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James Bond’s motors: 50 at 50, and all of them licensed to tank
March 5, 2012 | By:

To celebrate Bond's half-century, 50 vehicles from the films are on show at Beaulieu. All lean, mean, covetable machines? Christ, no, says an acerbic Neil Lyndon

James Bond Aston Martin_Flickr-Tom Bradnock_620

007’s Aston Martin takes pride of place at the Beaulieu exhibition

One thing stands out from Bond in Motion, the exhibition at The National Motor Museum, Beaulieu, of 50 cars, boats and machines that have appeared in Bond films over the last 50 years. It is that the cars chosen to transport 007 or his evil enemies have often been every bit as crapulous as the scripts, the music and the acting in the films themselves.

It is an incontestable fact, verified by medical experts, that you’ve got to be suffering from some form of arrested development if you see the James Bond of the movies as a male ideal (or even if you can sit through the whole of any Bond movie before Daniel Craig got the part). By the same token, you must be a gullible, impressionable ignoramus to think – as the producers would wish – that the cars in the films generally represented the acme of automotive desirability.

For decades, the Bond producers have been hawking spots for product placement around the world’s carmakers. Ferrari was one of the few manufacturers that were always far too aloof to touch the deal with a bargepole. Those most likely to take the bait were the ones with the naffest or dodgiest products; those whose high prices and elevated brand profiles were not remotely justified by the quality of their engineering, their construction or the pleasure they gave to drive.

Take, for instance, the Rolls-Royce Silver Shadows that featured in a succession of Bond clunkers such as The Man With the Golden Gun and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. These were arguably the most disgraceful, debased cars ever to bear the Spirit of Ecstasy bonnet ornament.

Check out their value today. You can buy one for less than the price of a new Ford Fiesta. The only suckers who will hand over good money to be seen in these old rust-buckets are those poor saps who get fleeced by the wedding-car companies on their ‘day of days’.

Or consider the Aston Martin Vantage Volante in The Living Daylights or the V12 Vanquish in Die Another Day. Those cars were dredged out of the pits of that company’s nadir and were barely more reliable or better made than the lamentable Ladas and Skodas of the same time.

MGBs and Triumph Stags – names that resound with the negligence and incompetence of the British car industry – featured in Diamonds Are Forever and The Man With the Golden Gun. Range Rovers popped up in Octopussy and The Living Daylights. Is it more surprising, in retrospect, that these dreadful heaps were portrayed as being desirable in the movies than the apparent fact that the production crew managed to get them running for long enough to shoot a reel?

Occasionally, a car seemed to have no purpose other than to appear as 007’s attack-and-lay machine. BMW’s Z8 two-seater was possibly the most pointless product that company ever made (apart from its risible role in the execrable The World is Not Enough).

The exhibition Bond in Motion is probably best viewed, therefore, as a poignant testament to human folly. It is a wonder that such lousy cars were ever made; and it is a terrible warning to us all today that so many people were once persuaded that those cars must be wonderful because they appeared in a James Bond film.