CNBC: In 1989, a couple from Long Island, New York, paid nearly $100 for an unclaimed storage unit. It was a blind auction, meaning that neither he nor the seller knew what was inside.
When the couple opened the unit, they were in for what would be the surprise of their lives: a 1976 Lotus Esprit used in the filming of the 1976 James Bond movie “The Spy Who Loved Me” buried under some old blankets It was a sports car. In the film, the sports car famously transforms into a submarine and fires missiles underwater.
The sports car – one of eight used in the filming of the Roger Moore Bond film, but the only one driven in the underwater scenes – was placed in a storage unit after filming and remained there, for over a decade. A long-forgotten New York couple (who remain anonymous) came along.
At first, “they didn’t really know what it was,” Doug Radenius, co-founder of the Ian Fleming Foundation, which authenticated the car, told NBC News in 2013 about the couple, who rented construction equipment. He had never even seen a Bond film.
The husband had planned to fix the damaged roof of the sports car and make other improvements. But as they loaded the car onto a truck and headed for home, the truckers contacted them via CB radio to let them know they were pulling a James Bond car, according to Radenius.
The husband later “went out and rented the film on VHS and saw what he had,” Radenius told NBC. After the couple had “cosmetically restored” the vehicle, it was displayed occasionally over the next two decades before deciding to put it up for auction in 2013.
Radenius said in a 2013 interview that he had heard of the car’s existence years after the couple had displayed it, and that they sought it out. He authenticated the car with the original builders and put the couple in touch with RM Sotheby’s, telling the couple before the auction that “‘If [the car] sells for what we’re expecting, that money will give you an opportunity to live.
The Lotus was sold at an RM Sotheby’s auction in 2013 to a secret buyer. It was later revealed that the new owner was Musk, and he reportedly paid $997,000 for the car.
“As a little kid in South Africa it was amazing to watch James Bond in ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ drive his Lotus Esprit off a wharf, push a button and watch it transform into a submarine under water.
“I’m disappointed to find that it can’t actually convert. What I’m going to do is upgrade it with a Tesla electric powertrain and try to convert it into something real,” Musk told the auto blog Jalopnik. told in a statement in 2013.
To originally equip the Lotus for the film, a marine engineering firm converted it into a functional submarine at a cost of $100,000 (equivalent to about $425,000 today).
Nicknamed “Wet Nelly”, the car was used for underwater scenes, so when it was sold in 2013 it had no wheels, only “prosthetic fins”. It could not drive on land, but it actually functioned as a submarine with ballast tanks to make diving possible. The car also featured “a bank of four propellers” at the rear of the vehicle, allowing it to move underwater while being powered by electric motors in a water-tight compartment.
According to Sotheby’s, during filming, the underwater scenes were performed by a retired US Navy SEAL wearing full scuba gear with an oxygen tank, as the car’s interior filled with water.
Musk has said that the car was part of the inspiration for Tesla’s new Cybertruck. In fact, the billionaire CEO has even teased the Cybertruck by tweeting that the vehicle would “float for a while” after asking a question about how the Cybertruck would handle driving through shallow water.