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One man and his Bond vehicle collection

23-Aug-2010 • Bond Style

Since the 1960s, every little boy, at one time or another, has wanted to be James Bond. He's a secret agent "licensed to kill," he pursues—and often catches—dangerous villains and beautiful women all over the world, but mostly he has some really cool gadgets, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Doug Redenius is one-for-three. The 54-year old has been a postal worker for more than 30 years and married to the same woman for almost as long. But through luck and determination this humble, middle-class Bond enthusiast from Illinois, who has been a fan of the films and of Agent 007 since the age of 8, has managed to amass the largest collection of James Bond cars in the world. You could call him Q's archivist.

Unfortunately, for much of the year, this impressive 33-item collection is sitting in a barn in a cornfield here, about 10 miles from St. Ann, Ill., where Mr. Redenius grew up. But he is hoping to change that. He has partnered with the city of Momence, one of many dying river towns in the Midwest. Together, Mr. Redenius and Momence are hoping to raise enough money to build the Museum of Bond Vehicles and Espionage. At the bare minimum, they'll renovate an abandoned used-car dealership, hoping to draw about 20,000 visitors a year. If they can find a rich benefactor, they'd like to build a $1.5 million, 14,000-square-foot exhibit space, designed by the hip Chicago architecture firm Gensler.

"Raising nearly $2 million will not be easy," said Mr. Redenius. "But if it does happen, I firmly believe we can save a small community and bring much needed jobs and tourism to the area."

Meanwhile, Mr. Redenius's Ian Fleming Foundation—which was incorporated as a nonprofit organization in 1992— and has no formal connection to the estate of Fleming, Bond's novelist creator, or to the Bond films—leases out the cars to auto shows and museums. In fact, nine of the automobiles, including the famous Lotus submarine car that Roger Moore drove in "The Spy Who Loved Me," are on display at the National Motor Museum in England.

Mr. Redenius uses the money from these paying gigs to acquire more vehicles and restore them. But if a charity wants to use the cars to raise money, he charges them nothing.

I drove about an hour south of Chicago, near where the proposed museum is to be, to see this impressive collection in late July, the day before Mr. Redenius and officials from Momence held a fund-raising open house. Mr. Redenius has either a vehicle or a prop from every Bond film except the first two, "Dr. No" (1962) and "From Russia With Love" (1963), and the most recent one, "Quantum of Solace" (2008). The most impressive vehicle he has is from one of the least-popular Bond films, 1969's "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," starring one-time 007 George Lazenby. It's the 1969 Mercury Cougar XR-7 convertible that Bond drives through the Swiss Alps in pursuit of arch-villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld (played by Telly Savalas). The film also features a steamy back-seat scene with the beautiful Diana Rigg. It is the most expensive car in the collection. Mr Redenius paid about $75,000 for it. Other items he got for free; some he bought for as little as $3,000.

Another standout in the collection is the customized Ford Mustang Mach I 429 Cobra Jet from "Diamonds Are Forever" (1971). According to Mr. Redenius, many of the scenes in the film were shot with a less powerful, 351-horsepower version of the Mach I.

When Mr. Redenius found the 429 Cobra Jet, it—like so many of the Bond vehicles he buys—was long-abandoned and in disrepair. So twice a year he hosts a volunteer work week in which a dozen or so regulars fly into Illinois and do some of the restoration work. Not surprisingly, as word of the collection has leaked out, Mr. Redenius has received many offers to come help. "I must have a volunteer list of 2,000 names," he said.

But this is not simple backyard garage work. His regular crew includes engineers, electricians and fabricators who are adept at the highly specialized jobs often required. The 429 Cobra Jet, in his own words, is "rusted out and is generally regarded as a piece of junk." For this particular project, he's hoping to lure one of the many car-restoration television shows, to help defray some of the costs and get the car back to pristine condition.

And Mr. Redenius hasn't limited himself to just cars and trucks. The first Bond vehicle he acquired was a specially built wet submersible used in 1981's "For Your Eyes Only." It was originally part of the USS Intrepid Museum in New York. A local dive club was going to buy it, because it "had no military significance and the Intrepid people really weren't interested in it," he said. He managed to purchase it and spent the next year and a half restoring it.

Mr. Redenius has been able to track down Bond boats through Glastron, the manufacturer that custom built many of them. From "Moonraker" (1979) he has the sleek black speedboat outfitted with rocket launchers, mines and a hang glider. He also has two of the boats used in the swamp chase scenes in 1973's "Live and Let Die." One was used to make a 110-foot jump over a levee (then a world record); the other was the villain's boat that ends up in a nearby swimming pool.

Other interesting gadgets include Blofeld's Bath-o-Sub from "Diamonds Are Forever," which was crafted by legendary car builder George Barris; the Indian Tuk-Tuk auto rickshaw from "Octopussy" (1983); and, from "The Spy Who Loved Me" (1977), the Wetbike Water Cycle, one of the world's first-ever jet skis. "Once the producers saw it, they desperately wanted to include it in the film," Mr. Redenius said.

Go to the foundation's web site (www.ianfleming.org) and you can see all these and more. There's also a list of items Mr. Redenius hasn't yet acquired but would like to. Like his hero, James Bond, I think he will complete his mission.

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