The Lotus Esprit S1 – James Bond’s Submarine Car

The Lotus Esprit S1 – James Bond’s Submarine Car

In the illustrious world of cinematic automobiles, few can claim as much fame and adoration as the Lotus Esprit S1, AKA the James Bond Submarine Car. From the sleek roads of Europe’s coastlines to the unpredictable depths of the ocean, this particular car has etched its legacy not just as another vehicle but as an embodiment of innovation, adventure, and sheer cinematic brilliance.

The 1977 James Bond classic, The Spy Who Loved Me, brought to audiences a concept previously relegated to the dreams of sci-fi enthusiasts: a car that could seamlessly transition into a submarine. But the Lotus Esprit S1 was more than just a visual effect—it was a testament to the era’s engineering marvel, creative filmmaking, and the timeless allure of Bond’s escapades.

As we delve into the journey of this iconic car, we rediscover the magic of cinema, the genius of design, and the enduring charm of the world’s most famous spy.


The Lotus Esprit S1: An Overview

The legacy of the Lotus Esprit S1 begins with the rich history of its manufacturer. Founded in 1952 by Colin Chapman in England, the brand, Lotus swiftly rose to prominence in the automotive world. The company quickly became synonymous with innovation, pioneering designs, and a remarkable track record in motorsports.

Lotus’s commitment to engineering excellence, combined with Chapman’s visionary approach, has resulted in the creation of some of the most iconic and agile sports cars the world has ever seen. This philosophy of design and performance was perhaps most notably exemplified in the Lotus Esprit S1.

The Lotus Espirit S1 was a car ahead of its time

Introduced in 1976, the Esprit S1 stood out not just for its technical prowess but also for its distinctive design. Crafted by the renowned car designer Giorgetto Giugiaro, its sharp, wedge-shaped silhouette gave it an aggressive yet undeniably elegant presence on the road.

Under its hood, the Esprit S1 was powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, delivering around 160 horsepower. This powertrain enabled the car to boast a 0-60 mph acceleration in just under 8 seconds, a commendable feat for its era.

The interior of the Esprit S1, meanwhile, was a harmonious blend of luxury and sportiness. Deep bucket seats, tasteful wooden accents, and a uniquely designed dashboard echoed the charm of the 1970s while providing drivers with a comfortable and immersive experience.

In every facet, the Lotus Esprit S1 was a testament to the perfect blend of form and function. And of course, for James Bond, it was more than just a car.

Esprit S1’s Role in The Spy Who Loved Me

If the Aston Martin DB5 is synonymous with James Bond, as iconic cars go the Lotus Espirit S1 isn’t far behind, and it’s only appeared in one Bond movie.

When James Bond graced the silver screen in The Spy Who Loved Me, the Lotus Esprit S1 became more than just a car, it became an integral character, an embodiment of Bond’s suave adaptability and relentless innovation.

The Lotus Espirit S1 James Bond Submarine Car emerging from the sea

The movie’s production made use of eight individual Lotus Esprit S1s. While six of these were shells, designed for various stunt sequences, two stood out as fully functional models.

One was reserved for the gripping driving sequences, roaring through landscapes with the style and grace befitting of 007. The other was a spectacle of engineering – a version of the Esprit S1 specially modified to function underwater.

This semi-submersible Esprit, affectionately termed “Wet Nellie” by the crew, was a cinematic marvel. However, its creation was no easy feat. Turning the vision of a submarine car into reality required significant investment.

Corgi The Spy Who Loved Me Lotus Esprit Submarine

The specially designed underwater model came with a staggering price tag of around $100,000 to construct—a considerable sum for the 1970s. And the effort behind this engineering challenge was immense.

From ensuring its buoyancy to installing equipment that would allow it to ‘drive’ underwater, every aspect was meticulously planned and executed.

The outcome? A scene in cinema history that left audiences around the world in awe and immediately cemented the Lotus Esprit S1 – James Bond Submarine Car’s place in pop culture lore.

Wet Nellie: More Than Just A Car

The moniker “Wet Nellie” evokes intrigue and, like many elements tied to the world of James Bond, carries a story steeped in cinematic history. The name finds its origins not underwater, but in the sky.

In 1967 film, You Only Live Twice, 007 flies an autogyro which was called “Little Nellie” and it immediately became an iconic flying machine. It was named after Nellie Wallace, a renowned actress and comedian of her time.

The Lotus Espirit S1 going into the sea

Drawing a playful parallel, the submerged version of the Lotus Esprit S1 in The Spy Who Loved Me was affectionately christened “Wet Nellie” by the crew, nodding to its amphibious capabilities and its airborne predecessor.

However, Wet Nellie wasn’t just defined by its name. Its features and functionalities elevated it from a mere vehicle to a marvel of spy gadgetry.

Designed to assist Bond in the trickiest of situations, Wet Nellie was armed with cement dispensers in its rear. This clever contraption could be deployed to hinder and potentially immobilize pursuers in high-speed chases.

But the car’s defensive arsenal didn’t stop there. Vertical missile racks were discreetly integrated into its design, ready to counter aerial threats such as menacing helicopters.

Yet, the crowning jewel of Wet Nellie’s capabilities was its ability to transform into a submarine. This feature showcased the car’s adaptability and advanced technological features, making the Lotus Esprit S1 James Bond Submarine Car an unforgettable piece of Bond’s legacy.

Transforming the Esprit Into An Underwater Marvel: Wet Nellie

The metamorphosis of the Lotus Esprit S1 into the submersible sensation, Wet Nellie, wasn’t a mere cinematic trick but a genuine feat of engineering. Key to this transformation was the collaboration with Perry Oceanographic, a leading firm specializing in underwater technologies.

The journey from sleek road vehicle to a functional submarine was replete with design and engineering challenges. One of the primary tasks was retrofitting the Esprit with electric submersible drive units, placed strategically on its retractable rear tray. These units not only powered Wet Nellie underwater but were also fitted with steering vanes to enhance maneuverability.

Lotus Espirit S1 Submarine Car underwater

To maintain stability beneath the waves, the vertical fins were repurposed to act exclusively as stabilizers. The intricacies of underwater operation also demanded the car’s core to be packed with oil-filled battery units, a solution ingeniously devised to counteract pressurization and sealing issues.

Navigating such a vehicle underwater, particularly in filming scenarios, required skill and precision. Enter retired Navy SEAL, Don Griffin. Entrusted with piloting this one-of-a-kind submarine-car hybrid, Griffin’s expertise ensured that Wet Nellie moved with both grace and purpose beneath the waves.

His role was not just about maneuvering the vehicle but also about ensuring the safety of the underwater film crew, especially given that the car had no reverse thrust or brakes. Griffin’s exceptional skills and the groundbreaking engineering of Wet Nellie, made the underwater scenes of The Spy Who Loved Me not only possible but iconic.

James Bond Submarine Car Impact on Popular Culture

The ripple effect of The Spy Who Loved Me extended far beyond the cinema halls and straight into the hearts of automobile enthusiasts and the broader public. The film’s resounding success had an immediate and profound influence on the popularity and demand for the Lotus Esprit.

The allure of driving the same car as James Bond, particularly one with such innovative features, was irresistible to many. As a result, the Lotus Espirit witnessed a surge in sales, with prospective buyers so enchanted by the vehicle that many found themselves on a three-year waiting list.

The film’s influence was also keenly felt in the realm of toys and collectibles. The Lotus S1 Corgi car, a miniature replica of Wet Nellie, quickly ascended the ranks to become a bestseller. Alongside the Corgi car, LEGO and Scalextrics flooded the market, all bearing testament to the Lotus Esprit S1 submarine car.

But what truly sets Wet Nellie apart is its enduring legacy. James Bond has driven many classic cars, but few have achieved the legendary status of Wet Nellie. Its ability to transition from land to water, combined with its sleek design and action-packed features, has ensured that it remains one of the most revered Bond cars, even decades after its cinematic debut.

Life After The Big Screen: The Journey of Wet Nellie

Every icon, after basking in the limelight, often takes a journey into obscurity before being rediscovered and celebrated anew. Wet Nellie’s post-cinematic journey was one filled with intrigue, almost echoing the mystery of a Bond film plot.

After its legendary on-screen exploits, the car found itself nestled away in a storage facility in Long Island, New York. It remained there, hidden from the public eye and no doubt forgotten about for over a decade.

Elon Musk bought the Lotus Espirit S1 James Bond Submarine Car

In a twist befitting its cinematic heritage, The James Bond submarine car was discovered serendipitously when the storage locker was auctioned off. The new owners, having placed a bid of $100, had no inkling of the treasure they were about to unveil.

The storage locker’s contents were kept hidden from bidders, and the revelation of the iconic Lotus Esprit S1 inside was nothing short of a cinematic climax. Once it was confirmed that the car was indeed the legendary Wet Nellie from The Spy Who Loved Me, the story of its rediscovery captured imaginations worldwide.

Then in 2013, the narrative took another dramatic turn, as its new owner put Wet Nellie up for auction, but this time, its value had skyrocketed. From a forgotten relic purchased for $100, its auction price soared to an astonishing $997,000.

The winning bid was placed by none other than Tesla CEO Elon Musk. Known for his penchant for futuristic ventures, Musk expressed his desire to transform Wet Nellie. He wanted to restore the Lotus Espirit S1 to its submarine functionality, as showcased in the film and more.

The Lotus Esprit S1 – James Bond Submarine Car

The saga of James Bond’s submarine car, the Lotus Esprit S1 is a testament to the enduring allure of cinema, innovation, and the human desire to push boundaries.

From its inception by the visionary engineers at Lotus, to its transformation into an underwater marvel for The Spy Who Loved Me, and its subsequent rediscovery and auction to a modern-day visionary, the car’s journey has been nothing short of epic.

Wet Nellie is a blend of art and engineering, and a piece of cinematic history that will forever resonate with fans of James Bond. In a world where the lines between fiction and reality often blur, the tale of this iconic vehicle serves as a reminder of the magic that can happen when imagination, technology, and passion converge. Or should that be when Q gets his thinking head on?

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Corgi The Spy Who Loved Me Lotus Esprit Submarine