The Aston Martin DB5 driven by Sean Connery in “Goldfinger” — modified with weaponry suitable for use by James Bond — is thought by many to be the most famous car in the world. It has also been one of the most amazing automotive mysteries of all time.

The Bond DB5 was last owned by Anthony V. Pugliese III, an American real-estate developer and pop-culture collector. In addition to this famous Aston Martin, Pugliese has owned the gun that Jack Ruby used to assassinate Lee Harvey Oswald, the witch’s hat worn by Margaret Hamilton in “The Wizard of Oz,” Christopher Reeve’s Superman costumes, and Harrison Ford’s bullwhip from “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

The story goes that the DB5 was stored in a Boca Raton Airport hangar when it disappeared during the night of June 18, 1997, never to be seen again. Thieves broke into the hangar by cutting a padlock and slicing the hangar door, then dragged the car out and into a waiting vehicle.

The Bond DB5 was insured, and Pugliese’s insurer paid $4.2 million on the claim. That was a strong return on his investment. He had purchased the Aston at a 1986 Sotheby’s auction in New York for $275,000. But those numbers may be pittances, as speculation today is that the Bond DB5 could be worth as much as $25 million.

Stories abound

The unsolved heist prompted a variety of stories about what actually happened. The most interesting “expert” theory is that the thieves loaded the DB5 onto a waiting cargo plane. However, after they had taken off (and presumably well on their way to a clean getaway), they panicked about what they had done and shoved the car off the plane and into the ocean near the Florida Keys, hoping it would never be discovered.

Other speculation accused Pugliese of secreting the Bond DB5 away to a warehouse he owned in Newark, NJ, in order to perpetrate an insurance scam. Pugliese, of course, denies such an allegation. He is said to have claimed that the DB5 has instead been in the possession of a wealthy collector, who displays it in a private room on their estate “for their own personal titillation.”

Recent discovery

Last year, Christopher Marinello, CEO and founder of Art Recovery International, went public with the news that his team had located the Bond DB5. 

Or maybe, sort of. 

He reported that an unnamed informant had seen the car in a private setting and verified its identity. Marinello declined to disclose the actual location, but states that Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain are areas of particular interest.

Art Recovery International is a U.K.-based operation that specializes in tracking down stolen property. Marinello was a New York litigator for 35 years and became proficient in negotiating complex disputes between collectors, dealers, museums and insurance companies. He has been involved in several well-known cases on behalf of foreign governments and heirs of Holocaust victims to recover stolen artwork and cultural property, including the recovery of Matisse’s “Femme Assise” from the infamous Gurlitt hoard and regaining several Nazi-looted artworks held in museums and private collections for the heirs of Parisian art dealer Paul Rosenberg. Marinello founded Art Recovery International in 2013.

Marinello told “Legal Files” that he was retained by the insurer in 2007 to recover the Bond DB5. The insurer has also offered the public a reward of $100,000 for information that leads to the recovery of the car.

Informant breaks case

Marinello explained that an informant contacted him after he had seen the car. The informant had become aware of the car as a result of publicity surrounding it and provided information about the Aston that was likely available only from actually seeing the car. If it really is the Bond DB5, Marinello is hopeful that the possessor will come forward voluntarily and make a deal on the car. 

“I’ve sued people to recover stolen artworks, and they often complain, ‘Why did you sue me and make a public spectacle of this? You could have just contacted me and let us work this out like gentlemen,’” he said. “Well, this is my effort to handle this like a gentleman.”

Marinello has not had any direct contact with the possessor of the car, although he has had contact with a number of other individuals who are connected to the possessor. He does not think the possessor knew the car was stolen when he acquired it but is confident that word has gotten back to him now. The Bond DB5 cannot be displayed publicly or used in any reasonable manner, so he hopes that the possessor will come forward and strike a deal.

Why not just sue?

Although he doesn’t want to divulge the exact location of the car, Marinello said that it is located in a country where litigation may prove difficult. Diplomacy might be the better course of action, and Marinello said he always prefers discreet resolutions to litigation.

What might this entail? Marinello states that the insurer may be willing to let the possessor settle the title claim. He has some flexibility in setting the settlement price somewhere in between what the insurance company paid on the claim and the current value of the car. In exchange, the possessor will get clean ownership of the Bond DB5. Marinello explains that the amount at which that deal can be struck depends upon how the possessor responds. The quicker and the more cooperative he is, the lower the sales price.

What about Pugliese?

If the Bond DB5 is actually recovered, does Pugliese have any claim to it? As we know, you keep owning your car after it is stolen from you. However, getting paid by your insurance company can change that.

When the insurance company pays you the value of your car, it becomes the owner under the principle of subrogation. Modern specialty policies usually contain provisions that require the insurer to offer the recovered property back to you by refunding the amount you were paid. But in this case, it is an older policy and does not have such a provision.

Even without such provisions, however, insurers have often offered the recovered property back to the owner as a courtesy. However, Marinello does not believe that will happen with the Bond DB5. Thus, the insurer is in a position to confer uncontested ownership on the possessor if they are able to strike a deal.

Deal value

Where does the estimated $25 million value come from? Marinello says he has no idea what the value really is. Once word of the car’s potential discovery got out, he received calls from numerous collector-car auction companies asking for the consignment. The most aggressive one said it could get $25 million for the car.

There is some question about the condition of the DB5. Stephen Serio saw it at the Boston Auto Show before it was stolen. He reports that it looked a little odd, so he inquired about it and was allowed to look at the car after hours. The engine was out, and a load of bricks had been placed in the engine compartment to make the front-end height look more normal. Serio did not get any explanation about why the engine was missing. There are stories that it was kept at a separate location and also stolen. Certainly, condition will have a major impact on the value.

Still, $25 million is a lot of money. A DB5 in good condition is worth about $1 million, so star power must account for the premium, which is doubtless going to be substantial.

Hollywood comps

We can look to similarly famous cars for instruction, such as the 1968 Mustang GT that Steve McQueen drove in “Bullitt.” It sold at auction in 2020 for $3,740,000 (SCM# 6922207). Then we have the 1970 Porsche 911 that McQueen drove in “Le Mans.” It sold in 1999 for $1,375,000. More on point, we have other Bond DB5s. The “road car” used in “Goldfinger” sold for $4,608,528 in 2010 on one bid (SCM# 167973), after which the room went silent. And in 2019 another “Goldfinger” car, this one recently restored, sold for $6,385,000 (SCM# 6908532).

The Bullitt Mustang may be just as iconic as the Bond DB5, at least to most car guys. But the Bond car is more relevant to a broader spectrum of the public, plus it has all the cool weapons gadgets that spark appeal. And a DB5 starts out being worth 10 times what a Mustang GT fastback is worth. On balance, we would think an $8m–$10m estimate for the Bond DB5 makes more sense. 

A $25 million price seems to draw guffaws from many experts, particularly because there are no data points or comparable sales that come anywhere near. But, of course, we aren’t the ones writing the check. ♦

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