Quirky, rare and unique, there’s more to the Bug than just that bonkers look. Here’s how to bag a solid example of the Reliant Robin’s drug-fuelled brother
How much to pay
• Project £800-1500 • Good £3000-4850 • Concours £5000-10,000 •
Running costs ★★★★
DIY Friendly ★★★★
If you want something that oozes practicality from every pore and is utterly anonymous, the Bond Bug isn’t for you. But if you’re after a classic car that puts a smile on the face of everyone who claps eyes on it, nothing raises a laugh like this ridiculous orange wedge.
A guaranteed entry in any crap car book, the Bond Bug has been misunderstood ever since it first appeared in 1970. Always intended to be a bit of fun rather than serious family transport, the Bug is more usable than you might think, economical and well supported too. Even better, you can get most of the bits to keep a Bug going, but the icing on the cake is the ludicrously low running costs which are more than offset by rises in value if you don’t pay over the odds.
Your AutoClassics Bond Bug inspection checklist
Just about all Bugs came with a 700cc engine, for which some parts are now getting hard to find. As you’d expect, the tiny four-pot has to work pretty hard to punt the Bug along, despite a kerb weight of just 395kg, so if the original unit is fitted it may be in need of an overhaul. The engine features an aluminium block with cast-iron valve guides and removable wet liners.
Any Bug engine that’s past its best will be emitting blue exhaust smoke, signifying oil being burned, and it’ll sound pretty tappety too – although it could be that the tappets simply need to be adjusted. The timing chain stretches producing more clattering, while the water pump may also be noisy and leaking because it’s past its best. Oil leaks from the timing case are another possibility, but they’re not hard to fix.
A lot of Bugs have suffered from overheating so it’s especially important that anti-freeze levels are maintained; a dishwasher cleaner in the cooling system from time to time can help to keep things clean, but a new radiator may be needed. It’s also possible to fit a second radiator, while extending the intake to the air filter is also possible, to draw air from in front of the radiator.
Because of poor parts availability for the 700cc engine a lot of Bugs have been converted to a later Reliant 850cc unit, for which the parts supply is far better. Such swaps aren’t seen as a bodge, but many people who fit the bigger engine just butcher the engine cover to make it fit, leading to extra noise and fumes in the cabin. There’s no need to do this though as the correct bits can be sourced to do the job properly.
All Bugs came with a four-speed manual gearbox. The earliest cars had no synchromesh on first gear but whatever box is fitted expect the synchro rings to be tired – the parts are available to effect a complete overhaul. The early gearbox is given away by reverse being located to the right of fourth; on earlier gearboxes it was alongside first.
The back axle can leak – check behind the brake backplates as well as where the propshaft enters the differential. The diff can be rebuilt and the same goes for the propshaft which may be out of balance, leading to vibrations when driving. If there are any signs of oil on the brake pack plates the shoes may be contaminated so will need to be replaced.
If an 850cc engine is fitted it’s worth fitting the taller back axle from a Reliant Rialto, for more relaxed cruising and better economy. Whereas the Bug’s diff has a ratio of 3.55:1, the one in the Rialto is set at 2.78:1.
Suspension and brakes
The Bug features a Ford-sourced worm-and-peg steering box, which wears over time and overhauling it is expensive; oil leaks lead to the box running dry. Potentially more of a problem is the box mounting which is made of alloy and it cracks. The box should be held in place by three bolts but it’s not unusual to find that it’s retained by just the one.
The Bug may be far from conventional, but the suspension and brakes are very straightforward. As a result you need to look out for only the obvious problems such as corroded brake pipes, tired seals in the master and slave cylinders, leaking shock absorbers or a seized handbrake.
Despite the simplicity of the Bug’s construction and its diminutive proportions, don’t be fooled into thinking that potential bodywork problems shouldn’t be a major consideration. The GRP body swells when the steel reinforcement inside corrodes; in extreme cases the plastic splits and repairs are involved, but it’s all repairable. When checking, focus on the canopy hinge and strut mounts.
Star crazing and cracking are also common, simply from age, while parking dings aren’t unusual – check the flared wheel arches at the rear as well as the skirt that runs all the way around the car.
The biggest issue is usually chassis rot, but the body shell is easy enough to remove for access. All the metalwork underneath needs checking as it can all rot. The thin box-section steel rusts from the inside out, once water has got past the rivets that hold the body to the chassis – also check the suspension mounting points as these tend to be weakened by corrosion.
If things are really bad you can buy a complete replacement chassis, but in most cases you shouldn’t need anything more than just a few repair sections.
The Bug came with plastic seat covers with a ‘Bond’ logo moulded into the top. Over time these covers split and get thrown away with all sorts of alternatives being fitted instead. If you’re a stickler for originality you’ll struggle to source the correct trim, but it’s not hard to make something that looks period.
Apart from the seat covers there isn’t much in the way of interior trim. You can recreate the rubber mats reasonably effectively or fit carpet, but potentially more of a problem is the sidescreens which can age badly. It’s possible to recover a set of original frames but don’t under-estimate the cost of doing a proper job.
The instrumentation and electrics are as straightforward as they come. It can all be overhauled or replaced, but be wary of a temperature gauge that suggests the engine is overheating; while the engine can run hot it’s also possible that the wrong temperature sender has been fitted.
- 1970: Bug production starts at Bond’s factory in Preston, with the 29bhp 700 and 31bhp 700ES. All cars are finished in Tangerine with black decals. A few months later, production moves to Reliant’s Tamworth factory
- 1971: There’s now an all-synchro gearbox fitted.
- 1972: There’s now a dished steering wheel and shorter steering column.
- 1973: The base model is dropped, leaving just the 700ES, then a few months later the 750 and 750ES replace the 700 models.
- 1974: The final Bug is built after just 2268 have been sold.
In line with the general explosion in classic car values in recent years, Bond Bugs have become a lot more valuable than they were and as a result it’s not so easy to justify buying one on a whim. But as long as you buy a good one – or you pay the right price for a project – there’s still not much chance of you getting your fingers burned.
Just about everything is available to revive a tired Bug and you can do most of the work yourself, which massively reduces the cost of reviving a project. Plus there’s a hugely helpful and enthusiastic owners’ club that will make any restoration or maintenance work that much easier.
Don’t get too hung up on which Bug you buy – they’re basically all the same. At launch the basic 700 (just one of which was built) was joined by the 700E with a sprung telescopic canopy strut, sidescreens and a heater; a spare wheel was extra. The most popular edition was the 700ES which also came with a spare wheel, wing mirrors, mud flaps, a sportier steering wheel and a high-compression engine for a bit of extra pep.
You’re unlikely to buy a Bug 750 as just 142 were built, and many now have the later 850cc engine fitted anyway. Whatever engine is fitted, any Bug should feel lively and enormous fun to drive. It should feel smooth and refined so if it’s rough and rattly it needs some TLC – although any Bug is eminently saveable. Whether or not it makes financial sense to do so is another matter, although the joy that a Bond Bug can bring is priceless.
Image courtesy of MagicCarPics
Looking for a quirky classic?
Bond Bug 700ES