LOTUS ESPRIT SUBMARINE CAR

Entry Source: The James Bond Movie Encyclopedia by Steven Jay Rubin


Fabulous trick sports car employed by James Bond (Roger Moore) in both The Spy Who Loved Me and For Your Eyes Only. Nicknamed “Wet Nellie,” an homage to the weapon-laden autogyro Little Nellie in You Only Live Twice, the Lotus was another example of how the Bond team could rise to the occasion and top the effects of their previous films.

Motorized by Perry Oceanographics of Miami, the submarine car, which was referred to as “Esther Williams” in an early draft of the screenplay, was actually the product of two film geniuses: production designer Ken Adam and special effects supervisor Derek Meddings. Remembered Meddings, “When we decided to turn a sports car into a submarine, Ken Adam came to me with the suggestion that we use the shell of the new Lotus Esprit. Neither of us knew anything about the aquadynamics of underwater driving, but we went ahead with the Lotus because it was the most beautiful car we could find in England—it had to be an English car, of course.

“The car was then given to us in shell form from the Lotus factory. We had five or six of the shells, and into each we built a special operating effect. First, to give the car the underwater streamlined effect, we had to create wheels that could disappear inside the body, and wheel arches that came down and filled in the space. We then built louvers that would go into place over the windshield, to create the impression of strengthening the glass against underwater pressure. The special modifications, such as the surface-to-air missile launcher, the underwater rockets, and the mine-laying panel, were all constructed and perfected in the Pinewood special effects shop.”[1]

When the Pinewood unit had finished its modifications, Meddings transported the shell of the Lotus over to Miami and to Perry Oceanographics, a unique underwater engineering firm that built submarines and underwater scooters for the US Navy. They were the final authority on Wet Nellie’s seaworthiness. “Only one car was equipped to work underwater,” Meddings remembered. “It had an engine, and you could drive it underwater like an airplane. When it turned, it would bank, and it would dive and climb. Two men were assigned to drive it.”

These drivers would sit in an interior compartment that was completely flooded with water. Recalled Ken Adam, who was returning to the Bond series after a five-year layoff, “We didn’t want a dry submersible. When you build something that has an air compartment, you have problems with ballast. You’re faced with the problem of continually pumping ballast in and out of the car, and that was something we wanted to avoid.” Instead, he said, “we went over to Miami, showed them the designs on our car, and asked them if they could motorize it and create a ‘wet submersible.’ . . . The plan was to go with two skin divers driving the vehicle. They would be wearing breathing apparatuses, but because of the louvers over the front windscreen, you wouldn’t be able to see these devices clearly.

“The Perry people looked at our designs and said they could motorize the car. They also gave us the idea of having our divers use a rebreather unit that didn’t leave a telltale trail of bubbles. However, we ended up going back to regular aqualungs, not only because they were much safer, but we realized that without any bubbles coming from the car, we were sacrificing a degree of realism. With the bubbles trailing the car from the aqualungs, we had a much more realistic picture of a car moving underwater. The last thing we wanted was the audience to get the impression we were using a model car in a studio tank.”[2]

The underwater sequences with the motorized Lotus Esprit were filmed in the crystal-clear waters of the Bahamas by veteran underwater cinematographer Lamar Boren, who was also returning to the Bond series after a long absence.


[1] Derek Meddings, interview by Steven Jay Rubin, London, June 27, 1977.

[2] Ken Adam, interview by Steven Jay Rubin, London, June 17, 1977.