The Force is strong with this three-wheeler from Preston

A long time ago, in a factory far, far away a vehicle was built that would one day propel a young Jedi toward his destiny, writes Andrew Roberts

Learning the awful truth about a notable automotive film star can be a deeply traumatising experience. It's a process that usually starts in early childhood, when you realise just how many VW Beetles were used in The Love Bug. This disillusionment continues to build into adulthood on discovering the Ford Zodiac underpinning Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the realisation that the "exotic Italian" sports car prototypes in Checkpoint are Fairthorpe Atoms. But worse still is the awful truth about Star Wars; Darth Vader's real Bristolean accent can be coped with, but the fact that Luke Sykwalker's Land Speeder is based on Preston's very own Bond Bug can cause instant meltdown in many sci-fi enthusiasts.

All of the young, hip Britons who had a valid motorcycle licence in the 1970s could invest £629 in the latest automotive sensation: the Bond Bug. In a year that saw the debut of the Citroën*SM, the Range Rover and the Triumph Stag, the Bug earned the rare distinction of being the grooviest vehicle to ever hail from Preston. Here was a vehicle that had it all, from a singular choice of colours – tangerine orange with black trim – to that iconic swing-canopy door. "Something new under the sun" proclaimed the brochure, but the happy couple on the front cover were far too preoccupied with their loon trousers to realise that their new car would play a major role in Star Wars in six years' time.

Prior to the Bug, Bond Motors had followed the path of many British three-wheeler manufacturers, building conventional-looking saloons that were seemingly ashamed of their tricycle status. From 1948 onwards, the Bond factory had produced the Minicar, which was aimed at the sort of respectable middle-aged motorists who favoured various combinations of flat caps, Uncle Joe's mint balls and whippets. In 1952, the Minicar faced its most formidable challenge from Reliant of Tamworth in the niche market that catered for motorists who held only a motorcycle licence but who needed transport less likely to induce pneumonia in their families than a motorcycle and side-car combination.

For more than 10 years, the Reliant Regal (originally sold under the wildly misleading slogan of "luxurious motoring") and the Bond Minicar formed the backbone of the respectable three-wheeled market, with the emphasis firmly on low-key austerity. Their approach sharply contrasted with such imported bubble-cars as the Heinkel Cabin Cruiser and the BMW Isetta, which positively revelled in their three-wheeled status, while the Messerschmitt KR200 even gained a small pre-Mini following as chic urban transport.

Ironically, it was the seemingly staid Reliant that eventually set in motion the first ever British three-wheeler aimed at the affluent youth market. In 1963, they hired David Ogle Ltd to devise a replacement for Regal. Ogle's then managing director and chief designer was Tom Karen, who, in 1955, had already envisaged an aesthetically pleasing three-wheeler with "girl appeal" – and made no attempts whatsoever to disguise its three wheels. Such a plan did not please Reliant. Their latest Regal 325 with its vestigial tail fins and Anglia 105E-style reverse angle rear screen was about as radical a step as the firm was prepared to consider at that time, and so Karen's designs were initially rejected.

Three years later, the possibility of a three-wheeled alternative to the Mini Cooper caused Reliant to change their minds. The first full prototype was built in 1968, complete with an upward opening canopy for ease of access and even a boot. The Bug, as the new car was to be known, was based on the Regal chassis, apart from the rear coil spring suspension, with a front-mounted 700cc Reliant engine driving the rear wheels.

By this time, the latest Bond three-wheeler, the Imp-engineered 875, was not proving a commercial success and the company was ripe for a takeover by Reliant in 1969. The move gave the Tamworth firm more factory space and the opportunity to revitalise the Bond marque. From 1970 onwards, the only Bond model was the Bug, re-establishing the brand as the maker of two-seater fun cars that would in no way resemble its Regal cousin or, indeed, any other vehicle on the planet.

In June 1970, the first Bugs hit the showrooms, with Reliant declaring them a "new form of transport". The Bug received a welcome publicity boost when it was banned from appearing at the 1970 Motor Show, because it was technically a motorcycle. As the story goes, this prompted Reliant to build a Super Bug with a conjoined back-to-back body, thereby making it a four-wheeler.

In a Britain of HC Vivas and Hillman Avengers, the Bond Bug could never be accused of blending in with the background. The entry model was the plain 700 which had essentially nothing as standard, even the side-screens were missing; only one example was actually built. Rather more popular was the 700E, which boasted hubcaps, a heater, a driver's sun visor, an interior light and a rather vital telescopic canopy damper. Top of the range was the 700ES, the three-wheeler that had it all, from wing mirrors and headrests to a spare wheel and a "Formula One" steering wheel.

The Bug was deliberately aimed at the 17-to-25 age group, to the extent that insurance was included in the price. Previous Bonds were marketed under such enticing slogans as "weather protection exceptionally good", but the Bug vanquished all memories of black and white small ads featuring Minicars driven by depressed, tweed-jacketed chaps. For £9 more than a base Mini 850, this was the Bond three-wheeler that promised entry into a swinging Jason King-type lifestyle, especially after specifying optional rear alloy wheels.

On the road, Bug occupants soon learned that travelling 78mph in a fibreglass-bodied, tangerine orange three-wheeler was only marginally less thrilling than a trip on your average racing circuit. A hard-driven 700ES could not exactly be compared to a Mini in terms of stability. When driving on a blustery autumn day, there was the faint but exciting prospect that your new Bond might actually take off. To witness a Bug at full speed in a rear view mirror could be a traumatic experience. Retired sales reps still quake at the memory of that night on the M1 when their Cortina 1600 XL was under siege from a gigantic, airborne wedge of Red Leicester.

Had the Bug been launched in 1965 rather than 1970, its charm and style might well have captured the Carnaby Street market as an urban runabout that made a Mini Moke look comparatively staid, but in the early 1970s, with Britain rapidly facing economic meltdown, a not-so-cheap three-wheeler that offered space for only two reasonably compact adults and a toothbrush was never destined for commercial success. Bug production transferred to Reliant's Tamworth works at the end of 1970, but despite an engine upgrade to 750cc in 1973 and some clever PR with Rothmans Cigarettes (who used a fleet of white Bugs) production was reduced to 15 units a week.

The last of 2,268 Bugs was made in 1974 and the factory space turned over for production of the thrilling new Reliant Robin. Today, there are many survivors, thanks to their devoted owners' club and their design. Twenty five years before the Smart car, Karen really had created a new form of transport. It was the Bug that introduced the radical idea that British three-wheeled motoring could be a viable alternative to the Mini in terms of sheer fun. For that reason, it deserves to be ranked alongside his classic designs for the Reliant Scimitar GTE, the Bush Radio TR130 and the Raleigh Chopper.

And there was was one final hurrah for the Bug, in the form of major screen stardom. Prior to 1976, the Bug's career in mainstream cinema had been restricted to a cameo in Get Carter (it appears just before Michael Caine informs Bryan Mosley "You're a big man, but you're out of shape"); but it was Karen who oversaw the design and production of Luke Skywalker's Land Speeder in Star Wars. So well-devised was the future Jedi Knight's everyday transport that few cinemagoers realised the power of the Force was with a customised Bug with its three wheels hidden by mirrors angled at 45 degrees to the ground.

Yes, the Bond marque may have died with the Bug, but its legacy lived on in the form of a young warrior crossing the bleak plains of the planet Tattooine in a three-wheeler powered by a Reliant Regal engine. Alas, George Lucas, never realised the Bug's full potential on screen, missing the potentially brilliant scenario of Darth Vader being harried by a nightmare-sized slab of supermarket cheese.

Sport
Thiago Silva pulls Arjen Robben back to concede a penalty
world cup 2014Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: More misery for hosts as Dutch take third place
Sport
Robin van Persie hands his third-place medal to a supporter
Van Persie gives bronze medal to eccentric fan moments after being handed it by Blatter
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
scienceScientists have developed a material so dark you can't see it...
News
Monkey business: Serkis is the king of the non-human character performance
peopleFirst Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Voices
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success
voicesWhen it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
News
Soft power: Matthew Barzun
peopleThe US Ambassador to London, Matthew Barzun, holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence. He says it's all part of the job
Sport
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
News
Gavin Maxwell in Sandaig with one of his pet otters
peopleWas the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?
News
Rowsell says: 'Wearing wigs is a way of looking normal. I pick a style and colour and stick to it because I don't want to keep wearing different styles'
peopleThe World Champion cyclist Joanna Rowsell on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

    £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

    C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

    C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

    £60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

    Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

    £75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

    Day In a Page

    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
    Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

    Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

    The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
    Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

    Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

    The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

    Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

    Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

    Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

    The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
    The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

    The Open 2014

    Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?