On this day in 1977, “The Spy Who Loved Me,” starring Roger Moore as the suave superspy James Bond, known for his love of fast cars and dangerous women, is released in theaters across America. The film features one of the most memorable Bond cars of all time–a sleek, powerful Lotus Esprit sports car that does double duty as a submarine.
As “The Spy Who Loved Me” begins, Bond is sent to investigate the hijacking of British and Soviet submarines loaded with nuclear warheads. To defeat his adversary, shipping tycoon Karl Stromberg (Curt Jurgens), and avert global nuclear war, Bond must free the captured submarines. In one of the film’s key sequences, Bond skillfully maneuvers his Lotus Esprit in order to save himself and his Soviet counterpart, the beautiful KGB agent Anya Amasova (Barbara Bach), from the attacks of Stromberg’s henchmen.
With the sultry helicopter pilot Naomi (Caroline Munro) in pursuit along the coastal roads of Sardinia, Bond drives the Lotus off a pier into the ocean. The car transforms into a submarine, complete with tail fins and a periscope, and Bond is able to blast Naomi’s helicopter out of the sky with a sea-to-air missile. Two different Lotus Esprits were used in the production of “The Spy Who Loved Me,” including a specially modified model, dubbed “Wet Nellie,” for the filming of the underwater scenes, in Nassau, Bahamas.
At the time of filming, the Lotus Esprit was the latest innovation by the Lotus Engineering Company, founded in 1952 by the British engineer and race car driver Anthony Colin Bruce Chapman. After debuting the original styling concept at the Turin Motorshow in 1972, Lotus unveiled the Esprit at the Paris Motor Show in October 1975 and launched its production the following year. Renowned designer Giorgetto Giugiaro (chosen by more than 100 automotive journalists around the world as the winner of the Car Designer of the Century award in 1999) provided the Esprit’s sleek styling.
While critics praised the car’s lightweight frame and superior steering and handling, they gave it lesser marks for power, noise and other more minor points. In 1980, Lotus launched the Esprit Turbo, which made its own star turn in the 1981 Bond movie “For Your Eyes Only.” The company made continued improvements to the Esprit line throughout the next two decades, and in 1992 celebrated the 20th anniversary of the car’s initial introduction in Turin and its place among the world’s fastest and most respected sports cars. Esprit production ended in 2003.