Why James Bond Still Drives an Aston Martin, Even If He’s Not Helping Sales

An obscure British car and the spy who loved it

When Desmond Llewelyn (better known as "Q") displayed the Aston Martin DB5 to James Bond in 1964, he was unveiling a sports car version of the license to kill. The movie was Goldfinger, the third in the Bond series, and the sleek, silver sports car—packed with predatory perks like front-wing machine guns and tire-slashing hubcaps—was really the co-star of the film, assuring Aston Martin a place in the annals of cultural cool.

Now, as a mark of brand continuity, the newest Bond flick—Spectre, set for release in November of 2015—will also feature an Aston Martin. This latest little sport is called the DB10. It’ll be the 11th time the pricey British nameplate has appeared in the Bond franchise. As Aston Martin CEO Andy Palmer said recently, “Everybody around the world…loves to see Bond at the wheel of an Aston Martin.”

No doubt that’s true—even though (just for the record) 007 has driven lots of cars, including Bentleys, Jaguars, Lotuses, Rolls Royces, and even Toyotas and Fords. But Aston Martin is Bond’s preferred ride, and the relationship between the car brand and the film franchise is well into its fifth decade. It’s easy to see what EON Productions and Sony Pictures gets out of this partnership—not just money, but a swell fleet of cars (Aston-Martin made 10 DB10s for the film.)

Still, aside from glamor and media buzz, what’s in it for Aston Martin? Two years ago, FrontRow Analytics computed that the brands in Skyfall enjoyed $7.6 million in “brand value” on opening weekend for the cost of placement. But that figure is spread out over a slew of brands that paid for a part of the action, among them Macallan whiskey, Omega watches, Tom Ford suits and Heineken beer—which ponied up a reported $45 million for the honor of being sipped by Mr. Bond.

What’s more, Aston Martin is not even producing the DB10 for public sale; the DB9 is as close as one can get. And at $198,700 for the convertible model, it doesn’t seem likely the brand will find many customers among weekend moviegoers at the mall. In fact, last year Aston Martin sold 4,200 vehicles, not exactly one in every garage. In comparison, Bentley (which isn’t cheap, either) moved 10,000 vehicles out of showrooms.

“Does [placement in the film] actually sell Astons? Considering how few they sell, probably not,” said Paul A. Eisenstein, publisher of automotive news site The Detroit Bureau. “But the link creates something of an exclusivity, a sense of mystery and excitement to the brand, and that’s rare.”

For its part, Aston Martin corporate has gone on the record saying plain-old brand awareness is enough return on investment for them. Last year, Aston Martin’s vp for the Americas Julian Jenkins observed that “undoubtedly this long-standing association [with James Bond] has enabled us to achieve greater brand awareness globally, particularly in areas and nations where our brand is perhaps otherwise not as well known.”

Bond films do seem to have a measurable effect on the resale arena. The franchise has worked wonders for the value of older cars. Four years ago, one of the original “Goldfinger” DB5s used in the filming sold for $4.6 million. The other one was stolen in 1997 from the Boca Raton Airport and has yet to turn up.

Investors stymied by meager interest rates have also discovered that vintage Aston Martins aren’t just fine vehicles, but fine growth vehicles. U.K.-based Aston Workshop reports the value of a classic Aston Martin can rise by 100 percent in just five years. “Purchasing an Aston Martin and maintaining it in good condition enables you to enjoy the pleasure of driving one of Britain's most stunning cars while feeling confident in the knowledge that its value to you and to others will not diminish,” states the site.

@UpperEastRob robert.klara@adweek.com Robert Klara is a senior editor, brands at Adweek, where he specializes in covering the evolution and impact of brands.