1970 Bond Bug 700ES review

By: Guy Allen, Photography by: Guy Allen

Presented by

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Bill Hancock Bill Hancock
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Is there a happier-looking car on the planet than the Bond Bug? We don't think so

 

1970 Bond Bug 700ES

It is a hell of a sight. Despite the overcast and gloomy weather – or maybe because of it – the bright tangerine Bond Bug trundling your way just puts a big grin on your dial. It kind of takes its own ray of sunshine along with it and you start to wonder why, back in the early 1970s, they didn’t sell them as fast as they could build them.

If you were to look for something that’s so typical of the era, you’d be hard put to find a better example. This was a pitch at the youth market, meant to be cheap and cheerful. While it scored highly on the cheerful side of things, the sad reality was that it cost as much as a new Mini, which was almost as cute, had two more seats, while being quicker, stronger and safer.

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For owner Bill Hancock, buying this one back in 2015 was the realisation of a 45-year-old dream. "My wife and I got married in 1969, in the UK," he explains. "We moved into our first house and had our first colour TV, and the following year, in 1970, we saw the launch of the Bond Bug, on TV on the news. It was at Earle’s Court, in London.

| Watch the video: 1970 Bond Bug

"Oh my god how cool is that? We just fell in love with it. Of course they were always done in tangerine. When they were coming into the local dealerships, we found out the price had been pitched at just 20 pounds less than a brand new Mini which had all the frills, the radio and everything else. It was out of our price range.

"We had a (used) Mini at the time."

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Roll on several decades and they move to Australia. "We were just chatting away. The wife said to me, ‘do remember the Bond Bug in the UK? I wonder if there are any in Australia.’ We had been talking about buying an old car.

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"She went on Google and found there were only two registered in Australia." You wouldn’t believe it, there’s one for sale in Mount Tambourine, which is about 90km away.

"I jumped straight on it, called the guy and said we want to come and have a look at your Bug. We went the next day and that was it – did the deal." His name was Boris – think about it, Boris the Bond Bug owner.

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What is the little gem that’s created all this happiness 50 years ago? It’s essentially a Reliant three-wheeler, under the paint. But leaving the story there would be doing it a great dis-service. The Bond name was already a little famous in compact and microcar circles, and the company was acquired by Reliant in 1968.

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This concept came about thanks to influence from two very famous names. The first was designer Tom Karen of Ogle Design. He was responsible for some iconic work over the years, including the Raleigh Dragster bicycle, the Bush TR130 portable radio and, in the car world, the Reliant Scimitar GTE.

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Simple and efficient interior with room for two in the snug cabin

Meanwhile there was a famous name tweaking the chassis: John Crossthwaite. His CV included the likes of Lotus and Cooper. His effort was a very simple U-shaped girder, with Reliant mechanicals.

Those mechanicals were an inline four pushrod engine, starting out at 700cc. A couple of variants were made, including a high-compression version for the more luxurious 700ES. Late in the series, the company produced a 750ES with the implied bump in engine capacity. All were fed by a carburetor and claimed anything from 30 to 40-odd horsepower.

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 Braveheart, 700cc four-cylinder engine

The engine was laid out north-south, between the feet of the occupants, and was tied to a four-speed manual transmission with a single-plate dry clutch. Power was fed via prop shaft and diff to a solid axle at the rear. The front wheel is mounted on a single-sided leading link swingarm and all three corners use coil-over shock-absorbers.

This example runs Hagon shocks, and Bill admits to being a fan of Alf Hagon, who was a famous motorcycle grass-track and dragstrip racer through the fifties and sixties.

Drum brakes do the stopping duties reasonably well, as the whole plot weighs around the 390 kilo mark. And yes, that is a fiberglass body you’re looking at.

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Around 2300 were produced over 1970-74, across two factories. As first they were produced at the old Bond facility in Preston, but then production was centralised to Reliant’s plant at Tamworth (UK). Less than 10 per cent of that number are thought to be running, world wide.

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100mph speedo. You’d have to be brave

As was the case with much of the British motor industry at the time, it was far from smooth sailing. The Bond Owners Club in the UK describes it this way: "Although the Bond Bug had a fairly successful launch in June 1970, it was a difficult time for the new owners. Alleged production and quality problems at Preston coupled with the economics of running two similar facilities meant that by August the final (Bond) Equipes were being rolled off the lines. Bug production had already been transferred to Tamworth in July. In December 1970 the Preston factory closed for good. Production of the Bug continued at Tamworth until 1974 when it too was discontinued and the name Bond disappeared from the motoring world. So you can say this is the last of the Bonds.

Mention three-wheelers to most people and they get the image of the Reliant Robin or Regal belonging to Mr Bean’s nemesis, Mr Sprout. Or perhaps the Top Gear episode with Jeremy Clarkson where it spends most of his time sliding down the road on its side. Funny, but cruel and unfair.

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Flip-top lid for easy access

As Bill was happy to demonstrate, the little Bug gets along very well, with hilly twisty roads presenting no great challenges. He reckons he felt pretty much at home in the thing from the day they picked it up.

"I bought this at Mount Tambourine. At the far end is what’s called the goat track, which is a twisty bit of road that runs down the mountain to Canungra. We decided to stop there for lunch. My wife was behind in her car. She said take it easy. It was absolutely no problem at all. I wouldn’t like to try and drift it round, but it went round those tight corners very comfortably and really didn’t give me any shocks."

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When you look at the Bug, you can see it should have a reasonable degree of stability. It’s incredibly low with all the weight between the axles.

This version, the ES, was the upmarket variant, with side-skirt windows and proper hydraulic rams for the canopy, plus of course the sexy alloy rear wheels. That lurid and very seventies tangerine was the only colour available, though a handful of promo cars were done in other hues for outside firms.

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Exposed rear shows the coil-over shocks

Though the Bond Bug struggled to attract sales back when it was new, it’s kind of getting the last laugh. Microcar values have shot up in the last decade and there’s no question their rarity has been a component in that. In the end, it’s not about the money – they just look like good old-fashioned basic motoring fun. That would do, wouldn’t it?

USEFUL CONTACTS

Bond Owners Club UK
Very good historical resources on the entire Bond marque. bondownersclub.co.uk

Bond Car Site
An overview site that has more historical resources. bondcars.net

Youtube.com searches
1. ‘Mr Bean Reliant’ to see Bean’s nemesis cop a hiding.
2. ‘Bond Bug Hayabusa’ for a wild Bug with a 300hp turbocharged Suzuki Hayabusa engine.
3. ‘Bond Bug Wheeler Dealers’ for a resto series and Tom Karen (designer) interview

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Bill waited 45 years to get the Bug

1970 Bond Bug 700ES

Body Single canopy two-seat coupe
Engine 700cc four
Power & torque 2kW@5000rpm  52Nm@5000rpm
Performance 0-100km/h 19.7 seconds
Top speed 121km/h
Transmission Four-speed, manual
Suspension Front – coil springs. Rear – Di Dion axle with coilover shocks
Brakes Drum front, drum rear
Wheels 10-inch alloys
Price when new $1195

From Unique Cars #440, May 2020

 

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