Bond, James Bond – as the greatest secret agent to order a martini shaken, not stirred, always introduced himself – likely wouldn’t have had the opportunity to drive those great Aston Martins he’s shared the spotlight with over the years it if wasn’t for British tractor maker David Brown.
Unlike the famously suave film spy, dapper industrialist Brown wouldn’t have objected to a little shaking, at least by the rough-riding agricultural machines that made him a rich man. But while there’s no record of whether he drank martinis – or if he did, how he liked them prepared – he did enjoy cars that stirred him.
It was Brown’s passion for fast machinery that led to his acquisition of the famed, but foundering, Aston-Martin company in 1947, which created in turn the series of cars that carried his “DB” initials.
Among them, the DB5 that provided the car maker’s first link to the super-spy movie franchise that continues today, 23 action-packed adventures later. What proved to be an enduring, at least in Hollywood terms, relationship – Bond has had affairs with a number of other makes over the years, including a fling with an AMC Hornet – is being celebrated once again in the just-released Skyfall, in which the now classic DB5 returns to the screen.
Bond’s first stint at the wheel of a DB5 happened in Goldfinger in 1964 and the car was later featured in Thunderball, GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies and Casino Royale. Later models appeared in subsequent Bond episodes.
Skyfall’s producer Michael Wilson says, “We’ve flirted with other cars from time to time, but we always do come back to Aston Martin. It’s a signature car for Bond.”
Writer John Logan agrees. “We’re in love with the DB5. When you think of Bond, you think of certain things very clearly and one of them is that particular car. It is Bond’s essential car and, in a movie about reorienting Bond to his past and to his future, we just had to use it – beyond the fact it’s completely cool.”
Current 007 Daniel Craig and spymaster M can be seen in the DB5 in scenes filmed in stunningly rugged Glencoe in the north of Scotland.
David Brown – the “saviour” of Aston Martin – was born in 1904 and later joined the family gear-making company. By the early 1930s, he was running it and teamed up with Irish inventor Harry Ferguson a few years later to build tractors – giving him a licence to make a killing, which he did by building tractors during the Second World War.
After reading a company-for-sale ad in The Times in 1947, Brown, a sportsman who played polo and raced cars and motorcycles, used £20,000 of his spare tractor money to acquire Aston Martin. The company, founded in 1913, built competition and road cars during the 1920s and ’30s that won it a reputation among sporting motorists, but never brought in enough money to keep its financial tires from periodically going flat.
What Brown bought was a rented factory, in which aircraft parts had been produced, a prototype saloon called the Atom, and the Aston Martin name. He then added Lagonda, purchased for £52,500.
The Atom morphed into the open-top and retrospectively-dubbed DB1 of 1948, of which only 15 were built, but it was succeeded in 1950 by the twin-cam, inline-six-engined DB2, which really ushered in Aston Martin’s David Brown era. Brown eventually bailed out in 1972 and Aston Martin again shuffled from owner to owner (including Toronto businessman George Minden), and later Ford. It’s now owned by British motorsport company Prodrive, an Aston enthusiast and a couple of Kuwaiti investment firms.
Racing DB3 sports cars maintained Aston’s lustre in the 1950s and the DB2 was eventually replaced by the 3.7-litre, 240-hp, 225-km/h DB4 of 1958 with the DB5 and DB6 following in the 1960s.
The DB4 – with Superleggera (tubing covered in alloy panelling) 2+2 coachwork, independent front and live axle rear suspension and disc brakes – evolved into the DB5 in 1963, with mildly updated styling. It also dealt with some of the earlier cars’ shortcomings and upped its performance and luxury.
The DB5, with an engine punched out to 4.0 litres and making 282 hp, plus a five-speed gearbox, was good for 235 km/h and 0-100km/h in eight seconds. The luxury touches included an optional automatic transmission, power windows and air conditioning. Bond’s DB5, of course, came with a few non-factory options, twin machine guns and ramming bumper overriders up front, a bullet-proof rear shield, a revolving number plate, smokescreen generator and oil and spike distribution systems. And, of course, that famous ejection seat.
Two movie-car DB5s were created by Aston Martin, the “effects car” with the full complement of gadgets, and the “road car” kept initially in road-going trim for high-speed work. After the movie fuss had died down, the first was returned to Aston, its weaponry removed and it was sold as a street car. It disappeared from storage in Florida in the late 1990s, but fortunately for the owner it was heavily insured.
The surviving Bond car, which had also been fitted with the special effects equipment, was purchased from Aston Martin by Philadelphia radio station owner Jerry Lee in 1969 for $12,000. Lee owned it for the next four decades, keeping it in a specially built James Bond room in his home, before it was sold by Canada’s RM Auctions in 2010 to Cincinnati collector Harry Yeaggy for $4.6-million. Two DB5 “press car” reproductions were also created for movie promo work – one was sold by RM for $2.6-million in 2006 and the other is in the Dutch national auto museum.
|Back in 1964|
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The DB5, not the DB4, had a 4.0 litre engine and would travel at speeds up to 235 km/h.
James Bond preferred his martinis shaken, not stirred. Incorrect information appeared in an earlier version of this story.