Sunday, 7 October 2012
Bentley for Bond
James Bond had an Aston Martin as a company car, but when he was spending his own money, and not that of Her Majesty’s Secret Service, he had a Bentley. In Ian Fleming novels he had, “…one of the last 4½ Litre Bentleys with the supercharger by Amherst Villiers. Bond drove it hard and well and with an almost sensual pleasure.”
The DB5 (above with the original and best film Bond), in which he pursued Auric Goldfinger’s henchmen, was invented for the films. Ejection seats, concealed guns, bulletproof visors, the submarine Lotus, the ski-ing Aston V8 and the rocket-firing BMW Z8 were the work of special effects gadgeteers. Ian Fleming’s obsession with Bentleys began when Reuter’s sent him to report Le Mans.
He fitted a Mark IV engine with 9.2:1 compression, had it painted in rough, not gloss, battleship grey and upholstered it in black morocco. “She went like a bird and a bomb and Bond loved her more than all the women at present in his life rolled, if that were feasible, together.” The 007 of the novels was subtler. As Fleming’s alter ego Scottish-born Bond was successful with women, liked his Martinis shaken not stirred and was a superb golfer, gambler, lover and driver. His taste was impeccable whatever he drank, smoked, ate, drove or shot with. Fleming demonstrated his exquisite taste in a Rolex Oyster watch, Saxone golf shoes and Bond displayed complete mastery of unexpected skills. Being equal to any situation meant any old gun simply wouldn’t do. Bond used a Smith & Wesson .38 Centennial Airweight, and a Walther PPK 7.65mm with a Berns-Martin triple-draw holster. Fleming did not get his guns right first time and Bond had to change on instructions from “M”. A Glasgow gun expert Geoffrey Boothroyd pointed out to that no special agent worth his calibre would be seen dead with a .25 Beretta automatic. “A lady’s gun, and not really a nice lady”. Fleming repaid the compliment, portraying him in novels as Major Boothroyd, 007’s armourer. Later simply as “Q” Desmond Llewellyn played the role to perfection in the films.
In Fleming’s Live and Let Die Bond dismissed American cars as: “…just beetle-shaped dodgems in which you motor along with one hand on the wheel, the radio full on and the power-operated windows closed to keep out the draughts.” But his CIA friend Felix Leiter, “… had got hold of an old Cord. One of the few American cars with personality, and it cheered Bond to get into the low-hung saloon, to hear the solid bite of the gears and the masculine tone of the wide exhaust. Fifteen years old, he reflected, yet still one of the most modern cars in the world.”
Fleming was on shaky ground when he tried inventing a car. In Diamonds are Forever, Leiter introduced Bond to his Studillac explaining: “You couldn’t have anything better than this body. Designed by the Frenchman Raymond Loewy. Best designer in the world.” It was not complete invention. It was really a disguised Studebaker Avanti Fleming was coaxed into by the showy Loewy. The car was a disaster. I tested one in the 1960s, found Loewy’s plastic bodywork pretentious, and it suffered from nightmare axle tramp, slithering scarily in the wet on skinny tyres. An engraved plate reminded the driver that the tyres were suitable only for “ordinary motoring”. The Paxton belt-driven supercharger wafted a light breeze through the carburettor and it managed a perilous 120mph and 11mpg. It was no surprise Studebaker went out of business.