GSXR-powered Bond Bug for sale
If you're into classic microcars, but need a few extra horses under the bonnet, you might want to check out the above Bond Bug. It's up on eBay now (29th September 2014) as a classified advert. The price is £7,795, which is around £7,150 more than a Bug would have cost you new when launched back in 1970.
So okay, it's a kinda dumb vehicle, and kinda cool too, and it's become something of a cult machine that pops up these days on everything from TV adverts to pop videos to primetime dramas.
The current eBay advert lists this three-wheeler as fitted with a 700cc engine, which refers to the original Reliant 4-cylinder water-cooled unit said to have been developed from the Austin 7 motor. But the advert adds that a GSXR-1000 engine has been retro-fitted to its uprated chassis.
▲ In 1970, the word "Bug" was very much in vogue. Dune buggies took hold in the 1950s (usually old Fords or similar converted for sand use). The Beach Buggy had been popularised in the 1960s. The movie The Love Bug was one of the biggest hits of 1968. And the James Bond franchise was also a hot entertainment property. So the name "Bond Bug" made a lot of sense to the marketing people.
▲ A padded engine cowling was supplied with the Bug, but it's clearly not shown in this image. Then
again, the cowling wasn't very effective—and you might prefer to hear the GSXR engine, anyway. Note the
▲ One wheel at the front and two at the rear is not the ideal configuration, especially when making
That GSXR engine will give the driver around 160bhp instead of the usual 29-31bhp (depending upon which Bug you opt for), and that's a power-to-weight ratio that will make Porsche pilots green and groan. The Bug, take note, weighs around just 868lbs (394kg).
To haul it back to reality, disc brakes have been fitted (as opposed to the original drums). Gaz coilovers have improved the suspension, and polybushes have been plugged in all round. The wheels are 12-inchers from Revolution. The exhaust is from Akrapovic.
There's 12-months MOT and tax offered, and the seller says [this Bug is] "noisy inside and is a firm ride, but it's fast".
History of the Bond Bug
Reliant Cars of Tamworth Staffordshire was the firm behind this outrageously optimistic orange plastic wedge, but the designer was Ogle, the same outfit responsible for the original BSA Rocket 3 concept, the Raleigh Chopper bike, and any number of other British automotive and domestic icons of the day.
For convenience, this story feature starts in 1969, three years before the Bond Bug appeared. Reliant was already producing 3-wheelers such as the Regal; a prudent, cost-effective, frugal car aimed at rust-hating, thrifty gentlemen (usually of a certain age) looking for the most basic motorised transport complete with a roof, doors, windscreen, and a perch for the wife. The TV series Only Fools and Horse made the Regal (marketed as a Supervan) more famous than Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and managed to poke endless fun at a vehicle that, to many was already something of mobile comedy sketch.
In 1969, Reliant purchased Bond Cars Ltd, a firm that had once been known as Sharps Commercials Ltd. As with sidecar outfits, the microcar market had shrunk hugely since the high water mark of the 1950s. But Reliant still had a small corner of the market to call its own, and it had ambition and drive.
The 700cc Reliant/Bond Bug began by taking a hacksaw to a Regal body and fitting that to a new chassis created by John Crosthwaite, Chief Engineer. The Regal supplied some of the running gear, but the canopy concept was new—if not exactly revolutionary (plenty of microcars of earlier years had adopted similar entry/exit designs).
Ogle's Tom Karen, something of a legend in design circles, was brought in to help earn the new Bug the kind of attention the manufacturer was seeking, and after some cutting and shutting, the bright tangerine fibreglass gel coat was applied to the first factory mould, and the diminutive Bug was born.
A lot of Ogle stuff, in which function and form have little to say to each other, leaves us cold. But we think the Bond Bug was a welcome new three-wheeler twist in the dark days of the early 1970s when industrial unrest in Britain was on the rise, where the economy was all over the place, and where the established UK manufacturers were also flirting with all kinds of novel ideas and arrangements.
▲ It worked for Norton (up to a point), and it worked for Reliant/Bond. But girls were not the typical customer. The Bug was a male dominated scene, and as a "bird puller" you had your work cut out...
The launch price of the Bug was around £620 depending on where and how you bought it, and its market wasn't as clearly defined as it might have been. But if you were a young, trendy, Martini-drinking lounge lizard with big shirt collars and sporting pretensions, you might have been first in line in the Bond Bug purchasing queue.
On the other hand, if you were just plain odd or Bohemian, or rich, or had a death wish, you might have bought one out of pure curiosity or recklessness.
For more or less the same money, you could, after all, buy a Mini Minor or a Hillman Imp. And with either of these vehicles, you could transport the whole family around in relative 4-seater/4-wheeled comfort—as opposed to (barely) having room for one in the passenger seat, Spartan weather protection, and not much between you and the first juggernaut that failed to spot you out on the highway (not an easy thing to do, mind).
The top speed was around 70mph. But slung down low and angled back in the driving seat, you could still get the kind of driving thrill generally afforded to more serious sporting vehicles of the day such as the MGB or the Triumph Spitfire.
Except that that's a little unfair. Nobody really expected this quirky 3-wheeler to hold its own against a 4-wheeled challenger. Rather, this vehicle really fits in somewhere between a Beach Buggy, a go-kart and a shopping trolley, and it could tip over if you tried fairly hard—and could tip over if you didn't try that hard too. Most, however, stayed vertical and were driven within the design limitations. It's worth noting that the Bond Bug anticipated Clive Sinclair's notorious C5 by 15 years.
Other creature comforts and accessories, beyond the legal requirements, were pretty much non-existent. But there was a heater, and the Bugs were okay-ish for zipping around towns and cities and parking in unlikely spots outside wine bars and sports clubs. And in warm, sunny weather there was no need to flip up the entry/exit canopy. Instead, you could remove the flimsy side screens (doors) and stow them in a locker aft.
The original Bug almost had pop-up headlights (a la the Lotus Elan). But these luxuries would have added weight and complexity, and so the idea was canned at the prototype stage.
It's generally quoted that 2,268 Bond Bugs were built between 1970 and 1974 (some sources quote 2,270). Unsurprisingly, the survival rate isn't exactly great. The fibre glass bodies don't rust, note. But even fibre glass will decay given enough abuse or neglect. Options included sports wheels and "stylish" door mirrors. You can drive one, incidentally, on a full car or bike licence.
Both Bond and Reliant were highly innovative companies with a distinct penchant for simply being different and running with a herd of their own making.
▲ Over 24,000 of these stylish minicars (designed by Lawrence "Lawrie" Bond) were built between 1949 and 1966. The engines were originally single cylinder Villiers two-stroke units of 122cc (later 247cc twins). No reverse gear at first, but the engine was mounted directly above the front wheel and could turn (with the front wheel) through 90-degrees offering enviable manoeuvrability.
▲ Reduced vehicle purchase tax made these "short radius runabouts" very popular. Top speed was a lowly 30mph. The engines incorporated an emergency kickstarter. But push-button (Dynastart) was standard.
▲ The Regal was offered with an impressive list of options including a spotlight, a foglight, bumper over-riders, sun visors and even metallic paint. Over 50,000 were manufactured. Impressive. Basic. Transport.
Notable Bond/Reliant models
The Villiers-powered Bond Minicar appeared in 1949 and stayed in production until 1966.
The Reliant Regal was produced between 1953 and 1973. Over 50,000 were built and sold making it a highly successful British car (technically, like all Reliant/Bond 3-wheelers, it's actually a tricycle). "The engine block is all-aluminium like a Rolls Royce's" claims the firm's sales literature. Beyond that, the similarities are fewer.
The Triumph Herald-based Bond Equipe (pronounced E-keep) was built between 1963 and 1970 (image immediately above).
The Hillman Imp/Coventry Climax-engined Bond 875 was built between 1965 and 1970.
The (largely Ford-powered) Reliant Scimitar was built between 1964 and 1986; a car that's been owned and driven by Royalty (Princess Anne) and is still a highly sought after and stylish classic.
The Reliant Robin (image immediately above) appeared in 1973 as a replacement for the 701cc Reliant Regal. It stayed in (original) production until 1981, but reappeared twice after that. The engine capacity was increased to 850cc. A theoretical 85mph was achievable, but no one argued with the 70mpg claim.
As of now (September 2014), you might expect to pay around £5,000 - £7,500 for a decent, sorted, ready-to-pose Bond Bug. We've seen £10,000 asked, but it's anyone's guess if that kind of money really changes hands. At that price, you'll want originality, solidity and quality as opposed to excuses.
Many of the Bugs on the market are fitted with 850cc engines. But the original, early, 700cc first-of-types are (as ever) generally the better investments followed by the later 750cc variants.
They still turn up in old barns and at auctions. H&H Auction sold a 1970 model in April 2014 for £7,952.
— The Third Man
£14.99 plus P&P
Copyright Sump Publishing 2014