The Bond Bug is a small British two-seat, three-wheeled automobile which was built from 1970 to 1974, initially by Bond Cars Ltd and subsequently by the Reliant Motor Company. It is a wedge-shaped microcar, with a lift-up canopy and side screens instead of conventional doors.
Founding and early years
Following the purchase of Bond Cars Ltd., Reliant commissioned Tom Karen of Ogle Design to design a fun car. The Bond Bug was based on Chief Engineer John Crosthwaite’s newly designed chassis and some Reliant Regal running gear. The original concept was explored by chopping down a production Regal vehicle, the rear of the car being shortened to end over the rear axle. This prototype could be seen for many years later, languishing in the yard at the rear of the factory, by anyone who cared to look through the chain-link fence from the canal towpath.
The engine is the front-mounted 700 cc (later uprated to 750 cc) Reliant light-alloy four-cylinder unit, developed from the Austin 7, and which protruded into the passenger cabin. At launch 29 bhp (22 kW; 29 PS) was claimed for the less expensive 700 and 700E models. The more up-market 700ES incorporates a redesigned cylinder head which permitted the compression ratio to be increased from 7.35:1 to 8.4:1. This provided a power increase to 31 bhp (23 kW; 31 PS) as well as improved torque for the then range topping 700ES.
The Bond Bug 700ES also offers more supportive seats as well as more padding over the engine cowl, twin mudflaps, an ashtray, a rubber front bumper and a spare wheel.
Launch and production run
The car enjoyed an upbeat launch, at which Reliant’s Ray Wiggin stated: “The fact it has three wheels is quite incidental. It’s a new form of transport. So now, in fact, we think it’s going to appeal to a much wider section of the market than we originally envisaged.”
The Bug was available in a bright orange tangerine colour, although six white Bugs were produced for a Rothmans cigarette promotion – one of which was also used in an advertisement for Cape Fruit and at the moment a Dulux Bond Bug is said to be under commission. Only three Rothmans bugs are known to exist.
Its fame was helped along by a distinctive Corgi Toys die-cast toy car. Although it had a fairly short production run (1970–1974), it has a dedicated following today.
In contrast to the image of three-wheeled Reliants as being slow, the Bond Bug was capable of 76 mph (122 km/h), in excess of the UK national speed limit (70 mph/112.6 km/h), and comparable to small saloon cars such as the basic 850 cc Mini (72 mph/116 km/h) and the Hillman Imp (80 mph/128 km/h). However, it could not match the speed of the Mini Cooper S (96 mph/154 km/h) or larger saloons such as the Ford Cortina Mark III (104 mph/167 km/h in the highest-powered variant), or even aging models of two-seater sports cars, such as the MG MGB (103 mph/165.7 km/h) or the Lotus Seven, where by 1970 even the lowest-powered version of the S4 could reach 108 mph/173.8 km/h.
The Bond Bug was sold as being fun to drive, with the low seating position giving a similar exaggerated impression of speed as in a go-kart, while the actual speed was similar to that reached by high performance cars only a few years earlier (indeed, earlier versions of the Lotus 7 had a top speed of 76 mph/122 km/h right up until 1968, and their trim level, e.g. side curtains instead of windows, was also similar).
The Bug was, however, no cheaper than more practical cars. It cost £629, while a basic 850 cc Mini, a four-seater much faster round corners but with considerably inferior acceleration, cost £620. Also, while a basic Lotus Seven (with much faster acceleration and good cornering) cost £945 in 1970, it was also available as a complete knocked down kit much more cheaply, partly because of more favorable tax treatment.