Wet Nellie: The Second Most Famous Bond Car

The original submersible Esprit during one of the filming takes. 7 photos
Photo: EON Productions
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Although the gadget-filled Aston Martin DB5, indisputably the most famous film car of all time, was used in no less than five movies from the James Bond franchise, another Bond vehicle takes the cake as the most impressive "transformer" car in the series. We are of course talking about the white part car/part submarine Lotus Esprit S1 that made history in "The Spy Who Loved Me".
The third James Bond movie to star Roger Moore as double-oh-seven, "The Spy Who Loved Me" is probably in the top five most popular films of the famed franchise mostly thanks to the extensive use of the underwater Lotus scenes in its marketing.

It was the first James Bond flick to have a completely original story line, as Ian Fleming - the creator of James Bond - had given permission to use only the title of his novel. It was also the first movie of the franchise to be singlehandedly produced by Albert "Cubby" Broccoli, the man who is credited for bringing Bond to the big screen.

The stereotypical, farfetched and somewhat cheesy plot revolved around a water-loving megalomaniac baddie named Karl Stromberg, who wanted nothing less than obliterating all mankind from the surface of the Earth. The basic idea was that he would steal missiles from both American and Russian submarines, use them against all humanity, after which he would casually retreat to his new underwater kingdom where he would rule over the surviving people.

Let's Get Wet!

Nicknamed the "Wet Nellie", the white Esprit S1 (or Series 1, as some people prefer it) was a Q Branch developed automobile, just like the aforementioned (and more famous) 1964 DB5, which was first driven by Sean Connery in "Goldfinger". If The Spy Who Loved Me had been made today, the underwater chase scenes would have been most likely done using nothing but CGI. Given the fact that the movie was released in 1977, all of the stunts were made using a real submersible, which didn't look like any other submersible made before or after.

No less than six Esprits in both "actual car" and "shell" form were used during filming, one of which was most likely totaled during the water jump scene. Obviously, the most spectacular and feature-packed one was the submersible, which was an actual wet submarine using a Lotus Esprit body.

Another waterproof Esprit was modified for the sequence where the car is emerging from the water onto a beach filled with perplexed sunbathers, while a separate modified car was used for the scene where the Lotus is transforming from surface roamer to Ocean swimmer.

Technical Difficulties

Once the submersible car idea was drafted, only half the work was completed, since it soon emerged (pun intended) that completing it would be much more difficult than expected.

First of all, the distinct wedge-shape of the Giurgiaro-penned Lotus Esprit was much more appropriate for generating downforce. This meant that extensive modifications - such as adjustable fins at each corner and four electric drive units with steering vanes at the rear - had to be made in order to keep the Lotus submarine operating under somewhat "normal" conditions.

Second of all, in order to keep it as simple and feasible as possible, the special effects guys decided not to actually seal and pressurize the cockpit, so the Esprit submersible was actually a wet submarine with an Esprit shell over it. this meant that the only way to actually control the "car" underwater was with the help of two, fully-geared divers.

The two main problems with the submersible's initial design was the extremely poor visibility and the fact that the four electric engines did not have reverse capability. The first issue was pseudo-repaired with the help of a mirror-system which helped the two "captains" to see under the car, while the second one proved to be more of a challenge.

Since it had no way of reversing, the only way to slow it down was to shut its engines off and let it settle on the sea bottom. After that, a team of three divers would lift it to its intended location. In total, a team of eleven divers were underwater in each of the car's takes.

Submersible Inspector Gadget

Of course, as just about any other Bond gadgets'r'us car, the white Lotus Esprit had a tonne of bad guys repellant systems, which we are naturally going to divulge:
  • ability to turn into a submarine, complete with a telescopic periscope, retractable wheels, four control fins, four rear propellers and two stabilizing fins (rudders)
  • liquid cement-spraying jets behind the rear license plate on land and a squid-like ink/oil-spraying jet for underwater use; 
  • mine dispenser under the car; 
  • two under-hood harpoons; 
  • four under-hood heat-seeking missile launchers (for underwater use); 
  • four surface-to-air radar-guided missiles.

All in all, there must have been some pretty tense days during filming, especially considering the special "logistics" involved. Thankfully, nothing went wrong and, although probably with the help of tens of different takes, what you see in the final cut is pretty much what you get: a real, working submarine made out of a Lotus Esprit S1. How cool is that? Elon Musk should know, especially since he now owns the actual car.
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About the author: Alex Oagana
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Alex handled his first real steering wheel at the age of five (on a field) and started practicing "Scandinavian Flicks" at 14 (on non-public gravel roads). Following his time at the University of Journalism, he landed his first real job at the local franchise of Top Gear magazine a few years before Mircea (Panait). Not long after, Alex entered the New Media realm with the project.
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