The Driver Makes the Car

Call it what you will: an effective marketing model or consumer-centric branding; cars are defined by the people who drive them. It may be a bit of a chicken-and-egg conundrum figuring out which came first, the discursive image of the ideal car owner or the loyal car lovers themselves. Regardless, the relationship between cars and the people who love, own or hope to own them is an intimate one – a relationship built around the sheer euphoric act of driving.

Aston Martin DB5 and 007 - A Special Bond | Licence To Thrill

Video: Aston Martin.

One need look no further for proof than history’s most famous car – James Bond’s Aston Martin DB5. The DB5 has captured the hearts of many a car lover since its debut in 1963, not least because its Agent 007 who’s behind the wheel, but also because of what it means to drive it. Between chasing down villains along winding cobbled streets and silently speeding off from one city to the next in the dead of night as international spies do – the movies only show off what the car was built to do: work like a beast.

Daniel Craig's Bond manoeuvres an aggressive turn in the DB5 in No Time to Die. Photo: Danjaq LLC, Universal, MGMDaniel Craig’s Bond manoeuvres an aggressive turn in the DB5 in No Time to Die, 2021. Photo: Danjaq LLC, Universal, MGM.

One of the fastest cars in the world at the time, the DB5 featured a 4.0 litre naturally-aspirated straight-six producing 282bhp and 380Nm, all that power sent through a five-speed manual gearbox to the rear wheels. Cornering in the DB5 lies just a step shy of being hardcore, though the heavier the steering is on such cars, the less input is needed mid-turn. The engine however more than makes up for it with its smooth, graceful ride at enormous velocities, living up to the DB5’s status as a grand tourer. Even modern GTs with their sophisticated suspension geometry and adaptive damping would struggle to match this senior in ride softness.

James Bond puts the DB5 to good use in Thunderball.
photo © United Artists, Danjaq LLCSean Connery’s Bond cruising along the countryside in the DB5 in Thunderball, 1965. Photo: United Artists, Danjaq LLC.

At the car’s helm is a more than well-tuned cushy leather seat which sets the driver up for extra visibility, along with a generously-sized tactile wooden steering wheel paired with a comfortingly delicate gear knob, fitted for your driving pleasure. The pedals have also been known to be so skinny that the driver would feel clumsy in everyday sneakers, almost as if demanding you to suit up in a pair of well-shined oxfords. The wind noise over the front wings due to the lack of soundproofing is almost welcome, a reminder to the driver that they are already shifting into serious speed.

Inside a preserved 1960s DB5. Photo: Car, UK.Inside a preserved 1960s DB5. Photo: Car, UK.

The dainty gear knob inside the DB5. Photo: Car, UK.The dainty gear knob of the original DB5. Photo: Car, UK.

The DB5 was discontinued in 1965 but received a special limited re-production of 25 units in 2020 to match the release of the last Daniel Craig Bond film, No Time to Die – a testament not just to its enshrined place in motoring history as the Agent 007 car, but also to the love of cars that were meant to be learnt, almost struggled with and finally, masterfully driven. The 2020 DB5 goes for a hefty price of 3.6 million USD. With such an iconic name as the DB5 at the centre of luxury motoring, could one bear a switch to self-driving cars? Without James Bond skilfully in the driver’s seat, the iconic DB5 seems to lose a huge chunk of what makes it so beloved.

The Aston Martin DB5 Goldfinger continuation. Photo: Aston MartinThe Aston Martin DB5 Goldfinger continuation, 2020. Photo: Aston Martin

Is There Room for Self-driving Cars in Luxury Motoring?

The word “automobile” entered the English lexicon from French in the late 18th century, a compound of the Ancient Greek autós (αὐτός) which means “self” and the Latin mobilis which means “movable”. Originally referencing how manmade vehicles transitioned from relying on external sources of power, such as horses, to being powered by their own engines, it seems ironic now that the word foreshadowed in itself the advent of truly “self-driving” vehicles.

Self-driving vehicles are becoming more and more of a reality in the automobile industry today. To qualify as fully autonomous, a self-driving vehicle must be able to both chart a path from point A to B and navigate the route by itself safely, free from human intervention. Currently, these works-in-progress rely on a combination of sensors which read the external environment (i.e. cameras, radar, lidar etc.) and artificial intelligence (AI) to make sense of the feedback to do so.

Companies developing self-driving cars range from Audi to Google, though Google’s Waymo in partnership with Lyft has already launched their own fully autonomous commercial ride-sharing service, Waymo One. The service is ongoing testing but is currently available in the US cities of Phoenix, San Francisco and soon, Los Angeles.

Steve Mahan, former director of the Santa Clara Valley Blind Center, stands beside a Waymo self-driving car Tuesday in San Francisco.
Steve Mahan, former director of the Santa Clara Valley Blind Center, stands beside a Waymo self-driving car Tuesday in San Francisco   Photo: Eric Risberg/ Associated Press.

The tech race to make cars self-driving is very much in line with the rise of Web3 and Big Data, where data is not only decentralised but also harnessed to power machine learning and AI – the digitisation of manual processes into automatic ones and the further obscuring of layers and layers of hardware into smooth, clean surfaces which operate multitudes of softwares seamlessly through a touch of a finger.

Self-driving cars are nothing short of a technological wonder, but at the same time, they problematise the definition of what makes a good car. Sustainability, road safety, and comfort are aspects of car-making all car makers aim to excel in. Yet, the removal of the driver themselves seems to transform the car into a whole other beast. Perhaps then, the question we should be asking in the world of luxury motoring is not what makes a good car, but what makes a beloved car.

Sean Connery with the Aston Martin DB5 on Stoke Poges during the filming of Goldfinger
Sean Connery with the Aston Martin DB5 in Stoke Poges during the filming of Goldfinger, 1964.

Ford Raptorizes F-150 Lightning EV Truck with Switchgear Demonstrator : Automotive Addicts

The F-150 Lightning Switchgear, developed by Ford Performance in collaboration with RTR Vehicles, represents a cutting-edge and high-performance on- and off-road demonstrator vehicle. This electric truck, based on America’s best-selling F-150 Lightning, showcases the potential of electric vehicles and serves as a platform for engineers to advance their understanding of future electric vehicle technologies. One can think of this as Raptorizing the F-150 Lightning.

Inspired by the F-150 RTR Ultimate Fun-Haver project vehicle from 2016, the F-150 Lightning Switchgear boasts a custom exterior carbon bodywork with a Ford Performance 2024 livery. It is equipped with off-road upgrades aimed at taking the F-150 Lightning to new and challenging terrains. As part of Ford Performance’s Demonstrator program, the Switchgear joins a lineup that includes notable vehicles like SuperVan 4.0 and 4.2, the Mustang Mach-E 1400, Mustang CobraJet 1400, and the F-100 Eluminator.

Ford Raptorizes F-150 Lightning EV Truck with Switchgear Demonstrator : Automotive Addicts

One of the key features of the Switchgear is its ability to push the boundaries of what is expected from electric trucks. With a significant increase in track width for off-road stability, improved ground clearance, and enhanced suspension travel, this electric truck is designed to navigate rough terrains effortlessly. The suspension system includes FOX 3-inch diameter internal bypass shock absorbers, custom control arms, and unique front and rear bumpers to improve approach and departure angles.

Ford Raptorizes F-150 Lightning EV Truck with Switchgear Demonstrator : Automotive Addicts

The F-150 Lightning Switchgear’s off-road capabilities are further enhanced with custom independent double-wishbone suspension at the front and multilink independent suspension at the rear. Carbon composite components, such as front fenders, bed sides, and rear bumper cover, contribute to its durability and performance. The addition of steel fabricated rock rails, a front skid plate, and limit straps ensures that the vehicle is well-prepared for challenging off-road conditions.

Ford Raptorizes F-150 Lightning EV Truck with Switchgear Demonstrator : Automotive Addicts

Equipped with NITTO Ridge Grappler 37×12.5R18 tires and featuring a distinctive chase rack with two spare wheels/tires, the F-150 Lightning Switchgear is set to make its public debut at the King of the Hammers off-road racing event starting on January 25 in Johnson Valley, California. This event provides an opportunity for enthusiasts and the public to witness the capabilities of this electric off-road powerhouse.