I wore a tux and shined my shoes for the occasion. I even worked on a Sean Connery–esque Scottish accent, all in preparation to get behind the wheel of every wannabe covert operative’s dreams, the Aston Martin DB5 immortalized in the James Bond film franchise.
It was November of 1995. I had come to the Blackhawk Auto Museum in Danville, Calif., where the revered star car was on display at the time, the very 1963 Aston Martin DB5 that agent 007 piloted in both Goldfinger and Thunderball.
This was the true original, chassis No. DP216/1, the so-called “gadget” car and not one of the two replicas built for publicity or the action example used for long shots. This came with all the spectacular gizmos fictitiously supplied from Q Branch of the British Secret Service; the ejector seat, the rear-wheel-mounted tire shredder, the bullet-proof screen and those front-mounted machine guns. This was also the car that, just 18 months later, mysteriously vanished from a secure hangar at Florida’s airport in Boca Raton, never to be seen again.
Circa 1995, the author stands next to James Bond’s original Aston Martin DB5 from “Goldfinger” and “Thunderball” fame.
Photo: Courtesy of Howard Walker.
It doesn’t take a Bond aficionado to know all about this singular vehicle, yet what happened to it after filming is less known. After Sir Sean trashed it in the 1965 movie Thunderball, it was trucked back to Aston Martin’s headquarters in the United Kingdom and, though impossible to believe, stripped of all its gadgetry and converted back to a standard DB5. It was then ignominiously sold as a used car.
Naturally, the new owner, Gavin Keyzar, quickly cottoned-on to the car’s celebrity status and returned it to its Bond configuration with copies of the original tradecraft componentry, essentially giving the Aston back its license to thrill.
The A-list machine was then acquired by Utah jeweler Richard Losee, who shipped it Stateside and kept it for 15 years. During that time, he took it to car shows and rented it out for the 1981 film The Cannonball Run, where another 007, actor Roger Moore, drove it across country.
The well-worn interior with faux tradecraft accoutrements.
Photo by Howard Walker.
Fast forward to 1986, when Anthony V. Pugliese III, Florida real estate developer and collector of pop culture, purchased the Aston at a Sotheby’s auction in New York for $250,000. For the next decade, it made the rounds at more car shows and Bond events, along with being displayed at various museums, which is how it ended up at the Blackhawk. That’s where I sent a fax to Pugliese with a request for a drive which, surprisingly, he agreed to.
Seeing the Aston emerging from the museum, its iconic Silver Birch paintwork and chrome wire wheels shimmering in the late afternoon sun, it still looked as stunningly memorable as actress and Bond girl Honor Blackman on screen.
All of the spy tech—originally created by Eon Productions special effects genius John Stears—was replaced with replicas. Those intimidating bumper extensions, designed for some serious ramming, had to be activated manually rather than at the push of a button. The faux Browning machine guns poking out from behind the front turn signals were fixed in the “attack” position, and the same went for the famous trunk-mounted bullet shield. As for those Ben-Hur-style tire shredders, the ones that so effectively crippled Tilly Masterson’s Ford Mustang in Goldfinger, they have to be bolted to the rear wheel hubs.
Former owner Gavin Keyzar had cinematic props, like the trunk-mounted bullet shield and rotating license plate, replicated and returned to the car.
Photo by Howard Walker.
Settled into the vehicle’s weathered Connolly leather driver’s seat, I let my fingers gently caress that richly-varnished, wood-rimmed steering wheel and suddenly I’ve become Bond, James Bond. With a turn of the key, the triple-carb, four-liter straight-six engine burbles to life and settles into a rich, bassy beat. The 282 hp DB5 was a respectable performer in its day, though zero-to-60 mph in 8.1 seconds hardly seems neck-snapping by current standards.
Amazingly, the museum-piece showed few mechanical foibles. The clutch was light and smooth in its take-up, the gearshift for the five-speed ZF ‘box surprisingly light and the steering surgically precise. And that engine still sounded deliciously melodical as the tach needle swept past the 3,000 rpm mark. And then it hit me, I was driving the very car that Connery piloted in two of the coolest Bond films ever made.
The car was stolen 18 months after our test drive, and has yet to surface.
Photo by Howard Walker.
Fast forward to 2021 and why most of the aforementioned references are in the past tense. The car has been missing for more than two decades. If you want to earn a quick $100,000, there’s an easy way. All you have to do is call Christopher Marinello, CEO of Art Recovery International, and tell him where this very famous DB5 is hidden. He has been trying to track it down for over 10 years and is working for the insurers who paid out a reported $4.2 million to Pugliese, hence their offer of a reward.
Marinello’s latest theory, which he explains in a new eight-part podcast named The Great James Bond Car Robbery hosted by actress Elizabeth Hurley, is that it’s somewhere in the Middle East, possibly Dubai. “We’ll never give up till it’s found,” says Marinello, “it is the most famous car in the world.”
Learn more about Robb Report’s 2022 Car of the Year event taking place in Napa Valley here and in Boca Raton here.