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Bond Bug

BEST OF THR3E Published: 9th May 2014 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Bond Bug
Bond Bug
Bond Bug
Bond Bug
Bond Bug
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Three-wheelers. Who’d have one of those? One wheel short of the full four-square, they have a reputation for falling over and all the desirability of a lame tortoise – don’t they? Chris Rees has some answers that may surprise you…

It’s true that for most of their production lives, three-wheelers were very much the poor relations of the motoring world. For instance, they were banned from appearing at British Motor Shows, forcing Bond to concoct a push-me-pull-you four-wheeled version of its Bond Bug to make it on to its show stand. In short (sometimes very short), three-wheelers have always been looked down upon.

But not any more. Three-wheelers have achieved a kind of ‘cool’ status that looks set to stay. As the 2013 auction of the Bruce Weiner microcar collection clearly showed, there’s now a huge appreciation of, and a big market for, these diminutive critters. Just a few examples: a 1964 Peel P50 (the world’s smallest car) sold for £79,000, a 1955 Messerschmitt KR 200 for £75,600 and a 1959 BMW Isetta 300 Export for £26,500. Not inconsiderable sums, it must be admitted.

Give three-wheelers their due. The very first car was a trike (the 1885 Benz). A three-wheeler once held the outright land speed record (Craig Breedlove at 526mph). And millions of three-wheelers continue to be made in developing countries.

Most of all, three-wheelers can be a lot of fun. But which are the best three-wheelers of all time? For many people, the Morgan is the archetypal three-wheeler. Great to drive, cheap to buy and a real giant-slayer in its day, it is surprising on so many levels. Its enduring appeal can be judged by the fact that replicas such as the Triking, JZR and Lomax fed demand in the 20th century, before Morgan decided to re-enter production in 2010 with its own modern Three-Wheeler.

The 1970s witnessed fun cars such as the Bong Bug, Stimson Scorcher and Ranger Cub, but by the 1980s, three-wheelers had died off in the west. In France, economy cars like the Arola had all switched to four wheels by the 1990s (although more recently the SECMA Fun’Tech – sold in the UK by Noel Edmonds, no less –  survived as late as 2006). Other iconic three-wheelers such as the Piaggio Ape truck and the Lambretta are still produced in India and China. And there’s been a recent boom in touring trikes and performance-orientated three-wheelers such as the Grinnall Scorpion III, BRP Can-Am Spyder and the Carver tilting three-wheeler.

Most three-wheelers were originally built very much down to a budget. Microcars such as the Isetta, Bond Minicar and Scootacar fed a demand for autonomous transport in an era of great austerity, while the Peel Trident was advertised as being “almost cheaper than walking.” The irony of ultra-high collector prices would surely have raised the eyebrows of those original buyers.

Most three-wheelers are relatively simple mechanically, as well as cheap to run, while restoration is eased by the fact that most people can flip a microcar over on their own. Let’s go three-wheeling…

BOND BUG (1970-1974)

PRICE RANGE: £2000-£8000
FOR: The ultimate 1970’s toy, unique wedge design, quite quick by three-wheeler standards, fun
AGAINST: Non-adjustable seats, poor engine access, hard ride
MAX SPEED: 77mph

Living the tangerine dream, there’s no other car like the Bond Bug. An inspired fun car designed by Tom Karen of Ogle Design, it looks like a cross between a space capsule and a slice of Red Leicester cheese. It’s unique in so many ways: you have to lift the roof to get in, the engine sits between the passengers’ knees, there are sidescreens for ventilation and you could have any colour you liked, as long as it was bright orange, that is.

The chassis was a modified Reliant Robin frame and the mechanicals came from the Regal, including its 701cc aluminium engine (the 700E had 29bhp while the 700ES had all of 31bhp, sufficient to power it to a top speed of 77mph). From late 1973, Bugs received the bigger 748cc engine (known as the 750E and 750ES). The ES was the plush model (well, sort of) with better trim, snazzy rim embellishers and a spare wheel.

With its single front wheel, the Bug could be unstable: at the press launch in 1970, an over-enthusiastic journalist called Stuart Marshall rolled a Bug right over, but at least Bond fitted a rear anti-roll bar to keep it on the straight and narrow.

The launch price of £579 was more than a contemporary Mini, so the Bug never did quite catch on, especially after the Government upped the driving age from 16 to 17. Production came to a close in May ’74 as Reliant concentrated on the new Robin. LOOK OUT FOR: Corroded chassis rails, cracked glassfibre bodywork, worn canopy gas strut, decay, good original alloy rims


PRICE RANGE: £8000-£40,000
NUMBER MADE: Approx. 50,000
FOR: Charismatic canopy roof, direct handling feel, prices rising
AGAINST: Pretty slow, cross-winds
MAX SPEED: 62mph

Having been forbidden from making aeroplanes after WW2, Willy Messerschmitt adopted an ingenious three-wheeled design of Fritz Fend’s, to create the first Kabinenroller (KR). Among its many striking features was a Plexiglas canopy which resembled so closely the canopies of Messerschmitt’s wartime aircraft although it was very much not a left-over aircraft item. Two passengers sat in tandem.

Early KR175 models had a 174cc Fichtel & Sachs single-cylinder two-stroke engine in the tail, and even with only 9bhp, the overall weight of 208kg gave the ’Schmitt a top speed of 56mph. Options included mock-alligator skin upholstery, a radio and ski mounts, while convertible bodywork was available from 1956. ’Schmitts have become iconic and highly collectible in recent years, with prices skyrocketing. Parts aren’t too bad for them as there is a fairly large owners’ scene.

LOOK OUT FOR: Brakes, starter motors, worn cranks, gearbox jumping out of gear

MORGAN (1910-1952 & 2010-DATE)

PRICE RANGE: £10,000-£40,000 Number made: Approx. 40,000 (classic), 1000 (current Three-Wheeler)
BEST MODEL: Supersports
FOR: The quintessential three-wheeler, superb handling, nippy, huge following
AGAINST: Feels crude by modern standards, expensive to buy
MAX SPEED: up to 115mph

If Biggles owned a car, it would surely be a Morgan Three-Wheeler. And if you have an inner fighter pilot simply bursting to get out, a Morgan surely has your name on it too. Even better: you can choose between a classic (1910-1952) Moggie or one of the new 21st century recreations which have all the fun but with modern conveniences.

The one to have among enthusiasts is definitely a pre-war V-twin, either an Aero or a Supersports model because of their sporting provenance. The post-1935 barrel-back rear end with its recessed spare wheel looks great, and the 1096cc JAP OHV engine offers peppy performance (top speed over 80mph). Post-1933 Supersports models had three-speeds as standard (previously they were two-speed).

From 1938 right up until 1952, there were also sporty two-seaters with Ford power, sold as the F2, F Super and Super Sports, powered by either a Ford 8HP or 10HP engine.

In 2010 a very strange thing happened: Morgan relaunched the Three-Wheeler. In fact, this was a modified version of a US-made replica called the Liberty Motors ACE, re-engineered and restyled by Morgan. Power comes from a 1982cc S&S air-cooled V-twin engine with oodles of torque, while a Mazda MX-5 five-speed gearbox has the luxury of a reverse gear. Weighing only 525kg, the 21st century Morgan can do 0-60mph in just eight seconds.

If genuine Morgan prices seem too steep (a new one costs £30,000), there are a host of excellent replicas out there too.

LOOK OUT FOR: Damaged chassis members, worn sliding pillar suspension, engine starting problems, general hard use

ISETTA (1953-1964)
PRICE RANGE: £5,000-£30,000
NUMBER MADE: Approx. 200,000
BEST MODEL: BMW-Isetta 300
FOR: Party-piece front door, plenty of parts support, kudos of BMW badge
AGAINST: Über-sluggish, only two seats, handling can feel tippy-toes
MAX SPEED: 53mph

The bubble car phenomenon was born here. Italian fridge manufacturer Renzo Rivolta initially cracked his ‘egg’ onto the road in 1953, although the early Iso Isetta was always a four-wheeler with the rear wheels very close-set (qualifying it as a three-wheeler in many markets). A tiny car at just 2290mm (90in) long, its party piece was a front-mounted door that hinged outwards, carrying the steering wheel and instruments with it. What if you had a head-on crash and couldn’t get out? Simple: slide the standard sunroof back!

The Italians were frankly not ready for the brave metal spheroid, but licences sold to other countries let the bubble really take off, none more so than in Germany where BMW’s Isetta licence resulted in over 160,000 sales from 1955 to 1962. BMW also made a strict three-wheeler for export, fitted with a 298cc 13bhp engine, good enough for a top speed of 53mph. As the engine was slung out to one side, some ‘interesting’ handling characteristics resulted, especially in right-hand drive cars.

BMW’s very existence is probably owed to the success of the Isetta, while there was a British angle too: in 1957, BMW sold a licence to the UK, where bubbles emerged from a converted locomotive factory in Brighton. Heinkel made the other main notable bubble car design, although in far fewer numbers.

LOOK OUT FOR: Engine leaking oil, brake wear, suspension, front-end damage

BERKELEY T60 (1959-1960)

PRICE RANGE: £1500-£7000
NUMBER MADE: Approx. 1750
FOR: Sporty styling, sharp handling, peppy performance
AGAINST: Some parts challenges, hard to find in original spec
MAX SPEED: 60mph

Most three-wheelers of the 50s were bare-boned economy cars, but the remarkable Berkeley T60 was a true micro-sports car that could claim to be the “Morgan for the 1960s.”

Lawrie Bond (who had already invented the Bond Minicar three-wheeler) approached Berkeley Coachworks, a caravan maker and glassfibre pioneer, with his idea for a new sports car in 1955, sporting a single rear wheel. The T60 had genuine sports car ability, as well as a very handsome shape.

Good enough for a top speed of 60mph (hence the name T60) front-wheel drive was the secret to a handling sharpness that was unheard of by the standards of contemporary three-wheelers back then.

Sadly, the whole Berkeley marque died in late 1960 when its caravan business slumped, but plenty had been made by then. Replica bodyshells and other parts have been made sporadically over the years since then.

LOOK OUT FOR: Cracks from body flex, non-standard engines (many have Mini units fitted; think of the tuning potential!)


PRICE RANGE: £500-£5000
NUMBER MADE: Approx. 127,000 (Regal), 56,200 (Robin)
FOR: Robust engineering, strong following, plenty of spares support
AGAINST: Wayward handling, Del Boy image
MAX SPEED: Up to 85mph

What can be said of Reliant’s three-wheelers? Both famous and infamous, they have been the butt of innumerable jokes, but they lasted in production for 60 years, with almost 200,000 sold in that time – making them among the most successful three-wheelers of all time providing family transport for many generations of economy-minded motorists and ex-bikers, the latter more as ‘winter’ transport.

Early Regals had aluminium bodywork and are now very rare, but the 1962-1973 Regal with its all-glassfibre body is surprisingly common still. It also featured a big first: its 598cc engine (upgraded in 1968 to 701cc) was the very first all-aluminium engine built in series in Britain. And at £449, it was even cheaper to buy than a Mini.

Its successor was the Robin, with a new chassis, 748cc engine, all-synchromesh gearbox and smart Ogle Design styling. A hinging glass hatchback was a novelty, too. Fuel economy was better than almost any other car at the time, and a big claim to fame was that Princess Anne learnt to drive in one.

Will the Regal and Robin ever be collectible? It’s quite possible: I saw a dreadlocked young dude driving a Regal the other day and he actually looked cool in it and Del Boy replicas are popular when they come up for sale. 

LOOK OUT FOR: Shabby trim, smoky engines, tired suspension, damaged glassfibre bodywork, overpricing of later 1980’s Rialto

NOBEL 200 (1959-1962)

PRICE RANGE: £1500-£7000
NUMBER MADE: Approx. 1000
FOR: Well built by 1950s microcar standards, cute styling, rare now
AGAINST: Inadequate brakes, cramped rear seats, affected by side-winds
MAX SPEED: 55mph

Unlike many bubble cars of the 1950s, the Nobel 200 had a certain sporty charm to it. Its origins lay in Germany with the Fuldamobil S-7, the UK manufacturing licence for which was sold to York-Noble Industries. The Nobel 200’s main difference over the Fuldamobil was that it was also available with three wheels. 91cc Sachs single-cylinder engine while an integral four-speed gearbox (with electric reverse) was fitted into a steel tube chassis, with drive was to the single rear wheel and a top speed of 55mph and economy of 60mpg were claimed. Cars could be bought either fully-built or in kit form.LOOK OUT FOR: Cracked glassfibre bodywork and rotten plywood, chassis rust


PRICE RANGE: £4000-£10,000
NUMBER MADE: Several thousand
FOR: Good looking, decent to drive, rarity value
AGAINST: Access to engine, limited headroom, spares.
MAX SPEED: 56mph

Captain Raymond Flowers initially launched his Friskysport in 1957 as a four-wheeled microcar, a more basic three-wheeled model, the Frisky Family Three, followed in 1958.

This was one of the more stylish microcars of its day. You could squeeze in four people but from 1959 the car became a strict two-seater. A convertible model was also advertised but probably never built, while you could also build a Frisky from a kit. Production ended in 1964 probably fewer than 100 Family Threes remain in existence. LOOK OUT FOR: Glassfibre ‘crazing’, overheating engines, worn suspension

VELOREX (1943-1971)

PRICE RANGE: £1000-£6000
NUMBER MADE: Approx. 15,300
BEST MODEL: 16/350
FOR: Cold war cool, well-made motorbike engines, simple design
AGAINST: Desperately crude and draughty, pretty crude to drive
MAX SPEED: up to 53mph

This Czech-made three-wheeler occupied the very bottom rung of the motorised transport ladder during the Eastern Bloc era. Early examples were essentially fuelled tricycles, and right to the very end the flappy bodywork was either leathercloth or polyurethane stretched over a steel spaceframe. Power came from CZ or Jawa motorbike engines from 150cc to 350cc in size, which weren’t very powerful, but then the Velorex only weighed 310kg.

These canoes on wheels have an undeniable charm and a certain following among enthusiasts. That said, prices are very cheap.

LOOK OUT FOR: Flapping bodywork, bent chassis tubes, tired trim, parts availability

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