While the James Bond of Ian Fleming’s novels started out driving Bentleys, the cinematic version of Britain’s most famous spy has been an Aston Martin man since Sean Connery drove a DB5 in 1964’s Goldfinger. Sure, Bond has had other automotive dalliances since then, including the subaquatic Lotus Esprit in The Spy Who Loved Me and that unfortunate BMW period, which started with a four-cylinder Z3. But in No Time to Die—finally released after long pandemic-related delays—007 honors his silver-screen roots with a chase in a 1963 DB5.
This posed two problems for producers. A pristine DB5 is now worth seven figures, and, equally significant, Aston’s early-1960s grand tourers don’t have the athleticism to pull off stunts for a modern Bond movie. The solution was both simple and hugely complicated: build eight replicas with modern mechanicals that could be used (and used up) in the crash-and-bash parts.
We visited the movie set in the Italian town of Matera in the summer of 2019 when one of the DB5’s main action sequences was being shot. As, indeed, was one of the stunt cars. For this scene, the DB5 was surrounded by a murderous mob and subjected to withering automatic gunfire as cameras filmed multiple takes and angles. Our interviews were conducted to the background noise of fusillades of shots and amplified instructions from the crew’s bullhorns.
Stunt coordinator Neil Layton prepares the replicas for the demands of different sequences, a job made easier by the vehicles’ removable carbon-fiber bodywork and mounting points that allow cameras to be carried. But Layton, a former rally engineer with Prodrive in the U.K., says that the suspension design—a pair of control arms at each corner and rallycross springs and dampers—is the most important detail. “You’ve got to maintain a standard ride height or the car will look wrong,” he explains. “The challenge is the big jumps. We’ve got a massive amount of droop on these vehicles. That’s what we use to arrest the car and control it.”
Mark Higgins, a former British rally champion and one of the world’s acknowledged talents for high-precision stuff, is at the wheel for most of the stunts, which weren’t planned or storyboarded before the crew arrived. “We had some ideas, but we wanted to walk around and see what was possible,” Higgins tells us. The team quickly discovered that Matera’s roads weren’t grippy enough. “In places, it was like ice,” he says. “Rear grip isn’t an issue. You want it to look exciting, so we don’t mind going sideways. But front grip is key; if you haven’t got speed, you can’t do anything.” To increase adhesion, the crew sprayed the corners with several hundred gallons of full-sugar cola.
Higgins says he has learned not to make the driving look too slick or rehearsed. “What the director is looking for and what I think is cool can be totally different,” he admits. “You can have a lovely drift scene and it feels great, but it doesn’t look real. You have to make it look scrappy, not fluid.” The rally champ’s driving skills are on full display in the DB5’s big scene. In No Time to Die, the Aston has been substantially upgraded from the original Goldfinger car. Instead of twin Browning machine guns that deploy from the turn signals, the new DB5 has multibarreled miniguns coming through the headlights. “The idea was to pay homage but also move it on, to give it a little bit of an upgrade,” says special-effects supremo Chris Corbould, a veteran of 15 Bond films. And how better to distribute the DB5’s firepower against villains on all sides than with a massive tire-smoking donut?
You can see a little bit of this in the movie trailer and the officially sanctioned shot above, but it didn’t work out on the day of our visit as the guns malfunctioned, disgorging hundreds of cartridges while the barrels refused to spin. The good news is, you’ll be able to see the full stunt in a theater near you, because the film opens in the U.S. on October 8.
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