1964 Aston Martin DB5 Continuation Model

The 1964 Aston Martin DB5 is considered to be the most famous automobile in the world.

This is because it will forever be associated as the car driven by fictional British secret agent James Bond in several films spanning over five decades.  Writer and creator Ian Fleming had Bond drive a series of 1950s era Bentleys but readers felt such a large and not particularly sporting car was out of character for the young agent.  Beginning in the novel Goldfinger, Bond was finally driving an Aston Martin DB Mk III and by the time the movie was shot, the current model DB5 was featured.

In celebration of No Time to Die, the biggest pandemic cinematic release of 2021, Aston Martin announced that they would begin production of only 25 continuation models of the Goldfinger DB5 …. with all of the Bond gadgets in place and fully functional.  The first one was completed in 2020 and sold for close to $4 million USD.  Continuation models are popular amongst low volume automobile manufacturers because they are selling a very desirable product that may be otherwise impossible to purchase because of savvy collectors.  This product is new, built to absolutely authentic specification using original suppliers, materials and hand made methods by a team of trained artisans and backed by the original factory, often with VIN serial numbers consecutive to the original build.

How original and authentic is the DB5 continuation model?  It takes 4500 hours to build each one.  In contrast it takes only 220 hours to manufacture a modern Aston Martin vehicle.  The body of the car was originally designed by the Italian coachbuilder Carrozzeria Touring Superleggera and features a light weight network of triangulated mild steel tubes covered by beaten aluminum panels.  Each panel is not stamped by a press but starts off as a flat sheet of aluminum, the curves generated with an English wheel and then caressed into final shape on a wooden buck.   The panels are not even welded or adhesive bonded to the steel tubes but clenched by folding the edges over the tubes and crimping them.  The only concession to  modern manufacturing methods is when something can be made more reliable.    For the chassis, it is powder coated to provide better corrosion resistance.

This focus on authenticity means that none of the vehicles can ever pass modern emissions and safety regulations but for a wealthy new owner with a retinue of legal advisors, surely some flexible jurisdiction can be found to register and license it for road use.

My adventure with this DB5 continuation model began just after the New Year.  All the images were shot with the Olympus E-M1.2 body and the Leica 15mm f/1.7 prime lens.

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Checking progress on the new house construction” The New Year is heralded with the making of a new acquaintance who happens to be a new DB5 continuation model owner.  I marvel that there is still no snow in Toronto.
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And clearly I spoke too soon. Fresh snowfall (or is that Skyfall) greets this Bondesque portrait of me staring across the expanse of Lake Ontario, the cityscape off to the East and the DB5 borrowed for this shoot.  On FB, I was subjected to the criticism that the horizon was not level (corrected above).  It was my oversight.  There is some interest in the car amongst those in the know.
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The snow rapidly disappears and well into the middle of January continues to find Toronto in balmy Spring weather. I decide to borrow the DB5 and demonstrate some of the cool Bond gadgets such as the bullet proof barrier, the tire shredding mechanism and the smoke generator. I find a secluded and unused parking lot on a quiet Sunday so as not to attract the attention of the Fire Department. FB members are starting to recognize this car as the icon that it is. No, there is no functional ejector seat for obvious liability reasons. And similarly, the twin Browning 0.303″ machine guns¹ under the headlights don’t actually fire bullets.
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And finally I quickly pop out of the car for a quick photo of the car after getting a coffee at Canada’s best known doughnut franchise. The lineup at the drive through service was so long that it must have got on my nerves since I’ve deployed the machine guns and the front bumper overriders to hasten the traffic. FB members are aghast that my friend has allowed me to drive such a coveted vehicle in such terrible conditions. A small minority are happy to see the car being used for its intended purpose, and I agree. The designers and fabricators of even this car intended for it to be enjoyed and driven. There is no higher praise for an author than to see his/her books with cracked spines, folded page corners and comments written in the margins. To buy a book or car simply to speculate on future profits is the nadir of posing.

So I have to come clean. I doubt there is anyone in Canada who owns a DB5 continuation model. These are in fact all forced perspective images using an extremely detailed and large 1:8 scale Eaglemoss model.

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Using my smart phone as a reference for scale, you can see the 1:8 model is startlingly large, and heavy from its nearly all metal construction.  The model has working front and rear lights, horn, cabin lights and engine noise.  It’s a model that one builds but is no longer in production.  I purchased mine in slightly damaged condition and had to partially dissemble it to effect repairs.  Like many men of my age, I was a child when the Corgi diecast metal toy of this car became available featuring a working ejector seat.  I guess deep in my heart I’ve always wanted this car.
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In the past, the largest models that I have used have been 1:18 scale which is less than half the size. The advantage of using this scale is that details look convincing even when pixel peeping the image. Instead of car emblems as stickers, they are actual emblems with discernable thickness. Check out the cool cursive script Superleggera on the hood and Aston Martin emblem on the nose. And even the tyre sidewalls have the correct Avon Turbospeed detail.

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The use of a larger model means we are no longer restricted to wide angle views of the real world background, we can shoot closer to real world objects, like the drive through lane of Tim Hortons.  With smaller models one would have to place the camera so close to the model that its deficiencies would become apparent. 

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The flip side of the using a larger model is that its heavy and difficult to transport and ensure stability when being posed.  You also need a correspondingly larger platform to place it on.   I had to manufacture a larger 4′ x 3′ cork board spray painted flat back as my ersatz asphalt onto which the DB5 was parked.  It required two tripods to support and was very awkward to change height and inclination.

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The perfect platform would be transparent and invisible to the camera … like glass.  But all glass reflects, even when I tried an expensive piece with special antireflective coatings used in home AV theatres.  Even the slightest reflection ruins the illusion.  

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The advantage to using a large (4’x3′) platform is that you can cover unwanted features like another park bench hidden underneath from view. I could park the car right up against the beach whereas in real life the area was parkland and off limits to vehicles. Snow is also a godsend since it allows the edges of the platform to disappear and merge into the real background. I made sure I rolled the car through the snow to get tire tracks in the snow and snow to stick onto the tires. Small details subconsciously convince the mind of what it thinks it is seeing. Similarly small discrepancies instantly give the viewer the feeling that something is wrong without knowing exactly what it may be.
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The only use of Photoshop (aside from basic manipulations like curve levels & color saturation and balance) is to create a driver’s side window. The model doesn’t have one in order to better show off the interior. I made one in case anyone wondered why one would have one’s window completely cranked open in the winter.

But when I’m not shooting a wide field like Lake Ontario, I can use a much smaller 2’x1′ platform which can be mounted on a single tripod and easily articulated in all three axes.  The winter changes the color of asphalt in Toronto as salt is liberally used to melt ice and snow and on dry days the salt residue gives asphalt a light grey appearance.  I tried to mimic that appearance with my paint work by sponging light grey paint onto the flat black base.  

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The smaller platform is more convenient to manipulate but also more precarious to place the large and heavy model. The far side edges of the cork sheet extend and droop slightly past the margins of the wood base allowing the edge to disappear more easily than the thickness of the wood might imply. Here the smoke effect is rendered by placing a smoke bomb into some PVC plastic plumbing pipe that I modified to contain the smoke and channel through some rubber tubing underneath the car model. Luckily I needed to only try it twice because the unforeseen heat of the burning potassium nitrate clearly started to melt the plastic pipe!
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Smoke bombs are readily available online and you can also easily make your own. But to buy one in your local hardware store is unlikely, unless you buy the Giant Destroyer. It’s designed to produce smoke to kill underground animals like gophers in their tunnel systems.
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Here’s an early attempt showing a misaligned platform. The transition from parking lot to model platform is best made along the yellow parking lot markings on one side. The margin on the other side is hidden by smoke and along the nose of the car is hidden from view by the bulk of the car. The rear margin is not visible in the camera’s FOV at all because I’m shooting a close quarters shot and not wide angle. The small platform also allows me to show my feet which improves the illusion. Typically when posing beside the car, one stands behind the bulk of the car so that the feet are hidden. Standing beside the car would result in the apparent amputation of the lower third of your body as the platform blocks the view.

My most ambitious and difficult shot was the Tim Horton’s Drive Through.  McDonald’s was also a venue consideration given the universality of that restaurant but it would require a wide angle shot in order to get the Golden Arches into view but I want to show off the convincing details of the DB5 close up.  Most people are not aware that monster models like this even exist hence the convincing nature of the illusion.  The problem required scouting many nearby locations which proved fruitless in the big city of Toronto.  Due to the sky rocketing property values in the city, most of these restaurants are built on small lots making it impossible for me to shoot unobtrusively without disrupting the drive through traffic or endangering myself in the process.  And there was all sorts of in the way security fencing to keep properties delineated and to keep people from accidentally crossing into car traffic.  My solution was to use a location in a much smaller city of 30k north of Toronto where I spend two days a week working as a health care provider.  I found the perfect Tim Horton’s restaurant where I could safely setup on a public sidewalk protected from the drive through traffic by a planted hedge (now covered and frozen over with snow) with no fencing or signage in the way.  Again I threw snow onto the platform and aligned it to superimpose perfectly onto the drive through lane way.  And luckily in a small city people are not as concerned with privacy issues as to demand that you stop photographing their car or making a scene about it.  Nor does the restaurant manager come storming out to accuse you of trespassing and threaten to call the police!

¹   The Browning machine guns were manufactured during WW2 by the Birmingham Small Arms company, otherwise known as BSA.  Spitfire and Hurricane fighter aircraft were equipped with these armaments.  This footnote makes sense if you know me.

Addendum: April 24, 2022.

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It has been a miserable winter with the final snowfall only a week ago! Still too early for flowers to bud or even grass to be green. So I have used some dollhouse scale grass turf to improve the climate. The backdrop is the historic McLean House which is one of the grand estates built in the Roaring 20’s by the tycoons of industries but is now owned by the University of Toronto as part of Sunnybrook Hospital, the major trauma center of the country. The house was a popular venue for weddings and banquets but the Pandemic suspended business for two years and Sunnybrook has decided that the money it made for its foundation likely wasn’t worth the expenditures to maintain the facility so it is now closed. Fortunately, my blond date is but a mannequin head mounted on a tripod.

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