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Thursday, October 9, 2008

Being Bond is as close as the local Aston Dealer

In profile, this looks like any other 2008 Aston Martin DBS. But then there's the Italian license plate, not to mention an ever-so-tiny badge on the door sill kickplate that gives the game away entirely. It says "Quantum of Solace," which makes this a very special Aston Martin indeed.

This really is James Bond's car.

Even as the Aston Martin executive hands us the chunky glass key that's known within the company as "the Emotional Control Unit" and the dash display lights up with the words, "Power, Beauty, Soul," we figure that we'd be prevented from driving out of the gate by a hail of gunfire from mysterious men on skis.

But all we had to do was hand over a yellow slip of paper to the man at the factory gate and we were gone, on our own in the 2008 Aston Martin DBS that belongs to James Bond. We didn't even have to kill a man with our bare hands.

If only we were being accompanied by a female sidekick with a suggestive name instead of this blasted photographer.

Setting the Scene
The opening sequence in Quantum of Solace — a set piece of spectacular action that's characteristic of James Bond films — takes our Mr. Bond on a merry drive around Lago di Como (although it was actually filmed at Lago di Garda), where he finds himself set upon by bad guys in a fleet of Alfa Romeos.

What follows is the most visceral chase scene in Bond's history, thanks in part to the work of transportation supervisor Graham Kelly, well known for the action sequences he helped stage for The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum. In 12 minutes of screen time, not one panel of the $265,000 Aston Martin DBS escapes unscathed and the car is even sideswiped by a truck before meeting its end in a dramatic crash off a quarry road. Of course, Bond nevertheless lives to fight another day and the Alfas don't fare as well.

This DBS isn't that smashed-up casualty but instead one of four so-called "hero" cars used for the filming of close-ups. There were seven Aston Martins in all used in this process, although some were simply DB9s with a body kit — an accusation that has been pointed in the direction of the production Aston Martin DBS, you might recall.

Performance Art
With the high-compression 6.0-liter V12 pumping under its voluptuous vented hood, the 2008 Aston Martin DBS has the firepower to measure up to Bond and his modern Walther P99 (never mind the 1928-vintage PPK). Rated at 510 horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 420 pound-feet of torque at 5,750 rpm, this engine powers the DBS to 60 mph in 6.3 seconds and then on to 191 mph. The rumbling exhaust from the engine becomes a vicious roar once the intake tract opens at 5,500 rpm to help the engine breathe deeper at peak rpm. It's one of those engines that endangers your license every time you fire it up, as that throaty exhaust is just begging to be opened up.

To complement the 60-hp boost over the DB9, the DBS also sheds 176 pounds, a result of using carbon fiber to produce the front fascia, hood and fenders. Even lightweight carpet is part of this package.

There's more high-performance hardware in the form of carbon-ceramic Brembo brakes, a five-way adjustable suspension, Pirelli P Zero tires and even a manual six-speed transmission with a suitably manly notchy shift action.

At 3,737 pounds, there's a lot of car here, so it's a lot of car to get back once it starts to slide, high-performance specification or not. Really, it's just not built for the sideways lunacy that fills Bond's latest extravaganza. It's also questionable if the DBS is really $100,000 better than the standard DB9, as it's still a GT rather than a sports car. But on the open road this big beast is a laugh riot, providing you don't kick that back end out of line.

The Real World
Today's James Bond adventures are altogether darker, grittier tales, so the cheesy gadgets are gone. The days of the underwater-rated Lotus Esprit and remote-controlled BMW 7 Series are long behind us, even though a rocket-equipped Aston Martin DB5 in Goldfinger began the love affair between Bond and Aston Martin back in 1964. For Quantum of Solace, realism is the message, and a fully equipped Aston Martin DBS is actually far more gadget-laden than Bond's own DBS transport.

Still, this being the movies, it takes serious work to make a car look perfectly standard. Transportation director Kelly stripped the cars and rebuilt them, strengthening them in places and weakening them in others for the crash scenes. And while Kelly maintains the Astons performed far better than any supercar he ever used before, he had to raise the suspension to cope with the chase through the quarry and then defeat the stability control to permit the monstrous powerslides.

Kelly predictably drafted racing and rally drivers to take the wheel for the chase scenes (including Top Gear's The Stig). Actor Daniel Craig apparently has become a handy wheelman himself after spending time on track with the Aston Martin drivers, so the star did as much of the driving as possible.

Kelly insists that Craig is a natural behind the wheel, but try to re-create his antics in a factory car and you'll look like a dufus and probably crash your pride and joy as well. It happened to a driver delivering one of the Bond DBSs to a press conference, as he careered off the road and flew into Lake Garda. He hit the bottom of the lake before kicking the door open. Of course, he might not have been entirely happy to have survived after the worldwide media coverage that ensued.

Recommended Viewing
This grand touring car is manly, although no match for the Ferrari 599 when it comes to ultimate track performance. But a car like this isn't built for the circuit; it belongs on the road.

And the road is where the 2008 Aston Martin DBS (whether this James Bond stunt car or the production DBS that you can buy) belongs. Here the DBS is a triumph. It's comfortable enough to cope with a long-distance jaunt, yet brutally quick and dramatic enough to match anything you'll see in Quantum of Solace. And it's cheaper than a Ferrari, too.

Unfortunately Ford's sale of Aston Martin to a private consortium in March 2007 might spell the end of the love affair between Bond and Aston Martin, even though this DBS embodies Bond's newfound macho spirit better than any other car on the open market.

In the original novels written by Ian Fleming, the super spy drove a Bentley, so don't bet against VW ponying up the money for the starring role in the next Bond movie adventure. That's a shame, because the DBS really is Bond.

And just for a moment, so were we.