We don’t need to introduce the Aston Martin DB5, the epitome of British style and performance in the 1960s, and the catalog description ran to a couple thousand words, so here is the quick version:

“The Most Famous Car in The World” as arch-Bond fan Dave Worrall’s book of the same name termed it, is the most authentic example of the DB5s used in the filming and promotion of the 1960s James Bond movies “Goldfinger” and “Thunderball.” During the filming of “Goldfinger,” there were two DB5s: the “effects car” and the “road car.” Our example is the road car, and it was used for most of the driving scenes, as it was lighter and more nimble than the effects car—and had its rear mufflers removed for a throatier exhaust note.

For “Thunderball,” this road car was fitted up with the now-famous film props as well, including dummy machine guns, the rear bullet deflector, a removable roof section and revolving license plates.

After filming was complete, the two film cars, plus two additional press cars fitted up with the gadgetry, were sent out to promote the movies. After that, the effects car was stripped of all its gadgets and sold off as a standard road car.

Secreted away

In 1969, after radio station owner and personality Jerry Lee heard about the sale of the press cars, he managed to persuade Aston Martin to sell him the road car, for which he paid $12k. Lee then traveled to London to join his special Aston Martin DB5 in one final promotional event at the Playboy Club on Curzon Street.

The effects car was stolen in 1997, and hasn’t been seen since. One of the press cars resides in the Louwman Museum, which is located in The Hague. RM Auctions sold the other in Arizona in January 2006 for nearly $2.1m.

Since he bought this car and showed it at a brief series of promotional dates after its arrival in the U.S., Lee displayed it in public only twice: at the New York Motor Show in 1981 and for the Meadow Brook Concours circa 1992. The car spent the rest of the time in a special, climate-controlled James Bond room at Lee’s home.

SCM Analysis


Number Produced:886 (four like this)
Original List Price:12,500
SCM Valuation:$4m-$5m
Tune Up Cost:$900
Chassis Number Location:Engine compartment on right of scuttle
Engine Number Location:Stamped on right side of engine block
Alternatives:1959-63 Ferrari 250 GTE, 1963-66 Alvis TE21, 1963-70 Maserati Mistral

This car, Lot 197, sold for $4,608,528 at RM Auctions’ Automobiles of London sale in Battersea Park on October 27, 2010.

There’s no doubt the silver screen has a life-changing impact on impressionable youth. I was too young in 1964 to notice the huge effect James Bond’s silver DB5 had on young men who wanted to be him—but weren’t yet quite sure why. But at Battersea, here they were: A small legion of 50- and 60-somethings lining up to get near to, have a feel of—perhaps to sit in—their hero’s car.

James Bond—as portrayed by Sean Connery—had a big impact on the later generations too, but in more subtle ways. In the 1960s, British people just didn’t travel—by way of either wherewithal or inclination—the way they do today. It wasn’t until years later—after I had driven and skied some Alps—and stood probably where the snapper stood on the Furka Pass in Switzerland when he took that iconic shot of Connery, leaning on the (slightly creased, you’ll notice) side of the silver DB5—this DB5—that I realized just how big an impact it must have made in post-war-hungover Britain.

That intercontinental playboy glamour, so nonchalantly aired onscreen, was almost impossible to imagine, much less realize in the mid 1970s, let alone the mid 1960s. Such an impossible world of the über-privileged was pure fantasy. It was viewable only in movies—or in your faint, hand-wringingly limp hope that one day you could be there (if not do that) too.

So this car is more than just an icon to worship; it’s a statement of cool. But let’s get the hardware out of the way first.

Under all the pre-auction hype was a mildly tired DB5 with 30,942 miles recorded and patinated gray leather. The car had barely turned a wheel for 30 years. In the weeks prior to the sale, the highly respected Aston Martin specialist RS Williams of Cobham, Surrey, went over the car and basically made it a runner again.

The work included a new clutch, new exhaust pipes and fluid changes.

The big buildup and then…

The RM publicity team was in top gear for months before this sale. A supplementary booklet in the style of a top-secret file (which may become collectible itself) was created to go with the auction catalog. RM also allowed a leading British classic car magazine to drive the car. Finally, the car was placed in a specially constructed “film set” on auction night. The set was closed on three sides, so the burly security guards could keep an eye on the car.

All day, a queue lined up for an audience with this 007 artifact, and all night from the 4 pm sale start, the tension rose as RM auctioneer Max Girardo worked his way through more than five hours of other lots before the Main Event.

And yet, when it came to the numbers, it was all over quite unspectacularly. Eventually a bid of £2.5m was forthcoming —after one wag had shouted “£10m!” from the bar. Such was the thrall this car held, people wondered for a minute if he was serious. Then there was another bid for £2.6m… and that was it.

Girardo held out for as long as was decently possible in hopes of more. Nope; that was it.

Was the price right?

The car went to a bidder in the room, Harry Yeaggy, a prominent American collector. He plans to put the car on display in his museum in Ohio, to the benefit of collectors and the general public as well. We should be glad that it wasn’t bought by someone who would have just put it away out of sight for another 30 years.

What about the price? Actually, the numbers do make sense on one level.

On recent past record, Bond provenance multiplies a car’s intrinsic value tenfold (remember the $170k Lotus Esprits: SCM # 118810 and 121023?) and that held good here. With pre-sale estimates of at least $4.75m, and rumors of double that being offered but turned down before the sale (OK, I predicted £10m…), it appears that Yeaggy paid about the right money.

Perhaps the real winner is the Jerry Lee Foundation. Lee has seen his $12,000 increase beyond all imagining, and he pledged the sale proceeds to his initiative dedicated to solving social problems associated with poverty, with an emphasis on crime prevention.

So, here you might say the car was well bought and sold. Neither of the “press cars” seems likely to come up for sale in the near future. Unless the missing “effects car” reappears, $4.6m is the current and correct valuation of The Most Famous Car in The World.

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