Bond Cars: Moonraker’s 1930 Bentley 4.5 Litre

Moonraker's 1930 Bentley 4.5 LitreWe’ll have to wait until next year to indulge in the next James Bond film, but last week’s mention of the Bentley Carte Blanche Special Edition got us talking about 007’s rides of choice, whether issued by Q Branch or chosen by Commander Bond himself.  We’ll cover one example from each actor’s era every Wednesday.  From Sean Connery’s timeless Aston Martin DB5 to Roger Moore’s unique Lotus Espirit S1 to the Pierce Brosnan’s BMW 7 Series, we’ll try to hit all the best ones.

Hopefully these will tide you over until Daniel Craig is finished lassoing aliens and can return as Britain’s top agent in 2012.  Perhaps by the time we’re done, we’ll know whether or not he’ll be getting behind the wheel of a Bentley Continental GT in Bond 23.

Before you start correcting my Bond lore about the complete lack of a Bentley in Moonraker (arguably the worst Bond film), please recall that novels preceded the films, and that Ian Flemming’s Moonraker was first published in 1955.  Unlike the cheesy film, the novel had little if anything to do with space travel. 

So Earth bound, Bond needed something to drive, and Flemming selected the even-then-ancient 1930 Bentley 4½ Litre.  Why was Bond cruising around in a 25-year-old rust bucket?  Because he was a gearhead.  He’d been driving the Bentley for two novels already, and in the first, Casino Royale, it’s mentioned as a project car. So if Streetside had been around back then, we probably would have sold him a power programmer performance exhaust.   

And just because it was old doesn’t mean it wasn’t fast.  The Bentley 4½ Litre debuted in 1927, though the supercharged model didn’t come along until 1929.  It was available as a “drophead coupe,” a sort of convertible fastback, and a “sporting four seater,” much the same save for the shape of the folding roof.  But Bond, of course, chose the “tourer,” a two-seater.

It was the tourer that Bentley took to the fledgling 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1928.  Drivers Woolf Barnato and Bernard Rubin piloted it to victory. 

As you have guessed, Bond’s Bentley ran on a 4½ liter engine (4.4, to be precise).  You might not have guessed it only had four cylinders.  The production straight four could churn out 110 hp, so it could probably outrun a Chevy Cruze, and the race-tuned version made 130.  Both figures were fairly substantial for the day. 

Of course, Bond preferred the supercharged version, and if Moonraker had been illustrated, we’d know from looking.  The supercharger sat shamelessly in front of the radiator grille, taunting Bond’s enemies with its silver bulk.  Nor was it an empty threat.  It boosted the touring model to 175 hp and the race car to 240.  Granted, the car weighed 3,800 lbs, but is recorded as having reached 137.96 mph in 1932.

Since the Fleming novels focused more on the character of Bond and less on his toys, the Bentley didn’t come equipped with any of Q’s famous gadgetry, but seemed to do the trick.  In fact, it performs quite nicely in the novel, chasing a villain in a Mercedes Type 300s until Bond crashes it into an Alfa-Romeo and ends the poor old Bentley’s life.  But before you start crying, know that at the end of the book, he buys a 1953 Bentley Mark VI to replace it.*

For its time, the old Bentley was perfect for the James Bond of Ian Flemming’s novels.  Powerful and manly, you expect it to have smelled of cognac and aftershave, and it was exceedingly British.  And since it was a proven endurance racer, it could hold up to 007’s dangerous adventures in espionage.

What’s your favorite Bond car?

Check back next week when we cover the most famous of all Bond Cars, the 1964 Aston Martin DB5.

*Technically, production of the Mark VI ended in 1952, but the joy of writing a novel is that you get to make stuff up.

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