What was it? Half a mile away, coming across the lake, was a shapeless thing with two glaring orange eyes with black pupils. From between these, where the mouth might be, fluttered a yard of blue flame. The grey luminescence of the stars showed some kind of domed head above two short batlike wings. The thing was making a low moaning roar that overlaid another noise, a deep rhythmic thud. It was coming towards them at about ten miles an hour, throwing up a creamy wake.Dr. No, chapter 12
The Dragon of Crab Key is one of the more terrifying creations of the mind of Ian Fleming. It had a fearsome reputation which traveled across the Carribean and kept visitors from the island.
What do we know about the dragon?
- Diesel engine (“deep rhythmic thud“)
- Some kind of domed cabin above two short batlike wings
- Giant, solid rubber tires, at least two feet across, twice as tall as
Bond. (“giant aeroplane tyres probably“
- Single tire in rear width of motor
- Iron fin painted black and gold
- A long snout mocked-up with gaping jaws and
gold paint to look like a dragon’s mouth.
- Iron tractor seats
Bond still had no idea what this contraption was. Under the black and gold paint and the rest of the fancy dress it was some sort of a tractor, but of a kind he had never seen or heard of. The wheels, with their vast smooth rubber tyres, were nearly twice as tall as himself. He had seen no trade name on the tyres, it had been too dark, but they were certainly either solid or filled with porous rubber. At the rear there had been a small trailing wheel for stability. An iron fin, painted black and gold, had been added to help the dragon effect. The high mudguards had been extended into short backswept wings. A long metal dragon’s head had been added to the front of the radiator and the headlamps had been given black centres to make ‘eyes’. That was all there was to it, except that the cabin had been covered with an armoured dome and the flame-thrower added. It was, as Bond had thought, a tractor dressed up to frighten and burn–though why it had a flame-thrower instead of a machine gun he couldn’t imagine. It was clearly the only sort of vehicle that could travel the island. Its huge wide wheels would ride over mangrove and swamp and across the shallow lake. It would negotiate the rough coral uplands and, since its threat would be at night, the heat in the iron cabin would remain at least tolerable.
I’ve had a hard time figuring out this contraption as well. My best guess is that it was some sort of gulf marsh buggy:
Picturing this contraption has been a challenge, I first attempted to use the above marsh buggy as a starting point and tried to add in the rest of the details. My art skills, however, are non-existent. This was what I came up with:
I tried to incorporate the huge tires, the mudguards turned into short, backswept bat wings, the long metal dragon’s head added to the front, with the existing headlights turned into the dragon’s eyes, the armored dome on top and the fin. Definitely a crude sketch, but I think it at least gives us an idea.
I then went and looked at the 1960 comic strips for No which appeared in Express Newspapers and examined the strips drawn by Martin Asbury which show the dragon. Here a couple of them:
The tires are not quite the same as described by Fleming, but the other details check out. Interestingly the head of the dragon here is elongated, which is something that hadn’t occurred to me but makes sense. The lower picture shows the bat-like wings over the tires, which match up pretty well with my version.