Acceleration: 0-62mph 5sec
Maximum speed: 190mph
Average fuel consumption: 17mpg
Insurance group: 21
"What's that noise!?" squeaked the shapely figure in the passenger seat. "That," replied the driver, a cruel smile playing across his lips, "is a 12-cylinder, 460 brake-horsepower Aston Martin in full cry, my dear."
Now that he had the blonde's attention, he turned to the job in hand: thrashing the Aston along the A252 into the outskirts of Canterbury. Whereupon his passenger repeated herself: "What's that noise!?" "That," replied the driver, a cruel smile no longer playing across his lips, "is a 12-cylinder, 460 brake-horsepower Aston Martin stalling on a roundabout, my dear ..."
I had stalled the Aston. And not any old Aston Martin; I had humbled the V12 Vanquish, the same model of Aston Martin that James Bond drove across the ice in his last film outing, Die Another Day. James Bond doesn't stall. Neither does he take five goes to parallel-park his supercar in a busy London street, and nor does he have to ring the Aston Martin helpline to work out how to switch off the steering lock, both of which I had to do.
Still, Commander Bond has been driving Aston Martins, Lotuses and Bentleys in screen versions of Ian Fleming's books for more than 40 years now; I only had the Vanquish for a weekend, and it was proving more sophisticated than my usual car, a frazzled Renault 5. But I wasn't to be cowed. This four-wheeled rocket ship needed to be brought down to Earth. Or the minor roads of Kent, to be more precise.
Ian Fleming lived for much of his adult life in Kent, and plenty of that experience made its way into his Bond novels. The Kent Tourist Alliance has leafed through two of Fleming's Bond novels, Goldfinger and Moon-raker, to plot a circular drive through Kent. This takes in scenes described in the two novels, as well as sites relevant to Fleming's life. The Moonraker leg starts just west of Maidstone and finishes at Dover; from Dover, you can set off on the Goldfinger drive, north to Ramsgate through Deal and back to London along the coast road.
Much more importantly, the leaflet also makes clear that Bond, in defence of Queen and country, was an unrepentant boy racer. His car of choice in Goldfinger was an Aston Martin DBIII, and, in Moonraker, a four-and-a-half-litre Bentley: "Bond did a racing change and swung the big car left at the Charing Fork ... The car howled up to 80 in third and he held it in the same gear to negotiate the hairpin at the top of the long gradient ... Bond took the short cut out of Canterbury by the Old Dover Road ... Another 15 minutes to Dover and then another 10 minutes along the Deal Road."
After a crawl out of south-east London, we found ourselves on the same stretch of road, the A20 off Junction 8 of the M2. I have no idea what a "racing change" is (instead of a gearstick, the Vanquish has semi-automatic paddles behind the steering wheel), but I had to overtake a truck. I turned up AC/DC's "Highway to Hell" (not very Bond, sorry,) on the 1200-watt stereo, "paddled" down to second and pushed my right foot down hard.
Three things then happened in quick succession: my neck snapped back, I heard a roar from the exhaust and my girlfriend yelped. I looked in the rear-view mirror - was that green blob way back the truck I had just passed? I began to laugh like ... well, like a Bond villain. And I don't even like sports cars. What we needed was a quiet stroll round Canterbury Cathedral.
Getting around the medieval streets of Canterbury proved simple in the surprisingly nimble Vanquish, and after a contemplative hour in the Cathedral, we were soon at our accommodation for the night, the Duck Inn, near Bridge, outside Canterbury. Fleming went to the pub often, and describes in You Only Live Twice how the young James Bond was tutored by his aunt in a cottage "hard by the attractive Duck Inn". The pub is no less appealing now, with good food and rooms; it also goes easy on the Bond trivia, but one snippet maintains that Fleming's inspiration for Bond's codename derived from the number of the local bus: 007.
Next morning we made our way to St Margaret's Bay, north of Dover. Fleming kept a house there, White Cliffs; the plain two-storey home sits on the northern end of the bay itself, beneath crumbling chalk cliffs.
The author apparently enjoyed observing the shipping in the English Channel from the house. It seems that Fleming recognised Kent's strategically important position as much as he did its green pastures, a contradiction that emerges over the Goldfinger and Moonraker drives. The Goldfinger route, for instance, takes you past the airforce base at Manston, whose fighter jets Bond admires in the novel. And the tension between technology and nature in Kent is present still - you get the feeling the slightly sinister Eurostar sidings that run alongside the A20 at points would have fired Fleming's imagination.
After a visit to Royal St George's golf club in Sandwich (scene of Bond's memorable round with Goldfinger), the last port of call was Whitstable for half-a-dozen oysters. In the event, we only stopped at half-a-dozen of the sights on the route over the weekend. But then you need a good reason to ease yourself from the Vanquish - there may only be room for two people, but that's because Aston Martin has managed to get about three cows in there, too: just about all of its interior surfaces are covered in leather, including the ceiling, which is a lovely, rough suede.
There is good reason to stay put, too: piloting the Vanquish around the A-roads of Kent is like the Rolling Stones playing your local pub. Sure, it's a bugger to park and a bit awkward at low speeds; but everywhere it went, pedestrians gawped and broke into spontaneous applause, while other road-users all but pulled over to give us right of way. Even starting the car drew a crowd, the engine turning over like a tiger clearing its throat.
Why such a reception? Well, Porsches, Audi TTs and the like are two-a-penny, and come with a bootful of social-climbing baggage. The Vanquish, on the other hand, is in another league - this car is rarely seen on the open road. And when it is, the response to is unmistakable: "Ah, Mr Bond. We've been expecting you ..."
The Duck Inn, Pett Bottom, Bridge, near Canterbury (01227 830354). For a copy of the James Bond Country leaflet, contact Kent Tourism Alliance (01271 336020; www.kenttourism.co.uk). For more information about the Aston Martin Vanquish visit www.astonmartin.com.Reuse content