Sean Connery Remembered: James Bond and His Splendid Motorcars

Sean Connery Remembered: James Bond and His Splendid Motorcars

Fifteen minutes to nine:

The Red Phone in Bond’s flat gives its loud, dis­tinc­tive jan­gle. It’s the Chief of Staff. “At once, please, James. Spe­cial from ‘M.’ Some­thing for every­one. Crash dive and ultra hush. If you’ve got any dates for the next few weeks, bet­ter can­cel them. You’ll be off tonight.”

The archetypal, irreplaceable 007

Sean Con­nery, the orig­i­nal James Bond, has died at 90 at his home in Nas­sau. “He’s one of the few actors on the plan­et I’m sor­ry to see go,” a friend writes. “He was great man and dig­ni­fied, and stayed that way his whole life.” His death prompt­ed many trib­utes, among which I liked this one, from Diane Calabrese:
“[He was] far and away the best Bond, even though I love Roger Moore and Pierce Bros­nan in oth­er roles, though George Sanders was the best Saint). Con­nery was unabashed­ly mas­cu­line. When men man-up, they lead the way. They mod­el courage. They say there is a way out.”

Bahamian neighbo(u)r

Div­ing the Thun­der­ball Grot­to, where Bond was fished out by a USCG heli­copter in “Thun­der­ball,” 1965. (Bar­bara Lang­worth photo)

Sean Con­nery was a Scot­tish Nation­al Par­ty sep­a­ratist and a bit of an eccen­tric; and also, I am assured, a good guy. He lived in gat­ed, ultra-posh Lyford Cay in New Prov­i­dence, only fifty miles from us on Eleuthera. He was intense­ly private—hard on vis­i­tors, who were always try­ing to see him. Appro­pri­ate­ly, he chose to live where he filmed so many escapades—romancing lovelies while fight­ing sharks, frog­men, taran­tu­las, bar­racu­da, octopi, gor­geous spies and implaca­ble villains.

A Cana­di­an neigh­bor in the Bahamas tells me about meet­ing our local celebrity:

He used to go to this lit­tle bistro out­side of Lyford Cay. The restau­rant belonged to the sis­ter of a good friend. We would go there when­ev­er we were in Nas­sau. One night my friend I and had just returned from a north­ern fish­ing trip. We brought back salmon, some of which was fea­tured on the menu. Seat­ed a cou­ple of tables over were Sean Con­nery and his wife Miche­line, feast­ing on our fish.

In Thun­der­ball Grot­to, Bond met Mr. Sergeant Major. (Bar­bara Lang­worth photo)

The wait­ress, my friend’s niece, ges­tured toward us, telling Sean we were the ones who’d actu­al­ly caught the salmon. As he was leav­ing he stopped at our table and thanked us.

Anoth­er friend who was at the table, but not on the fish­ing trip, shook hands with Mr. Con­nery and said, “You’re wel­come.” We of course gave our friend action for hav­ing tak­en cred­it for some­thing he had no part of. He said he didn’t care what we thought—it was one of the high­lights of his life. He tells the sto­ry of shak­ing Sean Connery’s hand quite often.

London threesome

Sean Con­nery as Marko Ramius, Com­mand­ing Offi­cer of the sub­ma­rine “Red Octo­ber,” 1990. (Wiki­me­dia Commons)

Here is anoth­er snip­pet that would oth­er­wise be lost to mem­o­ry. My friend Gar­ry Clark, our man­ag­er on a dozen Churchill tours, runs a fleet of lim­ou­sines and pri­vate cars in Lon­don. In 1989 he drove for the cast of the third Indi­ana Jones movie. Once, Sean Con­nery, Har­ri­son Ford and screen­writer George Lucas were out for a stag night on the town. Behind the wheel, Gar­ry was in stitch­es the entire ride. “Each of them was tak­ing turns, telling the oth­er two how far past it they were.”

These are sto­ries the for­tu­nate among us hear along the way. About Sean Con­nery they must be legion. He was I think a bril­liant actor. (Bond, yes—but don’t miss The Hunt for Red Octo­ber, and The Rock.) He was always him­self, nev­er join­ing any fash­ion­able sub-set, liv­ing out of the lime­light. He got along as well with pres­i­dents as he did ordi­nary Bahami­ans and Cana­di­an fish­er­men. A grand life. No regrets.

Bond girls? Sure, but what about Bond cars?

Every car nut grow­ing up in that era was struck by the great cars in Ian Flem­ing‘s thrillers. Sean Con­nery drove them with verve and assur­ance. Each of us con­jured up the sen­sa­tion of being pressed against the seat­back under the urge of the car’s ter­rif­ic power.

Ear­ly on there was Bond’s super­charged 1930 Bent­ley 4 1/2-liter coupe. Arch-vil­lain Sir Hugo Drax ambushed and totaled it on the Dover Road in Moon­rak­er (1955). Drax him­self drove a Mer­cedes-Benz 300S cabri­o­let. “Bond had once dab­bled on the fringe of the rac­ing world,” Ian Flem­ing writes. “Lost in mem­o­ries, he heard again the harsh scream of Carac­ci­o­la‘s great white beast of a car as it howled past the grand­stands at Le Mans.” Or the huge sil­ver grand prix Mercs of Lang, Sea­man and von Brau­chitsch, “drift­ing the fast sweep­ing bends of Tripoli at 190, or scream­ing along the tree-lined straight at Bern with the Auto Unions on their tails.”

“He disagreed with something that ate him”

Bond’s friend, CIA agent Felix Leit­er, drove a Cadil­lac-pow­ered Studil­lac in Dia­monds are For­ev­er (1955). Leit­er let it out on the Tacon­ic State Park­way, doing 80 in sec­ond. Then his “hook” slammed the col­umn shift into high on the way to 100. (Leiter’s “hook” had replaced his right hand, eat­en by a shark in Live and Let Die, 1954, Flem­ing wrote: “He dis­agreed with some­thing that ate him.”) The Studil­lac didn’t impress Bond. “This sort of hotrod job’s all right for kids who can’t afford a real car,” he told Leiter.

Bond’s lethal Aston Mar­tin DB5, one of two built for “Goldfin­ger,” but only one car­ried the secret weapons. (Michael Schäfer, chiltern­green, Wiki­me­dia Commons)

Most mem­o­rable of all was Bond’s Aston Mar­tin DB5 (DB3 in the orig­i­nal text of Goldfin­ger (1957). Hol­ly­wood immor­tal­ized it with trick machine guns, rotat­ing num­ber plates, ejec­tion seat, water- and oil-sprayers, a bul­let-proof deck shield, and knock-off hubs which extend­ed to rip the guts out of oppo­si­tion vehicles.

“The Locomotive”

Nev­er seen in the films was Bond’s Bent­ley Con­ti­nen­tal S2, which he called “The Loco­mo­tive.” It appeared in the nov­el Thun­der­ball (1961). Flem­ing called it “the most self­ish car in Eng­land….. Some rich idiot had mar­ried [it] to a tele­graph pole on the Great West Road.” Bond bought the wreck, straight­ened the chas­sis and fit­ted a new engine.

Next he had Mulliners fit a cus­tom body: “A trim, rather square con­vert­ible with only two armed buck­et seats in black leather. The rest was all knife-edged, rather ugly, trunk.” [Not “boot”?] The Bent­ley was bat­tle­ship grey, “paint­ed in rough, not gloss…. She went like a bird and a bomb and Bond loved her more than all the women at present in his life rolled, if that were fea­si­ble, together.”

I was strick­en by The Loco­mo­tive, envi­sion­ing this incon­gru­ous Bent­ley head­ing to “work.” That was in the mys­te­ri­ous, unmarked build­ing on Regent’s Park, “Uni­ver­sal Exports,” cov­er for Her Majesty’s Secret Ser­vice. Ian Flem­ing wrote:

Bond en route. (Illus­tra­tion by Tom Rivel)

The twin exhausts—Bond had demand­ed two-inch pipes—he hadn’t liked the old soft flut­ter of the marque—growled soft­ly as the long grey nose, topped by a big octag­o­nal sil­ver bolt instead of the winged B, swerved out of the lit­tle Chelsea square and into King’s Road. It was 9 o’clock, too ear­ly for the bad traf­fic, and Bond pushed the car fast up Sloan Street and into the park. It would also be too ear­ly for the traf­fic police, so he did some fan­cy dri­ving that brought him to Mar­ble Arch in three min­utes flat. Then there came the slow round-the-hous­es into Bak­er Street and so into Regent’s Park. With­in ten min­utes of get­ting the Hur­ry call, he was going up in the lift of the big square build­ing to the eighth and top floor….

Further reading

Exu­ma, Jew­els in the Sea: Div­ing the Thun­der­ball Grot­to, 2013.

3 thoughts on “Sean Connery Remembered: James Bond and His Splendid Motorcars

  1. I have always thought it a shame that Bond films were pro­duced over-con­tem­po­rary if not futur­is­tic. The 1950s and ear­ly 60s were a gold­en age of west­ern cul­ture and civ­i­liza­tion, cap­tured by Flem­ing in his books, but com­plete­ly lost in cin­e­ma. The only excep­tion was per­haps, From Rus­sia With Love. This “con­tem­po­riza­tion” was per­haps best expressed in auto­mo­biles, which large­ly fac­tored out Bond’s per­son­al tastes and habits, as well as Fleming’s.

  2. Love­ly arti­cle about a very great man, and a pret­ty good actor too. Many many years ago I was at prep school and a con­tem­po­rary was Max Aitken, grand­son of “The Beaver.” We used to love send­ing away for what we would today call free­bies as adver­tised in the papers. One year an oil com­pa­ny were giv­ing out posters of how their oil was per­fect for par­tic­u­lar cars. Max’s father drove an Aston Mar­tin DB5, and so Max sent off for a poster of one. He got the rather snot­ty response that since hard­ly any­body drove them, there was no poster!

  3. I shall miss my fel­low Scot. In one of his film roles he gave good advice that has always stayed with me: “Let’s not all play sil­ly bug­gers.” Words to live by.

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