Ben Strong is a busy man. A 14-year veteran of Aston Martin, Strong stepped into the role of Senior Programme Manager at Q Advanced Operations — the Aston Martin division responsible for creating limited-edition cars — just two and a half years ago. In that time, the importance and prominence of Q by Aston Martin has increased greatly, thanks to its role in creating unique vehicles, Continuation models and high-profile collaborations — not to mention the special editions created by Q to honour events, partnerships and Aston Martin’s heritage.
2020 is set to be a busy year, but 2019 brought Strong and the Aston Martin team a particularly special project that also kept them gainfully employed. In December 2018, Chris Corbould, the Special Effects and Action Vehicles supervisor on upcoming James Bond film No Time To Die, held his first technical meeting with Aston Martin, in which Strong and his team were asked to recreate eight iconic DB5s. It was a truly special project for all concerned. “It was my first Bond project for Aston Martin,” Strong explains. “Any time you get the chance to make an Aston Martin for a James Bond film, you jump at it — especially when it involves the DB5, the most famous car in the world.”
No Time To Die’s automotive requirements were very specific and started with a series of meetings with special effects supervisors Corbould and Neil Layton, both of whom have worked on the Bond series for many years. “They came to talk us through what cars they wanted and what they were required to do in the script,”
says Strong. “We discussed how they’d be used and where they would be driven.”
For a car like the DB5, the demands of a modern action film exceed the performance and engineering capabilities of the original cars, let alone taking their value into account. “There was also the question of the remotely-operated ‘pod’ cars [which allow stunt drivers to control the car while sitting on the roof, so the actors can be filmed inside the car],” Strong explains. “We realised that an original DB5 wouldn’t
be able to support the pod structure and stunt driver.”
What was non-negotiable, however, was the DB5’s visual character. “We took an original Bond DB5 — owned by EON — and scanned it to create a virtual model. We then used that to design a spaceframe, chassis and suspension using contemporary components beneath carbon fibre body panels. These are completely modular, so they can be taken off and replaced on set.” As a result, the film cars were very distinct from the Continuation model DB5s being crafted at Newport Pagnell using the same processes and replica components as their 1960s originals.
In total, eight DB5s were built for No Time To Die: two pod cars and six stunt cars. Apart from auto boxes in the pod cars, the eight “new” DB5s shared a common drivetrain. In addition, two “hero” cars — original DB5s — were used for close-up work. “On a personal level, the Bond project was a very special opportunity. The product we’ve put in the film is incredible. It was so rewarding to work on,” says Strong.
Film timelines are notoriously tight, but despite having a Bond film on the go, Advanced Operations couldn’t let other projects slip. “We had to rent a bespoke facility for the Bond cars so we had the space and privacy to get on with them,” Strong says.
Those “other things” include the V12 Speedster (see p32), announced at the start of the year, as well as Aston Martin’s boldest ever collaboration with Zagato. To celebrate the Italian styling house’s centenary, Aston Martin is producing 19 DBZ Centenary Collection pairs, consisting of the DB4 GT Zagato Continuation and the DBS GT Zagato, the latter to be built by Advanced Operations. “Our challenges this year also include Valkyrie and DBX, both of which have a lot of Q content,” he notes. Also underway are a limited-series Vantage inspired by the Aston Martin V8 Vantage DBS Superleggera edition using the same spec seen in No Time To Die.
Q has always been at the cutting edge of contemporary design. “The luxury of Aston Martin is that we’ve got such a varied history, as well as the ability to put a modern twist on things. It’s why Q works so well with the design studio as we don’t have the constraints of mainstream production,” says Strong.
On top of all this, there is the Aston Martin DBX. “It gives us another platform and customer base to explore,” says Strong. A new era of Q is about to begin.