It’s hard to know where to begin with a car as famous as the Aston Martin DB5, but a good place to start is Newport Pagnell, home to Aston Martin Works. This is the site of the original factory where the DB5s were made – just 1,059 of them, of which 898 were saloons such as this one.
Today the site is an Aladdin’s cave of living heritage. In production here are 25 of the predecessor DB4 GTs being hand-built to original specification. All have been sold for £1.5 million, plus optional extras, plus taxes, to buyers around the world.
“We’re a one stop shop for everything Aston Martin,” Works managing director Paul Spires tells me as he gives me the tour, which can only culminate with one car.
It’s a heart-stopping moment approaching the DB5 saloon in iconic silver-birch, a la James Bond. Yet on closer inspection, it is surprisingly understated. The DB5’s body was styled by Touring of Milan. Like fine Italian tailoring, the thin aluminium panels drape over a “super light” tubular frame (the word “Superleggera” in Italianate script runs elegantly along the bonnet). There is no sense of superfluity.
Inside, the leather seats are plump, the steering wheel is polished wood and the Smiths instrumentation glints invitingly. It smells of pure glamour.
Fire it up and the exhaust note is authoritatively deep, yet restrained. “Aston Martin owners have tended to be discreet and secure in their place in the world,” explains Spires. “The cars fit their lifestyle rather than the other way around.” My DB5 for the day is in fact owned by a private collector who requests that the registration plates do not appear in photos; somebody really should install those revolving number plates.
There is little sense of restraint on the road, though. Mouths fall open. Young children stare, as adults stare; everyone stares. It gives a glimpse of what Beatlemania must have been like. The car is almost too attention-drawing and valuable to enjoy, but not quite; it really does make you feel a million pounds. I point the sculptural bonnet south towards the M1 – which had only just been built when the DB5 was born – and open up the sonorous six-cylinder engine.
By the time the orbital M25 opened in 1986, the DB5 was taking part in the classic car boom of that era, before values stalled; in the early Nineties, it was still possible to pick up a pristine original example for less than £100,000. Then the Pierce Brosnan Bond films brought the DB5 back. It has made cameo appearances in most Bond films since, and by the time I saw Skyfall in the cinema in 2012 this car – suddenly illuminated in a London lock-up – won the loudest applause of the film.
Of course the origins of the DB5’s cult status lay in Goldfinger (1964), its first outing in the Bond series and the film that presented the car fully gadget-laden courtesy of Q Branch modifications.
Pinewood Studios, near the M25 in Buckinghamshire, has graciously granted access to the car, welcoming back a returning star to the network of narrow alleyways between tall studio buildings that doubled as villain Auric Goldfinger’s Swiss smelting works in the film. This is where the famous chase sequence was shot in which Bond ejects his gun-carrying escort from the passenger seat.
While driving this car, it’s nigh impossible to avoid slipping off into a fantasy world, but it’s a good idea to keep an eye on the road – as Bond, blinded by oncoming headlights, found impossible to do while trying to escape Goldfinger's HQ in the film; alas he crashed his DB5 into the brick wall here to avoid a head-on collision.
A street sign, indicating Goldfinger Avenue, marks the location. I manage to avoid doing the same as I leave in front of the vast, modern 007 Stage.
Five miles away is the old-world glamour of Stoke Park Golf Club, where perhaps the greatest golf scene in cinema history was filmed. Hero and villain play a round. Bond spies Goldfinger swapping golf balls and decides to “have a little fun” with him, swapping balls again without Goldfinger’s knowledge, winning the match and a £5,000 bet (enough to buy a DB5 new in 1965).
But Bond’s satisfaction is marred when Oddjob, the villain’s henchman, crushes Goldfinger’s ball to dust with his bare hand. So the lethal henchman “with skills” was conceived, finding further expression in such memorable characters as Jaws, the giant with metal teeth.
It is a clear, cold day and I stroll inside to warm my hands before the fire. This stately house was recently awarded World’s Best Clubhouse in the World Golf Awards. House and setting have changed little since the film was made; the statues drawing the attention of the bowler-hat throwing Oddjob are still there outside.
As I leave, I can’t help wondering whether it is in fact the villains that make the earlier Bond films so curiously satisfying. For in any good mythology, the power of the villains’ potency is the true measure of our hero’s eventual victory.
How do you round off a trip in a DB5? By dining at the three Michelin-starred Fat Duck in nearby Bray, where Heston Blumenthal’s team will take you on a different kind of journey. It’s another understated interior with compelling attention to detail. The leather chairs are modelled on classic car seats, the service resembles a film set, there are more staff than covers and they appear to be versed in choreography.
The Fat Duck has invented a new, personalised menu that involves a pre-visit consultation so as to incorporate childhood memories or other significant life-time experiences. Like the DB5, the meal is a multi-sensory experience; for one dish, individual iPods provide the sound of waves, evoking seaside trips of yesteryear.
I won’t say more in case I spoil any surprises. . . except to add that for my finale, I am presented with a trio of hyper-real-looking golf balls made of white chocolate filled with feuilletine, hazelnut praline, milk chocolate and lemon zest, creating a deliciously sweet flavour burst in the mouth.
Oddjob (and Jaws) would be looking on enviously.
The menu at the Fat Duck costs £325 per person excluding drink; thefatduck.co.uk
1965 Aston Martin DB5 saloon
PRICE about £1,000,000
ENGINE 4.0-litre straight-six
TOP SPEED 145mph
ACCELERATION 0-60mph in 7.1sec
FUEL ECONOMY 18mpg