Goldfinger (1964) encapsulates everything we have come to expect from the world’s most famous secret agent. The film critic Roger Ebert wrote in 2005 that “of all the Bonds, Goldfinger is the best, and can stand as a surrogate for the others… [it] contains all the elements of the Bond formula that would work again and again. At 111 minutes, Goldfinger [is one of] the shortest of the James Bond films, and yet it probably contains more durable images than any other title in the series.”
Among those durable images — the beautiful women, whether seduced or suffocated with gold paint; the grandstanding villain with his deadly assassin; Bond’s sardonic quips and narrow escapes — one has become associated with 007 in a way no other film or franchise can match: his use of the latest sports car, tricked out by Q Branch, to foil his foes and save the world.
The 1964 Silver Birch DB5 driven by James Bond for the first time in Goldfinger has become an extension of the character himself and a symbol of so much more than a brand. Within a year of the film’s release, it was described as “the most famous car in the world” and, immortalised as a Corgi model, hungrily possessed in all its gadget-laden glory by millions. Which is why, when Aston Martin announced in August 2018 that it intended to recreate the Goldfinger car in a real life run of 25, complete with a fully functioning suite of gadgets, it caused something of a stir. “How?” was the question on most lips — a reasonable one too, given that Sean Connery’s DB5 boasted machine guns, rotating number plates, smoke canisters, an oil spray, a bullet-proof shield and an ejector seat. Nevertheless, “faithful to the film” was the brief and it’s fair to say Aston Martin intends to deliver.
“EON Productions asked me if I would be interested in being involved with the DB5 project. It took less than a heartbeart to agree wholeheartedly.” So says Chris Corbould, the special effects supervisor responsible for working out how to bring the film car’s more extreme modifications to life on vehicles that, while they may not run on the public road, need to be easily — and safely — operated over and over again, by anyone. “We discussed whether we should update the technology of the gadgets, but felt we should stay true to Goldfinger,” says Corbould who, with nearly 40 years’ experience in the film industry, has worked on every James Bond movie since A View to A Kill and won an Oscar for his work on the sci-fi smash Inception in 2010.
The full list of what will be included on each Goldfinger DB5 when they go into production this year is impressive. The smoke emitter is in, as are the rotating number plates, retractable shield (although not bullet-proof) and radar tracker. Better yet, the cars will also boast simulated versions of the oil slick spray and front-mounted machine guns and, in keeping with the film, all will be controlled from a panel mounted in the central console.
We discussed whether we should update the technology of the gadgets but felt we should stay true to Goldfinger
The cars themselves will be built at Aston Martin Works, the marque’s dedicated heritage and servicing workshop at Newport Pagnell, home of its main production line until 2007. After a 10-year gap, vehicle production re-commenced with the Continuation DB4 GT, also a limited series of 25 cars. The Works team will be the ones to actually build and install the gadgets, but Corbould has developed proofs-of-concept for the smoke and oil slick generators and machine gun simulators that he says deliver an experience that’s as close to the effects seen in the film without endangering life or limb.
The front-mounted machine guns, then, will still emerge from the headlights, but instead of flammable gases shooting a three-inch burst of flame, as he would have done on set, Corbould has used super-bright LEDs combined with realistic movement of the barrels and the sound of guns firing to deliver a realistic simulation. “We tried putting various liquid vapours through it to give us more of a projection and some smoke, but with all of these things, it has got to work and work and work, and we didn’t want to make it so that you had to change a canister every time you operated the gun, or fill up every time,” he says.
Another effect that would have been handled very differently during filming is the rear oil spray. “We probably would’ve had a big nitrogen pressurised tank in the back that could fire back 50ft if we wanted it to,” says Corbould, “but if you think people are going to use this in their garage with other people standing around, we had to tone it down a little bit. Also we didn’t want to get into anything pressurised because then you have to adhere to regulations. So we sourced the highest budget 24-volt pump that we could find and custom-made a jet that comes out of the rear light. It sprays down on to the ground and about eight feet back. So it’s going to wet people’s feet rather than soak them in the face.”
The “oil” being sprayed out is actually water, again for safety and practicality reasons; the pump’s reservoir holds enough to spray for 20 to 30 seconds before it needs re-filling. Corbould acknowledges that owners will be able to fill it with any liquid of their choice — “once they’ve bought the car, that’s up to them” — and not for the first time, we agree that the car is presumably going to be supplied to customers with a fairly hefty disclaimer.
One addition to the car is likely to actually surpass that demonstrated in the film, however. For the smoke generator, again required to avoid pressurised canisters, Corbould and team have commissioned a specially-built smoke machine running from the same 24-volt power supply as the oil pump, which when full will emit clouds of smoke for up to half an hour. These, along with the elements for the guns and oil slicks, will be delivered to Aston Martin Works for incorporation into the car. While actual production has yet to begin, they are some of the first parts to be finalised, as Corbould is now “flat out” on the as-yet unnamed Bond 25.
Visiting the Works plant, faint similarities with Goldfinger’s Q Branch do emerge. Not that there are any exploding dummies knocking about, but in the sense of it being a place where small acts of magic are painstakingly performed by men and women aware that while their work may only ever be seen and appreciated by a few, it deserves their best. And like Q, occasionally they are resigned to working on a car knowing that they may well see it again soon in a worse state of repair.
The oldest purpose-built car factory in Europe, today Aston Martin Works houses 125 employees and 10 apprentices who between them cover every skill and craft needed to build the DB5: panel-work, painting, parts manufacture, interior trim — quite literally, the works. Lest you think it’s all sheet metal and hammers, there is plenty of modern tech involved too — a necessity when much of your time is given over to servicing One-77s and Vanquishes. A popular service involves taking a full digital scan of a car, to serve as a fallback guide for any future repairs. There are cars here from around the world: the Works supports Aston Martin’s regional service centres and takes on really specialised tasks, picking up a Zagato from the Middle East or a Lagonda from the US. In total, it carries out 3,500 services a year, operating 24/6, alongside the DB4GT construction, which consumes 3,500 man-hours per car.
We're still looking at the ejector seat. Obviously, we can't fire somebody out of the roof, but it's a work in progress
This same unit will soon turn its hand to the Goldfinger DB5, producing 28 right-hand drive cars over the course of around a year, combining traditional skills with “sympathetic modifications to ensure the highest level of build quality and reliability”, according to the brand. You can have it in any colour as long as it’s Silver Birch and the original AkzoNobel paints have been accurately recreated as water-based pigments, in keeping with Aston Martin’s zero-emissions commitment for the factory. The body shop will work from the original jigs (frames) used for the DB5, which have been digitally scanned and checked (they were found to be 4mm out at one front corner) before being replicated. Similar improvements are possible on the engine; Aston Martin worked with Siemens to develop the automotive equivalent of a CT-scan, capturing the engine block 1mm at a time, from which long-standing structural issues can be fixed, excess weight identified, and the casting improved. The Goldfinger Continuation cars, like the 1964 original, will use a 3.95-litre straight-six, but no word yet as to whether its power will have increased.
Three will be held back from general sale; one that will be kept by Aston Martin, one for EON and one that will be auctioned for charity. As Aston Martin devotees already know, thanks not only to the recreated gadgets, but also their status as “new-build” cars with none of a modern vehicle’s emissions or safety standards, none of the Continuation DB5s will be legal for road use. Nevertheless, rumour has it that Aston Martin had more than 70 enquiries for the £2.75m +VAT project — and it is said that applications are personally vetted by Dr Andy Palmer.
You may recall the DB5 in Goldfinger was famous for one feature above all others. So what about that ejector seat? At Aston Martin Works, I’m told the car “will have a switch under the gearstick”, but surely they can’t be thinking of adding it for real? I expect Chris Corbould to laugh when I ask, but instead he says: “We’re still looking at the ejector seat. Obviously, we can’t fire somebody out of the roof, but it’s a work in progress.”
GOLDFINGER © 1964 Danjaq, LLC and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. All Rights Reserved.