Bond, On A Budget

Story By Myles Kornblatt • Artwork by Leslie Wimbush unless otherwise credited

September marks 50 years since James Bond started giving us iconic movie cars. “Goldfinger” was not the first time 007 was shown behind the wheel, but his gadget-laden Aston-Martin seemed to make this icon complete. For the next half century, whoever played James Bond gave all of us in the audience a jolt of adrenaline as he would lend his precision driving to a choice motor car.

Bond’s taste in cars never came cheap. After all, a man with a license to kill and the ability to not ruffle his dinner jacket while doing so doesn’t know the term “vinyl seats.”

Just because “budget” wasn’t in his vocabulary, we don’t have to follow suit. Want to put a little Bond magic in your garage? Here are some choice offerings no matter what your price range.

Aston Martin DB5 - "Thunderball"


Also featured in: "Goldfinger," "Goldeneye," "Casino Royale," and "Skyfall"

The Aston Martin DB5 is the ultimate James Bond car because it is everything we like about the character set on four wheels. There is a quiet elegance about it that comes from a design that fits like a finely tailored grey suit.

Hidden beneath the sleek skin is a dangerous mix of aggression and firepower. The engine is not boisterous, but there is a confident rumble that says it could erupt violently at any moment—just like its most famous owner.

It is this kind of character/car perfection that has made the DB5 one of the world’s most sought-after collector cars. Of the two that were featured in “Goldfinger,” one sold at RM’s London auction in 2010 for $4.6 million–and the other is a James Bond-caliber mystery.

The DB5 that spent most of the time on screen in “Goldfinger” was a real working gadget car. It disappeared from an airport hangar in Boca Raton, Florida, in 1997 and has not been seen since. While our imagination believes Blofeld has the car hidden in his basement as a trophy, the nature of its disappearance does make collectors wonder if this Aston Martin will ever resurface.

Back in reality, the status of that one movie has given a boost to prices of the entire DB5 line. A well-maintained DB5 coupe can start around $700,000.

There is good news, however, for those who want to look like they are on Her Majesty’s Secret Service without spending the Crown Jewels. For starters, the DB5’s sexy curves are actually the midpoint in the progress of Aston Martin.

The DB5’s predecessor has a slightly different front end, while its successor has the more aerodynamic “Kamm” rear. So for those who have friends who are casual car enthusiasts, a grey DB4 or DB6 will easily be mistaken for a Bond car. Hagerty says to budget $400,000 or so for a nice DB4; figure $300,000 or so buys an even nicer DB6.

Of course, we’re not advocating buying an Aston Martin purely for a James Bond ruse. It takes a true car aficionado to love and care for any vintage Aston. All we are pointing out is that upgrading to the longer wheelbase of the DB6 will save as much as a half-million dollars, and people will still stand clear as they fear possible machine guns hidden behind the parking lights.

The Bond connection is so strong with the DB5 that the machismo extends to just about any Aston coupe made in the last 50 years. It helps that all but one of the actors to play 007 drove contemporary Aston Martins on film. This means that sub-$100k classics like the V6 DBS and the MkIV V8 cars are genuine Bond Aston Martins that can be purchased for less than a home mortgage.

Lotus Esprit - "The Spy Who Loved Me"


Also featured in: "For Your Eyes Only"

Roger Moore never got to drive an Aston Martin as James Bond, but no one feels sorry for him. Instead, Moore made the Lotus Esprit a legend, and all he had to do was drive it off an ocean dock. The wedge lines of the Esprit seemed to be born for the slipstream needed to become a submarine.

1977’s “The Spy Who Loved Me” brought back an idea of the gadget-laden Bond car that had not been seen since “Goldfinger.” Where Lotus cars were once only known for being race track weapons, this movie packed its underwater kit full of missiles, torpedoes and mines. The only thing more lethal was when the Esprit returned in 1981’s “For Your Eyes Only,” where we discovered that a security system breach would cause the car to explode.

Unlike the DB5, the Esprit doesn’t need a decoy to be affordable. True, Elon Musk recently paid nearly $1 million for the actual movie car/submarine, but the rest of the road-going Series 1 Esprits are a bit more reasonable: They can routinely be found for less than $20,000.

True top-tier examples will cost more, but figure it’s hard to spend $50,000 on one. The Turbo cars like the ones used in “For Your Eyes Only” are an even better bargain, with slightly lower price points and even more power.

Those who need to get a car for less than $10K can try to hunt down a Lotus Eclat. These front-engined 2+2 coupes used the same 2.0-liter engine as the mid-engined Series 1 Esprit, and the cars share a resemblance with their knife-edged styling.

Although this might seem appealing, buyer beware: Eclats were brought to the U.S. in even lower numbers than the Esprits, and they still carry the universal Lotus trait of needing plenty of TLC. So a cheap Eclat could cost much more in expensive repairs.

Ford Mustang Convertible - "Goldfinger"


Also (briefly) featured in: "Thunderball"

Not only is “Goldfinger” celebrating its golden anniversary, but the Mustang is as well. Since this car is an icon in its own right, we are willing to give it some leeway as a Bond car. Bond was never behind the wheel of a Mustang, but he did drive one off the road.

The real reason this car makes our list is because it is effortlessly cool, and a great way to connect the British secret agent to an American legend. The “Goldfinger” car was a very early 1964½ convertible, and Ford pretty much carried that style unchanged through the 1966 model year. After that year, the differences become a bit too recognizable.

Aiming for a specific convertible within a mere two-and-a-half years’ time span might seem hard or expensive, but thankfully it is not too difficult with this particular model. Ford produced more than 174,000 examples of the Mustang convertible through the 1966 model year. These are cherished classics today, but they were so plentiful that good examples can be found starting below the $20,000 point.

For those who absolutely need a Wimbledon White convertible with a red interior to match the movie car, there are still plenty of good examples out there and even more candidates for restoration. This means that no one should have to take a pristine Mustang in another color combination and harm its originality by giving it a respray. In fact, the only Bond-style addition we would encourage is a little paint/decal work on the rocker panel to recreate the damage delivered by the Aston Martin’s center cap.

There is an added bonus for those who spend the extra money to get an original 1964½ white on red convertible: The movie car is currently lost, and is proving difficult to find. So we won’t stop you from telling friends that your car could be “the one.”

Those who do this will probably forget to mention that there are so many Mustangs out there, the chances are better that Oddjob was a PGA caddy.

Sunbeam Alpine - "Dr. No"


The DB5 might be James Bond’s ultimate car, but it was not his first. Moviegoers were introduced to 007’s driving skills as he eluded Dr. No’s henchmen while driving a Sunbeam Alpine through Jamaica.

The little Series II roadster like the one in the movie only made about 80 horsepower, but these cars were light and nimble enough that it is easy to believe Bond could outmaneuver the baddies. Plus, the standard front disc brakes give this real driving appeal.

What is most surprising is how well Sean Connery’s 6-foot-2 frame fit in the little Alpine. His height would be a problem later in “You Only Live Twice,” where Toyota had to create a pair of special 2000 GT roadsters because the production coupe was too short on headroom.

Alpines are not very expensive today–remember, we’re talking about Alpines and not the V8-powered Tigers. There were five different series of the car produced over its decade-long run, but all of these versions look similar. Road-ready examples can be picked up for less than $20,000. Some parts might need to be sourced from Europe, but are relatively affordable.

We are not the only ones who considered finances when choosing the Alpine. “Dr. No” was produced on small budget, and the Sunbeam was chosen because it was one of the speediest cars the production company could rent. After they used the car for a few days, the blue roadster went back to its owner.

There were low expectations for the first 007 movie, and so Bond’s original car was never set aside. By the time the franchise had become popular, that Jamaican Alpine couldn’t be found. That Sunbeam has become one of the oldest mysteries in the world of James Bond vehicles.

Ford Mustang Mach I - "Diamonds Are Forever"


The climax of the car chase in “Diamonds Are Forever” has James Bond driving a red 1971 Ford Mach 1. This is not the most famous Bond car, but it is the most infamous one.

Faced with the need to escape down a narrow alley, 007 uses a conveniently located loading ramp to prop this car up on two wheels. The kicker: When the Mustang emerges from the alley, it is shown riding on the two other tires.

The problem came from the fact that the stunt was shot in two locations. A Universal Studios lot in Los Angeles doubled for the entry into that famed Las Vegas alley. Then a completely different crew shot the exit scene on Vegas’s neon-clad Fremont Street.

When the continuity problem was caught in editing, the solution for this fiasco was to insert a shot between the car’s entry and exit featuring screeching tires and tilting close-ups to explain what physics could not. In the process the car went from being a bit of cool American muscle to a piece of everlasting Bond trivia.

After filming, one of the cars had a bit of redemption. It joined the Tournament of Thrills traveling stunt show, where it performed proper two-wheel stunts on a nightly basis. In 1982, when this Mustang was no longer needed, the roll cage was removed and it was sold at a used-car lot just like any other Sunday driver. While that coupe is no longer for sale, there are ones like it available for reasonable prices.

Despite the Bond mystique, the 1971 Mustang was a bit of a lost child when it debuted. In trying to keep up the trend of larger cars in America, Ford’s slender pony car had grown a bit bloated. These Mustangs are not as cherished as the originals, which can work well when for shoppers looking for a Bond car on a budget.

Also, the premium Mach 1 package was not exclusive to one engine. It was available with all three V8 displacements available that model year: 302, 351 and 429 cubic inches. In fact, the six cars used in the movie featured a mix of all three engines.

The engine of choice is the rare 375-horsepower Cobra Jet-R 429 V8, and cars so equipped can command more than $40,000 today. But anyone with a 351 or 302 Mach 1 can still proudly proclaim a Bond-spec car for half to a fourth of the price. Plus, similar-looking Mach 1 coupes from 1972 and 1973 don’t have the 429 option, but they are an even better bargain.

Below-Budget Bond Buys!

Photography Credit: Courtesy MGM/United Artists (1974)

Photography Credit: Courtesy MGM/United Artists (1974)

We’ve explored ways to look like 007 while saving thousands of dollars, but what if the budget is even smaller? There is a subset of Bond vehicles that can be found sitting in the back of used car lots with prices requiring only a handful of $100 bills.

The Renault Encore is rare today, but not valuable. These cars require the right kind of owner, but if your friends ask why you bought it, you can remind them of the time that Roger Moore drove one through Paris in “A View to a Kill.” Just be careful: The rust-prone Renault may just snap in half, and you’ll be left with a true tribute to the movie’s car. An AMC Hornet is just as rare as the Encore, but it offers even more Bond zeal. The crooked bridge stunt from “The Man With the Golden Gun” is one of the most dramatic feats Bond has ever performed on film.

Having fun with this car is simple. First, find a forgotten Hornet–they are most likely to be found at a shady car lot, junkyard, old Wisconsin barn, etc. Spend pocket change at an auto parts store to get it running. Give it a quick rattle-can paint job in red. Finally, get a friend to ride shotgun while he mimics J.W. Pepper’s Louisiana accent. For the price of a weekend vacation, you now have an instant symbol of one of Bond’s gutsiest stunts.

On the other side of the style spectrum is possibly the ultimate Bond bang-for-the-buck car. BMW launched its future-classic Z3 roadster at the same time the Bond franchise was relaunched with “GoldenEye.” Neiman Marcus even sold a special-edition roadster in an exclusive Bond Blue-Gray color. Those 100 cars occasionally pop up for as much as $30,000, but regular Z3 roadsters are starting to dip into four-figure prices.

Visiting Bond

Bond may be British, but many of the actual movie cars can be found in South Florida. The Miami Auto Museum is home to the Mustang Mach 1 from “Diamonds Are Forever” that went on the tour with the Tournament of Thrills. This collection also houses the only complete driving Lotus Esprit from “The Spy Who Loved Me.”

The Miami Auto Museum also has the distinction of owning the oldest surviving Bond vehicle, which isn’t even a car. Until the Sunbeam Alpine from “Dr. No” is located, the Fairey Huntress boat driven at the end of “From Russia with Love” is James Bond’s most senior transport.

In fact, this museum displays at least one original or tribute vehicle from all 23 official Bond films. Combine this with hundreds of pieces of official memorabilia, and it makes the largest collection of everything James Bond in the world. So as it turns out England might be home to 007, but you don’t have to cross the Atlantic to visit him.

Miami Auto Museum
2000 NE 146th St.
North Miami, FL 33181
(305) 354-7680

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pinchvalve MegaDork
4/12/18 1:05 p.m.

My uncle had one of these in his childhood bedroom, and I coveted it above all things. 

GLK New Reader
1/25/19 2:11 p.m.

In reply to pinchvalve :

I had one too! Corgi. Don’t know what ever became of it. Sigh.

GLK New Reader
1/25/19 7:06 p.m.

Let’s not forget the Alfa Romeo GTV6 in Octopus-see. (Your editing software censored the actual title)!

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