – made the Saab Bond’s personal car (a civil servant cannot afford an Aston) and had it tricked out with some armor that Bond paid for himself. The 900 is very prominent in at least the first two Gardner books. However, he made mistake in one of them I remember – described the rear wheels spinning and burning rubber on acceleration.

6 years ago
Reply to  David Hutson

Gardner later replaced Bond’s Saab with a Bentley Mulsanne.

Incidentally the little repair van that Jaws all but eats is a BL Sherpa.

7 years ago

A cool little video I found a couple years ago and blogged

Alexander Bermudez
Alexander Bermudez(@alexander-bermudez)
7 years ago

Great article Benjamin, personally I find myself drawn to the old Bond films, from the early 60s to the mid 80s that retain a certain naive charm, that seems to be lost in modern Bond cinema. Yet these oldies still possess the women, villains, their extraordinary lairs and of course the cars, that appeal to us so much. And while I agree that “there’s a lot we can tell about a person by looking at what kind of car they drive”, I don’t think cars or clothes for that matter, make the man, rather it’s the man that makes the car, especially in James Bond’s case!

Future Doc
Future Doc(@futuredoc)
7 years ago

What, no comment about the Toyota 2000GT Roadster aka “Bond Model”?

It is not like a common car made. It was even rarer with only two made… for the movie [i]You Only Live Twice[/i].

Ae Neuman
Ae Neuman(@fb_1293493178)
7 years ago
Reply to  Future Doc

Check paragrapgh 5 😉

7 years ago

Driven by the villains and not Bond himself, the Alfa 159 Q4’s in “Quantum of solace”made the opening scene chase my all time favorites. The V6 growl is unmatched for sound. Why didn’t Bond drive Alfas more often? I guess he would suffer more breakdowns… 😉

David Hutson
David Hutson(@dhutty)
7 years ago
Reply to  Tuval

In “Octopussy” Roger Moore’s Bond steals an Alfa GTV6 to speed to a airforce base inside West Germany to defuse a hidden nuke, the German police in hot pursuit. I’ve always thought that was one of the better car chases in the Bond series, at least up until then.

On Quantum of Solace – I loved that chase and I love the Alfa 159’s – BUT – I always felt that that chase made the Alfa’s and Bond’s Aston DBS appear very closely matched, when in fact, I would think that the DBS would leave the 159’s in the dust.

Andreas Lavesson
Andreas Lavesson(@andreas)
7 years ago

Good write up on the character-car relations, hadn’t really thought of all those things, even though I consider myself a Bond fan. I have all of the movies on DVD and have watched them at two prolonged marathons as well as sporadically. It was nice to see the return of the DB5.

However, It’d be fun to see more of James Bond’s “original” car, used in the books before the producers decided to go with Aston Martin instead. I am of course talking about the 4½ Litre Blower Bentley.

Matthew Lange
Matthew Lange(@365daytonafan)
7 years ago

The Bentley appears briefly in from Russia with Love, but you’re right it would be cool to see. I’ve often wondered what Ian Fleming would have Bond driving today if he was still alive and writing the books. I reckon he wouldn’t care for the new Bentley Continental or the Astons as they’re too gauche. Instead I can see Bond driving a 90’s Bentley Continental T or perhaps a Morgan Aero Coupe?

Andreas Lavesson
Andreas Lavesson(@andreas)
7 years ago
Reply to  Matthew Lange

Yeah, it’s mentioned in some movies and as you said, briefly appear in From Russia with Love (however, wrong colour and wrong engine). Seeing as Fleming himself gave Bond a car that technically didn’t exist a “1933 Bentley Mark IV”, I guess we shouldn’t blame them. And as nice as the pre war Bentleys are, it would have looked quite dated if driven in action sequences in the 60’s. Would be nice to at least see it in a bit more detail as a background car if nothing else though.

As far as what modern day car Bond would have gotten, it’s an interesting question. I too believe Fleming wouldn’t have cared for the modern Bentleys and Astons. Morgan doesn’t sound too far off though.

Ae Neuman
Ae Neuman(@fb_1293493178)
7 years ago

chirs bangle didn’t design the e38 7-series in tomorrow never dies.
his influence was over the next generation e65.

Yoav Gilad
Yoav Gilad(@yoav)
7 years ago
Reply to  Ae Neuman

Absolutely right… thought it was the e65 in [i]Tomorrow Never Dies[/i].

7 years ago

Well you have forgotten the most important cars of all James Bond films, the Alfa GTV6 116 in the film Octopuussy from 1983. 🙂

Andreas Lavesson
Andreas Lavesson(@andreas)
7 years ago
Reply to  Max

I noticed that too.

Dustin Rittle
Dustin Rittle(@mosler)
7 years ago

I will admit Bond as had his share of cars over the years and car chases as well. My personal fave would have to be The man with the Golden gun which used alot of AMC cars in it. I think Bond can be the only man to make people want a bright orange AMC Hornet. I know i did after watching the chase scene