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007 Lotus Esprit 'submarine car' graphic

Classic Projects: 007 Lotus Esprit 'submarine car'

DATE: 1976 (car); 1977 (submarine) DESIGNER: Giorgetto Giugiaro (car) COST: £616,000 at auction in 2013

Aficionados of the James Bond movie franchise will recognise the vehicle in the blueprint as the modified Lotus Esprit S1 from 'The Spy Who Loved Me'. The car takes centre stage in an exhilarating car chase, during which it converts into a submarine to make its escape underwater. The 007 Lotus Esprit is routinely voted the best movie car of all time and, as with so many of Bond's gadgets, it comes armed to the teeth with all kinds of explosives, weaponry and other fiendish devices to assist with the defence of Queen and country. Known as 'Wet Nellie', the wet-sub was named after the Wallis WA-116 Agile gyrocopter 'Little Nellie' in 'You Only Live Twice', that had in turn been named after the music hall star and actress Nellie Wallace.

The Lotus Esprit S1 was the brainchild of car designer Giorgetto Giugiaro and was among the first of his origami-style 'folded paper' designs. Originally called the Kiwi, its name was subsequently changed to Esprit to fit in with the tradition of Lotus car model names starting with the letter 'e'. With its steel chassis and fibreglass body, S1 was fast and light, topping out at 138mph (222km/h) and weighing in at under 1,000kg. Launched at the 1975 Paris Autoshow, it replaced the Europa model and went into production in 1976. At the time it was beyond doubt Britain's most advanced sports car.

Determined to give it the publicity he thought it deserved, Lotus PR manager Don McLaughlan was anxious to get his product into the next Bond movie. Impressed by the impact product placement had on the sales volumes of previous Bond cars, especially Aston Martins, he parked an unmarked pre-production model outside film producer Albert R 'Cubby' Broccoli's offices at Pinewood Studios. The stunt worked and Lotus were asked to supply two production models of the car, along with seven body-shells.

One of the shells was equipped with seals in order to make it suitable for the underwater scenes. Another was cut in half to allow for filming the dialogue between Bond (Roger Moore) and his love interest, Soviet KGB agent Anya Amasova (Barbara Bach) in their separate seats. The two road versions were strengthened with additional sheet metal underneath the radiator to provide resistance to the uneven surfaces of the Sardinian roads as Bond evaded the pursuing helicopter.

The underwater version of the Esprit was a real submarine, specifically a 'wet sub' that had been built by Perry Oceanographic of Florida, USA, for $100,000 (about half a million in today's money). The wet-sub environment meant that the pilot (in this case former US Navy Seal Don Griffin) was required to wear scuba equipment. Wet Nellie's interior bore no resemblance to the inside of the car as it appeared in the film. The wet-sub provided a basic platform for the divers operating the machine, while interior shots were filmed in other modified shells.

After the movie Wet Nellie went on a promotional tour, before ending up in a storage container in Holbrook, New York. The story goes that the rent on the unit was paid ten years in advance, after which the forgotten unit became 'rent delinquent' and was sold at 'blind' public auction in 1989 for $100. The new owners of the container opened it to find that the 007 submarine car was intact apart from some damage to the roof. Subsequently, vehicle registration PPW 306R was restored to museum exhibit quality and eventually sold by RM Auctions in September 2013 for £616,000.

Next month: Zeppelin type L3 airship

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