The James Bond film enterprise turns 50 this year, which is roughly the same age at which Roger Moore showed up on our screens wheezing and waddling like the last pick in a YMCA pickup game. So much has changed in the Bond series over the years–we have seen everything from Underwear-Model James Bond to Woody Allen Jimmy Bond–but one thing has stayed constant: the surpassing coolness of the cars.
To mark the half-century since Bond first zoomed onto the silver screen in a slick little Sunbeam Alpine, the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu in England has opened an exhibit on 50 of the films’ greatest vehicles. That includes the obvious icons (the Aston Martin DB5 in Goldfinger, the amphibian Lotus Esprit in The Spy Who Loved Me), but also more esoteric villain cars. Remember the red Mercury Cougar in On Her Majesty’s Service? Us neither. But it’s pretty hot.
Also featured are various getaway boats, jets, helicopters, motorcycles, autogyros, souped-up parachutes, and even a crocodile-cum-submarine. Noticeably absent, however, is the car that started it all. Apparently, film crews rented the Sunbeam roadster from a woman on the Jamaican island where Dr. No was shot, then kindly returned it. To this day, nobody knows its whereabouts.
Scanning these photos, you start to understand something about Bond’s universal appeal. He couples a classically American relationship to the automobile–cars as customizable expressions of an individual’s identity–with a decidedly European aesthetic, the Old World riding shotgun with the New. To moviegoers, that’s sexy beyond all measure. Cram Roger Moore into a Lotus Esprit, and even he can look cool.