Second to the Aston Martin, one of the most memorable cars in the series of James Bond movies is the Lotus Esprit that crashes into the water and turns into a submersible during a getaway scene in the 1977 movie, "The Spy Who Loved Me." Next month it's going up for auction and expected to fetch a cool $1 million.
The car has been in Long Island, N.Y., since 1989, when a contractor purchased the contents of a storage unit without knowing what was inside. After winning the bid for $100 and opening the unit, he discovered the legendary Lotus. RM Auctions is handling the sale in London, scheduled for Sept. 9.
Building a 'swimming sports car'
The Lotus was built by Perry Oceanographics, which merged into the global company Forum Energy Technologies in 2010, says Rory Satterfield, director of custom products for Forum.
Satterfield says the team of 15 to 20 engineers, designers, fabricators, assemblers and operational crew at Perry Oceanographics in Florida in the 1970s was "well aware of why they were building this 'swimming sports car' and obviously there was considerable excitement being part of a fun and unique project such as this."
Perry also built a second submersible for the movie, Satterfield adds. "It was from the Shark Hunter II series and was used again in another James Bond movie, 'Licence to Kill.'" That sub was auctioned in 2006. A similar wet sub built by Perry was also used in the movie, 'Jaws: The Revenge,'" he adds.
Satterfield doesn't know how much it cost to build the Lotus submersible back in the 1970s, but estimates construction today would cost $300,000 to $400,000. "Today, not only considering the cost increase of manufacturing between then and now, you also have to consider the changes in technologies, specifically control systems, batteries and electronics," he says. "Today's underwater vehicle would have a larger emphasis on safety features."
A deceptively simple design
The Lotus submersible was unique for many reasons, Satterfield says. "It was a wet sub, which means it free floods with water," he explains. The "drivers" or "pilots" in the stunt scenes would have been in scuba gear, he adds, which is why viewers see bubbles escaping from the vehicle.
The sub contained the type of batteries found in a golf cart, supplying power to four electric thrusters that provided a couple hours of duration at a speed of 2 to 3 knots underwater, Satterfield says. "During its initial trials, the submarine wanted to nose dive, due to the shape of the Lotus. The fins you see on the wheel covers were added to stabilize the sub and allow it to track properly."
Satterfield says he's not surprised that the car might bring as much as $1 million. In 2010, the 1964 Aston Martin DB5 featured in the James Bond movie "Goldfinger" sold at auction for $4.6 million. "The Bond franchise is probably the most iconic series of movies," he says.
What's more, the new owner could probably take it out for a spin. "The submarine is deceptively simple," Satterfield says. "So with new batteries, refurbishing or replacing electric thrusters and a bit of elbow grease, there is a fair chance you could get it operable."
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