Every now and again I go back and somewhat guiltily re-read Fleming’s Bond novels. There are many dated and now cringeworthy scenes accompanied by a serious dollop of misogyny (hence the discomfort) but they are also taut, well paced thrillers (he somehow makes golf seem interesting in Goldfinger) and I still enjoy them. As you might imagine I am always interested in the cars both he and the villains drive and his descriptions of them. Some of the cars are beautifully described and vividly brought to life but others are often mentioned only in passing.
One car we get to know well is Bond’s personal battleship grey 4.5 litre Bentley Blower with the Amherst Villiers supercharger (mentioned and pictured in the “replacing displacement” post). He bought it almost new in 1933 and drove it with an almost “sensual pleasure “. Even though Fleming was close friends with Villiers and maybe chose the car so he could mention his friend I still think it was the perfect car for Bond. I am sure Fleming would have known that Bentley disapproved of the blower and that would have appealed to Bond’s healthy distrust of the establishment. 240hp and a top speed north of 100mph might also have appealed to him!
In the third novel Moonraker Bond comes up against the crooked rocket scientist Hugo Drax who drives the incredibly rare (only 700 produced) and beautiful Mercedes 300s. Drax’s car was white with a red leather interior and was described as “ruthless and majestic” by Bond. It was quicker and handled much better than the then 25 year old Bentley. Bond had seen one the previous year on the autobahn outside Munich noting that it “hissed” passed him as he was doing a solid ninety – serious speeds for the 50’s.
Moonraker (not to be confused with the 126 minutes of pain inflicted on us by Roger Moore in 1979) is set entirely in the South East corner of England. However while foreign travel might be lacking we are spoilt for choice when talking about jaw droppingly beautiful machines. While Bond is chasing (and barely keeping up with) Drax’s majestic Merc he is overtaken by a supercharged Alfa Romeo 8C doing about 105 and he grins in admiration as he hears a “compound of the whine of it’s supercharger, the Gatling crackle of it’s exhaust and the thunderous howl of it’s transmission”. The car was about the same age as Bond’s with only half it’s capacity but the blown straight 8 “wagged it’s tail” as it went past. This car definitely has similarities with Bond’s Bentley.
However, for me, the ultimate villain’s car in the novels is only briefly mentioned and isn’t even named by Fleming. In his first novel, Casino Royale the villain “Le Chiffre” is said to be driving a “beetle browed Citroen” and a paragraph later we are told that it is front wheel drive. I immediately assumed that it must have been the DS before I realised that the book was published 6 years before the launch of the DS. The Deux Chevaux was available at the time, is certainly “beetle browed” but I can’t see a Bond villain driving a 9hp car with a top speed of under 50mph! I reckon it must have been a Traction Avant and although it doesn’t totally match the description given it’s definitely more than an appropriate vehicle for Bond’s adversary.
Of course by far the most famous Bond car is the gun metal DB5 first seen in Goldfinger. In this novel (my favourite) though he is assigned a DB mark 3 from the motor pool. It is equipped with a clever homing device allowing him follow Auric’s bright yellow rolls Royce from a safe distance. The DB5 though is a significantly better car (100hp and significantly improved looks better) than the DB mark 3 but that didn’t stop his Aston being described as a “bolide” (comet) by a Frenchman he asks for information. The DB5 was not actually launched until 4 years after the publication of the novel. I have often wondered if this had been one of the later novels would Fleming still have used the DB mark 3?
Each of the cars I have mentioned so far are special, interesting and extremely rare. However there is one car which features in the novels that I would put far ahead of all these cars. Towards the end of Moonraker Bond’s beautiful Bentley Blower is completely destroyed by 14 tons of newsprint (I told you it was nothing like the movie!). At the end of this novel he buys a 1953 Bentley markVI again in battleship grey with a blue interior. Unfortunately we hear nothing further about this car in any other novel.
Things get really interesting though in “Thunderball” when he buys a badly damaged mark II Continental that “some rich idiot” wrapped around a lamp post. He gets the chassis straightened out and upgrades the engine to the newest available (a 4.9 instead of the standard 4.5) and then commissions Mulliners (the famous coachbuilders) to build the “most selfish car in England”. He changes it from a four seater to a two seater with lots of luggage space and insists on an extremely long bonnet. Because it was coachbuilt there is no picture of exactly how it looks but below is an example of a very similar vehicle. No prizes for guessing the colour but this time the interior was black.
This for me is the perfect “Bond car”. We next meet it in 1963’s “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” but obviously the 4.9 litre engine just wasn’t cutting it as Bond had gone against the advice of Rolls Royce and had had an Arnott supercharger installed. The factory said that the crankshaft bearings wouldn’t take the strain and promptly withdrew the car’s warranty. A little later on, while daydreaming at the wheel on his way to Royale les Eaux a beautiful girl (is there any other type in a Bond story?) who is driving a striking Lancia Flaminia Zagato Spyder overtakes him. Her “triple wind horns screamed their banshee discord in his ear” and the “sexy boom of the twin exhausts echoed back at him from the border of the trees”. Of course he takes up the chase but even at 115 he still wasn’t gaining on her. He flicks the switch on his dash that allows the magnetic clutch of the charger to engage and at 125 he finally begins to catch up with her on the straights.
The picture of this big car flashing through a northern French forest chasing Contessa Teresa “Tracy” di Vicenzo (who would later become his wife) in an Italian convertible is just the perfect “Bond moment”. No?