Although the film series has inextricably linked 007 with Aston Martin, in Ian Fleming’s books James Bond’s personal car was always a Bentley, one of three mentioned in the book series.
While a Bentley did make its way into the films – a 1939 4-litre Bentley Vanden Plas Tourer is seen at the beginning of From Russia With Love, when Bond entertains Sylvia Trench – by the time of the following film, Goldfinger, Q informs Bond that his Bentley has been replaced by the DB5.
The 4 ½ litre “blower” Bentley
James Bond’s first Bentley was a 4½ litre with Amherst Villiers supercharger, one of the “blower” Bentleys originally built in Welwyn Garden City in 1929/30 – just 55 were made, compared with 665 normally aspirated cars – with a distinctive supercharger mounted forward of the radiator grill. The convertible coupe was battleship grey, with large French Marchal headlamps and Bond supposedly acquired the car in 1933, setting up all kinds of problems when it comes to pinpoint his date of birth.
This Bentley was badly damaged in Casino Royale but was repaired to make a reappearance in the third book, Moonraker; its revival was short-lived though, as it was damaged beyond repair when giant rolls of newsprint were released from the back of a lorry while in pursuit of Hugo Drax.
Unhappy with the Mark VI?
Right at the end of the same book, Bond is introduced to another Bentley. The car is described as a 1953 Mark VI, although in reality the Mark VI had ceased production the previous year and once again the car was battleship grey, with dark blue leather upholstery.
The Mark VI was the first Bentley to be supplied with a factory standard body, although some 1,000 cars were customised sedan and convertible designs produced by individual coachbuilders such as Mulliner’s out of a total production of 5,200.
One condition of the sale is that the car is delivered by the dealer to the ferry terminal at Calais the following evening; however, the car is not mentioned again by Fleming, so we can only assume that it never made it to Calais.
Bond’s final Bentley was introduced in Thunderball, although here Fleming appears to have confused his details; he describes it as a Mark II Continental, which Bond bought as a wreck. The engine was upgraded from the standard 4.5 litre unit and the body was replaced by a custom design by Mulliner’s, with a hexagonal silver bolt on the nose instead of the winged B and twin two-inch exhausts to produce the right type of grown to get Bond noticed.
However there was no such model as the Mark II and later in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service it is described as having the R Type chassis with the big 6 engine, although it appears to be the same car. The “locomotive”, as he calls it, has Bond’s signature grey exterior and leather interiors in black. Not content with the body and engine upgrades he tests out the latest upgrade an Arnott supercharger that has been fitted against the advice of Rolls Royce.
Fleming’s friend Ivar Bryce owned one of the early R Type Continentals with fastback coachwork by Mulliner’s. Like Bond, the car was grey with back leather interior, although records show that it retained its original 4.5 litre engine.
The R Type was a two-door model produced mainly – despite its name – for the domestic market. A total of 207 production models were produced, 165 of which were right-hand drive. The chassis many components with the standard R type and the body made by the coachbuilders Mulliner’s, Park Ward and Pininfarina.
One explanation is that by Mark II, Fleming meant the welded chassis hat was found on the later R Types, rather than the earlier riveted chassis. And Rolls Royce certainly did have an engine replacement programme to replace the 4.5 litre engine with one of 4.9 litre capacity.
However, Fleming tells us that the replacement engine had a compression ratio of 9.5, when the 4.9 litre Bentley engine had a compression ratio just over 7, so perhaps it is not this upgrade that Bond stipulated – in Thunderball it is described as a “Mark IV engine” and in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service it is a “big 6 engine”.
When researching Bond’s R Type, Fleming wrote to Whitney Straight, chairman of Rolls Royce, telling him he’s like to see 007 drive customised Bentley Continental with a body similar to Fleming’s beloved Ford Thunderbird; Straight’s replied that Mulliner’s were working on something similar.
Fleming tells us that Mulliner’s had “sawn off the old cramped sports saloon body and had fitted a trim, rather square convertible two-seat affair, power operated, with only two large armed bucket seats in black leather. The rest of the blunt end was all knife-edged, rather ugly, boot.”
While there was a design produced by Mulliner’s for an accident damaged Continental that matches Fleming’s requirements pretty closely, the job was eventually awarded to French coachbuilder Henri Chapron instead, due to the high costs of having the work done in England. While the front end retained the original Mulliner’s design, the rear of the car matched Bond’s car, with a long rather square boot.
The photographs on this page are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License. The “blower” Bentley has been modified from Wikipeia article on the Bentley 4 1/2 litre and the R Type Continental from Wikipedia article of Bentley R Type.