Thursday November 24, 2016
Written by Andy Roberts
In cinemas nearly 40 years ago, audiences marvelled at the sight of Luke Skywalker at the controls of his Landspeeder, little realising its connections with Tamworth.
The careful use of angled cameras and mirrors meant that a rather familiar wheel layout was never visible to the patrons of the Southampton ABC. Besides, the fact that the Bond's rear axle was a mere four inches from the floor meant that it really did seem to skim the ground.
For many years Bond and Reliant dominated the British three-wheeler market, the former having a slightly more youthful image than the latter, whose Regals appealed to the sort of motorists who favoured ferrets and/or whippet collecting. When Reliant acquired the Preston firm in 1969 it was decided that their latest project, a two-seater aimed at the Kings Road set, would now bear Bond badging. One early, and quite brilliant, choice of name was the “Reliant Rogue” but the Wedge shaped coupe would be known as a Bug and the coachwork was by Tom Karen, who created a vehicle with definite sci-fi overtones. A Bond would have been perfect transport for Ed Straker in UFO and the official launch in Woburn Abbey looked like an out-take from a Jon Pertwee-era Doctor Who.
Power for the new Bond was from the Regal's 700cc unit and Bug production would eventually transfer to the Reliant plant. There were three levels of trim – the £548 basic model had no side screens and a fixed canopy but none appear to have been sold, not even to devoted masochists. For an extra £29, the 700E offered a heater, hub caps plus a canopy that actually opened but if you wanted to drive a trike that made 'heads turn!’ and ‘fingers point!' you may as well have blown £629 on the 700ES.
This was the Bug with the most - a more powerful engine (31bhp instead of 29bhp), twin horns and a leather covered steering wheel - and it did fulfil its remit; Motor thought that it was 'fast, safe and above all fun'. With all versions, being above 5ft.10ins in height was a disadvantage for the Bond driver while shorter motorists often needed an extra cushion on the front seat.
Throughout its short production life, the Bug's profile remained high, thanks to any number of wonderful early 1970s publicity stunts. Bob Monkhouse (who drove a Bond off screen) awarded one as the star prize on ATV's The Golden Shot, another served as a publicity vehicle for Jersey Ice Cream and one Al Upton was given the keys to a 700ES by Miss United Kingdom after he won a Woolworths record competition in 1972. Tangerine was the standard Bond colour but a six-strong fleet of white models promoted Rothmans' Cigarettes - a surviving example was displayed at this year's Classic Motor Show – while Fine Fare Supermarkets asked customers just how many bottles of Bulmer's Cider they could fit in a Bug.
Alas, comparatively few Bonds were actually ordered. The cost was one reason and another was because of insurance companies alarm at the risks young motorists took when testing the Bug's accelerative prowess. A 750cc engine in 1973 did not improve sales and in May of the following year the last example left the factory as Reliant were preparing for their new Robin. By the time Star Wars was released in British cinemas on December 27th, 1977 the Bug seemed as redolent of a recent past as Sweet LPs in charity shops but in Landspeeder X-34 guise it was still making an impact. As Bond promised its potential customers back in 1970 - 'They'll all be talking about you!' and judging by the Bug stand at the NEC, many people still are.