A brief history of James Bond’s Aston Martin DB5, the most famous car in the world
It is believed that half the world’s population would recognize a James Bond Aston Martin DB5.
Not sure how that was figured out, but it’s hard to argue with that assertion. Author David Worrall likely hit the nail on the head when he titled a book about the fictional spy’s car The Most Famous Car in the World. Just about every owner of a Silver Birch Aston Martin DB5 has either wished—or told a whopper claiming that—he or she has one of the cars used in the Goldfinger and Thunderball movies.
I came across one such ostensible Bond vehicle a number of years ago at the Classic Car Show in Birmingham, England. Though two Silver Birch DB5s were used in the filming of Goldfinger and Thunderball, Sean Connery only drove one—and that was DP/2161/1. The other two cars were built for the production company as promotional cars and traveled the world promoting the two movies.
In light of the fact that DB5/2008/R (one of two original publicity cars) is headed to auction at Monterey this year, where it is likely to garner massive attention. Here’s a brief explanation of which car was which and what happened to each… as far as I can ascertain.
The Road Car
Chassis number DP/2161/1: UK license plate BMT 216A
This car belonged to Aston Martin; it was the DB5 prototype—a modified DB4. It was referred to as “the road car” because it was used in all of the driving scenes in the movies.
In 1968, Aston Martin stripped it of all of its gadgets and sold it to Gavin Keyzar as a used car displaying 50,000 miles on the odometer. It was re-registered with license plate 6633 PP. A year later, Keyzar had a company in the south of England reinstall all the gadgets to capitalize on the car’s history.
In 1971, Keyzar sold DP/2161/1 to Richard Loose of Utah. (It had a very brief appearance in the movie The Cannonball Run.) Loose retired in 1987 and decided to sell both the DB5 and a 1937 Rolls-Royce Phantom III also used in Goldfinger at a Sotheby’s auction in New York. Anthony Pugliese, a developer from Florida, purchased the car for $275,000.
I contacted Jim Grundy of Grundy Insurance in 2006 and he told me that a very reputable appraiser put a value of $4 million on the car and Grundy insured it for $3.2 million—80 percent of the appraisal.
In 1997, the car was stolen from an aircraft hangar in Boca Raton, Florida. The circumstances of the theft were very suspicious. The car has never been seen since, and I suspect that it was destroyed. Grundy and the underwriter Chubb Insurance paid the claim.
The local community was shaken—but not stirred.
The Gadget Car
Chassis number DB5/1486/R: UK license plate FMP 7B
This car also belonged to Aston Martin and was used in Goldfinger and Thunderball for all of the special effects.
All the gadgets were removed in 1968, and the car was sold to Jerry Lee in the U.S. for $12,000. When Lee went to England to view the car, it looked very grim. Aston Martin spruced it up before Lee took it back to the States.
DB5/1486/R was displayed at a few shows until it was damaged at a show in Memphis, Tennessee. Lee was furious and vowed that it would never be displayed again.
In 1977, the chairman of Aston Martin USA asked Lee if he would allow the car to be displayed at the New York Auto Show. Aston Martin would pay for the gadgets to be reinstalled. It was a huge success and the car was displayed one more time in 1981. Afterwards, lived in a special wing of Lee’s house and was never publicly seen again. Lee decided to sell the car and use the proceeds of the sale to fund the Jerry Lee Foundation, which supports education and anti-crime projects internationally.
RM Auctions sold the car for $4.6 million on October 10th of 2010 to Harry Yeaggy, a well-known classic car collector from Cincinnati, Ohio. He still owns the car and generously displays it at concours events around the United States. This is the only surviving DB5 of the two cars actually used in the filming of the movies.
Here’s what happened to the two publicity cars.
Publicity Car 1
Chassis number DB5/2017/R: re-issued UK license plate BMT 216A
This car was one of two built for Eon Productions at the staggering cost of $62,000 each (when an original DB5 cost $11,250).
Eon sold DB5/2017/R and its twin, DB5/2008/R, to Anthony Bamford (now Lord Bamford) in 1969. Bamford purchased both cars for $3750 each—a steal!
One year later, Bamford’s friend Sandy Luscombe-Whyte asked Bamford to sell one of the cars to him. Luscombe-Whyte traded a 1964 Ferrari 250 GTO in a straight swap for the DB5. Bamford still has the Ferrari to this day—which is likely at least $40 million today.
After four months of having fun with it, Luscombe-Whyte advertised the car in The Times in London. Frank Baker of Vancouver, British Columbia, made him an offer he could not refuse: $21,600 and an all-expenses-paid trip aboard the QE2 to New York. Luscombe-Whyte would deliver the car from Montreal, driving it across Canada to Vancouver. Baker offered an additional two weeks’ holiday on the West Coast.
The car spent the next 13 years on display outside Baker’s Attic Restaurant in West Vancouver.
Baker fell upon hard times in the early ’80s and sold the car to Alf Spence for $7000. After having the car completely restored, Spence sold it to a consortium headed by Ernest Hartz of San Francisco. The DB5 was offered for sale; they were hoping to get $165,000, but only received a high bid of $80,000.
The new owner was racecar driver Bob Bondurant. He sold it one year later to Robert Pass of Pass Transportation. Five months later, Pass sold it to Robert Littman. When Littman discovered DB5/2017/R was neither a car used in the movies nor the one driven by Sean Connery, he was very disappointed. It ended up in a Jaguar dealership in New Jersey.
In 1989 the dealership went into receivership. DB5/2017/R disappeared, only to surface in the Louwman Collection in the National Automobile Museum in Raamsdonksveer, Holland.
DB5/2017/R remains at Holland’s National Automobile Museum to this very day—despite stories of it being sold at an auction in 2010, when it was probably mistaken for DB5/1486/R (“the gadget car”).
Publicity Car 2
Chassis number DB5/2008/R: UK license plate YRE 186H
Bamford kept the other car of the pair manufactured for Eon Productions and had some fun with it until the news of the theft of “the road car” hit the press.
It was 1971 and time to cash in. Bamford sold the car to Bruce Atchley, the owner of the Smoky Mountain Car Museum in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Atchley wanted it for his son, Hugh. The car was installed inside an iron-barred cage and displayed from 1971 until 2006.
It was auctioned off on the 20th of January, 2006, at the Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix, Arizona. The car was driven into a darkened ballroom by Terry Lobzun of RM—with the machine-guns omitting a rat-tat-tat sound just like in the movie—to great fanfare and applause.
The hammer fell at $2.4 million.
I learned a few months after the auction that DB5/2008/R was destined for a new home in Switzerland. I thought perhaps Eon Productions had purchased it, but that was not the case. I kept looking for the car and discovered it offered for sale at RS Williams in Surrey, England, a few years later for £3,000,000 ($3,647,505).
Some time between 2006 and 2013, DB5/2008/R underwent a four-year restoration in Switzerland courtesy of Roos Engineering, one of thirteen Aston Martin Heritage Specialists.
This is the car that RM will be selling on August 15th at the Portola Plaza Hotel and Conference Centre in Monterey. RM estimates it may fetch between $4M–$6M. I guess we will have to wait and see. The suspense is a bit like a Bond movie!
For many years, all four cars resided in North America. The number has now been reduced to one: the Harry Yeaggy car in Ohio, DB5/1486/R. That car is without question the only remaining survivor of the pair used in the filming of the two movies, Goldfinger and Thunderball.
There have been as many as five other Aston Martin DB5s claimed to be used in the movies; but they were certainly not the two real cars used in the filming of Goldfinger and Thunderball. Replicas were used in the filming of Goldeneye, Casino Royale, and Skyfall. No other car has attracted so much attention for a combined 13 minutes of footage.
I have only touched the surface of the incredible stories involving the four cars.
Dave Worrall has spent a lifetime researching this topic. If you have an interest in the Bond vehicles, reading his book is a must. Finding a copy (used) for under $250 might be a challenge.