The cars and chase scenes of “No Time To Die”

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A new James Bond film, “No Time To Die,” is hitting the theaters, and for car guys that means cool cars become the stars as much as the glitzy Hollywood actors. As usual, Aston Martin leads the way, but we also get action that involves Jaguars and Land Rovers, with supporting roles by Maserati and Toyota.

The cars serve as ancillary characters, and create much of the action in this action flick. They also grab publicity for their brands.

“They get so much screen time, and they (the automakers) get their brand in front of the camera, and likewise we get some really smart, cool vehicles from them,” Neil Layton, the film’s action vehicle supervisor-coordinator, told Motor Authority.

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Four different Aston Martins feature in the movie, highlighted of course by Bond’s requisite 1960s DB5, one of the most beautiful cars ever built. The DB5 stars in multiple chase scenes and gets pretty beat up. Don’t fret, though, no real DB5 was harmed in the making of this movie.

Layton told us that 10 DB5s were used in the movie, two real cars and eight replicas. Layton had worked for the British racing works shop Prodrive supporting the Subaru rally team and at Aston Martin in the prototype and department, so he had the knowledge on how to build cars to perform.

Layton’s company, Auto Action Developments, worked with Aston Martin to produce those eight replicates. The teams had only six months to build the cars, but they had the advantage of familiarity.

“It was a natural integration where I can actually go back in and we talk the same language,” Layton said. Layton also got to add the equipment to the cars that he needed for the movie during the build process. That included both the speed equipment to make the cars real performers and the gear to help in the filming process.

Aston Martin DB5

Aston Martin DB5

Aston Martin DB5

Aston Martin DB5

Aston Martin DB5

Aston Martin DB5

Layton’s performance features turned the DB5 replicas into track-ready restomods. The cars were built around a bespoke spaceframe chassis and wrapped with carbon-fiber bodies. Layton said they used inline-6 cylinder engines with more than 380 hp, but he wouldn’t confirm the brand. Sure sounds like BMW’s 382-hp B58 3.0-liter turbo inline-6 from the Z4 and Toyota Supra to us.

Each stunt car also got a racing pedal box, a hydraulic handbrake, a quick steering rack, a limited-slip rear differential, a roll cage, safety systems, racing harnesses, and racing seats.

“We had lots and lots of fun shaking those cars down and testing them,” Layton noted.

Among the features Layton’s team incorporated into the cars was the so-called Gemini system, which incorporates remote controls through electric motors and actuators. Layton said the stunt drivers can control the cars either hard-wired or remotely from up to 500 meters away. Auto Action Developments developed the system in conjunction with the British firm Shiftec, using Shiftec’s controllers and modules.

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The control system was copied from gaming consoles, with force feedback for the steering and brakes. Layton’s team could program the steering ratios and brake pressures based on the needs for the various stunts, like handbrake turns, J-turns, or low- or high-speed maneuvers.

Operators could drive the cars remotely using several techniques. They could use a camera mounted on a head-tracking device in the driver’s seat and see those views remotely. The operator could look right or left and see what a driver in the seat of the DB5 would see. Those operators could use VR goggles, line of sight from a support vehicle following along, or drive from a spot in a cherry picker above the star car. This system lets a movie stunt coordinator crash a car remotely without putting anyone in danger.

Two of the DB5s served as pod cars, each with four bosses in the roof that marry up to an external cage that a driver can sit in with all controls to drive the car from the roof. Those controls work either through a solid column run through the A-pillar or a fluid transfer pump.

Aston Martin DB5 in

Aston Martin DB5 in

Aston Martin DB5 in

Aston Martin DB5 in

Aston Martin DB5 in

Aston Martin DB5 in

The DB5 stars in a very memorable scene in which machine guns pop out of the headlights and James Bond, played by Daniel Craig, mows down the bad guys by doing donuts, rotating in one spot. Craig’s stunt driver, famed rally driver Mark Higgins, performed the stunt, and Layton’s team dialed in the car to make it happen almost at will. The only trick was using a hydraulic handbrake on the left front wheel to get the car spinning.

Layton said Craig could do the stunt, too, but that wasn’t his job.

“He did his fair share (of driving) to be honest. We rehearse and we test with Daniel prior to filming. So Daniel can go out and he can drift, and he can J-turn, and he can do donuts, but obviously he has a lot more to deliver than just cool driving,” Layton said. “We allow him to do what he’s best at and then Mark and Lee (Morrison, the stunt coordinator) got on with their work with our vehicles and they put on a great display.”

All of the DB5s survived the filming.

In addition to Bond’s DB5, we also see a 1970s Vantage V8 driven by Bond and his love interest Madeleine Swan, played by Lea Seydoux, with a look much like the Ford Mustangs of the period; a new DBS Superleggera coupe as the car of choice for Bond’s successor as agent 007, a woman named Nomi; and the Valhalla hypercar concept hanging out in a wind tunnel at MI6 headquarters.

Earlier in the chase scene that ends with machine gun fire, a pair of Jaguar XFs pursue Bond through the ancient city of Matera, Italy. Layton’s team adjusted tire pressures, damper settings, and ride heights to help the cars perform on cobblestone streets, lose or gain traction, and handle a trip down steps. They also added handbrakes, roll cages, and race pedal boxes to these cars to give the stunt drivers more control. Jaguar provided six XFs for the movie.

2020 Land Rover Defender on the set of new James Bond movie “No Time To Die”

2020 Land Rover Defender on the set of new James Bond movie “No Time To Die”

2020 Land Rover Defender on the set of new James Bond movie “No Time To Die”

2020 Land Rover Defender on the set of new James Bond movie “No Time To Die”

2020 Land Rover Defender on the set of new James Bond movie “No Time To Die”

2020 Land Rover Defender on the set of new James Bond movie “No Time To Die”

Jaguar’s partner, Land Rover, also gets a lot of screen time, first with a vintage Land Rover Series III driven by Bond, then in a two-part off-road car chase. The scene begins with two Range Rover SVRs chasing Bond and Madeleine in a Toyota Hilux along a shoreline. Layton said six SVRs were used in the filming, and two of them met their deaths in flipover crashes trying to catch Bond. 

A video put out by Land Rover shows how the crew filmed part of the chase using a specially outfitted Ford F-150 camera truck with a large boom mounted on its roof. The video also shows how the crew performed the stunts, with ramps to send the SVRs flying, stunt drivers in helmets and full racing suits, and roll cages in the vehicles to protect the drivers. Morrison said the power and handling of the SVRs made them ideal chase cars, and Layton noted all the stunts were real.

The chase then moves to fields and forest where a squadron of Land Rover Defenders stalk Bond. Layton said the movie got the first eight Defenders off the line for use in filming. In the film, the Defenders run through a river, climb steep hills, and fly through the air in several jumps. Layton had praise for stunt driver and W Series racer Jessica Hawkins, who performed many of the Defender stunts and served as Sedoux’s stand-in. In the forest, Bond outsmarts the Defender drivers one by one, causing them to crash in various ways. Eventually, he uses a crashed Defender as a weapon against the bad guy’s lead henchman. 

The cars indeed play important character roles.

“No Time To Die” hits theaters on Oct. 8. Check it out with the car fan you love.

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