Sunday, 5 October 2014

James Bond enters the world of motor racing

Last week, Ian Fleming Publications announced that Anthony Horowitz, acclaimed author of the Alex Rider series and television scriptwriter (credits include Midsomer Murders and Poirot), will be writing the next James Bond novel, to be published in September 2015. If that wasn't exciting enough, it was additionally revealed that part of the novel will use story ideas by Ian Fleming. The unpublished story, 'Murder on Wheels', takes Bond to the motor-racing circuit of Nürburgring in Germany, where Bond must foil a Russian plot to scupper driver Stirling Moss's race. But what inspired Fleming to think about writing such a story, and what details might we expect to see in Anthony Horowitz's novel?

James Bond is no stranger to the world of motor racing. Apart from all the 'racing changes' that Bond regularly makes in his cars, we know from Moonraker (1955) that Bond 'dabbled on the fringe of the racing world' (in his teens, assuming Bond was born in 1921), and had memories of Rudolf Caracciola, the celebrated German racing driver of the 1930s, at Le Mans. It was clearly a period with which Fleming was familiar, and he alluded to the motor racing scene of the 1930s in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1964/65). While the magical car was based on a car built by Count Zborowski in 1920, Fleming describes Chitty Chitty Bang Bang as a Paragon Panther that raced in the 1930s.

'Murder on Wheels' is one of thirteen story outlines prepared by Ian Fleming in 1958-9 for a television series in America. The series never got off the ground, but by May 1959, Fleming had supplied seven new stories and other stories based on the Bond novels already published. Some of the outlines formed the basis for some of the short stories in the For Your Eyes Only (1960) and Octopussy (1966) collections, but for whatever reason, 'Murder on Wheels' remained unused.

The late 1950s was an exciting period for motor racing. The inaugural race of the Formula One championship was in 1950 at Silverstone, and by the mid 1950s, the championship was dominated by two drivers, Juan Manuel Fangio, the Argentinian who won five drivers' titles between 1951 and 1957, and Stirling Moss, the Briton who never won a title, but won sixteen races between 1951 and 1961. The Formula One championship of 1957 was a particular tussle between the two, with every race that season won by Fangio in a Maserati or Moss in his Vanwall. Without Fangio in the 1958 season, Stirling Moss's main competition came from compatriot Mike Hawthawn in a Ferrari. But the season was overshadowed by several drivers' deaths on and off the track.
A Vanwall in 1957, the type of car driven by Stirling Moss (photo: Terry Whalebone)

It is possible that Ian Fleming had the 1957 and 1958 Formula One seasons in mind when he wrote the outline for his story (the 1959 season was too late, as the first race was in May). From a British point of view, the emerging dominance of British drivers and cars would have been a source of national pride and excitement, and it is not difficult to imagine Fleming concocting a plot involving a Russian scheme to end this dominance and humiliate the British.

We know that Anthony Horowitz will set his novel in the 1950s, and it is not unreasonable to suggest that he will turn to the events of the late 1950s for inspiration. If so, expect to read the names of some of the drivers of the day, among them Fangio, Moss, Hawthawn, Brooks, Musso, Schell, Gregory, and the names of cars, such as Vanwall, Cooper-Climax,  and BRM, as well as Ferrari, Maserati and Porsche (and possibly even the name of a certain team-owner, who entered in 1958 with Connaught-Alta – Bernie Ecclestone). Horowitz might also be tempted to turn to the 1959 to make another Bondian connection. It was in that year that Aston Martin entered Formula One.

Given James Bond's (and Fleming's) interest in the world of motor-racing, it's perhaps curious that Bond hasn't been seen on the racing circuit before now either in the books or the films (although he comes close in the film of On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969), when he and Tracy gatecrash a stock-car rally). The racing circuit, however, deserves to be as natural a Bondian landscape as the casino or the ski slope, and I await Anthony Horowitz's novel with a great deal of anticipation.


Gilbert, J, 2012 Ian Fleming: the Bibliography, Queen Anne Press
Griswold, J, 2006 Ian Fleming's James Bond: Annotations and Chronologies for Ian Fleming's Bond Stories, Author-House


  1. I'm greatly looking forward to this book. I only hope that Bond-foling-plans-to-murder-Stirling-Moss doesn't form the basis for the entire plot. It hardly smacks of Britain under threat. Hopefully, it will be a springboard to a much larger plan. Either way, methinks Mr. Bond is (finally) in good hands and we'll get a Bond story that contains tension. Something that the last three efforts sorely lacked.

    1. I agree that the Stirling Moss plot is a little tame to sustain an entire book. I gather, though, that the episode will form the basis of a chapter or two, so it may well springboard into something deeper. In any case, this book should be a good 'un.

  2. Brilliant piece there - thank you Edward. I look forward to Anthony Horowitz's Bond novel with great anticipation (I'd been calling for him as the next Bond author for some time) and the inclusion of unused Fleming material in the form of 'Murder on Wheels' is of course the cherry on the cake!

    1. Thanks very much! Glad you enjoyed the piece. It's a fantastic idea to incorporate some of Fleming's unused material. I don't know why IFP didn't think of doing it before.


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