Tuesday August 6, 2019
‘One thing that almost everyone does at a car show when they see a Bond is to demonstrate how they needed to be kick-started. Of course, all the Minicars had an interior starter, and the motorcycle-style was just a back-up. People tended to use it on the earlier models because the Magento charger was quite limited in its output’.
Stan Cornock of the Bond Owners’ Club is more than familiar with the myths surrounding the Minicar, not least because he has been driving them ‘since 1958’.
As any member of the Bond Owners’ Club will tell you, the Alec Issigonis creation that made its bow on 26th August 1959 was not the original British FWD vehicle to bear the name “Mini”.
Over ten years earlier Sharp’s Commercials of Preston unveiled an open tourer powered by a 122cc Villiers two-stroke engine.
The cable and rod brakes operated only on the back wheels – and the Lawrie Bond-designed aluminium bodywork did not feature any doors - although there was a space behind the front bench seat for luggage and/or an exceptionally tolerant (and very short) third passenger.
The steering was via wire-and-bobbin (!), a pull cord on the dashboard acted a starter while the driver’s handbook described the rear suspension in one word – ‘nil’.
The list of standard fittings for the Bond was limited to headlights, a tail lamp and a manual windscreen wiper for the Plexiglass screen.
The gearbox was a direct change transmission which featured just three forward gears.
Until 1963, the law required that if a motor vehicle was equipped with any form of reverse, it could only be operated by the holder of a car licence.
Stan remarks that one popular accessory was a ratchet lever that could be attached to a rear wheel and used to manoeuvre your Minicar from the driver’s seat.
To a young driver of 2019 who could not envisage automotive life sans air-conditioning, a sound system and satellite navigation, a Bond would seem not so much austere as positively masochistic.
But in the late 1940s, to the many Britons who held a motorcycle licence, the Minicar was the perfect choice of vehicle, offering greater comfort and weather protection than a BSA could hope to offer.
The price was just £198 16s 1d, an important factor given that in 1948 the average earnings for an adult Briton was £304 per year.
Visitors to the Motorcycle Show at Earls Court were also more than impressed by clams of ‘100 miles per gallon’ as petrol rationing would not cease until 1950.
A test by the great John Bolster was highly enthusiastic – ‘ Let me tell you about all the fun I have been having in a Bond Minicar’. He also claimed that it was ‘a shameless ladykiller’ – no comment.
The ‘World’s Most Economical Car’ had a maximum capacity of only a two and a half-gallon tank, so its modest fuel consumption was more than essential. Slightly alarmingly, the tank was mounted above the driver’s feet.
The official top speed was 45mph - Stan points out that ‘you’d be lucky to reach 40 mph with the wind behind you’ - but this was more than respectable for the average trunk road.
The fact that the Bond was the only three-wheeler at Earls Court only attracted further would-be purchasers to Stand 83.
By the end of the year, the factory offered the sheer luxury on wheels that was the De Luxe with its 197cc engine, electric wiper and driving mirror.
Bond progressively developed the Minicar and by 195x the Mark C was fitted with a side-door, and the brakes functioned on all three wheels.
They were also now available with “Dynastart”, which provided a reverse gear via running the engine backwards.
Three years later, the Mark E boasted a new two-door body with flashing indicators and a second wiper in the list of optional extras.
A heater became available in the late 1950s, and Stan recalls that ‘it was basically hot air from around the exhaust pipe forced into the cabin. As there were as many draughts as heat, it was not that effective!’.
The last-of-the-line Mark G was introduced in 1961 and cost £395 8s 4d (or £405 5s 9d if you wanted a Bond with reverse).
The last example departed the Preston works for export to Greece on December 1966, for many of the 24, 482 Minicars were shipped overseas.
In the UK, its chief rival was not so much the bubble cars but a certain Tamworth-based concern although Stan contends that the two marques had different images. ‘Bond is a motorcycle with a roof while the Reliant is a car missing one wheel’.
The Mark G may have featured comforts that beyond the dreams of anyone who placed an order for Mark A in 1948 but the essential formula remained unaltered.
As with its BMC namesake, the Minicar provided automotive liberation across the UK.
Today, the idea of a family of four loading their Mark F Saloon-Coupe for the journey to Morecambe or Yarmouth may now appear faintly bizarre, but this was a regular occurrence for many summers.
Just look at virtually any photograph of a seaside resort during the early 1960s, and you are guaranteed to find a poster advertising a Dickie Valentine concert at the pier end theatre, some morose donkeys and any number of Bond Minicars.
WITH THANKS TO:
STAN CORNOCK AND THE BOND OWNERS’ CLUB - http://www.bondownersclub.co.uk/
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