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Driven: James Bond’s Aston Martin DB5

Ahead of the new film we get the chance to drive an original DB5 alongside its stunt doppelganger

The association between the world's most famous fictional spy and Aston Martin is widely regarded as one of the most successful bits of product placement of all time, but it very nearly didn't happen.

In Ian Fleming's early books, Commander James Bond was a Bentley man, only switching to an Aston DB Mark III in Goldfinger, the seventh novel to be published, but the third to be filmed. By the time shooting started the Mark III was close to retirement, and special effects supremo John Steers had to work hard to persuade the reluctant sports car maker to lend the all-new DB5 for filming.

The rest is cinematic history. While the various iterations of James Bond have been associated with many other car brands throughout the franchise's long life, none has been more famous than the gadget-laden DB5. The very fact a good example of the Aston will now set you back considerably more than what would have been equally desirable contemporaries is at least partially down to what classic dealers refer to as the 'James Bond tax'. It's also why so many DB5s now wear the Goldfinger silver birch colour that considerably fewer of them left the factory in.

There have been DB5s in other Bond films, mostly as limited cameos, but for the 25th instalment of the franchise, No Time To Die, it has been promoted back to lead action star.

There's a spectacular action sequence filmed on the tight streets of the Italian city of Matera, and a substantial weapons upgrade from the twin Browning machine-guns of Sean Connery's Goldfinger car. While this was an obviously awesome idea, it was also a serious challenge - a good DB5 is now nudging seven figures in the UK, and it's fair to say they aren't exactly cut out for stunt work.

The solution was both obvious, but hugely complicated - the need to create a much more dynamically capable, but fully convincing replica. And I've come to Aston's compact high performance test track on the Stowe circuit at Silverstone to find out just how close they got.

While other brand partners pay big money to feature in Bond films, Aston just needed to cover the cost of creating and supporting the cars needed for filming. Nobody at the company was willing to go on the record with an exact figure for the eight stunt cars, but an insider insists it was "unbelievably little" compared to the amount of publicity it will generate. The big challenge was tight deadlines, with just six months between agreeing the deal and having the replica cars finished and ready to go.

Aston piggybacked the new build onto the decision to create a 'continuation' DB5 Goldfinger edition - the one with a full set of working prop gadgets. That had required scanning an original car to create new bodywork, with the same data then being used to make moulds for carbon-fibre body panels for the stunt replicas. These were then hung on steel spaceframe chassis and given donated non-Aston six-cylinder engines as well as a full set of safety gear.

Aston's invite to Silverstone includes the chance to drive examples of all the cars it has supplied for No Time To Die. The list includes a DBS Superleggera and a 1980s V8 saloon - as Aston used to call its coupes - very similar to the one that featured in The Living Daylights, as that gets a small cameo.

Ordinarily the V8 would be a major highlight in its own right, but on the day of the event it's the car I find myself pretty much hurrying through to get onto the main attraction. For the record, it's a beast - effortlessly muscular and great-sounding, but with a terrible seating position and brakes that feel marginal even at respectful speeds. And a handful of laps in the DBS Superleggera is just another box-ticking exercise, despite its monstrous pace.

Having rushed things to get to the DB5s, the first big challenge is telling them apart. There are two stunt cars here and one is made obvious by a clear wrap that is simulating the damage it is meant to have picked up during the chase. But the other one is pretty much indistinguishable from the 100 per cent genuine DB5 that is also here for comparison purposes. It's a proper deepfake.

There are differences, but you have to be told where to look. The radiator grille of the replica comes slightly further forwards, its windscreen doesn't quite fit properly and the bezels around the headlights are different. Oh, and the chrome strips on the front wing vents are fractionally longer; it is also wearing guttering, something our original DB5 is missing. But from 10 paces, they are indistinguishable without bending down and seeing the substantial roll-cage in the replica.

Mark Higgins is also on hand, the former British Rally Champion who has become one of the world's leading precision stunt drivers. No Time To Die was his fourth Bond film and, since finishing that, he has done another big Hollywood number and has just started on the next Batman. At his suggestion, I take out the real DB5 first.

While it's definite bucket list material, I'd be lying if I claimed to find anything modern about the driving experience. The seating position is even worse than the V8 saloon, with the huge unadjustable wooden-rimmed steering wheel positioned in such a way you have to pretty much fold yourself around it.

The dashboard features more instruments than a light aircraft, all with beautiful chrome bezels, but the one I really need on track isn't working - the rev counter needle swaying drunkenly and obviously out of time with the engine.

The gearshift also looks impossibly dainty for something so butch - my granny's Austin 1100 had something very similar. I also soon discover that the floor-hinged pedals are massively offset, my foot finding the clutch where it is expecting the brake to be on the first big stop; I've got the presence of mind to try again and there's enough margin to still make the corner once I eventually find the right pedal.

The engine is great, the straight-six wuffly low down but then turning rorty and angry. Performance feels impressively keen - the DB5's 8-second 0-60mph (0-97km/h) time made it one of the fastest cars in the world when it was new; the all-synchro gearbox is also much easier to use than the dog-box of the DB4 GT Continuation I was lucky enough to drive here last year. The unassisted steering is hugely heavy and front-end responses are more gum than teeth, with lots of understeer and body roll. It's an amazing car, but not one that belongs on a racetrack - or indeed in a bash-and-smash stunt scenario.

The replica feels more intimidating, certainly at first. Getting in means negotiating a sizeable roll-cage, then strapping into proper motorsport carbon buckets that position you perfectly for the lower and further back steering wheel (still wooden rimmed, naturally.)

The dashboard is unfinished and full of holes, a cosmetically perfect original car was used for interior shots that showed controls. There's no heating or ventilation system, something Higgins says was a serious omission when working in 40-degree heat in Italy.

In the footwell is an AP racing pedal box and the centre console is dominated by a huge hydraulic handbrake I'm under strict instructions not to use, plus a bulbous gear lever whose familiar shape quickly negates Aston's refusal to say where the powertrain has been donated from.

Even if you don't recognise the shifter, Aston's admission that the borrowed engine is a naturally-aspirated straight six producing around 250kW narrows down the list of candidates, and the fact there's a definite shifting of cam profiles as the engine revs up should trim the shortlist to approximately one. Not Q Branch so much as M Division.

The driving experience couldn't be more different to the original car. The replica is a purebred hooligan, with the lightweight panels and lack of trim and kit meaning it has an all-up mass of around 1000kg and therefore a power-to-weight ratio twice as brawny as the original.

Acceleration is strong, with the engine sounding very un-Aston-y as it happily zings past 7000rpm. But it's the stiffness of the car's structure and suspension precision that really impresses - there are twin wishbones at each corner and springs and dampers are derived from rallycross.

Steering is hydraulically assisted and feels spot-on, front end responses are savage but there's also a surprising abundance of rear-end grip given the car's primary mission for spectacular sideways action.

Don't worry, there's plenty of that as well. The back axle can be persuaded to break away with either more speed - the car seems set up to never understeer - or alternatively a serious dose of throttle. It's progressive and unscary when it surrenders adhesion, soon I'm happily slithering and sliding around in James Bond's car.

Silverstone's role as the centre of Britain's motorsport industry means it's been double booked on the day of the event - on the main circuit Lewis Hamilton is giving the new W11 Mercedes-AMG Formula 1 car its dynamic debut. But for the few laps I get in the stunt car I'm pretty certain I'm having more fun than he is.

It takes a passenger ride with Mark Higgins to show how much more the replica is really capable of, turning most of the 1.73km Stowe circuit into a drift park. Power oversteer was vital to the way the DB5 dispatches the baddies at the end of its big chase sequence with the combination of multi-barrelled miniguns that come out of its headlights and a massive, smoky donut session. He's spent dozens of hours in the various replicas during filming, but he's still grinning as we get back to the pitlane.

The DB5's sequence is only going to be a part of what will be the longest and most expensive Bond film yet, and there are plenty of other bits of automotive product placement: the new Land Rover Defender gets a sizeable sequence, as does a Triumph motorbike. But the return of the car that started it all is still going to be the stand-out feature for most of us. Regardless of your feelings about Bond himself you can't knock the bloke's taste in cars.

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