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Live and let drive

It's a big year for James Bond. With his 23rd film and the 50th birthday of Dr No, 007-mania is bigger than ever, particularly in auction houses. But do you have the cash to buy a Goldfinger Aston Martin DB5? Andy Round talks to the collectors and dealers and finds out why classic Bondis always golden

 

Remember the summer of love in 2010? Pretty much like this year, banks were staring into the abyss, euro zone creaking with debt, austerity snapping at everyone's heels, and then a little sports car appeared at auction. And sold for a staggering £2.92 million (HK$35.5 million).

But it was no ordinary car, it was James Bond's iconic 1964 Aston Martin DB5. Still, the sale symbolised a market that had the villains of economic apocalypse gnashing their metal teeth with frustration. Forget shorting the market, if you wanted to make a fortune sell a piece of iconic film memorabilia, ideally driven by Bond.

The car was sold on behalf of Jerry Lee, a multi-millionaire radio station owner, who bought it from the Aston Martin factory in 1969 "where it was covered in dirt in a corner" for US$12,000. He only drove it once and after shipping it back to the US, parked the car in his "James Bond room" in Pennsylvania for 41 years where it was "great for parties". With rotating number plates, ejector seat, bullet-proof shield, radar navigation and machine guns, this 230km/h piece of automotive art is the ultimate party trick. Today it takes pride of place in the collection of flamboyant American banker Harry Yeaggy who, after the 2010 auction, said: "I thought a European would buy it, but I guess they don't appreciate Bond as much as we do."

One European who would refute that is Peter Nelson who started collecting Bond magazines and cards when he was a boy. By the time he was 21 he had bought the iconic white Bond Lotus from The Spy Who Loved Me.

"I had just qualified as a dentist in Britain, heard the car was for sale and rushed to Manchester to buy it. I must have paid US$20,000 for it at the time," he says. Almost 40 years later, Nelson has amassed one of the biggest Bond collections in the world featuring snowmobiles, boats, helicopters, Aston Martins, a Microjet, a T-55 tank and thousands of props, paraphernalia and costumes.

"I would travel the world to Bond film locations. In the Bahamas I came across the Lotus submarine abandoned in a scrap yard. In Paris I looked up Bond stuntman Rémy Julienne and found him in a little village and asked if he had any old Bond vehicles. In his shed were all these Renaults and Tuk Tuks from Octopussy. I bought the lot."

In 2009 Nelson started a museum in Cumbria, Britain, to showcase his collection. Last year he sold the vehicles for "an undisclosed sum" to Michael Dezer, the owner of Dezer Car Collection in Miami. But he kept a DB5 he'd commissioned from Aston Martin as well as "countless" pieces of memorabilia. What is his collection worth now? "It's worth what a room of Bond enthusiasts at an auction is prepared to pay, they have deep pockets.

"Every time a Bond film is released you see the same enthusiasm in the saleroom," says Katherine Williams, memorabilia specialist at Bonhams, London. "And there is nothing they like more than original Bond items and cars, particularly from Dr No, the crème de la crème of memorabilia."

But these items are becoming increasingly rare. "In the 1960s, props, cars and costumes were not as valued then as now but reused or destroyed. Also impacting on rarity is a change in collector mentality, we are seeing collectors holding rare items longer."

Auctions have seen stratospheric prices. In 2010 Christie's sold the Walther pistol held by Sean Connery for the From Russia With Love poster for US$437,500 and the original artwork for Diamonds Are Forever for US$129,500. In 2001 the auction house sold 300 Bond lots for US$900,000 including the bikini worn by Ursula Andress in Dr No for US$59,755.

"The market for memorabilia is driven by passion. What makes Bond so special is it has stood the test of time, inspires nostalgia," says Christie's director Nicolette Tomkinson. "Through memorabilia these memories live on in tangible objects."

Nelson has not decided what to do with his Bond collection, but whatever happens the memories will remain.

"I've never met Connery, but I've met Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan. I went to see Pierce at his home and he laid out all these rubber Bond guns and knives in the room and said, 'help yourself.' I was like a child."

The 1964 appearance of the Aston Martin DB5 in Goldfinger has to be one of the most famous pieces of film product placement in the world, but it almost didn't happen.

At the time Ken Adam, the film's designer, drove a Jaguar E-Type and thought the sports car would be ideal for Bond. Jaguar didn't and turned down the opportunity.

Even Aston Martin was not keen. Eventually, however, the company's owner David Brown reluctantly sent over a couple of DB5s to Pinewood Studios for a Silver Birch re-spray and a few "interesting modifications" by special effects guru John Stears.

Stears went on to win an Oscar for his work on Thunderball and picked up a second for Star Wars, while Aston Martin enjoyed record sales with 1,021 DB5s racing out of the factory during its two-year production run.

Yeaggy has one of the two original film DB5s but the location of the other remains a mystery. It was reported stolen in 1997 and has never been recovered.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the first 007 adventure Dr No, and the release of the 23rd film in the franchise, the highly anticipated Skyfall. Fans can look forward to a DVD box set of all 22 films by MGM and 20th-Century Fox; and a reissued autobiography by Bond producer Cubby Broccoli. To top it off, all 14 of Ian Fleming's 007 thrillers is being reissued with a new Bond adventure commissioned from author William Boyd in the pipeline.

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