The New James Bond Museum will be opening in 2012, You have to understand that I found this place originally, over fifteen
years ago, and was just as shocked then as I am now,discovering that it is the largest static collection of James Bond cars
in the world, and it is not in London, or even England, but the city of Momence, Illinois! To understand why it is here is
to look at it's founder, who has been a Bond collector for many years, Doug Redenius, who is also a Vice President of the Ian Fleming Foundation, which is a noteworthy group devoted to the preservation of the mystique and allure of the Bond stories, movies, and the creator, Ian Fleming.
The collection began with memorabilia, such as the underwater scuba cars from "Thunderball" and had to,...of course, include what is hands down, the most telling props, the cars used and loved, as much as his alluring Bond girls. Of course, there are non-automotive gadgets, pictures, and items which represent the now nearly half-century of Bond, but it's the continuing love for the car that is the heart of the collection, the silver Aston, Tracy Bond's red Ford Cougar, and even the newer Bond cars, the Lotus Submarine car from "The Spy Who Loved Me," so well known is this collection, and Redenious as a collector, that some of the cars have been donated after production, to help preserve them. Of course, there are the difficult cases, now that more museums and Eon have a sizable amount of their own, but it seems striking, if not appropriate, that this museum, hidden away
once in a cornfield, is now going to have it's own, strongly understated, but thoroughly World-Class venue.
Whether you read the Fleming books, or just enjoy the motion pictures, you have to realize that it's more about the
relationship of man and machine than it is of being a techological prop. Over time, the whole gamut of props relating to
Bond have garnered the term "Gee Whiz" gadgetry. So much so, that when "Casino Royale" was released back under a non-Eon
Production, the star, David Niven, as the retired, soon-to-be-reactivated Bond drove an open Bentley, played the
anti-sex-crazed Bond, openly called the gizmo-wielding agents "joke-shop spies." Even in this spy spoof, autos
played a part in the comedy, in one memorable pursuit, Bond, in his trusty ancient Bentley, is pursued by a killer
radio-controlled milk lorry, complete with extending detonators from the headlights headlights. The movie itself
is forgettable, but the humor was remarkable.
Perhaps, in many ways, it has always been the automobiles and gadgets of the Bond series that set it apart. There has always
been, at the heart, what was just a decent story, and to make it something more, a dedicated blending of action and technology,
wrapped in with gratuitous sex and explosives. Whether you are discussing the "Studillac" for Felix Leiter, or Aston Martin,
the same is true, appearances can be deceiving, and the idea is to understate, allowing the imagination to create a vast
undertow of lethal options which are hidden, just below the surface of a calm, genteel exterior. The back story of the
Studillac, from "Diamonds are Forever," itself is interesting, as the fast, stylish body designs of Raymond Loewy and the
Studebaker models of the 1950's were far advanced from the clunky, humorous bodywork of most cars, and a pairing of this style
and the brute horsepower of a Cadillac engine made the vehicle appealing, not only to the older set of sports car people,
but also to the youthful hot-rodders. The reality of Studebaker, in a final gasp before decline turned out a fair number
of vehicles which were advanced then, and dramatic examples of design today. The Loewy designs, and even later the Avanti,
one of which was Ian Fleming's last vehicle, were intended to be the salvation of the company, and today, are a view of
sophistication in a sea of excess tailfins.
The same was true of the movie, Dr. No, where a light blue Sunbeam Alpine is the car of choice, the original car,
although lost now to history, was "borrowed" because it's bright blue color reminded the director of an evening in Jamaica,
and it was, in reality, the first two-seater used in the Bond series. Apparently, the car was just seen by staff,
who went to the owner and asked to rent it for a couple days shooting for a movie, the owner, without much hesitation,
just asked them to fill it with gas before returning it. The fate of the two hearses used in the movie was less mysterious,
one was torched for the movie, the running model now rusts in a junkyard ( The owner will let you take a picture of it for a
mere $5US, if you are interested).
With a new Director, Guy Hamilton, "Goldfinger" became the legend that we all know today, the introduction of the Aston
Martin with lethal accessories, and the wry humor which Guy Hamilton set about to give Bond an edginess and humor which
was only to grow with time, it was perhaps the change from Ian Fleming's character, to the Hollywood (London?) character,
which many people, myself included, grew up with. In many ways, it was the automotive romance, and technological acumen
which enticed me to the characters, both written and film. Perhaps the reason this writer grew up as an expert shot,
entered the military, became a sniper, and then branched off to learn Russian and devote a number of years to studies
of intelligence,... ah, the sadness of wasted youth! Oh well, I still love cars!
Beginning with the growing techno gadgetry, was also the end of Fleming's influence upon the character. Fleming created Bond
from people, ideas, and events somewhat in keeping with reality, but he added his own touches, such as Bond carrying a
Beretta. Fleming, during his service in intelligence carried the same Caliber, a .25, but he carried the much scarcer,
and after the war, hard to get Colt "Baby" Browning. A number of years ago, I had the opportunity to shoot two Walther PPK's
both owned by Fleming, which were presented to him by a Canadian Forensic expert who was also out to convince Fleming that
his choice of the .25 was inadequate to the rigors of espionage. Sadly, at the same collection, I also saw a Walther
model 3 in .25 which had been given to Fleming by a Czech expatriate who was given it by Sir William Stephenson, the
gentleman given the Walther was a Dr. who had been an instructor at Camp X in Canada, and Stephenson, who was the creator
and primary spymaster for MI6, the OSS, and created the model for the CIA and other organizations, gave him the pistol as
his suggestion of what should be carried by agents. The Walther had been through some hard use, the grips had been replaced
by flat tin plates wrapped in electrical tape, and the front and rear sites had been filed nearly flat, to prevent snags in a pocket.
What I did not realize, at the time, was that I was holding the model which Ian Fleming had used as the basis for
Bond's gun, but due to the Walther being German, he chose to use the more available, and slightly more attractive Beretta.
Some years later, after re-reading the description of Bond's Beretta, I realized that the Walther had, indeed been
the model, and that the reason Fleming deferred to using the Walther PPK as suggested by the weapons expert, Major
Botthroyd, who was later inserted into the movie as "Q." It's a shame that the reasons Fleming didn't recant his
original model was the Walther, rather than admit he had chosen the common Beretta over the scarce, less than 2,000 of the
Walther Model 3's produced, may always remain a mystery. In many ways, after the court cases over the true authorship of
"Thunderball," Fleming had decided that it was up to others to make decisions as to the accuracy of details, and just
abide with his ownership of the characters. Such is the case with the gadgetry, with the increase in "Gee Whiz" some
of the rough and tumble humanity of Bond was drifting off into a stylized superhero, rather than a flesh-and-blood
For a time, maybe it was best to have Bond save the world one more time, get the girl, and have a great car, but
there was also something lost, as the values of the cars skyrocketed, Bond changed from an every-man's hero to a
superagent, and so, too, it becomes harder to ignore the fact that technology, in cars, weapons, and in agencies,
are not the same as they appear in the movies, the WWII and Cold War world are gone, and we now live in a changing
world where the cars now have to be "greener," technology and espionage are more secret and reliant upon "Geek Tech"
rather than "Gee Whiz," and the connection of man and machine is now intermediated by a computer. Still, in many ways,
Bond has outlived both his age and his creator, we still think "Nobody does it better," and the world still needs saving,
from time to time. Oh, and we still need someone to show us what the fashionable secret agent is driving this year.