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Esprit shot to fame in the 1977 James Bond Film, The Spy Who Loved Me, staring
Roger Moore and Barbara Bach. The screen role of the Esprit in this film did
more for Esprit sales than anything else Lotus attempted to do. How the Esprit
came to feature in the film is a story of chance. Donovan McLauchlan, Colin
Chapman's PR man, had been tipped off that the Bond movie was scheduled for
Pinwood studios. So during 1975 he took a pre-production Esprit to the studios,
dropped a quid to the doorman and left the Esprit prototype right in the path
of anyone trying to get in or out. This gave the car maximum exposure and
it wasn't long before Cubby Broccoli and the production staff saw the car
and were so impressed with it, they chose the Esprit as James Bonds car in
Lotus spent £18,000 altogether on the film, loaning the Film Company 2 production Lotus Esprit’s, 5 Esprit body shells and 2 Lotus personnel, during the Sardinian car chase - Roger Becker and McLauchlan. The body shells were used to make a 1:1 scale replica of the under-water Esprit, built by Perry Oceanographics. The Esprit submarine featured fins, front-mounted rocket launchers, mines, a periscope, a smoke screen and a surface to air missile. There was also and cement sprayer concealed behind the registration plates. The cost of converting the Esprit body shell into a submarine was $100,000,000 US dollars, this bill was picked up by the Film Company. The other body shells were used in various scene, including the shot of the Esprit driving off the pier, into the sea. That shell was powered by compressed air, equipped with a space-frame and a locked steering wheel.
The filmed was critical acclaimed at the time and grossed $187 million at the box office. Lotus sales increased dramatically, with a 3 year waiting list for Esprit’s. The Lotus, that was featured in the car chases PPW 306R, survives today at the "Car of the Stars" Museum in Cumbria. The underwater Esprit "Wet Nellie" resides at the Beaulieu National Motor Museum. Lotus sold the remaining body shells to the public at the time, without saying they were from the Bond movie!
Lotus Esprit Submarine
The Lotus Esprit emerges from the sea
The Lotus Esprit shell on the jetty
Roger Moore and Barbara Bach pose for a promotional shot
Roger Moore and Barbara Bach in the Lotus Esprit
A promotional stand for the Spy Who loved Me
Bond Submarine at Auction
In September 2013 the Lotus Esprit Submarine, known as "Wet Nelly," was sold at RM Auction in London for £550,000. The previous owner, who chose to stay anonymous, found the car after buying a storage container in Long Island in 1989. It is believed the Lotus was left in storage by the production company which paid for the container for 10 years. But when the payment ran out and nobody came to collect it, it was put up for sale. The man who bought it earns a 'very modest' living through his business which rents out construction tools. He did not recognise the car for what it was as he had reportedly never seen a Bond film at the time. When he pulled the covers off the car and found it had no wheels and a dented roof, he was less than thrilled with his buy. But as he drove the car home on the back of a truck, other drivers who recognised the vehicle radioed him to tell him what it was. Back home he rented The Spy Who Loved Me on video, and realised how valuable his find was.
The Lotus was nicknamed 'Wet Nellie' during filming and was built by a former Navy SEAL at a cost of around $100,000 - the equivalent to $500,000 today. Although Roger Moore starred as Bond in the film, the submarine car was driven by retired Navy SEAL Don Griffin during underwater filming.
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