Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Awesome James Bond Cars 

1976 Lotus Esprit S1

Two years after The Man With The Golden Gun, James Bond fans the world over were yammering for a new film...and it damn well better have an exciting new car. 

Q hadn't given Bond anything cool in a while, he'd never given Roger Moore anything, in fact - and the producers were biting their nails.

But there was a problem.

As stated in my article about the Lagonda, Aston Martin was in serious financial trouble, having just been bailed out by the British government. A new car from them was out of the question.

Another auto manufacturer, though, was ready to fill the void. 

Lotus had two things going for it. A brand new sports car called the Esprit S1 that was about to start production, and a company president that believed strongly in the new car. 

Colin Chapman was smart enough to know, also, that the publicity generated by a Bond film for the new S1 was far greater than any advertising he could pay for. 

So he parked the unreleased Lotus in front of Bond Production Studios, hoping to get the Esprit noticed. 

And get noticed it did.

Principal photography of The Spy Who Loved Me began in Sardinia in 1976. Colin Chapman provided the first two Esprits - both in white - along with mechanics, parts and even planes to move everything around. 

Unwittingly, Chapman also provided what would be the most important Lotus element...Roger Becker.

Roger Becker, the engineering director of Lotus, was ordered to accompany the cars on the location shoots. 

Roger Becker today

Becker, at first, was just supposed to instruct the stunt drivers on the new Esprit. They were new, very light, turbo-charged and far beyond what anyone had ever driven at that time.

The second-unit director in Sardinia was rather disappointed with the principal shots, and ordered Becker to have a go at it. Finally, the Esprit was being driven as it should. 

More than any other factor, Roger Becker was responsible for taking the Esprit to its limits and demonstrating to the world just what the sports car was capable of.

Several Lotus shells were built for the stunts that took place in the water. One was specifically built to be shot from an air cannon, flying off the dock to the water. 

Three Lotus Esprit shells served for shots of the wheels folding in, one more for the fins being deployed, and yet another for the fins maneuvering. 

Interesting, the fins were deployed by divers using push-broom handles - and although an Esprit mock-up did have submarine motors - all of the cars underwater were operated by divers in full gear hidden inside. None of the Esprit shells were pressurized.

Full-size mock-ups were used mainly so the bubbles looked proportionate - but when the Esprit first appears underwater, well, that's a model...with Alka-Seltzer tablets inside!

The water off the beaches of Sardinia were clear, calm and beautiful the day of shooting for when Bond drives from the sea to the beach.

A fiberglass mock-up was towed out of the water to the edge of the sand, then one of Becker's running Lotus Esprit's was substituted. 

The Spy That Loved Me was a huge success, and - as you can imagine - Lotus Esprit sales shot through the roof. A star was born.

Oh, and Roger Becker? His career took off as well. Becker - during his 44-year tenure at Lotus - was directly responsible for the development of the Esprit, Excel, Elan, Elise and the Evora. And it all started on a film set in Sardinia.

Ahh, movie magic....

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