The James Bond Lotus Esprit That's Now Owned By Elon Musk

Elon Musk buys all the things — and if he can't buy them, he builds them. Take SpaceX, for example. Or Tesla. And let's not forget the impending purchase of the social media platform Twitter. But let's dial the Wayback Machine to 1989, when a random couple living in Long Island, New York, purchased an abandoned storage unit for $100 in a blind auction. The 10-year rental lease had been paid in advance and ultimately forgotten, according to Sotheby's. They had no clue what hidden gems — or colossally worthless junk — might lay inside. It's an odd start to an Elon Musk story, but keep the adage that truth is stranger than fiction in mind.

In what sounds like a scenario ripped from an episode of "Storage Wars," the couple cracked open the unit and found a crazy contraption inside, unlike anything they'd ever seen; until then, neither had reportedly ever watched a single James Bond movie in their life (via Autoblog). As it turns out, the "crazy contraption" was none other than "Wet Nellie," the very Lotus Esprit featured as a submarine car in the 1977 James Bond film "The Spy Who Loved Me."

The spy didn't love the car enough to save it

In yet another strange twist to the story, while the couple towed the Lotus from the storage unit in Holbrook to their home in Long Island, according to CNBC, truckers began chattering about the Bond car over their CB radios. The truckers got ahold of the couple, told them what they had, and the Long Island Lotus owners began their due diligence. 

Doug Redenius, the co-founder of the Ian Fleming Foundation, authenticated the car for the couple (who remain anonymous). The Esprit was one of eight used in the film but the only one used for the underwater scenes. According to AutoBlog, the film producers spent more than $100,000 to modify the Lotus to operate underwater by enclosing the wheel wells and undercarriage and adding fins to the sides for stability. Batteries housed inside a water-tight compartment powered four propellers mounted on the back of the car. A retired Navy SEAL in scuba gear "drove" the submersible vehicle.

After getting authenticated, the owners repaired the damage to the roof, cosmetically restored it, and attached it to a custom trailer so they could show it off from time to time. It was even on display at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. Still, the owners mostly kept it hidden away until they auctioned it off in 2013 at RM Sotheby's. Here is where Elon Musk enters the story and... buys all the things.

A Lotus Esprit partly inspired Tesla's Cybertruck design

Musk purchased the white 1976 Lotus Esprit, which was essentially just a movie prop, for a cool $997,000. Musk said in a statement after buying the car in 2013, "It was amazing as a little kid in South Africa to watch James Bond in 'The Spy Who Loved Me' drive his Lotus Esprit off a pier, press a button and have it transform into a submarine underwater." After buying it, he said he was disappointed that the Lotus didn't actually transform but planned on upgrading it with a Tesla EV powertrain and would somehow make it "transform for real." 

In a tweet from 2017, Musk gave up the idea of converting the car into a transformer (via Twitter), but mysteriously alluded to having a new concept that would. While we have yet to see a Tesla autosub hit the market, we know that Tesla's Cybertruck is coming later this year. And why is that relevant? Because in 2019, Musk tweeted that the Cybertruck's design was partly influenced by none other than "Wet Nellie" from "The Spy Who Loved Me." And that, as they say in show business, is the end. Or is it?