In “Skyfall,” James Bond is back in the iconic 1963-65 silver-birch Aston Martin DB5. I do hope the world is in no big hurry to be saved.
Bond's automotive anachronism can't go unchallenged. The DB5 was a hot piece in its time: the in-line six punched out to 4.0 liters, triple SU carburetors, a German transmission and a superleggera magnesium-alloy body, which is pretty OMG. The coachwork is sculpturally perfect, the stance heroic, the car's presence as cutting as a sword of ice. [More: A clutch of Swedish models for Commander Bond's consideration?]
But by modern standards, the 282-horsepower, five-speed DB5 is markedly leisurely motoring. Actually, the average late-model minivan could run it down. Oh, you wanna go, shorty? Anybody ever tell you look like Deputy Dawg?
It's not like I don't appreciate the DB5, a suave, powerful and exclusive car with few rivals in its era, the Facel Vega Facel II and Ferrari Lusso among them. Sir David Brown should be buried in Westminster.
Still, I marvel at this automotive disarmament of Bond's. Is he in some nutty British car club we didn't know about? You know, Bond? Beefy guy, works for the government, owns two Morgans?
What if, instead of the blazing cyborg superpistol that Bond carries in "Skyfall" (a 9mm Walther PPK/S), we hand him the tiny Walther PP from "Dr. No," an archaic, yapping popgun, something a massage-parlor manager would carry? What if we took away his mobile and made Bond use pay phones?
Is it a magical Aston? That opens up some narrative possibilities. The car is actually older than Daniel Craig (born 1968). Maybe it's the Elder Wand.
My point is, it means something. The value of Bond screen time is measured in millions/sec. It is one of the most closely calculated sums in big media. For Aston to use its allotment of utterly indispensable global messaging to promote a cramped, dead-slow, half-century-old jalopy, a car still reeking of Sean Connery, well, it means something. At a minimum, it means some of the slowest car-chase scenes in recent memory.
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And speaking of canned goods: Why isn't Bond driving the 2014 Aston Martin Vanquish, the latest and most contemptuously awesome of the company's aluminum-chassis, front-V12 grand tourers? (Yes, 2014—the marque aims to get maximum shelf life out of its model years.) I took one of Aston's $300,000 flagships for a drive in the Buckinghamshire countryside a couple of weeks ago, and for that I would like to now apologize. It got kind of loud.
But what an agreeable beast this is. Sleek, roguishly aristocratic and gallingly fast, the Vanquish represents another 100 or so man-years of development applied to the Aston template. Aston's familiar aluminum structure technology—castings and glued/riveted extrusions, mostly—is here draped in aerospace-quality carbon-composite panels (the 2001-07 Vanquish used superformed aluminum body panels).
Carbon body panels are difficult to paint, so Aston developed a perfecting, glasslike silica coating for a prepaint. The finish on my test car could be measured in fathoms.