Wet Nellie-James Bond’s Lotus submarine

roger_mooreJames bond has all the gadgets doesn’t he? As well as all the guns, and the girls, but it’s his cars that are the absolute best! Who wouldn’t want to own a Bond car? I sure would! Well then, how about one that turns into a submarine?!

Here is your chance! A very famous car from a rather small scene in The Spy Who Loved Me will be going up for auction in September of this year. Roger Moore‘s Lotus Esprit submarine car from the 1977 James Bond film “The Spy Who Loved Me” may be one of the lesser sought after of the big screen street machines, but it is certainly one of the most iconic, and looks no less cool when parked in your garage. As Bond cars go, it’s no Aston Martin DB5, but it’s still one of the most easily recognizable from the franchise. Seven were used to make the Lotus appear to transforming into a sub, only one was a fully submersible and err… functional.


Designed by Perry Submarines, this Esprit Series 1 submarine/car is headed to the auction block in London on Sept. 8 and 9 courtesy of RM Auctions. Wet Nellie, as it was un-affectionately called is not the only Lotus submarine car created for the movie; one other Lotus Esprit was used for transition scenes from car to submarine. Eight Esprits in total were used in the film, six were body shells, and two were fully functional cars provided by Lotus. During the movie Don Griffin, a retired Navy SEAL, who served as Perry Oceanographic’s test pilot “drove” Wet Nellie. It was a “wet” submarine, meaning that he used SCUBA gear during the chase scene sequences. According to an article about the cars at LotusEspritWorld, the sub didn’t exactly work as the producers envisioned.

Initially there were reservations about the Esprit’s body shape. Something designed to give negative lift in a fluid called air isn’t easy to keep off the bottom when operated in seawater. Equally they didn’t like the movie designer’s dive-planes, but he insisted on them as part of the image. In practice, hydrodynamic down thrust on the Esprit’s swoopy nose and windscreen was adequately balanced out by setting the nose planes hard to rise and the tail planes hard to dive.

James Bond’s Lotus Esprit submarine car in 'The Spy Who Loved Me' (© Everett Collection/Rex Features)Petty fitted four electric submersible drive units to the Esprit’s retractable rear tray, each with steering vanes in the propeller stream. The vertical fins were locked off and acted purely as stabilizers while the car’s center section was packed with oil-filled battery units. To avoid pressurization and sealing problems, the Esprit was in reality a wet submarine crewed by a pair of lung divers. With the windows barred, visibility was minimal, so a twin-mirror system was fitted to give the driver/diver a view of the bottom.

With no reverse thrust and thus no brakes, the 15-knot Lotus sub was an underwater bull in a china shop and the underwater film crew stood more chance of becoming traffic casualties in the clear waters of Nassau’s Coral Harbor than they did on dry land. The only way to slow the car was to switch off its motors and trust to the attendant divers to haul it in before a coral head loomed up. Meddings was convinced his creation was going to wreck itself in this way, but the underwater crew of seven Britons, three Americans and a Bahamian made sure that never happened. Motors off, the Esprit would settle to the bottom and it could be lifted from there by three divers.

LotusEsprit_04_1000In the action packed film, the scene featuring the lotus’ transformation was small by the scale of the film, but for car buffs it was memorable. It is the best of the Roger Moore era Bond films, and featured Barbara Bach as KGB agent Triple X, future staple Bond villain Jaws. Of course the theme song by Carly Simon, “Nobody Does It Better.” is now a classic.

After filming the underwater scenes in the Bahamas for The Spy Who LotusEsprit_02_1000Loved Me, Wet Nellie was shipped to a storage locker in Long Island, New York, where it sat for over a decade. The car will hopefully be trading hands for the first time since 1989 since it was found. The Lotus was found by a couple who bought the unit sight unseen that year, they have held on to it since. The vehicle has largely been out of the public eye since the movie was filmed, though it’s occasionally been displayed in the years since (including a showing at Los Angeles’s Petersen Automotive Museum).

LotusEsprit_03_1500Wet Nellie was reportedly used to film all the underwater sequences, and the car cost $100,000 when it was originally built, which comes out to $500,000 in today’s dollars. One of the other Lotus Espris sold for$170,115 at a Bonhams auction in 2008. Another underwater Lotus, this one a static display, was offered in 2007 with a pre-sale estimate of $45,800 to $61,000.The last Bond car the auction house sold, the DB5 driven by Sean Connery in “Goldfinger” and “Thunderball,” went for for $4.6 million in 2010.

RM Auctions estimates that the car will achieve a selling price “in excess of $762,850″. although that’s much more money than the street-legal Lotus drew, Wet Nellie had more screen time, and is one of the most recognizable Bond “cars”. On top of that this car is totally swell!

(Images provided by RM Auctions.)


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