In Her Majesty’s Royal Arsenal: Bond Blends With Goldfinger In This Aston Martin V8
Photography by Virgiliu Andone
Standing like a proud postmodern wedding cake on the banks of the Thames, the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) building strikes you with a array of architecture almost as indecipherable as what’s going on behind the facade. The general public’s knowledge of these clandestine activities rests on scenes from 007 films—and that’s about as much as we’re going to get. This place is as locked down as it gets.
What most people don’t know is that, just a few miles down the river, there’s another site that used to be just as secret until just a few decades ago. These days, you can safely walk those streets without any danger of being shot on the spot—though this being Britain, you’re surely still on CCTV. You can even choose to live here, as long as you don’t mind navigating the scores of cannons scattered about.
So what is this place? Inside a vast industrial complex, a collection of former weapons factories once provided work for some 80,000 people at the Royal Arsenal. This former secret enclave supplied the British with a massive scale and scope of military equipment. Although weapons production ended in 1967, the site was still off-limits for many years afterwards, seeing as the Ministry of Defense finally left the compound in 1994.
What they were doing here for all those years in between is anybody’s guess, and likely more than one person’s job to keep redacted. The business of intrigue and weaponry will be forever intriguing though, but our imaginations can only assume that they were preparing the arsenal of Her Majesty’s favorite secret agents here. You could argue that such things would more likely take place up the river these days. But you would be wrong—at least, in part.
Sure, you could probably manufacture your typical secret agent’s spy gear there, but the preeminent secret agent would have to go somewhere else for that key piece of gear: an Aston Martin. Laser beam watches and exploding pens and other weaponized surveillance gear is all well and good to watch on-screen, but what beats a handsome Aston with some hidden firepower? While the DB5 will likely always be the spymobile, but we brought out the lesser known Aston Martin V8 model for this shoot, painted more to Auric Goldfinger’s liking than James Bond’s.
The V8 has only appeared in one Bond movie thus far, in 1987, although rumor has it this is about to change. It is not as famous as even some of the non-Aston company cars of Mr. Bond, but it has quite a few things going for it all the same. With production starting in 1969, it would have been the weapon of choice for no less than 20 years in an alternate universe where ejector-seat-equipped GT cars were given to the top MI6 agents—this effortlessly suave, hand-built tailored suit of a car only ceased production in 1989. Probably due in no small part to the excessively long time required to put one together.
So, despite outliving some three major cycles of fashion over its lifespan, the Aston Martin V8 it is still a relatively rare model to come across. And despite silver being the de facto choice for most of us when it comes to this marque, I think seeing the sun bounce off these golden curves in person would be enough to change your mind. Slinking through the contrast of the strong shadows and brilliant beams of light, the paint glistens with a hypnotic depth. High contrast, low contrast, any weather, or any time of the day though, this car somehow maintains the same presence despite the paint’s ability to adapt to the light.
It has a sophisticated look no doubt, but there is also more than a few hints of aggression, especially at the front end. And even at idle, that architecturally beautiful 5.3L V8 issues a stern warning, an animalistic low growl of “Don’t mess with me.” And yet it’s still effortlessly polite, mature. I know I can’t sell some of you lot on an automatic transmission having its place, but surely in this case it is part of the soft power persona of this fine car.
The owner, my friend Simon, only recently acquired this car, but in doing so managed to fulfill one of his childhood dreams, and thus one would be forgiven for thinking these two have been together for much longer than they have. We’ve been friends for some time now, and I have seen his other classic cars, but there is something about this one that makes me think it would be the last to go.
And even if you’re lucky enough to have experienced a few classic grand tourers and sports cars, I believe the Aston Martin V8 offers a very distinct driving experience. Even decked in gold, it feels restrained. Even when parked next to a cannon, it feels more menacing. When you rev the engine, passers-by don’t look at you like you’re disturbing the peace. They are rather inclined to tip their hats than pull out their phones. You can casually drive this car and it still feels like an event. It immediately registers as gorgeous, and yet, much like the Royal Arsenal itself, you still can’t help but wonder if there is even more than meets the eye.