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A new clue arises in the search for the “lost” James Bond Aston Martin

Published in blog.hemmings.com

A replica of DP/216/1, on display at the Miami Auto Museum. Photo by Myles Kornblatt.

For 21 years, the fate of an Aston Martin DB5 carrying chassis tag DP/216/1 has remained a mystery, ever since the car was stolen from a Florida airport hangar in the dead of night. Recently, though, Art Recovery International (ARI) received an anonymous tip on the whereabouts of the DB5, best known as the “effects car” from 1965’s Goldfinger. Could the Aston Martin be part of a Middle East collection, instead of at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean as long believed?

It was, by all accounts, a bold and well-planned theft, documented by a February 1999 article in the Florida Sun Sentinel. During the night of June 18, 1997, thieves entered the Boca Raton Airport property, sliced through the flexible molding of a hangar door, cut a padlock, and disabled the alarm before using chains or cables – as evidenced by drag marks on the hangar floor – to pull the car onto (presumably) a waiting flatbed truck. For weeks after the theft, sightings and tips poured in from all over the country, but the silver Aston Martin was never seen again.

One popular theory states that the car was dumped in the Atlantic Ocean from a cargo plane, while another claims that it was hidden in a Newark, New Jersey, warehouse owned by real-estate developer, pop-culture collector, and philanthropist Anthony Pugliese III, also the owner of the Bond DB5 at the time of its theft. No evidence was ever found linking him to the car’s disappearance, and shortly afterward the insurer paid Pugliese the full insured value of the car, $4.2 million.

At the time, the insurance payout seemed a colossal amount of money, but today, such a price for the Goldfinger “effects car” – which also served as a prototype for DB5 development – would be a relative bargain. Chassis DP/216/1 was one of two cars provided by Aston Martin to Eon Productions for the action sequences of Goldfinger, but DP/216/1 was the car modified with the full suite of Q’s enhancements. Ultimately, the weight of these modifications made the car virtually undrivable, so chassis DB5/1486/R (today referred to as the “road car”) was used for many of the moving sequences. In 2010, the DB5 “road car” sold at auction for £2.9 million, then the equivalent of $4.6 million.

Following the end of Eon Productions time with the car, DP/216/1 was returned to Aston Martin, where it was rebuilt and sold (in 1968) as a DB5 to its first owner, who wasted no time in reinstalling the cars gadgetry. It changed hands numerous times over the years, its star power typically driving the price beyond what one would expect to pay for a comparable condition DB5. In 1981, under then-owner Richard Losee, the car appeared in The Cannonball Run, and five years later it crossed the auction stage, where it was purchased by an agent for Pugliese for a fee-inclusive price of $275,000.

Since then, DP/216/1 has been completely off the radar, but not to everyone. Christopher Marinello, ARI’s CEO, has been working the case – representing the insurance company that paid the claim – for the past decade. While his company specializes in stolen artwork, it’s no stranger to high-value collector cars, having aided in the recovery of “a 1952 Bentley R Type Continental, an early Alfa Romeo racer, a few Jags, and a Ferrari or two” over the years.

Last month, Marinello received an anonymous but credible tip that DP/216/1 lies not at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, off the Florida Keys, but rather in a climate-controlled garage, somewhere in the Middle East. For obvious reasons, he’s reluctant to be more specific, since once the car drops beneath the radar again it may never be found. In his own words,

A car like this needs to be serviced and maintained, and I am hoping that someone out there will come forward with more information about the vehicle. We have received several tips but are waiting for confirmation of the chassis number DP 216-1.

Should the Aston Martin be recovered, it will become property of the insurance company that paid the claim. Though ARI is the insurer’s appointed representative, it holds no rights to ownership, but it’s safe to assume the recovery fee paid by the insurer on such a high-value item would be substantial.

A reward – in the six figures – is also being offered to those who aid in the recovery of the car in undamaged form. To contact Christopher, visit ArtRecovery.com.