James Bond’s literary fans will know him as a Bentley man. On-screen, he’s driven Aston Martins, BMWs and – in a low for product placement – a Ford Mondeo.
But 007 hasn’t been linked to Austin-Healey. Until now.
It has emerged that one of the quintessential British ’50s and ’60s sports cars had an unknown but key role in You Only Live Twice.
The 1967 film shows Sean Connery’s Bond being rescued by Japanese Secret Sevice agent Aki in a one-off Toyota 2000GT convertible and then chased through the streets of Tokyo amid gunfire and growling exhausts.
But the noise you hear isn’t that of the exotic Toyota’s twin exhausts; it is that of an Austin-Healey 3000 Mk3 being driven around the streets of West London.
In a letter published in the current issue of Motor Sport, reader Andrew Jeffrey, who was working in a car dealership at the time, reveals that the sound of the Toyota was too weedy for a high-octane chase so producers hurriedly searched for a car that would add extra roar to the high-speed pursuit.
“Not long before the movie was released one of the producers realised that the Toyota’s engine didn’t sound particularly good on film; it was just too quiet,” wrote Jeffrey. “Graham Warner, owner of the famous Chequered Flag sports car dealership in Chiswick, London, was approached by the producer to see if he had a car that sounded a bit more sexy for the film.
“I was working for Chequered Flag at the time and suggested that our Austin-Healey 3000 Mk3 would be perfect. It was agreed, and at the dead of night the Healey was raced around the streets of Chiswick by our sales manager John Raeburn, an Aussie ex-racing driver, accompanied by a sound engineer recording the noise of the engine and gear changes.”
The story checks out, according to the Austin-Healey Owners’ Club whose trained ears listened to the chase. “It does sound like a Healey,” said Ian Foster, a club director.
If anything, it’s a surprise that Bond and Austin-Healey don’t have a closer connection. Ian Fleming, who wrote the original novels, was a friend of Donald Healey, whose company entered a joint venture with Austin to produce the sports cars. He was a navigator for Healey in the 1931 Alpine Rally.
When the novels were written in the 1950s, the cars would have been a natural choice for a figure of the British Establishment.
What happened to the Austin-Healey that’s heard in the Tokyo chase appears to be lost to history. This invisible Bond car was sold days later for £795. “Wish I had the car today,” wrote Jeffrey.