James Bond’s fabulous sports car, featured in Goldfinger, Thunderball, GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies, Skyfall, Spectre, and No Time to Die. Billed as “the most famous car in the world,” it replaced Bond’s Bentley, which is seen briefly in From Russia with Love.
An Aston Martin was originally introduced in Ian Fleming’s 1960 Goldfinger novel, but it was a low-tech DB3 with just a few secret compartments and a homing device. But when it came time for 007 producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman to adapt the novel, fresh from their success with the rigged briefcase in From Russia with Love, they were ready to introduce the ultimate gadget: a car with much more elaborate upgrades.
Buying three silver cars from the Aston Martin plant in England, production designer Ken Adam and special effects supervisor John Stears went to work, taking the cue from the checklist of modifications presented in the screenplay by Q (Desmond Llewelyn): 1) revolving license plates, valid in all countries; 2) bulletproof front, side, and rear windows; 3) audiovisual reception on the dashboard, tied to a magnetic homing device—with a range of 150 miles—placed in the car 007 is tailing (a device that predated modern car GPS capability by nearly forty years); 4) defense mechanism controls built into the car’s armrest, including left and right front-wing machine guns, smoke screen and oil slick ejectors, and a switch to raise the rear bulletproof screen; 5) electrically operated and retractable tire shredders, built into the wheel hubs; and 6) a passenger ejector seat activated by a red button hidden atop the gearshift.
The special effects department gave these modifications an assist. The machine guns were actually thin metal tubes activated by an electric motor connected to the car’s distributor. Acetylene gas (the kind used in a blowtorch) was discharged into the tubing to give the impression of the guns firing. Insert shots of actual machine guns were also used.
The tire shredder, or “chariot scythe” (named for the same device on Messala’s chariot in Ben Hur) was really an enormous screw knife welded to a spare knock-on wheel nut. The car had to be stopped to exchange the nut, but thanks to cinematographer Ted Moore’s photography and Peter Hunt’s editing, the finished film shows it emerging automatically from the hub center.
Bond’s 1960s-era GPS, which allows him to track Goldfinger (Gert Fröbe), was another nonworking feature that appears in the film via an insert shot, showing the lighted map, its dialing feature, and the moving blip that indicates the position of Goldfinger’s Rolls. The same device is deployed in Kentucky by CIA agent Felix Leiter (Cec Linder).
The ejector seat worked, but it was more a prop than part of the real Aston Martin. The actual seat came from a fighter plane. It was spacious and could be mounted only immediately before the actual shot, in which one of Goldfinger’s Chinese guards is thrown through the car’s roof. As in a plane, the seat was triggered by compressed air cylinders. For close-ups of the car’s interior, the air-powered device was replaced by a non-ejecting passenger seat.
Working features included the electrically operated rotating license plates, which gave Bond three alternative numbers for his car (hardly the “valid all countries” boast that Q makes during his briefing). Bond’s smoke screen also worked and was operated by army-type smoke canisters that were discharged into the car’s tailpipe. The bulletproof screen, which wasn’t really bulletproof, was built into the car’s trunk and could be raised or lowered electrically.
The special effects department attached electronic squibs to the car’s metal surfaces to simulate ricocheting bullet hits. Into the car’s rear light cluster, Stears built two chambers that could be opened to reveal an oil slick sprayer that contained fifteen gallons of colored water, and a supply of caltrops that could be blown out onto the highway by compressed air. The car was completed on schedule in the spring of 1964.
According to Aston Martin, the caltrop ejector was never used in the film because it might have inspired children to spike the tires of vehicles in their neighborhood. Only one car contained all of the special effects modifications, and it was sold to Broccoli and Saltzman’s Eon Productions rather than given away free as was originally believed. However, all the subsequent interest in the car, once Goldfinger was released, forced the automaker to build two more replicas. These were sent to carnivals, festivals, and other events (including the 1964 New York World’s Fair) until the early 1970s, when they were sold to collectors. The replicas’ interiors include features that weren’t showcased in the film, including a telephone built right into the driver’s door, a five-speed manual transmission, a reserve gas tank, a speedometer toplined at 150 mph, a handcrafted body, and very luxurious antelope-hide seat upholstery.
In Goldfinger, after planting the homing device in his adversary’s Rolls-Royce, Bond (Sean Connery) has the Aston Martin transported to the European mainland via British United Air Ferries. He then follows Goldfinger’s Rolls-Royce Phantom III to Switzerland, where he meets and shreds the tires of the very attractive Tilly Masterson (Tania Mallet), the revenge-seeking, poor-shooting sister of the late Jill Masterson (Shirley Eaton). Having accidentally heard Goldfinger utter the words “Operation Grand Slam” to Mr. Ling (Burt Kwouk) the Red Chinese agent, Bond (with Tilly in tow) hops in his DB5 and attempts to escape Goldfinger’s factory complex with three Mercedes-Benzes filled with Chinese guards on his tail.
The DB5’s defense mechanism controls are immediately put to work. The smoke screen eliminates one Mercedes, which smashes blindly into a tree; a second Mercedes runs into Bond’s manufactured oil slick, skids off the road, and explodes into the side of Goldfinger’s factory; but the third enemy car corners Bond at a dead end.
After Tilly is killed by Oddjob (Harold Sakata), Bond surrenders to his Chinese and Korean pursuers. In one of the great blunders, they allow him to drive his own car back to the factory, guarded by one gun-toting guard in the passenger seat. Make that one former gun-toting guard, since Bond immediately triggers the ejector seat.
Back in business, he nonetheless is stymied by a machine gun–wielding gatekeeper (Varley Thomas) and forced back into the factory complex, where he leads two enemy Mercedes sedans on a high-speed chase, which was effectively punched up in editing by Peter Hunt.
Finally, blinded by what he thinks are automobile headlights headed straight for him, 007 crashes his Aston Martin into a brick wall. It turned out that Oddjob rigged a mirror that reflects Bond’s own headlights back at him; 007 is captured again.
The Aston Martin DB5 is also featured briefly in the Thunderball pre-credits teaser outside Paris, when 007 (Sean Connery once again) activates his rear bulletproof screen and then unleashes a powerful jet of water at SPECTRE guards. As the torrent of water washes over them, the screen dissolves into the arresting nude bathers featured in Maurice Binder’s evocative title sequence.
That same trusty Aston Martin DB5 makes a cameo return thirty years later in GoldenEye (1995), when Bond (Pierce Brosnan) races it against a Ferrari. It cameos again in Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), taking Brosnan’s 007 to the Ministry of Defence. Then, fifteen years after that, “the most famous car in the world” makes a more dramatic entrance in Skyfall (2012). Unable to secure official transportation from MI6, Bond (Daniel Craig) retrieves his DB5 from a London garage and heads out to Skyfall, his family’s country estate in the highlands of Scotland. In one of its saddest moments on screen, the car is raked from end to end by enemy machine gun fire. But just as 007 always manages to regain his footing, this wonderful vehicle is returned to the Q workshops in Spectre (2015), where it is completely rebuilt so that Bond (Daniel Craig) can drive it away at the film’s conclusion.
Newer-edition Aston Martins are further sprinkled throughout the series. A 1968 Aston Martin makes a splash in the pre-credits teaser of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, when Bond (George Lazenby) rescues Tracy (Diana Rigg) from some of her father’s own hoodlums. At the end of the film, the Aston Martin becomes the honeymoon car for newlyweds Bond and Tracy. Because friends have attached a conspicuous Just Married sign to the car’s rear, Bond stops on the highway to remove it. At that very moment, Blofeld (Telly Savalas) and Irma Bunt (Ilse Steppat) race by, spraying the car with machine gun fire.
In The Living Daylights, the new James Bond (Timothy Dalton) is assigned a brand-new 1986 Aston Martin V8 Vantage Volante, which is equipped with its own parcel of customized defense mechanisms designed for snow warfare, including retractable skis that can maneuver the vehicle on ice. A laser mounted in the wheel hubs performs practically the same function, albeit more cleanly, as the spinning chariot-scythe knives in Goldfinger; a rocket launcher has a visible target display in the windshield; and a rocket-boosted engine allows the car to virtually fly over a towering roadblock. This Aston Martin is also equipped with a self-destruct mechanism so that it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. Although I wouldn’t want to be the one to tell Q that his pride and joy is a bunch of twisted metal.
Pierce Brosnan’s 007 definitely gets an upgrade in Die Another Day, when he’s assigned a gadget-rigged 2002 Aston Martin V12 Vanquish, but many fans thought the writers had jumped the shark when they gave the vehicle “adaptive camouflage”—a device that makes the car invisible. Though a common trope in science fiction films, this modification was altogether wrong for a James Bond adventure. Not to mention, Bond deploys this feature only once, to roll across the snow to the Ice Palace of Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens).
When Daniel Craig takes over the role in 2006’s Casino Royale, he’s supplied with an Aston Martin DBS V12. About the only thing interesting about this car is that it’s supplied with an emergency medical link to MI6 headquarters in London and, thankfully, a defibrillator, which saves Bond’s life when he’s poisoned by Le Chiffre’s girlfriend Valenka (Ivana Milicevic). However, it wasn’t the gadgets that distinguished this DBS, it was the extraordinary stunt in which Bond nearly runs over Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) and rolls the car. That stunt broke the international record for most barrel rolls assisted by a special effects cannon. A special air-powered cannon was deployed that allowed the car to complete seven full rolls. Three DBSs, valued at $300,000 each, were destroyed in the stunt.
Basically the same car returns in Quantum of Solace, as Bond uses it to chase down his prey in Siena, Italy. In Spectre, Bond swipes an Aston Martin DB10 that was earmarked for 009 and gets involved in a huge chase across Rome, during which he deploys a rear-facing double barreled gun, a rear-facing flamethrower, and an ejection seat with parachute. Unfortunately, this beautiful piece of automobile engineering winds up sinking in the dark waters of the Tiber River.