FIRST: a confession. I probably should have told the good people at Lotus that I have a slightly unlucky history with James Bond.
The first 007 film I ever saw was Moonraker. Dressed up smartly in my white broderie anglaise blouse, I sat with my family in a rather grand former theatre in Auckland, New Zealand, and waited for the drama. It came before the screen even went up, when the usherette upstairs placed her heavy steel torch on the banister, leaned over to clean up an ice cream, and knocked it one floor down on to my head.
To this day I still haven’t seen the film.
I mention this now because I can see, more than ever, that living the James Bond lifestyle can be a bit difficult. I know, because I tried it recently, courtesy of carmaker Lotus. My mission, willingly accepted, was to test drive the sleek Lotus Evora – a sportscar as quintessentially British as Bond himself – around the alpine scenery Roger Moore and his Lotus sped over in For Your Eyes Only.
The Lotus team, based temporarily in Geneva, Switzerland, was in force to film a commemorative special featuring 50 years of Lotus in film. They wanted to recapture the theatrics of a daredevil Bond racing his copper-coloured Lotus, complete with custom ski racks, round a ski resort. In For Your Eyes Only, he was at the wheel of a Lotus Esprit Turbo in northern Italy. In Lotus’s modern-day version, Bond is kitted for derring-do with a Lotus Evora, sprayed the same colour and with the same custom-fitted racks, for some wheel-spinning danger amidst leaping snowboarders in Chamonix, France.
But first, I was given a rare chance to take the wheel myself and experience the exhilaration of life, James Bond style.
The Evora really did look beautiful, parked and ready for me outside the five-star hotel near the sparkling waters of Lake Geneva. It’s a car that has emerged as a true hero in the Lotus fold, offering something fresh, incredibly light and modern for both new drivers and die-hard fans. Its sleek lines, fine English engineering and £50,000 price tag have all contributed to a slew of motoring awards in 2008 and last year. For those of you who like to talk the torque, it’s a 2+2 top-of-the range sports car with a 3.5 litre Toyota V6 engine and 276bhp. It’s capable of zooming up to 162mph and it does the 0-60mph dash in 4.9 seconds.
But I was keen to see first-hand what made it so special.
Armed with a map of the Alps, the car’s in-built Alpine navigation system and a TomTom, I pulled out, motor purring. But – oh no – the TomTom said I needed to make a U-turn. I turned left, then left again and... out popped a Swiss policeman from behind a parked van, for all the world like the fellow from a Swiss clock emerging on the hour.
My heart flopped. “You’re not allowed to turn left there,” he warned, wagging his finger. “Er, I didn’t see the sign,” I pleaded (the truth, actually). Clearly my cool James Bond demeanour had vanished as fast as an escaping arch villain in one of the films.
“You’re English,” he spat. “But the sign is the same in English. Use your eyes! Next time it will cost you 150 francs.”
It took a good 10 minutes on the road before my pulse slowed to normal and I began to enjoy the thrill of the Evora’s super-responsive steering and easy acceleration. I headed the car for France, whizzing past a small concrete border post, blink-and-miss-‘em villages, acres of fresh, French farmland and the larger town of Thonon-Les-Bains before stopping in Evian-Les-Bains.
The morning market was in full force when I pulled into a nearby parking lot. Quickly it was surrounded by a crowd of admirers – as happened every time I left the car on show. “Tres jolie,” said one of the men, flashing me an appreciative grin. I’d been in charge of the Evora long enough to know where that compliment was aimed.
Evian was a gourmand’s delight, but we headed, Bond-style, straight to the casino. Sadly I couldn’t indulge in a martini, but James would definitely have approved of the shared plate of mouth-watering oysters, washed down with a long, cool...water. Well, we were in Evian.
Back in the Evora, I pointed the car away from the lake, heading up the windy mountain road towards the ski slopes of Morzine.
And finally, I got to enjoy the needle-sharp handling and raw power of the car.
At first, all I could imagine was the sound of my husband telling me not to over-rev the car. It’s a form of tinnitus I think.
But after our guide explained that I really could open up the throttle, the joyride began. In low gear, the car clung to every bend, winding its way up past frozen ice walls with a throaty roar. The mood of elation lasted all the way down the hill and back along the motorway on the return to Geneva.
Bright and early the next day, we separated into teams and drove the supposedly three-hour trip to Serre Chevalier to take the Evoras for a spin – literally – on the ice.
The trip took off out of Switzerland, through France and into Italy, passing through the 10-minute long Frejus Tunnel, the fortified town of Briancon, and the wide-open ski slopes of Montgenevre.
SQUEAL AND SCRAPE
“Don’t drive too fast,” the instructor told us, “or you could lose control. And don’t over-correct the steering. Don’t under-correct it either. Put the brakes on slowly or you’ll go into a spin. Remember that this time you’re driving a left-hand-drive car.”
“And don’t worry,” he beamed, in conclusion. Well, I hadn’t until he started talking.
So after three laps as a passenger, I clipped on the seat belt and pottered off round the bends. “Er, you can go a leetle faster,” my instructor urged. I picked up speed, accelerated down the straits and began to relax into the strange but exhilarating driving style. “Slow before the corner...now brake, now speed up slowly and feel the wheel spin round,” he said.
It was true – foot down after the bend and the back wheels spun out with a thrill-inducing squeal and scrape, leaving me with just the small worry of avoiding over-steering into a 360-degree spin. Fun? I hadn’t had such a laugh since I put pedal to the metal on the Formula One slot machine. Actually, this was miles better. But make no mistake – ice driving is dangerous, though not necessarily for the driver, as we discovered. Yep: I was promised a James Bond experieence and it was certainly an adventure.
Since returning I’ve read that there was a Lotus delivered by Q to Sardinia for The Spy Who Loved Me. This spy wonder was capable of transforming into a submarine and was equipped with anti-aircraft missiles. I wonder if Lotus want me to try the modern version of that one too?
Lotus Driving Academy is encouraging more women to enjoy the hair-raising speed of a Lotus with its one-day “Diva Driving Day”. Fast women can let off steam on the famous Hethel Test Track in Norwich in a Lotus Elise.
The £185 day includes testing your competitive streak in a tyre-change challenge, being pampered with a manicure by a nail technician, then relaxing with a delicious afternoon tea. Go to www.lotusdrivingacademy.com for more driving experiences.