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Original Aston Martin DB5 from Goldfinger & Thunderball up for auction

01-Jun-2010 • Collecting

For more than 40 years, Jerry Lee, a Philadelphia-area radio station owner, kept a used car in a downstairs room in his house. He never drove it. The vehicle had only one previous owner. His name was Bond. James Bond - reports the Wall Street Journal.

Mr. Lee's car, now here in a Canadian auto-restoration shop, was one of the original Aston Martin Silver Birch DB5s used in the early 007 films, "Goldfinger" and "Thunderball." It included "some rather interesting modifications," as the character known as Q explained in Goldfinger: revolving license plates, tire slasher, twin machine guns, rear oil sprayer, smoke screen, nail disperser, radar, retractable bullet-proof screen and, most memorably, a passenger ejector seat.

Mr. Lee, who is 74, bought the car directly from Aston Martin's British factory in 1969 for $12,000. He's now hoping to sell it for millions at a classic-cars auction in London on Oct. 27 and use the proceeds to fund a foundation he runs that focuses on crime prevention.

The last 007 car to go on the market fetched $2.1 million in 2006 from a private buyer. But that Aston Martin never appeared in any Bond film; it was one of two replicas created for publicity purposes; the other is in a museum in Holland.

Mr. Lee's prized possession, which has original gadgets and appeared in the two movies, will be the first authentic Bond car from that time to go on sale in decades. The only other one used in those movies mysteriously vanished from an airport hangar in Boca Raton, Fla., in 1997.

Dave Worrall, British author of "The Most Famous Car in the World: The Complete History of the James Bond Aston Martin DB5," predicts the coming sale will be "a huge deal" because of the other car's disappearance. If "it's gone forever, then that one takes over as the last remaining original one in the film," he says.

Indeed, the history and mystery surrounding the other Aston Martin seems straight out of an Ian Fleming thriller.

Known as the "effects car," it was the first Bond car outfitted with an arsenal and the one Q demonstrated for Sean Connery in Goldfinger. Some experts consider it more original than Mr. Lee's because it was the first to have gadgets. In fact, the debate over which car is the most original has been raging among various Bond car owners for years. The dispute was chronicled in a 1981 article in this newspaper headlined, "Can Three Men All Be Owners of 007's Car?"

There's only one Aston Martin Silver Birch DB 5 still around that appeared in the film "Goldfinger" and later in "Thunderball." And it's going up for sale in London. WSJ's Steve Stecklow reports on the iconic Bond mobile.

Curiously, after the filming Aston Martin stripped the "effects car" of its gadgets and sold it as a standard used vehicle. (One original gadget survived: the gear shift knob with a hidden red button that activates the ejector seat. It once sold at auction for around $80,000.) The "effects car" traded hands several times. New gadgets were added, but they weren't made by the car manufacturer, according to Mr. Worrall's book.

In 1986, a Florida real-estate developer, Anthony Pugliese III, bought the "effects car" at auction for $275,000 and began displaying it. Ten years later, James T. Sandoro, an independent car appraiser in Buffalo, N.Y., valued the vehicle at $4.2 million, and Mr. Pugliese obtained an insurance policy for that amount. "I always thought it was more than just an automobile," says the appraiser. "It was pop art."

Then late one day in June 1997, the car disappeared from the airport hangar where it was stored. There was little security at the time and apparently no one in the control tower.

James Grundy, president of Grundy Worldwide Inc., the insurance agency for the policy, says there were tire marks outside the hangar that just stopped and evidence that a plane had taken off that night. But he says an investigation by the police and Chubb Corp., the underwriter, failed to solve the crime.

A spokesman for Chubb, which paid the claim, says the company "thoroughly investigated" and offered a $30,000 reward for information leading to the car's recovery. It now holds the title to the car.

"I think that car is a pile of deteriorated aluminum in the Gulf Stream off the coast of Florida," says Mr. Grundy. "I can't prove it, but I'd bet on it."

Mr. Pugliese has a different theory. "Why would anyone go to all that trouble to dump it in the ocean? I believe it is still sitting in some Arab sheik's tent."

Which leaves Mr. Lee's car as the only "original" one whose whereabouts remain known.

His Aston Martin was called the "road car" and was used to shoot driving and chase scenes. Originally, it had no gadgets, but a complete set—minus the ejector seat—was installed for promotional purposes after the Bond car became an instant icon following Goldfinger's release in 1964, says Mr. Worrall, the author.

Mr. Lee says he managed to convince Aston Martin in 1969 to sell him the car with the help of its American distributor. When Mr. Lee arrived in Britain to seal the deal, "The car looked like a piece of junk. It was in a corner of the factory. It was covered with dirt."

As a favor to the distributor, Mr. Lee occasionally displayed the car, including in Memphis, where vandals cut some wires and made a dent, which was repaired. It was last seen publicly in Michigan about 17 years ago, he says. The rest of the time it was parked in a Bond-themed room in his house, where he would host fundraisers and demonstrate some of the car's gadgets. "It's great for parties," he says.

He says he had no intention of selling it until Don Rose, a consignment specialist for RM Auctions, a leading auctioneer of classic cars, told him in December he thought it was worth at least $5 million. "I was flabbergasted," Mr. Lee says. As much as he loved the car, he says he decided he would get more satisfaction using the proceeds for his philanthropic foundation.

His 1964 Aston Martin now sits in the auction firm's auto-restoration facility among numerous other classic cars. Quality-control manager Don McLellan says the engine runs fine—the odometer reads just under 31,000 miles—although the braking and exhaust systems required replacement. As for the gadgets, most either worked or were fixable, including the oil sprayer. "In fact, the whole trunk was very oily," he says.

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