007 Gets Aston’s First 4x4

Thanksgiving will see the release of the latest James Bond movie Die Another Day. It’s the twentieth in a series that started forty years ago, and it sees the suave British secret agent 007 back in an Aston Martin, the suave British sports car that did so much for the Bond image back in the 1960s.

This time, however, the car has more than just a full complement of weaponry – it also has four-wheel drive.

Purists need not worry, however, for the Aston factory at Newport Pagnell isn’t about to start churning out upmarket SUVs. No, this off-roader is purely designed to help Bond as he carries out the requirements of Her Majesty’s Secret Service. This time, Queen and Country require him to carry out his dashing deeds in the snowy wastes of Iceland, where – would you believe it – an evil genius has established a base from which he is plotting world domination.

Berry, Berry good

James Bond JaguarThe plot calls for Bond (played by Pierce Brosnan) in the Aston to be pursued by a henchman of the evil genius who is driving - and here’s a first for a Bond film, a baddie in a British car – a Jaguar. Bond’s Aston is the mighty V-12-powered Vanquish, while the Jaguar is a supercharged XKR convertible. If you were to choose two cars you would not want to drive at speed across a frozen lake, the 460-horsepower rear-wheel drive Vanquish and the 400-hp rear-wheel drive XKR would probably be at the top of your list.

But Ford had paid a lot of product-placement money to have its luxury cars featured in the movie (latest Bond girl Halle Berry drives a coral Thunderbird), so the film-company technicians had to come up with a solution to the problem of avoiding the chase sequences becoming one long series of power-driven pirouettes.

Money was not really a problem, because the budget for the movie cars was almost $2 million and they had five Astons and five Jaguars to work with. (Aston reps say one Vanquish made it through filming.) The answer to the problem of keeping the cars going in the right direction was simple – it was to convert both to four-wheel drive. Keeping it in the Ford family, the studio specialists stripped both the thoroughbred sports cars of their engines and drivetrains and replaced them with components from Ford’s Explorer SUV. With four-wheel drive to keep them pointing in the right direction and a separate handbrake to enable the stunt drivers to spin when they wanted to, the cars were ready to chase.

Chasing a premiere

And chase they did, across a frozen ice lagoon in Iceland, where temperatures went down to minus 14 degrees and where the ice was a foot thick. The technicians tested the ice by driving their fully laden trucks across it, knowing that losing a laden truck would be less expensive than losing one of the film cars. The ice didn’t break, but for safety reasons the crew didn’t want to risk putting the two four-wheeled stars on the same piece of ice – so you won’t see any door handle to door handle jousting in this particular car chase.

What you will see is plenty of rocket and machine gun action, as the two cars use their hidden armaments on each other. Hidden, that is, except for the Gatling gun mounted on the Jaguar’s trunklid, an accessory that shows the lack of good taste and discretion that marks all Bond’s foes. The weapons, which in addition to the Gatling gun include hood-mounted machine guns on the Aston and rockets behind the grilles of both cars, are not, in fact, operated by the drivers. To enable them to concentrate on their driving, a technician in another, off-camera, car operates all the weapons by radio, using a control-panel contained in a briefcase.

The climax of the automotive action sees the two cars racing through the villain’s ice palace, which was constructed on the largest sound stage in the world, at Shepperton studios near London. The film’s director was so impressed with this set that he insisted that a scene be written into the movie in which the two cars careen through the palace – as it begins to melt.

The result should make Die Another Day one of the winter’s blockbusters – and, over three decades on, create another generation of kids whose dream car is an Aston Martin. The movie premieres in the States on Nov. 22.

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