How the Lotus Esprit became a James Bond car

007 is well known for driving Aston Martins, but in Roger Moore's 'The Spy Who Loved Me' he drove the famous Lotus Esprit. How did that happen?

Aston Martins have appeared in the thrilling James Bond franchise more than any other manufacturer, however, they haven’t always been 007’s car of choice. It was Lotus Esprit that had audiences gasping as it plunged into the ocean and transformed into a submarine — instantly cementing itself as a movie icon. But how did Lotus convince Bond producers to break with tradition?

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For the 10th Bond movie its creators were looking to reinvigorate the character as 007 had been on the big screen for a while now. This was Roger Moore’s third film in his series and the aim was to attract an even larger audience with a fascinating plot, maniacal villains, and even greater stunts. A more exotic Bond car was on the cards and the manufacturers knew it.

The Lotus plot was an ingenious one that wouldn’t see them begging producers to take their new sports car, but the other way around. Don McLaughlin was Lotus’ head of PR and he got word from a friend at Pinewood Studios about the new Bond flick. Don hatched a plan to park a prototype Esprit outside the producers offices without any badging. The story goes that the James Bond people spent their lunch ogling the Giugiaro designed shape, but when Don returned he simply jumped back into the car and drove off. The following day Lotus got the call-up for The Spy Who Loved Me.

Lotus provided a pair of white Esprit S1s for filming on the road and a trio of body shells to be converted into the submarine. The submarine cars were built by Perry Oceanographic .Inc in Florida, USA in complete secrecy. It was powered by four electric motors and required two divers in full scuba gear to operate it.

The action sequences on land in Sardinia proved to be trickier than those under the water. Thanks to the Lotus Esprit have a low centre of gravity and a wide stance, the stunt driver was having a hard time making the car look exciting on screen. It was far too composed, making the challenging roads look easy during Bond’s escape. Roger Becker, the man from Lotus who delivered the car to the Italian island, had watched the frustrations unfold. The camera crew asked Becker to move the car to a new location, which he did with plenty of sideways enthusiasm. When the director witnessed the flamboyant driving that he had been craving, he said: “would you mind doing that again, but this time we’ll have the cameras rolling.” With that shot in the can, Becker was officially made Bond’s stunt driver for the rest of the shoot.

The net result was pure movie magic with the Lotus Esprit triumphantly joining the list of cars that have helped 007 defeat the baddies. It was a huge PR victory for Lotus and a great decision by the Bond producers.

The submarine itself went missing over the years, only to be unexpectedly discovered by a gentleman who bought the mystery contents of an unclaimed storage unit for $100. It was eventually sold an RM London auction in 2013 as the sole surviving submarine Lotus for £616,000, or $805,229. Who bought it? None other than Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

A Lotus Esprit Turbo subsequently appeared in the following film For Your Eyes Only.

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