London - Few Bond films in recent years have captured the imagination of cinemagoers like Skyfall seems to have. Mr Bond has never looked so good.
The same can’t be said of the Aston Martin DB5 I’m looking at. The cars occasionally come off worse in 007’s tussles with the criminal underworld and this particular DB5, a 2008, 5.9 litre stunt model, had the toughest of times after Daniel Craig put foot to floor in the opening chase scene of Quantum of Solace.
The splintered windscreen, missing door and white-hot scratches look all the more dramatic as the car sits next to a pristine version, gleaming and curvaceous in all the right places.
Both are exhibits at the Bond in Motion exhibition at The National Motor Museum in Beaulieu, a collection of 50 cars that have appeared during the 50 years Bond has been in our lives.
With the release of Skyfall, the museum is bracing for a busy time as visitors catch the tail-end of the exhibition before it closes early next year.
“We’ve already seen an increase of about 50 000 extra visitors so far this year,” Margaret Rowles of the Hampshire museum tells me.
“It’s normally a quiet period for us after the summer, but this year we haven’t seen a drop-off in visitor figures. And with the release of the film we’re expecting a very busy half-term.”
For the past 11 years, Beaulieu has had a smaller Bond exhibition on display. When the decision was made to bring a celebratory collection together for the 50th anniversary of the franchise, it wasn’t hard to put together.
“We had good relationships with the cars’ owners – many of them belong to Eon Productions [which produces the Bond films] and The Ian Fleming Foundation,” says Rowles. “It was just about making space for them.”
The result is a memory-stoking tribute to 007’s adventures over the years, with everything from gloriously classic cars to Bond’s more bespoke methods of getting around on display.
The 1937 Rolls-Royce Phantom III that Goldfinger used in the 1962 film of that name is here, as is the yellow gyroplane, “Little Nellie”, used in aerial combat in You Only Live Twice. You’ll also find the Bell-Textron Jet Pack showcased by Q in Die Another Day.
There is plenty to purr over from Skyfall, too. Two Honda CRF250R motorcycles used in the opening sequence – Craig is seen hurtling on a knife-edge rooftop towards The Blue Mosque in Istanbul – are already here, as is a Land Rover Defender 110, a left-hand-drive double cab pick-up also in the first scenes.
Now the DB5 that Craig used will also take pride of place.
“We’ve had people come from all over the world to visit Bond in Motion,” says Rowles. “We had one gentleman who flew over from Germany just for the day.”
Alongside the testosterone-filled supercars are Q’s most creative inventions: “Wet Nellie”, the amphibious Lotus from The Spy Who Loved Me, the crocodile minisub that Bond used to infiltrate Octopussy’s floating palace and the 1971 pale green Bath-O-Sub, a one-seat submarine used in Diamonds are Forever.
There is wit on the walls, too, with memorable quotes from the film pasted on. “I hope we didn’t frighten the fish”, says one, reminding visitors of the dry line uttered by Sean Connery following the frenetic underwater battle that took place in Thunderball.
For certified petrolheads, the main museum is sweet shop territory with every car in here a dream machine, from the rare 1800 Grenville steam carriage to the 2010 McLaren Mercedes Formula One car that has been polished to within an inch of its life and perfectly lit to show off every gleaming curve.
Beaulieu’s treasure chest of vehicles is a scintillating social history lesson. There are wheels that were among the first to turn, and turned only for those with extreme privilege. There are huge, hulking beauties that were borne of the American dream.
Beaulieu’s enduring popularity is down to one man, the namesake of the 2 800 hectare estate. Lord Montagu of Beaulieu decided to throw open the doors on his private car collection in 1952.
A display of vintage cars in the front hall of his home, Palace House, had been originally intended as a tribute to his late father, but quickly required a separate building.
In 1972, the ever-growing exhibition became officially known as The National Motor Museum.
Lord Montagu has stated that his intention is simply to ensure “that the story of Britain’s motoring heritage should be appreciated by the widest possible audience”. It’s an ethos he has more than managed to fulfil: last year, 350 000 people pushed through the turnstiles.
A hook-up with Top Gear has proved hugely popular with the offbeat creations that have come from the show permanently on display. - Daily Mail