My Name is Bond… Bond Bug!

Images: Gautam Sen

If this car could speak, it may very well introduce itself with a snigger: “My Name is Bond… Bond Bug!”

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The wedgiest little runabout ever

But as this isn’t the script for Cars 4, yours truly will need to do the translating and the explaining. Launched in 1970, the design and the concept of the Bug captured the 1970s perfectly well—a fun and funky runabout with a shape that was a minimalist wedge, in keeping with design trends established by cars like the Marcello Gandini-designed Alfa Romeo Carabo concept.

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One of the simplest profiles one could imagine, yet purposeful and to the... err... point

Where the Alfa Romeo Carabo was supercar-meets-spaceship futuristic, the Bond Bug was an application of the principles of simplistic wedge design to a minimalist three-wheeled runabout. And in that it was very successful, even if it wasn’t so in the marketplace.

A child of the rock ‘n’ roll era, the Bond Bug was conceived in 1969, to explore the possibility of addressing a younger clientele for a very British market for three-wheeled cars, ones which needed to meet easier motorcycle regulations, and could be driven on a bike license.

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Dead rear the Bug looks wide and sporty

Soon after the purchase of Bond Cars Ltd in 1969 by the other three-wheeler British specialist carmaker Reliant Motor Company, the latter decided to commission Tom Karen of Ogle Design to conceive a funky little trike, one which would appeal to the flower children of the ‘70s.

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Rear three quarter also gives the car a sense of purpose that verges almost on aggressiveness

Both Reliant and Bond Cars had been around for a while then. Founded in 1935, Reliant had been successful in making niche vehicles, which included three-wheeled passenger and goods vehicles, as well as sports cars.

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With a canopy that open up and forward, the funky spaceship look of the 1970s is reinforced

Bond was even older, with its origins dating back to 1922, when it had been founded by Paul Sharp as the Sharp Commercials Ltd, in Preston, Lancashire. In 1963, it changed its name to Bond Cars Ltd, after it had been making and supplying the Bond Minicar from 1949 to a design by Lawrence Bond.

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Getting in is easy, getting out is less so

In 1963, Bond even diversified its product portfolio by developing a sports coupe based on the Triumph Herald chassis and mechanicals (in a sense doing what Gave Cursetjee did a decade later in India:

The Bond Equipe GT 2+2 (as it was called), which went through several mutations, met with modest success, selling some 4,400 units in a seven-year production run. Yet the Equipe could not save Bond; which is why Reliant stepped in.

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What a delightful design

As well as stopping the production of the Equipe sports coupe, Reliant decided to develop the Bug as a funkier alternative to their mainstay, the Reliant Regal three-wheeler.

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Of Czech origin, Tom Karen is undoubtedly one of England's finest designers

Powering the Bond Bug was the same compact 700cc four-cylinder engine that the Regal used then. The longitudinal engine, mounted at the front of the tubular frame, between the driver and passenger’s legs, was mated to a very direct four-speed manual transmission, with the drive going to a rear pair of wheels. Steering was via a rack and pinion system acting on the centrally located single wheel at the front.

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As chief designer at Ogle Design from 1962 to 1999, Karen oversaw the design of several cars including the Reliant Scimitar

Available in any colour… as long as it was orange, the interior was in a suitably contrasting black. The fibreglass hull was designed as a single part and was produced with the colour impregnated. To get into the car, you needed to turn the rotating knob on the roof and tilt the entire upper part of the passenger compartment forward.

The seats were moulded into the hull, and ‘falling’ into the inside of the Bug is easy. Getting out gracefully though is another matter and needs quite a bit of contorting for a creaky old fuddy-duddy like me. Of course, the proverbial ‘girls in miniskirts’ may not manage ingress-egress in all that ladylike a manner.

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If the design incorporated an extra wheel at the front to make the Bug a four seater, would it still look as cute?

But then who cares—this tangerine orange dream is so cool and cute.

Once inside, the packaging is perfect, tight but very comfortable in a sports car semi-supine position, with the steering wheel and pedals falling perfectly to hand and feet. The range had been designed around the Bug 700, which was to be the entry-level model, without the tilting roof, sans doors too. But only one such basic model was ever produced.

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From the rear the impression that the front end seems to be floating is one of the special charms of the design

The remaining 2270-odd—made over a four-year production run—were the 700E (with side screens, tilting and lockable roof, chrome wheel covers and a ceiling light), and the 700ES, which had a slightly more powerful engine, a bumper, head restraints, an F1 type steering wheel, and even a two-tone horn!

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Another view where the front seems to be floating

So, how is it to drive? Well, I can’t quite tell you that as the car in the photos here had an issue and it was not possible to drive it. Next time, I have been promised. Alas…

But once wedged into the seat the driving position reminded me of my Sipani Dolphin… with which the car is related… more on that anon.

Despite a rather limited production run of barely 2,000-odd, significant numbers survive. In France though there are not many as the car was produced only in right-hand drive configuration, purely for the British market.

The handful of Bugs in France rarely come out… but when they do, they really catch the eye—like this one, when the car and owner turned up at Chantilly a few weeks ago.

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So should the Bug come back as an electric runabout, just right for the urban crawl?

As a footnote, the Indian connection: the powerpack that the Bug boasts of, is one which was manufactured in India, but after it had been bored out to a total displacement of 848cc. Yes! That’s the same engine that went into the Sipani Dolphin, née Reliant Kitten, which in turn, was derived from the Bug.

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Available only in right-hand drive configuration, the market was limited mainly to the UK with its peculiar regulations regarding motorcycles versus cars

Postscript? There were plans to make a four-wheeled version of the Bug in the late 1990s (by Reliant), but more stringent homologation requirements of a four-wheeler put paid to such an idea.

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Okay, just this one last look before tuning out

Don’t you think it is time to revive the Bug, perhaps as an electric runabout…?

Gautam Sen

Serial concours judge, author, founder-editor of several Indian auto mags, as well as co-conspirator with design greats Marcello Gandini, Tom Tjaarda, and Gérard Godfroy on a few vehicle projects


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