It might be cool to wear Levi’s. It might be cool to shade your lookers with Snooki Sunglasses or Kurtis USA Surf Goggles. It might be cool to flash a Zoo York Immergruen T-shirt across your chest and have a Subway Graphics one dangling from a chromed hipster belt, fluttering in the wind as you mire through city traffic on a Zazzle Customised skateboard. It might be cool topping it all off with a heavy-duty HK Army headband plus untied New Balance sneakers. I mean, Rafael Nadal wears Nike, and that’s so old hat (or ancient shoe). Rafa, after all, has been on the block for more than Andy Warholl’s infamous “15 minutes” by now, has he not?
So, go on, be cool as ice blue vodka or LL Cool J, which is rap for “Ladies Love Cool James,” as we know. But this is pre-ordained knowledge in the Universe of Real Kool: 007 is King. Not Elvis. Not Muhammad Ali. Not Texas George Dubbya. No. Double-oh-seven. That’s just a given. And it sounds like this: “The name is Bond… James Bond.” Six words which, in 2001, was voted as the “best-loved one-liner in cinema” by the British. So, go practice it in the mirror, a word per day, and have your rest on the seventh, before starting the exercise again, on the eighth day, to nail it.
Roger Moore did. Charming Roger carried off the suave laconic side of cool to perfection: the half-raised eyebrow (“you’ve heard the name before, no?”), the whiff of a smile (“got’ya, and it spells danger”), plus the hint of a cocked head (“I might show just a little bit more arrogance than you, but behind my cool demeanour I’m a lot more superior”). Yet, Moore’s sojourn was – for all of what the ex-Saint could bring to Bond – ever so slightly doomed from the start. Roger could never be the ultimate 007. By the time he’d been rolled out as Her Majesty’s Secret Agent, Sean Connery had already usurped that weighty title.
And it started exactly at the moment when he first said: “Bond…James Bond.”
Cocky, like Roger, Sean never was. Connery’s Bond rather brimmed with the dark, brooding, self-assured strength of a man who knew that there was the promise of menace as well, and even violence, if you’d been wise enough to scratch under the calm velvety surface of his cool elegance. Rich molten chocolate the voice was, and not for nothing: it sprang from a furnace, a volcano, which stoked from deep inside Bond’s being.
Here was a guy who didn’t rely on the tricks of the cinematic trade to overcome foes. Nope. He would use some advanced espionage tools, of course. But as an earthy, grounded Bond, Connery would never stoop to invisible cars, for instance. He never had to outgun a society already gorged on real-life gadgets, sci-fi alter-ego’s and anti-matter flights of fancy. His power, basically, originated from within himself. So treat the apparent neutrality of “Bond, James Bond” as innocuous, but at your own peril. It could strike back with the whip of a Walther PPK at any given moment. That then, was the first defining Bond moment, when gentleman Sean announced that his real self perhaps, just perhaps, lurked in deeper shadows.
The second defining Bond moment was the introduction of his car. An Aston Martin it was, but not any old Aston, and not any old DB5, either.
This car, rather, boasted an array of espionage and secret agent weapons that would capture film audiences in its own right. Imagine young laaities seeing Dr No for the first time. They’re bound to talk Ursula Andress emerging from the ocean in a white bikini more than they’ll talk Bond, let alone Chevrolet Bel Air Convertible which, incidentally, became the first car driven by 007 in a Bond movie.
James then gets picked up in a Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost in From Russia with Love and he’s briefly seen in a Bentley Mark IV; 007’s personal transport in Ian Fleming novels was a Bentley 4. Litre and later on a Mark VI, before a Mark II Continental and a Mulsanne Turbo were mentioned, respectively, in Thunderball and later, in John Gardner’s 1984 Bond book, Role of Honour. The movies, on the other hand, do away with Bentleys. Cars come and go. And if those belonging to villains, or those snatched by Bond to escape the enemy, are counted as well, the range making an appearance in Bond movies extends from Alfa Romeo all along the alphabet to Volvo. In GoldenEye, Bond even pursues a GAZ-31029 (only the Russians can name a car as such) with a T-95 tank, through the streets of St Peter.
Personal ownership, however, begins with that brief visual reference of a Bentley in From Russia with Love, after which it runs through a couple of Astons, a Range Rover, a Lotus Esprit S1 and Lotus Esprit Turbo, a BMW Z3, 750iL and Z8 and, briefly in once off appearances, also a Lincoln Continental Convertible, Chevrolet Impala Convertible, Mercedes-Benz W115, Volvo S40 T5 and a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow.
The most famous, though, remain the BMW’s, the Lotus Esprit and the Aston Martin DB5.
The light and powerful aluminium-Z8 was a peach to drive, of course. Not that Pierce Brosnan could and in The World is not Enough the car, equipped with two retractable, side-mounted surface-to-air missile launchers, met its match when a helicopter equipped with tree-cutting saws slashed it in half somewhere near Baku, on the Caspian Sea. Maybe it was prophetic, but the Z8 didn’t last a lot longer in the real world either – production was introduced in 1999 and stopped in 2004.
In Tomorrow Never Dies, Brosnan’s BMW 750iL performed absurd heroics in a parking garage with Bond apparently navigating the car via remote control whilst lying down on his side in the rear footwell. In reality, a technician – lying on his back in a stripped-out rear cabin – steered the car using a TV monitor and an extended steering wheel plus pedals. The scene ends with the Beemer taking a spectacular dive off the seventh floor before crash landing onto an Avis car rental office.
Moore, on the other hand, drove a Lotus Esprit, and not just on the road. In The Spy Who Loved Me, the car (featuring surface-to-air missiles, like the Z8) could be transformed into a submarine dropping depth charges and firing harpoons. This ridiculous notion perfectly complemented Roger’s thoroughly cheesy and camp Bond character, specifically when the Lotus emerged from the ocean, only for Moore to wind down a side-window and toss out a fish.
So, if this creature could enter the car, how come water wouldn’t? Well, the name is Bond, you know. James Bond.
The quintessential 007 car, though, remains an Aston Martin – specifically the very first one, a DB5, which primarily featured in Goldfinger (but also in Thunderball and GoldenEye, with a couple of guest appearances in two or three other Bond movies). It had bulletproof panels, this Aston, plus machine guns, smoke screen capabilities, rotating licence plates, telescoping tyre slashers for cars running next to the Aston, a radar receiver in the side view mirror and, most famously, a passenger ejector seat.
It’s all a bit childish, of course, and almost a bit embarrassing, looking back at the DB5’s array of secret weapons. Yet, at the time it captured the imagination, which is more than could be said of the extravaganza of nonsense dished up in Die Another Day, where Brosnan’s Aston Martin Vanquish has the ability to vanish – in the visual sense. Said Roger Moore afterwards: “I thought it just went too far – and that’s from me, the first Bond in space! Invisible cars and dodgy CGI footage? Please!” Moore’s sci-fi reference was to Moonraker, in which he ventures into outer space to prevent yet another plot by a Bond baddie, in this case Hugo Drax, to replace the world’s population by a master race – not a bad idea, actually. Roger was right, of course, in lambasting Die Another Day. Many Bond movies, in fact, can justifiably be trashed. Yet, it will always survive one more day and one more release – for many reasons, one of them being the cars; another because of the LL Cool J factor.
Ladies, see, just Love Cool James. And in this case it’s not a rapper’s anthem, no. As an alter-ego, men also identify with Bond. That much is pre-ordained in the Universe of Kool.
By Egmont Sippel
Published in Playboy South Africa in June 2012