The name is Bug. Bond Bug…
The town of Preston, Lancashire gave the world Arkwright’s dark, satanic mills; the town at one point becoming an engineering focal point for the entire North West of England. One such intrepid character being Lawrence (Lawrie) Bond (1907-74) who brought the minicar, amongst a host of other engineering feats to fruition. In similar fashion to Colin Chapman, Bond was obsessed with weight and the saving thereof; his original 1949 3-wheeled minicar 2/3 seater tipping the scales at a mere 310lbs (140Kgs).
Britain’s odd motor tax laws, which allowed for a three-wheeled vehicle to be run on a cheaper motorcycle license opened the floodgates for lightweight engineering oddities. Reliant of Tamworth, Staffordshire offered the Regal, which Bond acquired and modified into the Bond 875. Using a Hillman Imp four cylinder, 875cc, 34bhp engine, mounted in the rear, John Surtees took an example around Brands Hatch at speeds in excess of 100mph. The 1965 £500 fibreglass bodied saloon and van variants could also be run on cheaper 2-star, lower octane petrol, another plus point for the cash strapped customer. Just under 3500 were made.
The name Bond would continue but in a completely different aspect. Then owners Loxhams and Bradshaw were snapped up by the Dutton-Forshaw Group. Bond Cars Limited, the only manufacturer within L&B were to be sold off, surplus to requirements. The Bond management attempted an unsuccessful buyout with Reliant taking the three wheeled helm in February 1969. Change came swiftly.
The Preston factory continued with the 875 (along with Bond’s other wares) for a while with around 45 cars per week. With Reliant’s own Regal shifting 15,000 per year, the (dark satanic?) rumour mill upped the ante: dubious Preston build quality denoting drastic North Western reductions. Christmas 1970 witnessed the closure of the Preston facility for good, the majority of production already transferred to Tamworth by that summer.
A new Bond was to be made; the Bug. This tangerine, cheese wedge three wheeled sports car, “the Ferrari a 16 year old could drive” derived from the pencil of Czech wartime escapee, Tom Karen. Naturalised in the UK, he studied aeronautic engineering where in his spare time he created a three wheeled (single wheel to the rear) car called VIMP, an amalgamation of vamp and imp. Karen’s VIMP lay dormant until after a spell designing for Ford led him to David Ogle’s design studio, based in Letchworth, Hertfordshire.
Sadly, Ogle was killed, testing one of his own creations, the SX1000 in 1962. Tom stepped up to the plate, obtaining Reliant as a customer, beginning work on their Scimitar model. Whilst sculpting the coupé, Karen mentioned in 1963 to Tamworth management his idea of a three wheeled, two seater sports car, even building two 1/8 scale models, but was rebuffed.
Reliant’s tune soon changed once Bond had become their property. Given a shortened Robin chassis to work with, Karen and his team set to work garnering Tamworth approval, administering only minor changes to his 1963 sketches – a widened front end and a modicum of boot space. Aiming for simplicity along with lightness, Karen wanted to avoid bolting together panels as was Reliant’s way. Moulded fibreglass panels were glued in place. The development time came in a shade under twelve months. Both Ogle and Reliant felt excitement – then came the name; the prototype affectionately called Rogue, the Bug moniker fitted perfectly.
Markedly different from anything else at the time, the Bond Bug captured the zeitgeist of that groovy Carnaby Street culture with lurid shading. Karen sought to save money by offering the Bug in nothing but lustrous orange with black interior, although half a dozen white examples were made for a cigarette promotion. On seeing the badge, Tom quickly drew up the graphics which adorned the bodywork.
Motive power came from Reliant’s own front mounted 700cc 29bhp engine mated to a four speed manual gearbox. The pressed steel box section chassis contained tubular cross members, clothing that glass fibre wedge. Suspension upfront was leading arm, aft being trailing links with coil springs. A mere prop held open the canopy, with no side windows for this parsimonious original. Decadent reality soon took hold; a telescopic canopy, actual side screens, a form of heater, a drivers sun visor and interior light became the 700E, upping the weight to 868lbs (394Kgs).
The ES took extravagance to new levels; low profile tyres, rubber bumpers, better seating, engine cowl padding, an ashtray and of course an extra few horses – the 750cc now making 31bhp and allowing a speed limit busting 76mph.
Seen as a cheeky alternative to such cars as the Mini and the Lotus Seven, the Bond Bug remained a niche alternative. At the 1970 Woburn Abbey launch, the Bug received glowing adoration. Costing £629, nine more than the four seater Mini but over three hundred cheaper than Colin’s offering, the Bug’s £10 road tax (over the obese Mini’s £25) was a key factor. Described as a funabout, with unique looks, “the 12″ wheel offering the classic straight arm racing driver style”, excellent economy, with its all-aluminium engine, requiring no re-boring and perhaps most importantly for Britain, a rustproof shell.
Reliant’s brio cut little mustard. Over their four years production run, just 2270 Bug’s left Tamworth, but as is the way with such creations, over time, love for the tangerine wedge blossomed. Clubs and information abound. Even non-enthusiasts have heard of and can appreciate a Bond Bug, if only for the obvious 1970’s connotations. Currently, the UK has over 150 licensed Bugs, another hundred or so on SORN, tucked away, hopefully in preparation for a new lease of life.
Tom Karen, now aged 94 retired from Ogle after 37 years of innovation. He retains his childhood innocence as this short interview reveals. As for Lawrie Bond, later life saw him combine freelance design work with being a Yorkshire publican. He passed away shortly before the final car bearing his name ceased production.
www.tjmortimer.com for the Bug brochure