Gallery>> James Bond At Beaulieu

Alongside the main National Motor Museum and Top Gear areas at Beaulieu in England is the James Bond exhibition: when I visited the museum earlier this year there was a small but quality range of cars on show from various Bond films, serving as a taster for 2012 when there will be even more 007-themed cars on display celebrating 50 years of celluloid Bond.

Cars in James Bond films usually offer up the perfect blend of high performance crossed with technology, gadgets and lethal weaponry. How often have I been stuck on British motorways and dreamt of this front load-out… I do find it surprising that major car manufacturers don't offer these kind of optional extras, as I'm sure the take-up would be good, particularly during rush hour.

Alongside the moving metal was a display of other items of memorabilia from across the Bond canon, such as this Moonraker-era jumpsuit. Feel the crackle of the man-made fibres… Ah, the '70s!

Even the stock Bond cars are always expected to perform outrageous stunts, then either drive serenely into the distance with a wink from Bond – or explode into flame if you're unfortunate enough to be the bad guy. I was almost about to mention Condorman here, for the Porsches, but I think that could go in a totally different direction…

For me, the Lotus Esprit is the car of James Bond. Before the brickbats fly, naturally everyone has their preferred Bond and favourite Bond car – there is no right here, just a personal view, normally based on whichever actor you first saw play the character! I grew up on Roger Moore-era Bond, so even though I am more than happy to share in some Aston Martin DB5 love, the Esprit will always be the one for me. After all, this S1 could swim

…and had rocket launchers. And a smoke dispenser. And mines. And a cool radar/anti-aircraft missile system. Wet Nellie was the unofficial name of this particular Lotus, which predictably got into trouble almost as soon it was delivered into Bond's hands.

Two production Esprits and five body shells were used in the film: several of the latter were used as the basis for the submarine version seen here, plus the car driven off the pier just before the car-into-submarine changeover during the chase sequence. Two Esprit Turbos then featured in the film after next, For Your Eyes Only (Bond to Q: "I see you've got the Lotus back together again"). I almost wept when the booby-trap in Bond's 'new' Esprit was set off at the beginning of the film, incinerating not only the bad guys but the beloved Lotus as well. The horror! Luckily the second, custom copper-colour painted Turbo (equipped with ski racks) survived the film and was recently sold at auction. The Esprit's appearance in the films did more for the flagging Lotus firm at the time than any mainstream advertising had done: hence a three-year waiting list as a result!

The Jaguar XKR Roadster is from Die Another Day (2002), specifically the ice chase sequence, where Bond was attempting to evade this rocket-toting Jag. Eight XKRs were used to create the scene; this one at least survived. Bond's Aston V12 Vanquish seemed to have met its match: the Aston's adaptive camouflage was disabled by the Jag's Gatling gun, and under rocket attack Bond sought cover in an Ice Palace.

I worried about the depression of the mini-gun taking out the windscreen and, perhaps more importantly, the driver's head, but then again I worry about some strange things. The evil villain Zao will not be troubling us again, however, after suffering a watery death…

As a counterpoint to the typically English rides of Bond, the other two cars at Beaulieu veered into US muscle-car territory. The AMC Hornet was seen in The Man With a Golden Gun (1974), in which Bond 'borrowed' the Hornet from a Bangkok car dealership and took off in pursuit of Scaramanga, just whilst redneck Sheriff J.W. Pepper had been looking to test drive it… Cue more Bond one-liners. 

The Hornet makes a jump across a twisted, broken bridge, resulting in a 360-degree mid-air corkscrew that was captured in just one filming sequence. Computer modelling was used to calculate the angles, speed and distance between the ramps! It almost makes up for AMC also producing the Pacer.

The Ford Cougar XR7 convertible featured in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, a 1969 Bond outing, though not with Bond himself at the wheel. Instead, Contessa Tracy Di Vincenzo (played by British actress Diana Rigg) muscled the Cougar across mountain roads with the bad guys in a Mercedes 220s saloon in pursuit, before veering onto an… ice-racing track that just happened to be around. After several destructive laps swerving between Minis and Escorts and under fire from Blofeld's henchmen, Bond and Bond-girl make their escape.

2012 looks like being an exciting year for Beaulieu: from the middle of January a new, expanded Bond exhibition will open, showcasing 50 vehicles from the 50 years of Bond films. This ties in with the other anniversaries on-site: the 60 years that Beaulieu has been open to the public and 40 years since it became the National Motor Museum, so there will be additional special exhibitions opening up during the year. Even more reason to put it on the visiting list!

Jonathan Moore


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