Remember this advertisement for the Honda Accord?

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Antoine Bardou-Jacquet, the commercial’s director, kept puffing out his cheeks and whinneying, a note of deranged despair twitching at the corners of his mouth. Asked how long he had been working on the commercial, he gave a high-pitched giggle and replied: “Five years? Or is it eight?” It felt that long.

Two hand-made pre-production Accords – there were only six in existence in the entire world – were needed for the exercise, one of them being ripped apart and cannibalised to the considerable distress of Honda engineers. By the end of the months-long production, the film had used so many spare parts that two articulated lorries were required to take them away.

The idea for the advert derived partly from the old children’s game Mouse Trap, and from the wacky engineering of Caractacus Potts’s breakfast-making machine in the Sixties film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

The corporate suits at Honda liked the idea immediately, despite the high costs of production and the fact that it was more than twice as long, and therefore twice as pricey, as normal car ads.

The two-minute version of the ad ran for the first time last Sunday during the Brazilian Grand Prix, and brought pubgoers across the nation to a wide-eyed speechlessness after the Manchester United v Real Madrid game on Tuesday night.

“It was a painstaking process, a tough experience,” says Honda’s communications manager Matt Coombe, recalling the making of Cog. Some of the original ideas, such as one stunt involving an airbag, had to be dropped owing to a shortage of new Accord parts or simply because they were too hard to set up. And on some takes the process would go perfectly until agonisingly close to the end.

“It was like watching a brilliant footballer weaving his way the whole way through a defending team’s players, and then shooting wide right at the end,” says Tony Davidson. The crew resorted to placing bets on which part of the sequence would go wrong. Invariably it was the windscreen wipers.

When the final, 606th take eventually succeeded, there was a stunned silence around the Paris studio. Then, like shipwrecked mariners finally realising that their ordeal was at an end, the team broke into a careworn chorus of increasingly defiant cheers and hurrahs.

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