Until very recently, the only thing I had in common with Sean Connery was the fact both our mothers come from Scotland. Now there’s another – the fact we’ve both driven what is pretty much exactly the same car.
Last year, we told you about the plans of Aston Martin’s Works division to recreate the iconic DB5 from the third James Bond film – complete with an almost full set of its scene-stealing gadgetry and a price tag that would cause even Auric Goldfinger to draw breath.
Now I’ve had a chance to drive the DB5 Goldfinger Continuation, and can report it is both every bit as special, and every bit as silly, as you would expect it to be.
While Aston has scrupulously added the proviso “please note, this car is not road legal” to every official release, the very fact the prototype is UK registered, and I drove it on a picturesque route through the English countryside, shows there is some wiggle room in that.
Two companies in the UK are already offering to legalise Aston’s existing Continuation models for road use through the European IVA procedure – there’s no doubting the DB5 Goldfinger will follow. (ADR approval for a newly built car with 1964 emissions and a similarly ancient crash structure seems much less likely.)
Aston’s first two Continuations, the DB4 GT and DB4 GT Zagato, were near-exact copies of the originals.
The Goldfinger is necessarily different. That’s because the car used for filming was an already hard-used prototype that Aston grudgingly shared with the production company. But also because its lethal gadgetry – most of which came from the mind of production designer Ken Adam – were all theatrical props, most of which only needed to work once.
Aston Martin Works brought in Oscar-winning special-effects designer Chris Corbould – who has worked on 15 Bond films – to lead development of simulated versions of the original car’s arsenal, the company then working out how to best integrate these into a period-correct DB5 recreation.
The result is a nearly full set of toys, plus a couple that were referenced in the film but not used by Connery: twin Browning machine guns that deploy from behind the front indicators; three-way rotating licence plates; smokescreen and rear-facing oil spray to deter pursuers; a bulletproof shield that rises behind the rear windscreen; and front and rear bumper rams.
The cabin has a radar screen behind a motorised cover, a control console between the seats, and a telephone in the driver’s door (probably the detail that felt most outlandish in 1964).
There have been some necessary alterations. The original replica guns fired pyrotechnic blanks, which would have required frequent reloading and would also sound exactly like real automatic gunfire.
However rich you are, that’s likely to bring some legal issues. The Continuation’s barrels simulate firing with ultra-bright LEDs and a mechanised recoil action, but the loudspeaker soundtrack is deliberately subdued.
The oil spray also fires out water, on the basis of both cleanliness and not wanting to kill anybody who is following. The original car’s ‘tyre slashers’ are out for the same reason: buyers get non-fittable versions in a presentation case.
But the biggest disappointment is definitely the lack of a passenger ejector seat, although the asymmetric sunroof aperture is still in place, as is the red button within the fold-up gear selector. Another interesting detail – according to AM Works boss Paul Spires, the rear shield is actually bulletproof.
While it’s huge fun to play with what’s effectively a 1:1-scale version of the much-loved Goldfinger-inspired Corgi DB5 toy car – especially with the remote control that enables them to be worked remotely – the gadgets really need an audience to properly appreciate them.
Aston had, probably wisely, inhibited their operation during my road drive, meaning I couldn’t take out frustration on dawdlers with a barrage of simulated gunfire, or rotate the plates before blitzing some of the UK’s many speed cameras. Which is where the appeal of having a factory-fresh DB5 takes over.
Getting in is a bit of a squeeze. The driver’s door doesn’t open very wide, and you need to pretty much fold yourself around the vast non-adjustable wooden-rimmed steering wheel.
It took most of the available seat recline to stop my head from touching the roof, but the squashy seat turns out to be surprisingly comfortable despite its total lack of lateral location.
And there can’t be many better views in the automotive world than a full array of chrome-bezelled Smiths instruments in the foreground, and a DB5’s curvaceous bonnet as seen through the widescreen wraparound windscreen.
The DB5 was one of the fastest cars in the world when it was new – with a 235km/h top speed that seemed as impossible as a figure double that would now. But by modern standards, athleticism is limited.
It still feels respectably brisk, especially with the 4.0-litre straight six working in proximity to its 3850rpm torque peak and the throaty noises from the triple SU carbs balanced by the snarl from the exhaust. The shift action for the five-speed gearbox feels much crisper and snappier than the ’60s norm, and the brakes are stronger than I was expecting, too.
But the heavy, low-geared steering gives little encouragement to attack corners, nor does the soft yet crashy suspension. Any attempts at faster progress reveal the limited bite of the period-sized Avon Turbospeed tyres.
Small wonder Connery had so much difficulty outrunning Goldfinger’s goons in a chasing pack of 47kW W120 Mercedes 180s in the film.
At a rapid cruising pace, the DB5 is utterly lovely, especially with the (pioneering) electric windows powered down, and the heat generated by the vast engine being carried away by a gentle breeze.
For 55 years, every driver of a silver DB5 has frequently been asked if it is James Bond’s car. It’s the main reason a significantly higher percentage of the surviving cars now wear the colour than left the factory in it. In this case, it’s close to true.
It’s a dream that comes with a very hefty price tag, of course. For £2.75m (AUD$4.92m) ‘ex-works’ in the UK, the DB5 Goldfinger is more than twice the price of a very nice standard DB5 and a comprehensive restoration.
Yet despite that, nearly all the 25 production limit have already been sold, and for those who have signed contracts, the price tag doubtless isn’t going to be an issue.
Owning one won’t make your Sean Connery accent any more convincing, though.
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Engine: 3995cc straight six
Transmission: 5-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
0–100km/h: 8.0 seconds
Top speed: 235km/h
CO2: You can’t be serious?
MPG: Shocking. Positively shocking
Price: £2.75m ex-works UK, before taxes and on-roads