Ever since Goldfinger, Aston Martin has been James Bond’s coupe of choice. Has it finally come to the end of the road?
By Nick Hall
Right now, in movie theaters across the country, an Aston Martin DBS is being ripped to shreds, thanks to James Bond’s mortal enemies in the superspy’s latest adventure, Quantum of Solace. So what’s it like to be invited to drive the world’s coolest car and imagine, just for a second, that you’re the world’s coolest man? Well, it doesn’t get better than this. Only fear of cliché and pale imitation prevented me from turning up at Aston Martin’s headquarters in a rented dinner jacket.
Of course, this isn’t the exact same DBS as in the movie’s hair-raising climactic car chase. The DBS I’m introduced to is one of four “hero cars” (as the film’s crew refers to them) used for close-ups. Never has a name fit better. Even standing still, it’s a vision of pure power with aggressive, muscular lines flowing from those strong haunches. It’s like a DB9 that Aston sent to the gym. Still, you might wonder if it could possibly be worth spending $100,000 more than the standard Aston luxury sports car costs.
But once you slip into the chunky sport seat in that dark, moody, pianoblack interior, insert the chunky glass “Emotional Control Unit” (as Aston Martin calls it—there’s nothing so gauche as a key here), and fire it up, such concerns disappear. The six-liter V-12 provides one of the finest sounds in motoring, rockets from 0 to 60 in 4.1 seconds, and goes all the way to 191 miles per hour.
The DBS lives up to the myth in many other ways, too. The gear change is a manly, muscular affair that takes not a push but a punch to click the next gate.
And it’s a brute in the bends, thanks to an aggressively tuned suspension and weight-saving measures that include acres of carbon-fiber bodywork—Aston Martin even went with a lighter weave for the carpeting. And since the DBS was designed to bridge the gap between the luxurious DB9 and the DBR9 race car, it comes with fade-resistant ceramic brakes. Even though it would still be outclassed by Ferrari’s 599 on the track, it’s perfect for chasing villains.
But what about the gadgets that Bond cars so famously boast? There is nothing beyond the emergency medical kit and gun compartment we saw in Casino Royale. Only a badge on the footplate sets this car apart from any other on the production line, and that’s a conscious effort on the part of the film’s producers to ditch the wisecracking, gimmick-laden kitsch of previous generations.
It’s a testament to the movies, though, that making a car look this ordinary took so much work. No less than seven cars were hacked up for the cause, and although the DBS comes with three-level traction control, it is simply impossible to reproduce Bond’s manly moves.
“The DBS is a very safe car designed to save the driver from such things,” said Graham Kelly, Quantum’s action-vehicle supervisor and the man behind the jaw-dropping chase scenes in The Bourne Identity. “Essentially, to get what we want, we have to strip it down and make it unsafe. To get the real slides, we have to modify the traction control. We strengthen the car in places, weaken it in others. We lift the suspension and rebuild it from the ground up to get the effect we want. That’s before we even start with rigging, flip cannons, and other equipment.” Kelly called in Russian and British rally and race drivers for the action sequences, although star Daniel Craig did as much of the driving as the insurance men allowed.
But the most spectacular crash happened off-camera, on the way to a press conference, when an Aston Martin driver veered off the road and flew through the air into a nearby lake. He came to rest on the bottom before he kicked the door out and escaped with nothing more serious than his wounded pride and a burst eardrum.
It’s the DBS itself that might be left licking its wounds. Ford paid handsomely for its Aston Martin cars to be featured in Bond films, but Ford sold the brand last year. Since a James Bond movie represents the ultimate sponsorship deal for a sports car, an unseemly bidding war is probably just around the corner. Personally, I hope they hang on to it and don’t revert to the Bentleys Bond drove in Ian Fleming’s novels. Because when I floored the throttle and drank in the noise of that gorgeous engine as the scenery turned to vicious streaks, I became Bond, just for a moment. If and when its sibling gets ripped to shreds in the movie, I might even shed a tear. The true star of the film will have breathed its last.