Billionaire tech entrepreneur and investor Elon Musk has bought James Bond's iconic Lotus Esprit vehicle from The Spy Who Loved Me, with the intention of making its movie transformation from car to submarine a reality.
The car was bought for £616,000 ($997,000) at an auction in London in September, but the buyer's identity wasn't made public at the time. Automotive blog Jalopnik reported that Musk was the buyer last night, and subsequently confirmed it with the PR team from Tesla Motors, his electric cars company.
"It was amazing as a little kid in South Africa to watch James Bond in The Spy Who Loved Me drive his Lotus Esprit off a pier, press a button and have it transform into a submarine underwater," said Musk in a statement. "I was disappointed to learn that it can't actually transform. What I'm going to do is upgrade it with a Tesla electric powertrain and try to make it transform for real."
That may well be a tongue-in-cheek comment, but Musk's determination to tackle daunting technological challenges is undoubted. Besides Tesla, Musk founded payments firm PayPal and space exploration firm SpaceX.
Earlier this year, he published plans for Hyperloop, a public transport system to shuttle passengers between Los Angeles and San Francisco at 800 miles per hour. Figuring out how to make James Bond's submarine car transform for real doesn't seem so outlandish by comparison.
The car had been lost since its appearance in the 1977 Bond movie, but was rediscovered in 1989 after someone in Long Island paid $100 for a storage container and found the vehicle – wheel-less and dented – covered up by blankets.
Described as "Wet Nellie" on set, the restored car has been occasionally exhibited at museums in the last 24 years, before being offered for auction in September. It works as a submarine, but not as a car, as the auction listing explained:
"It moves forward via a bank of four propellers, with their electric motors being driven by batteries housed in a water-tight compartment. The articulated fins are adjusted with mechanical levers that are operated by its driver.
Underwater, the Lotus has a turning circle of around 20 feet. Its dive and climb performance is regulated by ballast tanks, and it has been described as "crisply argonautic".
Contrary to what movie magic suggests, there is no semblance of a road car interior in this Lotus; instead, inside one will find its underwater motors, batteries, levers, and other control apparatus, with only a platform seat for its driver."
The car was thought to have cost more than $100,000 to build in the 1970s. If Elon Musk can figure out how to make a fully-transforming version now, its potential value will be considerably higher.
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image: © Dave McLear