The Chobham test track that forms part of the Longcross film studio complex in the English county of Surrey always makes me a bit nervous. The surface is a patchwork in places, there’s an alarming “level crossing” about halfway round and, in the event that you overdo it and stray from the course, the lack of barriers means there’s a good chance of ending up in the woods.
But none of that was on my mind when I recently found myself being chauffeured down the long straight at a relatively gentle 70mph in the passenger seat of an Aston Martin. Until, that is, the driver yanked on the handbrake without so much as a by-your-leave and sent us into a smoke-infused, tyre-screaming, rubber-shredding spin.
Such antics are all in a day’s work for the chauffeur in question – triple British rally champion Mark Higgins, who on this occasion was wearing his other hat as the official James Bond stunt driver. Higgins, 44, played the part of Daniel Craig’s behind-the-wheel double in both Quantum of Solace and Skyfall, before returning to the role for the latest Bond movie, Spectre, which is set for release in the UK later this month.
Bond has, of course, careened from one life-threatening situation to another in a variety of car marques throughout the 53-year history of the movie franchise. Alfa Romeos, a submersible Lotus Esprit, a Russian Vaz off-roader, a high-performance Ford Mondeo and even a humble 2CV have all ended up the worse for wear as a result of his reckless driving.
But everyone knows that Bond is really an Aston man, and probably has been since Ian Fleming first gave him the opportunity to drive one in the 1959 007 novel Goldfinger. “The car was from the pool,” wrote Fleming in chapter seven. “Bond had been offered the Aston Martin or the Jaguar 3.4. He had taken the DBIII. Either of the cars would have suited his cover – a well-to-do, rather adventurous young man with a taste for the good, the fast things of life. But the DBIII had the advantage of an up-to-date triptyque, an inconspicuous colour – battleship grey – and certain extras which might or might not come in handy…”
Yet it wasn’t until the “silver birch” DB5 appeared in Goldfinger (pictured top left) and Thunderball that the Aston Martin marque became truly synonymous with 007, leading to appearances in subsequent releases by the DBS, the V8 Vantage, the Vanquish and DBS V12.
Now Spectre sees the partnership taken to a whole different level because, for the first time, Aston Martin has created a completely new car specifically for use in the film. Called the DB10 (pictured above), it has an almost shark-like look brought about by an entirely bespoke body design; lights, door mirrors and a radiator grille that are all unique; and a one-off interior featuring futuristic instruments and air vents, specially upholstered seats – and some intriguing leather accessories, including an attaché case that demounts from the dashboard.
Aston aficionados will be able to tell from the photographs, however, that beneath the svelte new skin lie the underpinnings of the V8 Vantage, the entry-level model in the production range that was chosen as the basis for the DB10 for principally practical reasons. “The V8 Vantage is the smallest and lightest car in the line-up, which makes it ideal for stunt work,” explains Higgins. “The manual gearbox also affords a greater degree of control than a semi-automatic transmission and, although the engine is not as powerful as Aston’s 12-cylinder units, it still gives the car a top speed approaching 190mph.”
A total of 10 DB10s were built for Spectre, some of which were used for static and publicity work, while two were reserved specifically for the action sequences. Dubbed simply Stunt Car One and Stunt Car Two, the latter was the most used and became Higgins’ favourite. “It was fitted with a roll cage specially designed so as not to be visible from outside, a rally-type handbrake mechanism for carrying out controlled slides and, because Bond’s car has a special instrument panel, the standard V8 Vantage speedometer, rev counter and so on were repositioned in the passenger footwell. They had to be retained, because the unit contains a lot of essential electronic components,” he says.
The stripped-out interior of Stunt Car Two also contains various pieces of equipment (“classified”, at the time of my encounter), which suggests that the sort of gadgetry fitted to the first Bond-movie Aston in Goldfinger will very likely make a suitably dramatic appearance in Spectre. Flames will play a part and it was intriguing to discover that the top of the DB10’s gearshift lever flips open. Bond aficionados will be able to guess why.
“What really impressed me about the car is the fact that it never gave us any problems,” says Higgins. “If a stunt vehicle breaks down, it can throw the whole filming schedule and become very expensive. But the DB10 proved faultless, despite being put through some very demanding driving routines. Many of the stunts, for example, took place in Rome, where we were hammering over cobbled streets and across the Ponte Sisto bridge at very high speeds – we were even given permission to perform a power slide outside the Vatican.” Holy smoke to that!
Although the DB10 is not scheduled for production, some key elements of its design will probably be incorporated into forthcoming, road-ready Astons, and it will actually be possible to buy a genuine Spectre car because next year one of the 10 will be offered at auction, with the proceeds of the sale going to charity.
But if the idea of owning a car that has been mercilessly thrashed through the streets of Rome, shot at and used to decapitate another vehicle’s roof puts you off bidding, fear not. The DB10 destined for the block will be one of the unmolested show cars, and it won’t be fitted with rocket launchers or an ejection seat.
Although there’s nothing to stop you from employing your own personal “Q” to add them…