Elon Musk loves cars. While with Tesla he promotes parameters to follow in an industry that is moving towards electromobility, the tycoon collects gasoline models. Among some of the jewels he has in his garage, there is a film copy that had a lot to do with his childhood in South Africa: the Lotus Esprit, which accompanied James Bond in one of the films starring Roger Moore.
It was not a vehicle to use. This Lotus was an alleged amphibious specimen that allowed agent 007 to escape in the middle of a chase in the film The spy who loved me. As Tesla’s CEO himself admitted, the futuristic lines of that British model served as a source of inspiration to shape his latest great creation, the Cybertruck pick-up, one of the most promoted products of his brand and which has been in production for almost three years. delay (now, they promise that it will be on the market in 2023).
This sports car has several interesting details. One is the way the producers of the James Bond movie worked to reshape it and give it a real amphibian feel, back when the special effects were more analog and there wasn’t as much digital animation. Another is how it came into the hands of Elon Musk. Or better: how it went from being a $100 car to almost a million in the same currency that the businessman paid.
Elon Musk’s Lotus, the object of a business
Musk has been with millionaire accounts for more than a decade. So much so that a little less than a month ago he agreed to pay a fine of one billion dollars for having broken the agreement for the purchase of Twitter, an operation that was to be closed at a sum of 44 billion dollars. The owner of Tesla, who even with shocks maintains the status of the emerging automaker that can threaten the great powers, may also have been the one who gained the least in the middle of a transaction.
In 2013, he was featured at an auction held by RM Sotheby’s and bought James Bond’s amphibious Esprit for $997,000. Lotus is a brand always close to the South African. In fact, the Roadster with which Tesla began production was a derivative of the Elise. That proximity and an already large wallet allowed him to acquire that 007 car without noticing that those who sold it were closing the deal of their lives, with a margin of almost 100,000 percent.
The vehicle in the film was called Wet Nellie. The one Musk bought was one of three Esprits used, the amphibian and two other conventionals, but there were also seven other fiberglass shells; one of them was cut in half so that some of the scenes shared by Roger Moore and Barbara Bach, his beautiful co-star, could be made. To convert it, Wet Nellie was worked on by Perry Oceanographic, a Florida company that equipped it with four propellers, batteries and four fins that were in the area where the wheels originally were. The modifications cost about 100 thousand dollars.
The Lotus, like a good Bond car, was full of gadgets and weapons, it was never submerged, but those underwater shots were made with a scale model. Those scenes were recorded in the Bahamas. It was controlled by a Navy Seal of the United States Navy, already retired from service. And to create the bubbles that he generated, Alka-seltzer tablets were used.
The one Musk bought was one of three Esprits used in the 1976 movie
It took 12 years after the film’s release, in 1977, for Wet Nellie to reappear without anyone looking for him. It was in 1989. There was a big sale going on in a warehouse around New York. Among the buyers was a Long Island couple who owned a tool-rental business. They bought a closed lot for $100. They did not know its content.
They found a car without wheels, punished by the passage of time. Some time later, when he was towing the car, they began to receive messages on the radio system from other truckers who were crossing it and could not believe their eyes. It was then that they began to understand that they could be in front of a business.
They confirmed it when they saw the movie the spy who loved me on VHS. And they began a slow process of restoration. The rumor of the existence of this couple, whose name never transpired, reached the ears of members of the Ian Fleming Foundation. “You are going to go down in history for having found James Bond’s car,” they were told. And encouraged to put it up for auction because “it will sell for a lot that will allow you to live comfortably for the rest of your lives.”
After Perry Oceanographic confirmed that the Esprit was the one they had converted in 1976 for the film, they handed it over to RM Sotheby’s for auction. The appointment was between September 8 and 9, 2013. Wet Nellie was lot 243, for which $997,000 was paid. The offer that won the bid had come by phone. It was Elon Musk himself who confirmed a month later that the Lotus Esprit was in his possession.
In this way, he had satisfied the cravings of the six-year-old boy who had seen that vehicle submerge with James Bond at the wheel in a Johannesburg cinema. He did it through a statement. “It was amazing when I was a little kid in South Africa to see James Bond in The Spy Who Loved Me drive his Lotus Esprit off a dock, press a button and transform it into an underwater submarine,” Musk said in the official document.
He also anticipated, back in October 2013, that the “disappointment of knowing that it cannot actually be transformed” into an amphibian led him to promote an innovation: Musk said, years later, that the Cybertruck is a monstrous version of that car. Meanwhile, Wet Nellie became part of his collection, along with a 1967 Ford T and Jaguar E-Type, among other gems. But the Lotus Esprit is above all.
They paid 100 dollars for a car that they sold to Elon Musk for a million