Nobody Drives It Better
Over the years Mr. Bond has been supplied with many stylish rides.
From a clip movie promoters call the "best chase scene ever," Bond thunders across a frozen lake in the new Aston Martin V12 Vanquish while the evil Zao tracks him in the Jaguar XKR.
No more. In the film Die Another Day, which premiered in cinemas around Thanksgiving, actor Pierce Brosnan's Bond chases the bad guys in an Aston Martin V12 Vanquish. The sleek Vanquish, constructed with space-age composites and no rivets or bolts, can hit speeds of 200 miles per hour—or more. And for a mere $232,000, plus the patience to wait two years for the next available car, you can be driving your own.
A couple caveats: It doesn't come with the two machine guns under the hood. And you don't get the four hidden missiles. Nor will the tires have spikes for those occasional high-speed chases across frozen lakes.
Can't quite pony up the necessary cash for a Vanquish? Well, there are two other fancy cars featured in Die Another Day, too, with all three from the stable of Ford Motor Co. (Yep, even the consummately British Aston Martin is now Ford-owned.)
First, there's the coral-colored Ford Thunderbird driven by the movie's female lead character Jinx, played by actress Halle Berry. Run-of-the-mill T'birds are widely available, of course, but Ford also is making 700 special Bond-edition cars. Each "numbered" hard-top convertible will feature a white-trimmed steering wheel and shift knob, white leather seat inserts surrounded by black leather—and "understated" 007 badges sprinkled throughout. Pricing for the Bond edition hasn't been set, but the standard hard-top convertible runs about $40,000.
Unlike the Aston Martin, the movie version of the T'bird won't contain lethal gadgetry of any kind. Or, as one Ford publicist says, referring to the curvy Berry, "There'll be only one bombshell in this car."
Die Another Day was produced by EON Productions, with MGM doing the U.S. distribution. The James Bond Web site sums up the movie action this way: "From Hong Kong to Cuba to London, Bond circles the world in his quest to unmask a traitor and prevent a war of catastrophic proportions." The "villain's lair is built entirely of ice," and movie promoters boast that a chase sequence taking place on a frozen lake could well be the "best chase scene ever." Samantha Hoyt, global marketing director for Ford, insists the scene rivals even the Steve McQueen movie Bullitt, featuring a 10-minute San Francisco stunt-fest that many movie buffs consider the best film chase ever.
Die Another Day represents a major coup for Ford. In fact, the murky details of the company's successful swiping of the Bond mantle from rival BMW may well pack some Bond-like intrigue itself. Neither Ford nor EON is talking much. But the altered alliance certainly carries the fingerprints of international auto executive Wolfgang Reitzle. For more than a decade, Reitzle held high positions at BMW. Then in 1999, Ford lured him to head its Premier Automotive Group, including Aston Martin and Jaguar. Clearly, Reitzle brought the Bond relationship with him to Ford. What's not so clear is what Ford had to pay to seal the Bond deal.
Back in the Goldfinger days, movie studios were happy simply to get loaner cars to put in their films. The euphemistic phrase "product placement" hadn't hit the marketing world yet. Today, the brands and gadgetry moviegoers see in the theater are just as likely to represent a revenue source for the movie studio as a thoughtfully chosen prop by a Hollywood writer.
In any event, Ford can't exactly rest easy regarding its long-term Bond relationship. Reitzle left the company's top executive ranks in April in the midst of a broader company shakeup.
But that's a battle for another day. For now, the Bond affiliation rests squarely in the hands of Ford brands, and the company is working hard to make the most of it.
From the start, Ford marketers and designers had plenty of input on car selection, car features and car colors, according to Ford exec Hoyt. It was Ford's chief designer J Mays, Hoyt says, "who decided maybe we needed a special car just for" Halle Berry. Mays was the one who cooked up the Thunderbird's coral color.
If the past is prelude, the coral cars should sell well. Two years ago, Neiman Marcus offered 200 special-edition Thunderbirds for sale through its Christmas catalogue. They sold out in just 2 hours and 15 minutes. Meantime, Web sites selling Astons, BMWs or any other Bond-affiliated cars are peppered with 007 references. Aston Martin dealers admit that shoppers sauntering into their showrooms frequently ask for Bond-style models and Bond-movie colors.
"Everybody who buys a DB5 wants the Bond color . . . silver birch," says Long Island dealer Papadopoulos.
"Anytime autos have a presence in movies, it does tend to create a buzz about them," says Denver dealer TerHar. And more to the point: "It typically is very good for business."
Indeed, the biggest worry of TerHar and other dealers isn't demand. It's supply. Ford says it will distribute the 007 Thunderbirds throughout the country, first rewarding its highest-volume dealerships. "Frankly, I'd pretty much take as many as they'd give me," says TerHar, "but I'll probably get just one or two." If the orders flood in, TerHar has a plan: "We'll do some sort of lottery."
The showroom buzz doesn't end with the cars themselves. Merchandising companies are flooding Bond-crazed dealers with gizmos and gimmicks of all sorts. TerHar isn't holding back. He's bought Bond pins, pens, ice cubes—even a stainless-steel-and-leather martini case. "That's my favorite," he admits.
Is the Bond car connection really as valuable as all this?
Consider the case of one star-crossed Bond-car owner. In 1986, Florida real estate developer Anthony Pugliese bought the silver birch Aston Martin DB5 that Sean Connery made famous in Goldfinger. ("Every time you look at it, you think of a guy in a tuxedo," says Papadopoulos.) The collector's item was touted as "the most famous car in the world."
Then in 1997, under cover of darkness, the vehicle disappeared from the Boca Raton airplane hanger where it was stored. Alas, no real-life Bond was able to track the purloined roadster down. Pugliese's insurer paid him a $4.2 million settlement.
The car was gone. Long gone.
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