There is one movie from the modern era that features the following: Roger Moore, Barbara Bach, helicopters, sexy helicopter pilots, a Lotus Esprit, a Lotus Esprit Submarine, funky disco music, and a man with metal teeth. That movie is The Spy Who Loved Me, and it is cinema at its finest.
I've written before about my love for The Spy Who Loved Me and its great car chase, but it also wins as the best car centric movie of the Bond franchise, and that's because of what happened behind the scenes.
Since the movie was filmed in 1977, the Esprit had just hit the streets. Lotus, which is a small plucky little company that is somehow still in business even though it is almost always on the brink of going under, didn't have a large marketing budget then.
But they had a plan, led by Lotus' PR man Don McLauchlan.
Lotus knew that a new Bond movie was being filmed. They also knew that the best way to get exposure for their new car was to have it featured in the film. So they hatched a devious plan. Lotus taped over all the badges on the car, took it to the offices of the Albert R. Broccoli's (the producer of the film) company, and just parked it outside. Since it was so new, the execs would come outside and stare at it, wondering what in all Octopussy the car was.
Execs would walk by the car, but they had no idea what it was. That drummed up interest. And instead of talking to them about, the Lotus execs would just drive off with the car and not answer any questions. You'd think that might be stupid, but it worked. Lotus' smart move as well as the Bond producers' desire to be on the cutting edge of new cars in the world made the Esprit the new Bond car.
The people behind Bond are car people. They always have been. And when they needed a car that was the epitome of modern handling and performance, they cast the only choice at the time.
The original stunt driver wasn't good enough to get the most out of the S1 Esprit, which is still one of my favorite cars of all time. The problem was that he couldn't get it to slide or drift because it had too much grip. That had to give Colin Chapman such an ego and engineering boner. His car was too capable for James Bond.
Lotus' chassis guru Roger Becker was on the set of the film to help prepare the cars, and when he heard they were having trouble getting it to slide, he hopped in and showed them how a Lotus really worked. Some of my favorite parts of the chase just involve Becker doing donuts around pylons in the Sardegnan town just to get away from the super sexy helicopter pilot.
And, because it hasn't really come up, we need to address the fact that the Esprit becomes a goddamn submarine. It dives off a dock and goes UNDERWATER.
I don't think you're understanding me. This car can go underwater and it can kill underwater. Please think about that for three straight days and then come back to me without a grin on your face.
Beyond the Esprit, there is more clever car casting. Jaws has a regular Ford Taunus, which is the typical 'goon squad' sedan. That and big Ford sedans are kind of awesome. The crux of the entire film is transportation, which is why it instantly became my favorite Bond movie the moment I saw it.
Carl Stromberg, the maniacal madman who wants us all to live under the sea for some reason, has a ship that can swallow submarines whole and has a crew that drives around Mini Mokes. He has an impossibly sexy helicopter pilot. The final fight between Bond and Jaws takes place on a train. It has literally every mode of transport, and none of them are used boringly.
I can't think of another movie that combines an amazing backstory of how the star car was cast along with such a huge transportation element involved in every other facet of the movie. Sure, it isn't Bullitt and a 14 minute car chase, but the rest of Bullitt is boring. Every part of The Spy Who Loved Me is cinematic magic.
Photo Credits: Screenshots via imcdb.org