Hooning the James Bond stunt Defender from No Time to Die was epic fun
Watch as I totally embarrass myself in a 400hp off-roader
It's not often a James Bond film comes out, and as the release of No Time Die gets pushed further and further into the future, I thought it best to borrow one of the stunt cars from the film to mess about in.
I say borrow – what I really mean is be encouraged to thrash it around a muddy field with one of the film's stunt drivers (and, soon, BTCC racing star) Jess Hawkins in the passenger seat.
Watch to see how I got on, or read on for more thoughts.
What is it?
The car I drove was the seventh new Defender to roll out of the (brand-new) factory in Nitra, Slovakia. Yes, because it was the seventh ever, that meant it got VIN 007. Of course. Actually, the first 10 Defenders off the line were sent straight to Eon Productions to serve in No Time to Die – and they just so happened to be in the perfect all-black spec for the film.
Even a Defender needs beefing up to cope with the demands of being jumped 15ft above the ground, and the cars for No Time to Die were given the standard stunt-car spec: full rollcage, steel interior roof panels, racing buckets, five-point harnesses and a fuel cell. The rear of the interior was then stripped out to save weight. Slinking ungracefully through the rollcage, it's immediately obvious this car was not designed with comfort in mind.
Apparently Land Rover requested this car wasn't utterly destroyed during filming, given its numerical significance
Forget about the narrow seat nibbling – nay, chomping – at my waist, it's the noise of the fuel pump behind your head that makes this a car to drive in very short bursts. It's loud. It's a constant whine that changes pitch with the throttle position – though Jess assures me you quickly block it out when you're approaching at jump at 60kph or rattling down a rocky river bed in Scotland. No doubt, no doubt.
Starting the Defender's 3.0-litre Ingenium turbocharged inline-six petrol engine isn't a case of just prodding a start button. You need to disable the battery isolator, wait five seconds then prod the engine starter. Then you need to wait five seconds before nudging it into drive (it keeps the road car's auto 'box). Except electronic gremlins brought about by having its wiring loom hacked about means I have to do the whole procedure a couple of times before it'll go into gear.
And then we're away.
One thing smacks you in the gob the moment #007 turns a wheel – it has a hair-trigger throttle response. The new six-cylinder petrol may only get the regular Defender to 60mph in 5.9 seconds, but surrounded by rollcage in a hollow metal box, it feels ferocious and sounds a bit like an M3 on a farm.
The mud tyres have incredible bite, and before I realise it we're hammering along at 50mph towards a hairpin. It's Very Wet, and my initial turn-in feels like I'm guiding a lubricated U-boat into a mountain of spaghetti.
But eventually I get the knack of turning in on the brakes, using various patches of hay to get the nose to turn. When the gearbox hooks up you're then fired slightly sideways up the field again. It's addictive, and by the third lap I'm tackling gentle chicanes without lifting. I suddenly realise I feel overconfident, and then it's all over. It was outrageous fun.
I think my mum's printed this out to stick on the fridge
If I had a huge farm then I'd love to buy one of these and put it to work checking on the cattle. Until that time I'll just have to file the stunt-car Defender drive under 'one of the most fun things I've ever done'.
Check out the Defender trailer for the new Bond film below – Jess is driving the middle Defender as they go off the first jump. Can you imagine barrelling across open country flanked by Triumph Scramblers? What a job.