Automotive history

Now pay attention, 007: The mystery of the missing Aston Martin DB5 from Goldfinger could be solved

by Nik Berg and Nigel Matthews
18 August 2021 6 min read
Now pay attention, 007: The mystery of the missing Aston Martin DB5 from Goldfinger could be solved
Photo: Aston Martin

It is a mystery up there with the twists and turns of the most famous screen spy of all: In 1997, an Aston Martin DB5 that featured in the James Bond film Goldfinger vanished into thin air. Despite it being said that half the world’s population would recognise a James Bond Aston Martin DB5, the missing car’s whereabouts remains unkown.

Now it is the subject of a new podcast series, The Most Famous Car in the World. Hosted by Elizabeth Hurley, the podcast follows Christopher A Marinello of Art Recovery International who has been chasing the car’s whereabouts since it vanished without trace from an aircraft hanger at Boca Raton airport, in Florida, America.

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The car was owned by Anthony Pugliese III who was investigated at the time of the disappearance but never charged.

In the podcast Marinello and Hurley sift through the evidence and examine new leads in the hunt for the DB5. The Bond car is now estimated to be worth $25m (£18m) and a $100,000 reward is on offer for information leading to its recovery.

Marinello says he has spoken to individuals who swear they have seen the missing car, in the Middle East, and that its chassis number matches the stolen DB5. He says it is entirely possible that the car was bought in good faith, by a wealthy collector who may have failed to conduct sufficient research into the past of the DB5.

The show, from the SPYSCAPE Network is available now on Apple and all major podcast channels.

“I’m a huge fan of James Bond so I’m excited to share this fascinating heist story,” says Hurley. “I hope this podcast will intrigue 007 fans everywhere and help shine a light on the mystery and see the Goldfinger Aston Martin DB5 returned after all this time.”

But the missing Aston wasn’t the only one of its kind to be used during the production and publicity of the Goldfinger movie. Here’s your handy potted guide to the Bond DB5s.

The Road Car 

Chassis number DP/2161/1: UK license plate BMT 216A

The Cannonball Run (1981)
From the movie The Cannonball Run (1981) Golden Harvest

This car belonged to Aston Martin; it was the DB5 prototype – a modified DB4. It was referred to as “the road car” because it was used in all of the driving scenes in the movies.

In 1968, Aston Martin stripped it of all of its gadgets and sold it to Gavin Keyzar as a used car displaying 50,000 miles on the odometer. It was re-registered with license plate 6633 PP. A year later, Keyzar had a company in the south of England reinstall all the gadgets to capitalise on the car’s history.

In 1971, Keyzar sold DP/2161/1 to Richard Loose of Utah. (It had a very brief appearance in the movie The Cannonball Run.) Loose retired in 1987 and decided to sell both the DB5 and a 1937 Rolls-Royce Phantom III also used in Goldfinger at a Sotheby’s auction in New York. Anthony Pugliese, a developer from Florida, purchased the car for $275,000.

I contacted Jim Grundy of Grundy Insurance in 2006 and he told me that a very reputable appraiser put a value of $4 million on the car and Grundy insured it for $3.2 million – 80 per cent of the appraisal.

In 1997, the car was stolen from an aircraft hangar in Boca Raton, Florida. The circumstances of the theft were very suspicious. The car has never been seen since, and I suspect that it was destroyed. Grundy and the underwriter Chubb Insurance paid the claim. 

The local community was shaken – but not stirred.

The Gadget Car 

Chassis number DB5/1486/R: UK license plate FMP 7B

RM DB5/1486/R 2010 London auction
DB5/1486/R shown at the time of the 2010 RM Auctions London sale. Photo: RM Sotheby’s

This car also belonged to Aston Martin and was used in Goldfinger and Thunderball for all of the special effects.

All the gadgets were removed in 1968, and the car was sold to Jerry Lee in the US for $12,000. When Lee went to England to view the car, it looked very grim. Aston Martin spruced it up before Lee took it back to the States.

DB5/1486/R was displayed at a few shows until it was damaged at a show in Memphis, Tennessee. Lee was furious and vowed that it would never be displayed again.

In 1977, the chairman of Aston Martin USA asked Lee if he would allow the car to be displayed at the New York Auto Show. Aston Martin would pay for the gadgets to be reinstalled. It was a huge success and the car was displayed one more time in 1981. Afterwards, the car lived in a special wing of Lee’s house and was never publicly seen again. Lee decided to sell the car and use the proceeds of the sale to fund the Jerry Lee Foundation, which supports education and anti-crime projects internationally. 

RM Auctions sold the car for $4.6 million on October 10th of 2010 to Harry Yeaggy, a well-known classic car collector from Cincinnati, Ohio. He still owns the car and generously displays it at concours events around the United States. This is the only surviving DB5 of the two cars actually used in the filming of the movies.

Here’s what happened to the two publicity cars…

Publicity Car 1 

Chassis number DB5/2017/R: re-issued UK license plate BMT 216A

Alf Spence checking out the gadgets
Alf Spence checking out the gadgets! Alf Spence Archives

This car was one of two built for Eon Productions at the staggering cost of $62,000 each (when an original DB5 cost $11,250).

Eon sold DB5/2017/R and its twin, DB5/2008/R, to Anthony Bamford (now Lord Bamford) in 1969. Bamford purchased both cars for $3750 each – a steal!

One year later, Bamford’s friend Sandy Luscombe-Whyte asked Bamford to sell one of the cars to him. Luscombe-Whyte traded a 1964 Ferrari 250 GTO in a straight swap for the DB5. Bamford still has the Ferrari to this day – which is likely at least $40 million today.

After four months of having fun with it, Luscombe-Whyte advertised the car in The Times in London. Frank Baker of Vancouver, British Columbia, made him an offer he could not refuse: $21,600 and an all-expenses-paid trip aboard the QE2 to New York. Luscombe-Whyte would deliver the car from Montreal, driving it across Canada to Vancouver. Baker offered an additional two weeks’ holiday on the West Coast.

The car spent the next 13 years on display outside Baker’s Attic Restaurant in West Vancouver. 

Frank Baker and Alf Spence DB5/2017/R
The flamboyant West Vancouver restaurateur Frank Baker and Alf Spence posing with DB5/2017/R in West Vancouver. In the background to the right you can see the plexiglass display case that the car was parked in for 13 years… where it literally baked in the sun! Photo: Alf Spence Archives

Baker fell upon hard times in the early ’80s and sold the car to Alf Spence for $7000. After having the car completely restored, Spence sold it to a consortium headed by Ernest Hartz of San Francisco. The DB5 was offered for sale; they were hoping to get $165,000, but only received a high bid of $80,000.

The new owner was racecar driver Bob Bondurant. He sold it one year later to Robert Pass of Pass Transportation. Five months later, Pass sold it to Robert Littman. When Littman discovered DB5/2017/R was neither a car used in the movies nor the one driven by Sean Connery, he was very disappointed. It ended up in a Jaguar dealership in New Jersey.

In 1989 the dealership went into receivership. DB5/2017/R disappeared, only to surface in the Louwman Collection in the National Automobile Museum in Raamsdonksveer, Holland. 

DB5/2017/R in 2007
This is DB5/2017/R, owned by the Louwman Museum, in the Aston Martin class at Pebble Beach in 2007. Photo: Nigel Matthews

DB5/2017/R remains at Holland’s National Automobile Museum to this very day—despite stories of it being sold at an auction in 2010, when it was probably mistaken for DB5/1486/R (“the gadget car”). 

Publicity Car 2 

Chassis number DB5/2008/R: UK license plate YRE 186H 

2008 DB5
2008 DB5 RM Sotheby’s

Bamford kept the other car of the pair manufactured for Eon Productions and had some fun with it until the news of the theft of “the road car” hit the press.

It was 1971 and time to cash in. Bamford sold the car to Bruce Atchley, the owner of the Smoky Mountain Car Museum in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Atchley wanted it for his son, Hugh. The car was installed inside an iron-barred cage and displayed from 1971 until 2006.

It was auctioned off on the 20th of January, 2006, at the Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix, Arizona. The car was driven into a darkened ballroom by Terry Lobzun of RM – with the machine-guns omitting a rat-tat-tat sound just like in the movie – to great fanfare and applause.

The hammer fell at $2.4 million. 

2008 DB5
2008 DB5 RM Sotheby’s

After the auction, DB5/2008/R was destined for a new home in Switzerland. Rumours suggested Eon Productions had purchased it, but that was not the case. It would come to be offered for sale at RS Williams in Surrey, England, a few years later for £3,000,000 ($3,647,505).

Some time between 2006 and 2013, DB5/2008/R underwent a four-year restoration in Switzerland courtesy of Roos Engineering, one of thirteen Aston Martin Heritage Specialists.

It was sold in 2019, by RM Sotheby’s, for a cool $6.38m.

For many years, all four cars resided in North America. The number has now been reduced to one: the Harry Yeaggy car in Ohio, DB5/1486/R. That car is without question the only remaining survivor of the pair used in the filming of the two movies, Goldfinger and Thunderball.

The replicas

There have been as many as five other Aston Martin DB5s claimed to be used in the movies; but they were certainly not the two real cars used in the filming of Goldfinger and Thunderball. Replicas were used in the filming of Goldeneye, Casino Royale, Skyfall and now, No Time To Die. No other car has attracted so much attention for a combined 13 minutes of footage.

Read more

7 of 007’s most underrated Bond movie chase cars
10 Bond cars not made by Aston Martin
Bond cars on a budget

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