A tribute to Sir Sean Connery: forget Aston Martin, here's the first Bond car

Sean Connery in the Sunbeam Alpine
Some of the Dr No car chase was shot in the studio against a back-projection Credit: EON Productions

Whenever 007’s cars history is discussed, Sir Sean Connery’s transport in the first James Bond film, Dr No, is often forgotten, yet it could be argued that it is as important to the franchise as any Aston Martin.

Styled by the famous Loewy Studios and sold by the Rootes Group, the Alpine offered US design tropes on a British scale, while the prominent tail fins sported by the pre-1964 cars lend the design a rather jaunty air. 

The 1961 Alpine Series 2 that appears in the film was hired by the day by Bond producers Eon Productions.

The Alpine was a not implausible choice of transport for James Bond (in the novel he favours a Hillman Minx), and although it may have lacked the performance of an Aston Martin DB5, the 1.6-litre, twin-carburettor engine was potent enough for Jack Brabham and Stirling Moss.

It also had more than enough power to outrun a 1939 LaSalle Funeral Coach that magically transforms into a Humber Super Snipe when it plummets down a ravine, and Dr No remains a rare Bond film in that 007 has to rely on his driving skills rather than Q’s gadgetry.

The Sunbeam Alpine was far more affordable than later - and more famous - Bond cars such as the Aston Martin DB5 and Lotus Esprit

Some of the chase sequence was shot in the studio, accompanied by much dramatic wheel-twirling on the part of Sean Connery, but according to Shane Angus of the Jamaica Classic Car Club, the main car is believed to still be on the island, albeit in need of restoration. 

Best of all, the Alpine looked splendid; both the Rootes Group and the people who made the first Bond movie were skilful at giving the illusion of glamour despite having limited resources.

The Jamaican footage for Dr No was augmented with a good deal of work at Pinewood: the leading lady’s voice was dubbed by another actress, and the design genius of Ken Adams masked the fact that the budget was not terribly high even by 1962 standards.

Similarly, the appearance of the Sunbeam, described by copywriters as being “Swift…sleek…spectacular” effectively disguised the fact that it was based on the floorpan of a Hillman Husky, a Minx-based estate car that remains one of the least charismatic vehicles in British automotive history.

Class act: Connery and the famous Silver Birch Aston Martin DB5 in Goldfinger Credit: Everett Collection/Rex Features

To audiences the Sunbeam also had the merit of being an accessible form of glamour. While not exactly cheap at £1,110, it was still within reach of many cinema patrons in 1962. An easy payment scheme, plus a modest sum for the optional wire wheels with whitewall tyres, could make a chartered ship broker in Southampton a secret agent by proxy.

These days, when Dr No resurfaces on afternoon television, the cars in the background have a fascination of their own, from the Standard Ensign taxis and police Ford Consul Mk2s to theVauxhall PA Velox favoured by the wonderfully seedy Professor Dent. 

The automotive continuity does go awry on occasions; Bel Airs with Ford Fairlane dashboards and Impalas changing model in mid-journey, for example.

However, perhaps the most surprising thing that watching Dr No afresh reveals is that it wasn’t Roger Moore who introduced the art of eyebrow acting to the Bond franchise, but Sean Connery as he wrestles with the wheel of the Sunbeam in his attempts to avoid the deadly back-projection. Both actor and car are perfectly cast.

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