The 007 Lotus Esprit Submarine Car from “The Spy Who Loved Me” (1977) commonly tops the polls when multiple generations of movie fans are asked to pick their favorite film cars of all time. Like all the best Bond cars, the Lotus was a veritable war chest of weaponry and gadgetry that was designed to fox and foil the enemy while helping Bond to another hard-won victory for Queen and Country.
The Giorgetto Giugiaro-designed Esprit was launched in October 1975 at the Paris Auto Show and went into production in June 1976, replacing the Europa. With its lightweight chassis, mid-engine configuration and fiberglass body shell, it furthered the reputation for class-beating handling long enjoyed by Lotus. At the time of its introduction, it was indisputably Britain’s most advanced sports car.
The Lotus not only impressed the automotive world, but it also impressed film producer Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli, who one day found a pre-production model parked opposite his office at Pinewood Studios outside London. The car had been conspicuously positioned there, without badges, by Lotus PR Manager Don McLauchlan. McLauchlan had learned that preparations had begun for a fresh 007 adventure, and he wanted to make their extraordinary new car available for the picture.
A deal was struck, and Lotus delivered two production cars for the helicopter chase scenes filmed in Sardinia’s Costa Smeralda. Seven more body shells were supplied, one of which was converted into a submarine.
This body shell was shipped to Perry Oceanographics, a marine engineering and construction firm based in Riviera Beach, FL. Perry was known for their ingenuity in building all manner of submersible vehicles, including the Reef Ranger, also seen in the underwater battle.
With guidance from Special Visual Effects Supervisor Derek Meddings, Perry re-envisioned the Lotus as a wet submarine. It moves forward via a bank of four propellers, their electric motors driven by batteries housed in a watertight compartment. The articulated fins are adjusted by the driver via levers, and underwater the Lotus has a turning circle of about 20 feet. Its dive and climb performance is regulated by ballast tanks, and it has been described as “crisply argonautic.”
Contrary to what movie magic suggests, there is no semblance of a road-car interior in this Lotus; instead, inside one will find only a platform seat for its driver. It was said to have cost over $100,000 to construct (nearly $500k today).
Dubbed “Wet Nellie” on the set, the Lotus was used to incredible effect in the film.
Today, Wet Nellie is presented with its restored, museum-display-quality exterior, while inside, the full operational equipment appears to be complete and original. This first-time-ever public offering of the Lotus is accompanied by copies of numerous period photos, rare movie stills, correspondence between Lotus East and the film production team, auto-show memorabilia, and authentication documents.