Every man has within him the ability to be tough and tender, edgy and elegant, rough and refined, part “Ahnold” Schwarzenegger and part Cary Grant.

It’s on the razor’s edge, balancing human decency – and perhaps equal parts human vice – that the most coveted male icons live.

In Ian Fleming’s novels, that balancing act has been embodied by one of the most refined rebels of all time – James Bond – and his automobile of choice, a deep gray Aston Martin.

Agent 007’s affairs with high-end coupes have been as prominent as his dalliances with the Bond girls, but it is to the Aston Martin that he has been most faithful. That perfect fit has as much to do with the look of the coupe itself as with what that brand has built through the years.

Originally, though, Fleming gave the still-evolving Bond a battleship-gray Bentley 4.5 Litre. Later in the books, the spy would graduate to a Mark II Continental Bentley. The literary version of Bond would only flirt with his true love in the “Goldfinger” story, in which he was issued an Aston Martin DB Mark III. Though Bond would return to his Bentley in following novels, the seed was planted for the spy’s lifelong affinity for Aston Martins onscreen, where he would truly become a man’s idea of a man (as opposed to a woman’s idea of a man – Jane Austen’s Mr. Darcy, for whom “horsepower” is the decidedly four-legged kind).

The Bond of the films has driven a number of autos, including BMWs, Lotuses, Citroëns, and, of course, has jumped from building, bus and helicopter into an even larger range of civilian and villain vehicles. It was in 1962 that Sean Connery, perhaps the gold standard in Bonds, took to the wheel of the Aston Martin V8 Vantage, which gave way to the V12 Vanquish. The cinematic spy’s longest-running ride, however, has been in the DB series (DB5 and DBS), first seen in “Goldfinger” and later featured in “Thunderball,” “GoldenEye,” “Tomorrow Never Dies” and the 2006 remake of “Casino Royale.” It is rumored that Daniel Craig, who took over the role with “Casino Royale,” will find himself behind the wheel of the first production-ready One-77, the new Aston model, in the 2012 release “Skyfall.”

In the Bond brand, finding the right car has been almost as important as handing the right star a license to kill. With the Aston’s heavy engine and more than 500 horsepower, the essence of Bond has been fully defined – at once out-of-reach yet still tantalizing to the everyman.

Like the car itself. The Virage, Aston Martin’s base coupe, starts at $207,000. Still, the Aston has avoided the road traveled by Rolls Royce and, to a lesser extent, Bentley, those modern-day carriages for captains of industry. The Aston Martin has instead continued ripping around curves in its racing tradition, not afraid of testing its high-grade engineering. It’s even featured prominently in racing video games like the “Need for Speed” series. The Aston Martin is for the man who says, “Let’s play.”

Bond can play with the best of them. Yet he also looks sleek in a tux – to the tune of almost $5 billion in box-office receipts over the course of 22 films.

And that is why he and his Aston Martin coupe will continue to leave audiences shaken and stirred as the not-so-obscure objects of male desire.

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