Sean Connery was James Bond. Others would play the character but the late Sir Sean, who died this week aged 90, would give Bond his signature swagger, mixed with a wry sense of humour. In print, Ian Fleming’s Bond was dashing but perhaps a little cold. Connery made the Bond films fun.
And he gave us James Bond’s lasting association with Aston Martin. In the early novels, Bond drives a series of prewar Bentleys, the first a 1930 4 ½-litre. However, in 1964’s Goldfinger, Connery pilots a then-new Aston Martin DB5. The pairing would become instant film legend, to the point that a DB5 is a featured star in the much-delayed No Time to Die.
Credit for the car’s film presence goes to John Stears, an Oscar-winning special effects designer who would go on to give us the likes of Star Wars’ R2-D2 and C-3PO. Stears convinced Aston Martin to give early access to the DB5, and set up the hero car’s signature gadgets: machine guns behind the headlights, ejector seat, and rotating licence plate. The car would be centre stage in both Goldfinger and Thunderball.
Apart from the silver-screen trickery, the standard DB5 was a stunning machine. Its 4.0L straight-six was crafted entirely from aluminum and fitted with triple SU carburetors, producing a claimed 280 hp. Bodywork was magnesium alloy by Touring Superleggera, although at 1,500 kg, the DB5 wasn’t particularly light. It sure looked the part though.
And there were Canadian Bond connections too. First, Ian Fleming was a regular visitor to “Camp X,” a WWII-era spy school situated between Whitby and Oshawa in Ontario. Here, agents from the British Special Operations Executive and the American Office of Strategic Services were trained to operate behind enemy lines. Fleming was an officer in British Naval Intelligence, and came to Camp X in the summer of 1942.
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There, Fleming struck up a friendship with the Oxford-educated Paul Dehn, the Political Warfare instructor at the camp. Later, Dehn would collaborate with Fleming on adapting Goldfinger for the screen.
Further, were you to go for an evening out in West Vancouver in the 1970s, you would have been able to see one of the Bond DB5s. Aston Martin’s PR team clearly knew that the Bond association would bring just the type of reflected glamour that was desirable, so two DB5s were used in promoting Goldfinger. One of these cars ended up in the possession of Frank Baker, a restaurateur and showman.
Thanks to help from his friend Jim Pattison, the B.C.-born billionaire who started out selling used cars, Baker was able to acquire one of the publicity Astons and parked it in a glass case outside his restaurant, The Attic. A 16-year-old busboy named Peter Robinson ended up driving the car into the case, since no one else on the staff could drive a manual transmission.
Baker would eventually sell his DB5 in 1983, after The Attic closed. Today, the Bond DB5 remains one of the most famous cars to ever appear on film, replicated everywhere from Lego sets to full-scale 1:1 models with working gadgets. Sir Sean Connery was James Bond, and the Aston Martin DB5 was his car.
Dr. No – Sunbeam Alpine Series II
The first of the Connery Bond films sees 007 headed to Jamaica to investigate the shadowy Dr. No. Still in its infancy, the Bond franchise didn’t have the clout to borrow cars from a manufacturer in exchange for publicity, so had to make do with a little roadster purchased from a Jamaican resident.
The Alpine is actually a good fit for the movie, being light enough on its feet to avoid the bad guys, quintessentially British in character, and fun in a tropical setting. Later, the Alpine would get a Ford V8 shoehorned under the hood to create the Sunbeam Tiger, one of which was driven by tongue-in-cheek secret agent Maxwell Smart.
From Russia With Love – 1935 Bentley 3 ½ L
Seen only very briefly, and equipped with a car-phone as its only gadget (still unusual for 1963), this green Bentley is the first proper Bond car. It ties Connery’s on-screen character to the Bond of the novels.
The Bentley also gets a brief mention in Goldfinger, but only to make way for the Aston Martin. Bond asks where his Bentley is. Q responds: “Oh, it’s had its day, I’m afraid.”
You Only Live Twice – 1967 Toyota 2000GT
Bond’s first trip to Japan sees him taking the wheel of a borrowed Japanese supercar, the 2000GT. Built by Yamaha for Toyota, the 2000GT is today the most sought-after Japanese collector car, and worth about as much as a Ferrari F40. It can be considered the ancestor to the Lexus LFA – which Yamaha also had a hand in tuning.
Two convertible versions were built for the movie, both to show off Connery, and also because he didn’t quite fit in the cramped cabin. One is kept in Toyota’s museum, the other belongs to the president of Japan’s 2000GT owners’ club.
Diamonds Are Forever – 1971 Ford Mustang Mach 1
Connery’s final appearance as James Bond sees him travelling to the U.S., which means some good ol’ American muscle is in order. A red Ford Mach 1 should do the trick.
A touch of silliness is clearly creeping in here, not the least of which is Bond putting the Mustang up on two wheels to escape down a narrow alley. Still, it’s all good fun, and clears the way for Roger Moore to pick up the gauntlet dropped by Connery.