I Drove James Bond's Legendary 1965 Aston Martin DB5

The most iconic 007 car ever is still a thrill to drive. 
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The most iconic 007 car ever is still a thrill to drive. 

We surely lust after so many parts of the fictionalized, charmed life of James Bond. But if we can only aspire to his unflappable style, his top-secret gadgetry and his memorable love interests, his cars are real things, available to real people. Even, it turns out, to humble Maxim correspondents.

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The sleek black 1965 Aston Martin DB5—a variation of the iconic model that has appeared in 007 movies from Goldfinger to Spectre—crouches in a gravel driveway, idling with a mechanical intensity absent from modern transportation conveyances. It looks like it must have the day it rolled out of the Newport Pagnell factory in Buckinghamshire, England a half-century ago, but cars' door hinges and latches, like their owners' creaky vertebrae, betray a hint of their age. 

No matter, sliding into the flat, period-style bucket seat behind the large-diameter, thin-rimmed wood steering wheel quickly puts the driver in the appropriate frame of mind. A scan of the fabulous Smiths circular analog instruments shows the DB5's 282-horsepower, 4.0-liter straight six engine is running properly.

Beyond the instrument panel, the Aston's bonnet (hood, to us Yanks, but we're in character here) stretches miles out ahead of the driver, lending the DB5 a potence that doubtless inspired confidence in Her Majesty's agents when villains' gunfire was raining down on them.

The shifter is a simple thin steel shaft rising from the floor, with no superfluous rubber boot encompassing it or fat plastic shift knob. The dainty wood shift knob bears the car's shift pattern which shows that as a 1965 model, this DB5's transmission is a five-speed. Goldfinger was released in 1964, so Sean Connery's weaponized Aston Martin made do with just a four-speed.

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Effort on the clutch pedal is high, and the shifter notches into first gear with a long throw that is typical of the era. Easing out on the clutch, the engine’s locomotive torque nudges the car into motion without the engine’s revs seeming to change. Turning onto the road, the un-assisted steering is astonishingly heavy and slow at low speeds, explaining the steering wheel’s huge, leverage-providing diameter.

Underway, the DB5’s close-ratio transmission seems to have just the right gearing for working through twisty curves while evading SPECTRE’s pursuit through to an Alpine ski resort. The heavy, slow steering would be right at home on a German autobahn, with great stability and feedback, but it would be tiresome in the mountains.

According to the classic car experts at Hagerty Insurance, the DB5 can use 143 mph of its 180-mph speedometer, though I didn’t see quite that speed during my James Bond experience. The engine’s exhaust rasp at speed is one that imbues the driver with confidence and urges you to press on faster.

Fortunately, the DB5 is equipped with early disc brakes at all four wheels, and braking force is strong and true, with modest effort producing smooth, stable stops. This is in contrast to its drum brake-equipped contemporaries, whose long brake pedal travel can be disconcerting to today’s drivers.

Now thoroughly acquainted with the car’s systems, I began checking its dashboard for some of Bond’s modifications, but alas, found only mundane, if cool, mid-century-looking, switches for functions like the lights, wipers and power windows.

While the opportunity to sample the Aston’s charms was a more realistic goal than dating a Bond girl, the company only made 886 of the coupes, and they cost an incredible 13,000 British pounds at the time.

This car’s owner, Steve O’Keeffe, bought the DB5 14 years ago when DB5’s weren’t as horrendously dear as they’ve become since. Hagerty reports that the average value for a car like O’Keeffe’s is $826,000 today. Owner O'Keeffe is a Pierce Brosnan type; a slender Irishman by way of England, with a similarly smooth accent.

Unlike some aficionados, he doesn't own a vast fleet of collector cars. With only a few classics in his garage, O'Keeffe chose well when he bought the DB5. Surely, growing up in the British Isles during Bond's heyday, the spy's image must have steered his purchase.

"I always admired the lines and the heritage -- I fell in love with her on the test drive," O'Keeffe explained.  But he was also considering a classic Jaguar E-Type.

"Did the James Bond thing tip the scales?  It wasn't the overriding factor -- but, let's face it, everybody who buys an Aston wants a little 00 in their blood type," O'Keeffe quipped.

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Photos by Dan Carney