Exhibiting a special Bond: 007 car show at UK motor museum

Matt Majendie sees how a new exhibition of 007 film vehicles shows the passion fans have for the suave spy.

A Ford Mustang Mach 1, right, which featured in the James Bond movie 'Diamonds Are Forever' is seen next to the AMC Hornet, right, which was used in the movie 'The Man with the Golden Gun' are seen on display at the opening of the Bond in Motion 50 vehicles in 50 years exhibition at the National Motor Museum in Beailieu, near Southampton, England Sunday, Jan.15, 2012. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant) *** Local Caption ***  Britain Bond Cars.JPEG-0c655.jpg
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Everyone has their favourite James Bond, don't they? In most debates, the original Sean Connery wins hands down, although younger audiences would no doubt argue for the current swashbuckling 007 incumbent, Daniel Craig.

But it's arguably an even more open playing field when it comes to discussions over the number one vehicle to have graced one of the most successful film franchises of all time. Aston Martin is the car most synonymous with Bond and the DB5 from the 1964 film Goldfinger is potentially the most iconic. Its closest rival, though, would be the Lotus Esprit S1, which was capable of transforming into an underwater car in The Spy Who Loved Me from 1977.

Both cars take centre stage at an exhibition to mark 50 years of 007 films called Bond in Motion at the National Motor Museum in Beaulieu, England.

The exhibition was launched at a star-studded gala last month with a litany of Bond girls, not least of all Britt Ekland, who played Mary Goodnight alongside Connery's Bond successor, Roger Moore, in The Man with the Golden Gun.

Even Ekland admits that Bond's stunning sidekicks played second fiddle in the minds of most cinemagoers to the cars themselves. "For me, the beautiful women are more important but, of course, the men like both," she said. "If they had to choose, I think they'd probably choose the car every time."

Ekland herself had a brush with a Bond car on the big screen after being bundled into the back of an AMC Matador coupé, which turns into a plane that whisks her away to the film villain Francisco Scaramanga's secret island hideaway.

Bond films helped shape both my film-watching youth and my love of cars. It has its faults but my favourite film was Live and Let Die, while my favourite car was the AMC Hornet in The Man with the Golden Gun. Sure, there have been far more iconic cars in the films, but it was the manner in which Bond - or, in fact, British stunt double "Bumps" Willard - performed a famous twisting corkscrew aerial jump with it at a launch speed of 65kph that really captured my imagination. I later found out the stunt was recorded in just a solitary take using eight cameras, and my love for Bond cars and the film franchise was sealed.

But the AMC Hornet would not be most people's pick as the top Bond car. Like most of the visitors to the exhibition, Ralph Montagu - the heir apparent to the Beaulieu barony - was more obsessed with the Goldfinger wheels than any other car from his youth.

"The DB5 is my favourite, but there is a Bond film and car for almost every age group and generation. Hopefully, this show appeals to everyone who was 10, 20 or 30 when the first film Dr No came out [in 1962] to the teens of today watching the latest Bond," he said.

It is the seemingly ageless appeal of the cars and the films that are the secret to the exhibition getting off the ground and already being a success in its early weeks, according to Sarah Wright, one of the team that worked on bringing Bond in Motion to Bealieu.

"The exhibition visitors span every age range, every generation," she explained. "You have the people who watched the very first film that are still interested in it to the younger generation only just getting into Bond."

The exhibition is an anniversary all around. As well as marking 50 years of Bond in film, it is also the 60th anniversary of the Beaulieu estate as an attraction and the 40th anniversary of the motor museum.

"We all wanted to mark the anniversaries and Eon Productions [the company behind the Bond franchise] approached us about it for the first time two years ago," she added. "We already had a long-standing relationship with Bond here from some previous exhibitions so it was the perfect fit and way to mark the anniversaries."

The only exhibition at Beaulieu to have come close to Bond in Motion in terms of popularity in the motor museum's 40-year history is the World of Top Gear that is currently on display, but the team expects Bond to comfortably eclipse that.

Aside from the DB5 and the Lotus, the other vehicles on show to the public - most of which are owned by either Eon or the Ian Fleming Foundation - are wide ranging. They include the Bede Acrostar jet from Octopussy, the BMW 750iL from Tomorrow Never Dies and the weapon-clad surfboard and the small gyrocopter known as Little Nellie from You Only Live Twice.

As for the current favourite among the public at large, Wright is in no doubt. "The DB5 is the most popular, closely followed by the Lotus Esprit S1," she said.

The Esprit has perhaps taken the most circuitous journey of all the cars to this show. Disused and pretty much dumped in the Bahamas after filming was finished, it was found, having been painted red and decorated in Christmas tree lights, by the Ian Fleming Foundation. It was duly painstakingly restored to its former filmmaking glory.

Later this year, the latest Bond vehicles will take centre stage in the 23rd and latest instalment of the film franchise, Skyfall, which has a release date of October 26. Audiences will no doubt flock in to cinemas the world over, if the interest in Bond in Motion is anything to go by.

"There's been a lot of global interest," added Wright. "So far, we've already had film crews over here from Germany, Russia and Switzerland. It's impressive to see the reach of Bond."

The Bond in Motion exhibition runs at the National Motor Museum in Beaulieu until December.