James Bond

Le Mans ’66 is proper petrolhead cinema

IF GOD really is in the details, then I’d suggest that the makers of Le Mans ’66 aren’t exactly fastidious churchgoers.

There’s a scene in the new film – and feel free to skip through to the sports pages if spoiler alerts aren’t your bag – in which the early Ford GT40 is described as being “fresh from England”, but after those three seconds it’s an all-American affair, making no mention of the fact the original racer was based on the Lola Mk6, dreamt up not in Detroit but, erm, sunny Huntingdon.

You don’t even need to be a petrolhead to spot another rather jarring bit of chronology, either. Early on a rather well known publicity shot from Goldfinger of Sean Connery posing next to an Aston Martin DB5 is shown as part of a slide presentation at Ford HQ on what cool cars look like, conveniently forgetting that the very car Bond runs off the road in that film – a Ford Mustang – is unveiled for the first time much, much later on in the story! There’s also plenty on Ford’s team orders at Le Mans, but an equally fascinating plot twist on Ferrari’s part is omitted entirely; F1 star John Surtees was ditched from the driver line-up and quit working for the Italians altogether.

But then I suspect you’re not going to care one jot if you’re planning on a cinema outing to see it, because it’s a two-and-a-bit hours of genuinely enjoyable motoring history, neatly soundtracked by a couple of big block Ford V8s.

What really had me hooked was the amount of metal I wasn’t expecting to see on screen; the opening scene explaining Carroll Shelby’s sole Le Mans win at the helm of an Aston Martin DBR1 was wonderfully shot, but seeing the Porsche 356 and MGA being given the full-on Hollywood treatment in their own action sequences is worth the cinema ticket alone.

Most importantly, it feels believable. I remember watching a so-called race in 2013’s The Man From UNCLE in which single-seaters and Aston DB4s were sharing the same track at Goodwood and staring at the screen in disbelief, but in this film the visit to Le Mans itself is bob on. The track actually looks like the one I camped at last year for the Le Mans Classic, and the scenes inside the main complex on the start/finish straight even showed the never-ending balcony walkways that I’d traipsed while heading to and from its press office. Matt Damon does a dab hand of nailing the late Carroll Shelby’s Texan drawl too, and Batman – sorry, Christian Bale – isn’t half bad as Midlands race ace Ken Miles either.

I know that the Ford vs Ferrari war to win at Le Mans is well documented, but I do reckon that Le Mans ’66 is fast-tracked to a spot on the petrolhead living room shelf next to Rush, Ronin and Bullitt when it eventually comes out on DVD.

If you haven’t seen it already, then I’d thoroughly recommend it. Just make sure you conveniently forget the first half of this week’s column if you do…

Why a V8 Aston Martin deserves to be James Bond’s next co-star

HE OTHER week Prince Charles dropped in to see Daniel Craig to see how work on the new James Bond film is shaping up. Which is probably a good thing, because I’d like to think he also had a quiet word with the film’s producers and asked them nicely to hurry up with making it.

But with the world’s cameras firmly trained on the Prince of Wales’ visit it almost felt as though a crucial new detail from the film, confirmed by the official James Bond Twitter account, seemed weirdly overlooked. I’d been expecting the Aston Martin DB5 – having already shown up in Skyfall and Spectre – to make a comeback, but what I hadn’t been counting on was one of my favourite film cars of all time, the Aston Martin V8 from The Living Daylights to rock up as well.  

But some fan footage taken during the filming confirmed possibly the best bit of movie-related news I’ve heard all year. Until now, the 1987 Aston has spent most of its time sat in museums looking a bit unloved, but look on YouTube and there’s a short clip of sweeping along a rather stunning-looking Norwegian road, being chased by a cameraman in a helicopter. I’m not entirely sure how the film’s makers are going to explain it, seeing as Bond fans will know that a car with the same registration was blown up on a Czechoslovakian hillside fairly early on into The Living Daylights, but I’m glad that it’s back.

More importantly, I’m hoping that Aston’s glad, too. For years the DB-generation Astons have been the real stars of its heritage operations, so much so that it’s started making some of its biggest hits again for (very rich) car nuts. Last year it announced a run of DB5s virtually identical to the one Sean Connery turned into a household name in Goldfinger – complete with primitive 1960s navigation system, fake guns and revolving numberplate – and now it’s resurrected the DB4 GT Zagato, a super-rare 1950s model reclothed in a sleeker, Italian designed skin to aid aerodynamics.

But the Astons I – and a lot of other people of my age, who are now in the position to buy old cars – grew up with were the much later V8s, and I bet I’m not the only thirtysomething for whom Tim Dalton’s much grittier take on saving the world was James Bond. I would love to see Aston Martin giving its V8s – particularly the Vantage, with its colour-coded, blanked-off radiator grille and 400bhp on tap – the same treatment as its DB models of the 1960s, and for a limited run of re-created models to head back to the showrooms. I’ll never be able to afford one, of course, but in a world of plug-in hybrids and me-too crossovers there’s definitely room for a car like it.

Until then I’ll carry on waiting for the next James Bond film – which is already about six months late, no matter how brilliant it is. Perhaps another member of the Royal Family can have a quiet word with them…

Aston Martin Rapide E – licensed to be sensible

SPOILER alert – by which I don’t mean the enormous thing you’ll find sprouting from the back of Honda’s Civic Type R. The next Bond movie is the one where 007 finally settles down for a lifetime of school runs and trips to Sainsbury’s.

Forget any rumours you might have read about the next cinematic outing for Britain’s top MI6 operative being a modern-day retelling of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Or that its working title, Shatterhand, alludes to a SPECTRE mastermind previously only mentioned in the books and thus sets Bond up for a showdown with Blofeld’s right-hand man. Nope, the 25th film in the series is the one where 007, having chatted up Madeleine Swann in the last movie, gets married, takes her on a honeymoon to Prestatyn and they have kids a year or two later. Awwww, Daniel Craig’s take on the orphaned assassin has finally grown up!

I know this not because I’ve got pals at Pinewood Studios, but simply on the choice of car that’ll he be driving in the next film. Elsewhere in the press you might have read about how the new Aston Martin Rapide E is the first time that a 00-agent has been assigned a zero emissions car – nothing wrong with that, of course – but the thing that grabs me that, no matter how cool it looks, it’s a four-door saloon.

A four-door saloon. It’s only the second time in the entire history of the Bond films that’s happened, and on the last occasion it was an Avis-rented BMW that Pierce Brosnan promptly did the right thing to by sending it straight off the top of a multi-storey car park. The fact that 007’s next set of wheels is an Aston Martin, of course, is entirely right. But why does Bond need an extra set of doors? Has he been told that the Ministry of Defence, due to ongoing budget cuts, is insisting on car-sharing with colleagues and that from now on, he’s going to have to give 004, 006 and 009 lifts to their next missions?

I know that Aston Martin is very keen to, er, plug its first all-electric model on the big screen but James Bond is the sort of bloke with no need for a big boot and decent rear legroom – in other words, he needs the newly-launched Vantage, which thanks to its Mercedes-sourced, twin-turbo V8 is not only more sensibly reliable than the Astons of old but looks the part and sounds great too. It has room for our plucky Brit, a femme fatale, some concealed weaponry and nothing else. Now that’s a Bond car.

That’s why I can only assume that Bond’s married-with-children in the next film, because the Rapide’s more B&Q than Q-branch. That, or they’ve picked completely the wrong car.

Good news 007 – even Aston Martin is downsizing these days

Even Aston Martin realises that we live in an age of austerity

M PAUSED reflectively for a moment. “The latest figures from the Minister of Defence have arrived. I’m afraid there are going to have be some changes for the 00-section”.

There was a brief silence as the assembled MI6 bigwigs braced themselves for the bad news. They knew all along that austerity had been a fundamental part of Government policy for years, but they’d never expected it to hit Her Majesty’s flagship network of foreign operatives directly.

“I’m terribly sorry, but if we’re going to meet all these spending targets then agents are just going to have to start flying Easyjet and Ryanair, like everyone else,” M sighed with resignation. “And 007’s certainly going to have to stop ordering all those blasted vodka martinis. Doesn’t he realise that he shouldn’t be ordering all those drinks on expenses?”

Q Branch, for all its years of jetpacks and exploding pens, was right in the firing line. There’d be no laser-equipped watches when the shop up the road from MI6 was selling perfectly good Casios at a tenner a pop. Certainly there wouldn’t be any more jet packs, stealth boats or exploding pens.

But M drew a line when he picked up the Aston Martin brochure. The battle against SPECTRE, the depressed-looking faces in the room were surely about to reason, could just as easily be fought with a Dacia Sandero or Skoda’s new Citigo. But MI6’s top man was having none of it.

“Happily, Aston Martin has realised budgets here are a little tighter than they used to be,” he announced. “The DB11 was beginning to look a little unfeasible, but thanks to the changes they’ve made I think we might just be able to afford it.”

M pointed out that for the past year or so the DB11’s only been available with a twin-turbo 5.2-litre V12, accompanied by a rather hefty starting price of £157,900, something which even those pesky world domineering sorts with their hollowed-out volcanoes and white cats are baulking at these days. But now there’s a new version which comes with a smaller engine that’s kinder to the environment – a 4.0-litre V8, no less. It’s still equipped with two turbochargers and pumps out 503bhp but it’s still cheaper than the full fat DB11 – it’s now £144,900.

Okay, so a 13-grand saving isn’t a lot but it does make DB11 ownership that tiny bit more affordable. It’s also lighter than the V12 car and, Aston insists, better through the bends as a result, which counts for a lot when you’re attempting to outrun the bad guys.

Which means that even in Theresa May’s era of austerity Bond can have a decent company car. Good to see 007 doing his bit to help the nation’s finances…

Lotus – The Movie! Why it won’t happen anytime soon

Lotus makes some of the best handling cars on the market today

IF LOTUS were a bloke he’d have had his life story turned into a Hollywood movie by now – probably with Christian Bale playing the lead role.

It’s a compelling enough tale. A troubled young individual who grew up on a farm in Norfolk ends up hanging out with the world’s F1 stars, James Bond and that bloke from The Prisoner. Then he ends up falling in with a dodgy American entrepreneur and narrowly avoiding jail, losing loads of money in the process – before bouncing back spectacularly by winning Britain’s petrolheads over with his charm and character. But then he gets big ideas of taking on Ferrari, ends up cocking it up again and annoys his accountants.

Lotus has all sorts of baggage attached to it but none of it matters a jot when you’re at the helm of one on an open road. I’ve driven a couple of Hethel’s products over the years and they’ve all – from the 1970s Elan +2 to a brand new Evora S – been pretty much unbeatable when it comes to ride and handling. Even the 1990s Elan, which plenty of pub critics will kid you is a bit rubbish because it’s front-wheel-drive, was years ahead of its time when it came to mid-bend agility.

But the really important thing about Lotus isn’t all those dusty old F1 trophies or the pictures of the (now late) Sir Roger Moore posing next to a white Esprit; it’s all the work its engineers do behind the scenes on ordinary, everyday cars. Vauxhall and Proton are just about the only ones who’ll admit to having Lotus experts work on their cars’ handling but there are plenty of others who use its services; if your car doesn’t corner like a drunken tea trolley then it’s probably down to Lotus know-how.

Which is why I’m glad that a majority stake in Lotus has finally been snapped up by Geely, a Chinese manufacturer. You might not have heard of them but they’ve owned Volvo for the past seven years, and the Swedes seem to be doing rather well out of it.

I’m optimistic that Lotus will be allowed to thrive with a new influx of cash, rather like Jaguar Land Rover has under Indian ownership. For too long it’s depended on the Evora, a model launched back in 2008, and the Elise, which can trace its roots back to the early 1990s. Both are brilliant, but with the right investment Lotus should be able to develop some world class cars.

Starting with a new Elan, hopefully. Maybe the movie script writers should put their pens down for now…