Cars

One of our favourite eclectic motors: the Bond Bug

By Alex Moore
05-02-21

1 minute read

The Bond Bug (absolutely no affiliation to 007 ) celebrated its 50th birthday in 2020

And while not every car fanatic will have raised a glass, there are undoubtedly one or two who will. 

The Bug was the brainchild of British industrial designer Tom Karen OBE of Ogle Designs, whose eclectic oeuvre also includes Raleigh’s Chopper bike, the Marble Run game and the Scimitar GTE. British car manufacturer Bond unveiled the Bug in 1970, shortly after being taken over by Reliant. It was designed as a radical new fun-car concept, aimed – perhaps irresponsibly – at a younger motorist. According to Bond, it was the first car to be aimed at the 17 to 25 age group. 

It sold for £629 (£9 more than the Mini 850) and quickly became a cult classic. Its 701cc, four-cylinder engine could drag it from 0 to 60 in roughly 23.2 seconds, while those with sufficient mettle (and patience) could, with a bit of luck and a strong tailwind, reach an impressive 76mph. And thanks to its aerodynamic wedge shape, brilliant tangerine paint job and futuristic hinged canopy, the Bug remains one of the most incongruous, quizzical and frankly odd cars ever designed. 

Despite its obvious flaws – not least its propensity to flip while cornering even at relatively low speeds – the Bug was far from Karen’s final foray into the three-wheeled world. Only three years later, he designed the iconic Reliant Robin. It was arguably a more practical iteration, and indeed another crowd pleaser, only it lacked the Bug’s je ne sais quoi, those froggish headlights and that block-of-red-Leicester physique.

The Bond Bug's claim to fame

Thumbnail Bond Bug Gettyimages 1181830315
Top: The Bond Bug crossing Westminster Bridge in London, 1970; photography by Popperfoto via Getty Images. Above: Photography by National Motor Museum/Getty Images

The Bond Bug's claim to fame

George Lucas famously fell for the Bug’s charms in 1977, when Karen used its chassis for Luke Skywalker’s X-34 Landspeeder in the inaugural Star Wars film. Camera trickery may have led viewers to believe the young Padawan’s spacecraft hovered, but in actual fact the Bug’s three wheels were always in play.

Ultimately though, it was the car’s rarity and fleeting manufacture (1970 to 1974) that really created the enigma. Only 2,268 were ever produced, and of those it’s estimated that as few as 150 to 200 remain roadworthy. Because for all their quirks, Bugs remain a perennial Concours classic, and passing the half-century mark will inevitably add value. 

If you are lucky enough to find a seller, maybe soften them up with this tidbit: it was in fact Tom Karen – often described as ‘The man who designed the ’70s’ – who convinced a young and despondent Jony Ive to persevere with his degree. So depending on how you look at it, we might also have him to thank for our iPhones. Cheers Tom.


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