Site Of 007’s World Record Barrel Roll Celebrates 50th Anniversary
Those of you who’ve seen Casino Royale and re-watched Top Gear’s cheap car challenges featuring lorries and two-door coupes that aren’t Porsches, among others, will probably be familiar with the Millbrook Proving Ground in Bedfordshire, England. First opened by General Motors as a dedicated testing facility for its Vauxhall and Bedford vans marques in 1970, Millbrook this year celebrates its 50th anniversary as one of the most recognisable test facilities in the UK.
That’s thanks in no small part to its expansive, rolling test track. Construction took almost two years, during which nearly 2 million cubic metres of earth was shifted and 100,000 m³ of aggregate, hardcore, sand and cement was laid as part of the test track’s foundations. To offset that biblically-sized bit of landscaping, almost 200,000 trees were planted along the route itself.
In 1988, now as an official subsidiary of Group Lotus (though still under the General Motors banner), Millbrook began work as an independent vehicle service provider, and in 2016, with customer interest at its peak during the 2000s, ownership shifted to the Surrey-based Spectris Group. Since 2015, the entity has invested more than £120 million (around $147m) in Millbrook’s test facilities, including an EV driveline test system, so don’t be too surprised to see the Proving Ground celebrating its centennial in 2070.
To mainstream fans though, the Millbrook Proving Grounds will mostly be remembered for that barrel roll sequence in 2006’s Casino Royale, in which the world’s most famous intelligence officer (played by Daniel Craig in his first time donning the Walther PPK), after a high-speed pursuit through the, ahem, ‘Montenegro countryside’, ends up destroying his brand new Aston Martin DBS after taking evasive action. Filmed by second unit director Alexander Witt (main unit director Martin Campbell was busy filming the airport scenes in Miami), original plans were to have the Aston Martin be flipped onto its side using a ramp off-camera. Simple. Only problem was, to both stunt coordinator Gary Powell and stunt driver Adam Kirley’s collaborative chagrin, the DBS refused to flip over, even with the ramp raked to an impressively precarious 2ft and while Kirley was travelling at nearly 130kph. Eventually, second unit eventually decided, “ah, sod it!” and fitted the Aston with a nitrogen-fuelled air cannon. Three full rolls would do the trick.
Fun fact, that evening Casino Royale set a new Guinness World Record for canon-assisted full barrel rolls for a car at SEVEN, though the film crew ended up destroying three near-$300K Aston Martin DBS’ in the process.
*Images courtesy of Millbrook, 007.com and Andy Morgan/MOTORS. Hat tip also to Guy Proctor too, who reminded us that Top Gear actually filmed its British Leyland episode at MIRA.