007's Lotus Esprit Submarine Car On The Auction Block
Among James Bond's many gadgets, his fabulous cars are remembered with the most fondness. Fans still go back and forth whether the best is his classic Aston Martin DB5 or the Lotus Esprit from 1977's The Spy Who Loved Me. The Esprit's radical look was one of the first angular "folded paper" designs from Giorgetto Giugiaro (who would go on to design the DeLorean DMC-12). In James Bond's world, Q Branch added a few options to the car not yet available from most Lotus dealers. 007's car transforms into a cozy two person submarine that fires sea-to-air missiles. Natch.
The prop submarine car is going on the auction block this September. To create the effect of the car converting into a mini sub, the film's producers used several full sized props (not miniatures!) at various stages of the transformation. The vehicle on auction is the fully functional mini submarine nicknamed "Wet Nellie" that was used in all of the underwater scenes showing the vehicle in operation. Surprisingly the vehicle was found a few years ago as part of a blind auction to buy the contents of a New York storage locker. Imagine the new owner's surprise when they pulled back the tarp and found out they'd bought an important part of Bond movie history.
It's difficult to predict what a famous prop car might go for on the auction block. Bond's Aston Martin DB5 used in Goldfinger and Thunderball got 4.3 million dollars at auction just a few years ago. The Lotus isn't quite the icon of the film series that the DB5 is, but I still think they'll do okay auctioning the world's most famous functional submarine car. After all, this submersible Lotus was expensive to start with. Perry Oceanographic in Florida made the Lotus seaworthy at a cost if $100,000 - about a half million in today's money.
So if you're a well-heeled Bond fan, you can find out first hand which is the best Bond car - though moisture may be a problem. This submersible prop isn't in fact watertight, nor does it feature much of an interior. The driver was a retired US Navy SEAL named Don Griffin who had to have full scuba gear on while operating the vehicle. Yes, you'll be cruising the coolest (non) wheels in the ocean, but it's not going back up on land like in the movie. Don't expect to make any points with the bikini ladies when you roll up on the beach and hand a kid a fish.
There is a funny bit of an emotional hiccup in the movie. Right as the car is about to plunge into the water, Roger Moore douchequips "Can you swim?" as the lovely Russian agent played by Barbara Bach panics. Underwater the spy-ette continues to worry, until a few scenes later she is completely laid back and admits to having stolen the plans for the sub two years before. Clearly being a sexy cold-war era Russian secret agent is a real emotional roller coaster.