The sports car is as intrinsic to 007’s character as a vodka martini or that license to kill. At the start, long before James Bond went from page to screen, he drove a Blower Bentley, the equivalent in 1953 of tooling about today in a Toyota GT-One. The move to motion pictures meant driving something a bit more current than a 1931 Le Mans racer, and over the course of 25 films there’s been plenty of four-wheel action. But one car stands out above all the others—the Aston Martin DB5.
We first saw the ionic coupé in 1964’s Goldfinger, where it almost stole the show with its battering ram, ejector seat, smoke screen, and the rest of the gadgets that introduced the world to the Bond car. It has appeared in eight films in total. After Goldfinger it returned in Thunderball, then sat out the Lazenby and Moore years before returning in GoldenEye and then Tomorrow Never Dies, despite a marketing deal that meant Q had to issue the secret agent BMWs instead.
Casino Royale offered a new origin story for the DB5, with Bond winning the car in a game of poker. However, when it shows up again in Skyfall six years later, the steering wheel has switched sides, and Q Branch has had some fun with it. When last we saw 007 in Spectre he was driving away in BMT 216A, and we’ve known since the first trailer for No Time to Die that the DB5—and its headlamp miniguns—plays an important role in No Time to Die.
The DB5s you’ll see on-screen are real Aston Martins, too. Not the $3.5 million continuation cars that Aston Martin is making, though, although no doubt that project did prove useful. Instead, they’re the result of a six-month engineering project between Aston Martin’s Q Advanced Operations division (yes, really) and the filmmakers. The eight stunt cars—six stunt cars and two pod cars that can be controlled from their roofs—use original DB5 glass and brightwork but a carbon-fiber body that’s a laser-scanned replica of EON Production’s DB5.
“It’s a nine-part clamshell that all clips in and goes together,” stunt coordinator Neil Layton told me. “Within an hour you can be down to the spaceframe chassis.” The chassis necessarily matches the original DB5 in dimensions, and the straight-six engine—donated from an E46 BMW M3—sends its power to rear wheels that are as small and skinny as they were in 1964. By all accounts the stunt cars are a hoot to drive, something Layton confirmed.
Bond has driven Aston Martins other than the DB5 down the years, and some of those cars, and plenty more besides, are on display at the Petersen Museum in Los Angeles. There’s the bespoke DB10, a concept car designed just for Bond to drive in Spectre, and the DBS that 007 spectacularly barrel-rolls in Casino Royale. My personal favorite is probably the V8 Vantage from The Living Daylights, even if the car at the Petersen breaks the illusion with its empty interior and rocket launcher HUD printed onto the windshield.
If any other Bond car can rival the DB5’s star power, it has to be the white Lotus Esprit from The Spy Who Loved Me. Elon Musk would probably agree—in 2013 he bought one of the cars seen on-screen and underwater for $866,000. Another one of that film’s Esprits is on display at the museum, but the Bond in Motion exhibit is not all sports cars.
Bond’s BMWs are on display, too, although my memory tells me that the only one that really did anything of note on-screen was the 7 Series in Tomorrow Never Dies that could be driven by remote control from what passed as a smartphone in 1997. There’s (part of) a Citroen 2CV that took part in a possibly too-zany chase in For Your Eyes Only, and a Q Branch-modified Tuk Tuk that did a wheelie in Octopussy.
There’s some American metal as well. In 1974, an AMC Hornet performed a corkscrew jump in The Man with the Golden Gun, a stunt that was the first to undergo extensive computer simulation before being attempted for real. Such attention to detail would have been nice on the set of Diamonds Are Forever a few years earlier. In that film, Bond tips his Ford Mustang onto its right wheels to escape down a narrow alley and emerges still on two wheels, but this time the left ones.