This year will see the 40th Anniversary of Roger Moore’s third 007 movie, the epic and hugely popular The Spy Who Loved Me (1977). Produced by Albert ‘Cubby’ Broccoli in a solo capacity after the break-up of his producing partnership with Harry Saltzman, there was considerable pressure on EON to deliver something really special, and to put the Bond series firmly back on a strong footing after a lukewarm critical response to the previous 007 movie, The Man With The Golden Gun (1974).
And Cubby Broccoli and his dedicated team more than delivered, with a breathtaking parachute stunt in the pre-credits, an enormous tanker set built at Pinewood, beautiful locations, and plenty of memorable action. A major highlight of the new film was the introduction by ‘Q’ of a new car for James Bond, the Lotus Esprit. With its extra gadgets, distinctive look, and unique ability (on film, of course!) to turn into an ocean-going submersible, the pearl-white coloured car proved to be the ‘Aston Martin’ of the 1970s for a new generation of James Bond fans. It also became an invaluable asset to the large-scale publicity campaign for the movie, a film which went on to break box-office records in the UK and around the world, especially in the all-important American market.
Given the upcoming anniversary of the movie in 2017, the JBIFC takes the opportunity to briefly look back on the car, its role in the film (which Sir Roger Moore has said was his favourite Bond outing), and the car’s legendary status over time.
The Car We Have Loved
In 2013, one of the original Lotus Esprit ‘submarine’ cars used in Roger Moore’s The Spy Who Loved Me was sold at auction in South London for just over half a million pounds. It was the first time that the specially designed and converted white Lotus Esprit S1, known as ‘Wet Nellie’ (in homage to the autogyro ‘Little Nellie’ used in 1967’s You Only Live Twice), had been put up for sale.
The auction, held at RM Auctions in England’s capital city, took place on 9th September, 2013, and saw the unique 1970s Bond car reach a final price of £550,000, the successful bid coming from a telephone bidder. There was some surprise expressed by auction attendees and media commentators that the car did not realise a higher price. RM Auctions had originally put an estimate on the while Lotus Esprit of £650,000-£950,000. A spokesman for RM Auctions said it was ‘one of the most iconic cars in movie history’.
Indeed, the successful bidder gained possession of a car that helped propel Roger Moore’s third 007 outing into becoming one of the most successful James Bond movies of the 1970s. Moreover, the growing iconic status of, and interest in, the ‘submarine’ version of the 007 Lotus was arguably reinforced in October, 2014, when a lovingly-restored version was put up for sale on e-bay for the eye-watering sum of $1m, which created much comment in the media.
New Film, New Bond Car
The origins of a new car for Roger’s third Bond movie came about due to the imaginative business thinking of Donovan McLauchlan, the public relations manager at Lotus cars. Although the story has been added to in the telling over the years, McLauchlan was apparently tipped off in early 1976 that a new Bond movie was being readied for pre-production at Pinewood Studios. With the success and legendary status of the Aston Martin very much in mind, he realised that getting a car in a James Bond movie was bound to reap enormous sales and publicity benefits for any car maker.
Seizing the initiative, McLauchlan decided to take a gamble and personally drive an Esprit version of the Lotus to Pinewood Studios. On the pretext of attending a business meeting, he parked it right outside the main Pinewood admin building, hoping it would be spotted by the film-makers. And, sure enough, it was – by none other than Cubby Broccoli himself, who was very interested, and contacted Lotus. The rest, as they say, is history – a deal was done between the Bond team and Lotus cars.
The company loaned the 007 team two fully-working Esprits, together with five Esprit body shells (for the Bond SPX designers to ‘adapt’), and also two Lotus engineers to be on hand specially for both the UK and the location shooting. Unsurprisingly, there was a great deal of secrecy over the car during the early stages of production of the 1977 movie. It was even code-named ‘Esther Williams’ in an early version of the script! Closely following the design plans of the hugely talented team of 007 Production Designer Ken Adam and Special Effects supervisor Derek Meddings, who wanted a ‘wet submersible’, the body shells were utilised to create a submarine version of the car, which was built by Perry Oceanographics of Miami in Florida, USA, a specialist underwater engineering firm that had built underwater craft for the U.S. navy.
The Spy Who Loved Glee
The Lotus was first publicly unveiled as James Bond’s new car at a special photo-call held in early December, 1976, where Roger Moore and the new Bond woman Barbara Bach posed for the press alongside the vehicle. As one newspaper, the UK’s Daily Express, put it at the time, it was a case of ‘Oh, oh heaven! The spy who has everything’. This photo-call was, in hindsight, hugely important: it introduced both a new Bond woman and a new Bond car to the world, and reminded people that Bond was back after what had seemed like a long absence. It also created a great deal of media interest at the time, with publicity photos appearing in nearly every major UK newspaper and also in news magazines around the globe.
Although the car looked lovely on camera, the full working version of the Lotus Esprit did present quite a few challenges to the crew during location filming in Sardinia. As the movie included a fast-paced chase sequence, together with a ‘duel’ with a helicopter, the cars employed by the crew were certainly pushed to their limits. Much of this filming was carried out by the film’s Second Unit under the direction of Ernie Day, and slowly but surely some really exciting footage was captured.
However, as Sir Roger Moore has since recalled, the cars ‘were problematic in the extreme’. Their engines often overheated and the car batteries tended to run down quickly, rendering the action filming in Sardinia – to use Sir Roger’s words – ‘a little fraught’.
The actual shot where the Lotus is seen diving into the sea was a piece of movie magic by Special Visual Effects supervisor Derek Meddings, who designed a shell car that could be fired into the water from an air cannon. The transformation of the Lotus into a submarine car was achieved by using a combination of miniatures and three body shell cars, filmed in the nicely clear waters of the Bahamas by expert underwater cinematographer Lamar Boren, and also through further filming in studios in Britain. And, back in Sardinia, in a key shot that was completed in two parts to finish off the sequence, Derek Meddings also supervised a cable which pulled another Lotus from the water; this was then replaced with a real working Lotus which emerged from the surf, much to the surprise of watching sunbathers.
It was here that Roger Moore, who was always keen to have some fun on set and would often gleefully pull pranks to cheer up the crew, decided to wind down the window and drop a fish as the Lotus drove on to the beach. According to Roger, producer Cubby Broccoli was not too happy about this and told the crew it would have to be re-shot. But when both versions were shown in the rushes the next day, the fish prank drew huge laughter, so Cubby relented and it was kept in the movie!
Nobody Does It Better
The third Roger Moore Bond adventure was premiered on 7th July, 1977, which allowed the premiere posters to proclaim ’07/07/77′. Interestingly, a limited number of gold Lotus Esprit models were produced especially for the evening and were presented to Roger Moore and members of the Royal family who attended. The movie quickly overcame the claims of critics that the Bond series had run out of steam, when it soon did spectacular business at the box-office. The best estimates have calculated that the tenth James Bond film grossed an incredible $185m across the world, and $47m in the key U.S. market. Bond was well and truly back!
And the Lotus Esprit clearly played an instrumental role in re-energizing enthusiasm for the franchise. It was used extensively in the marketing and merchandising campaigns for the movie. This was particularly satisfying for Don MacLauchlan, the public relations manager at Lotus, whose original ‘pitch’ to the Bond team had more than paid off. Lotus sales increased enormously after the release of the movie, and the demand was such that eager purchasers had to endure a three-year waiting list.
Sir Roger Moore has said in interviews that The Spy Who Loved Me was his favourite and most enjoyable 007 film. Although driving the Lotus on camera was not without its problems, even Sir Roger has conceded that the car was an eye-catching ingredient of the movie and has often helped propel the film into the ‘Top Ten’ favourite Bond movies in many of polls conducted over the years.
Did You Know?
In the scene in The Spy Who Loved Me where the Lotus emerged from the sea on to the golden Sardinian beach, the small boy who sees the car coming out of the surf and points at it was the real-life son of Richard Kiel who, of course, played the highly memorable henchman ‘Jaws’ in the movie.