Bond Equipe – From Preston with love
MENTION the name ‘Bond Cars’ to the average man in the street, and more than likely the conversation will spiral in one of two ways – you’ll either hear all about Ian Fleming’s finest creation in his sublime Aston Martin DB5 (or aquatic Lotus), or the outrageous orange 1970s Bond Bug. Very few people will know or care about a 1960s specialist industry mainstay – the Triumph-based Bond Equipe. True, these cars are one for the cogniscenti, but should that really be the case, or is now the time for wider recognition?
The phrase ‘Post war austerity’ is often to used to describe (in a rose-tinted way) the dour output of Britain’s motor industry during the 1950s and into the ’60s; it’s also a phrase that perfectly sums up Lawrence ‘Lawrie’ Bond’s Minicar. Picture a fairground dodg ’em (minus the pole) fitted with the ubiquitous Villiers motorcycle engine in 122cc form, and strap a cable-operated steering system, and you’re just about there.
Bond: from zero to hero… to zero
It was a small beginning for the innovative Bond Company, and became something of a modest success, despite possessing what many people today would consider to be a sub-entry level specification. Between the appearance of the first prototype in 1948, and the end of its production run in 1966, a not insubstantial total of 26,500 were produced – and it was this success that paved the way for enough profitability to create the Equipe.
The industrial powerhouse behind the Bond name was based in Ribbleton Lane, Preston. Overseen by Sharp’s Commercials, the producer of Lawrie Bond’s Minicar, was a part of the Loxhams and Bradshaw industrial conglomerate. Although the company’s core business was a long way removed from the day-to-day business of building these micro-cars, it remained very much in charge, right up to the 1964, when Lawrie’s company became the much more important-sounding Bond Cars Limited.
However come 1968’s take over of Loxhams & Bradshaw by dealer group Dutton-Forshaw, Bond Cars ended up being sold to Tamworth-based Reliant.
In a lesson in rationalisation that BLMC might well have taken note of, by Christmas 1970, the doors closed on the Preston factory… for good. By 1974, Bond Bug production had ceased, and the Bond marque joined the swelling list of defunct British specialist marques in the history books. Total production of amounted to 34,582 different models over a period of twenty-six years.
There may have been an ulterior motive in Reliant’s purchase of Bond in 1968 – widespread showroom space. Bond’s distribution rights meant that the Triumph dealer network could stock the Herald-based Equipe, this foot in the door to Triumph’s owners, Leyland, massively appealed to Reliant. With the formation of BLMC in the same year, and the rationalisation of BLMC’s individual marques, it was always going to difficult for Reliant to make inroads into the massive corporation. However, the development of the Marina-aping third generation Equipe clearly showed that Reliant had ambitions in that direction.
Equipped to Triumph
First launched in 1963, the Bond Equipe had a rather familiar look about it, and a quick stroll to your Standard-Triumph dealer would have quickly reminded you why. Based on the Triumph Herald chassis, the Equipe used the scuttle, windscreen and doors, of its donor car – a solid grounding for any medium-sized specialist car of the time. In terms of styling, Lancashire’s answer to Michelotti, Lawrie Bond, designed the Equipe by blending his own more sleek-looking nose and tail to these Herald underpinnings – and quite successfully too, it must be said.
It was a design theme common with the equally effectively-styled Lenham-bodied Sprite, launched in 1959.
The bodywork utilized Sharp’s Commercials’ knowledge in glass fibre moulding came in very handy – and provided an inexpensive and light set of clothes to sit atop the sturdy Triumph Herald chassis. And that’s all it took – the Equipe was born.
Although it was to sit in a fairly humble market slot, the Herald boasted some sophisticated design features – as such front disc brakes, rack and pinion steering and independent suspension all round. These were standard fit – and proved an ideal basis for a small and GT car. The installation of the Triumph Spitfire’s 63bhp power unit meant that the Equipe would power to 90mph and do the 0-60mph sprint in a fleet 17.6 seconds. These were figures not to be sniffed at in 1963…
Bond was proud of its creation, and the company’s 1963 press release enthused: “Britain’s new, family priced GT car – the £822 Bond Equipe – on view to overseas buyers for the first time at the 1963 London Motor Show, Earls Court.”
It continued, “Italian inspired Bond body design has been combined with Standard-Triumph engineering expertise to produce a car bridging the gap between sports car and luxury family saloon, marking the first Bond Cars venture into the four-wheel market. The Bond Equipe GT has a body of steel and reinforced glass fibre built on a the Triumph Herald 1200 double backbone chassis and powered by the Triumph Spitfire 1147cc 63bhp engine and gearbox.”
Licence to thrill
Bond Equipe GT 2+2
The first incarnation of Lawrie Bond’s Equipe was the GT 2+2. It possessed a pretty body featuring that darling of Detroit designers – a pair of the tail fins. That sloping back end was coupled with Fairthorpe/Aston style nose cone (which flipped forward Herald style), and a low-line bonnet.
One noticeable omission in terms of overall practicality was an opening boot lid. The luggage area could only be accessed from inside – although this wasn’t as extreme back then as it sounds today; one of the UK’s best selling sportscars, the Austin-Healey Sprite of 1958 was similarly encumbered. More than likely, the decision to leave out a bootlid was taken on cost and engineering demands.
With contemporary three-wheel Bonds being noted for their sparseness (due to the 8cwt weight ceiling being levied on trikes in the UK), the Equipe was a refreshing step in the opposite direction. It featured a Vitesse dashboard, Spitfire instrumentation, bucket seats – and that must-have accessories of the era, a ‘Les Leston’ steering wheel.
A folding rear seat accessed the luggage area, though scant rear seat headroom dictated that nobody over four-feet tall could travel very far in it. A choice of steel or optional wire wheels completed the exterior. In total 451 Equipes were made in just over a year’s production.
Bond Equipe GT4S
The launch of the silky-smooth straight-six powered Triumph 2000 in late 1963 provided the inspiration for the upgunned Equipe GT4S. Introduced in the following year, the appealing addition to the range added a healthy dose of performance to the 2+2 range.
At first glance, the GT4S looked little more than a slight facelift, but in reality it had been heavily revised to address many of the original the 2+2’s shortcomings. The tail was raised 3in in order to gain additional headroom, and facilitate the addition of a boot lid. The new rear featured a rather pretty Kamm tail, which echoed the current thinking in Italian sportscar design – it also pre-dated the visually very similar (from the rear) Opel GT by four years.
The new nose borrowed the 2000’s lighting set-up but with an almost snout-like nose. Early in 1967, the Spitfire’s new 1296cc engine was added to the range, but apart from minor differences, it continued unchanged until the closure of the Ribbleton Lane factory by Reliant. In total, 2505 of these models were built in just over six years.
Bond Equipe 2-Litre
…So quotes the original Equipe press release. When designing the 2-Litre, Bond called on an Italian sounding designer! Trevor Fiore, fresh from the critical acclaim of TVR’s Trident concept was contracted for the initial design of the sister model. Although he handled the styling, much of the development work was fleshed out in-house – as was a tidy-up of the exterior design.
Using a similar set of ingredients as the GT models, the 2-litre looked even more appealing. The Herald floorpan and scuttle were again used, but this time modified to incorporate a more horizontally raked windscreen. The major difference from the earlier model was the adoption of custom pressed door skins which were attached to Triumph shells. This enabled the Michelotti swages to be dispensed with, thus creating a profile seemingly completely different.
Launched in August 1967, and featuring a much more contemporary angular design, the 2-Litre Equipe had the appearance of a larger coupe. Unless it was parked alongside its older sibling, onlookers would assume it was a much grander design – a Ford Cortina II-meets-Singer Chamois, with a bit of Aston Martin DBS thrown in for good measure.
Of course, the major departure for Bond was the fitment of Triumph’s compact straight-six cylinder engine. Now the Equipe had genuine 100mph potential and a 0-60mph time of 11.5 seconds; two thirds that of the four-cylinder car’s acceleration time. Available with optional overdrive, wire wheels and a radio, the purchase price was now £1095.
Quite possibly the most desirable Bond of all was launched in 1968 – the Equipe 2-Litre convertible. Built to the improved Mark II specification (incorporating Triumph’s Mark II Vitesse suspension upgrades) and with a flush folding hood, its appearance when viewed from the rear quarter was really rather different, and grander than the price tag would have you believe.
For Your Eyes Only
Towards the end of the story, a Mark III version of the Equipe 2-Litre was planned by new owners, Reliant. Bearing a striking resemblance to the forthcoming Marina coupe, it progressed no further than prototype stage.
Reliant’s takeover did not progress smoothly, and the formation of BLMC dissolved the sales platform of the nationwide Triumph dealerships that had been previously such a boon to Bond. Obviously, the political situation between Reliant and BLMC wasn’t as good as it could have been.
Quality control issues were also affecting the Reliant-produced Bonds, and the impending discontinuation of the Herald range meant the end for the Equipe – as it borrowed its hardware so heavily. The company could not afford the investment required for an all-new platform to base any potential Bond Equipe replacement, and ended up abandoning the market sector – although the Bond name would live on for a few more years, thanks to the success of the oddly-styled Bug.
Ironically (or tellingly, perhaps, given the political climate of the time), the Trident Clipper, which also relied on Triumph underpinnings, faced no such supply cut-off. In total, 1433 2-Litres were built during its three year production run.
Bond was finally laid to rest beneath the Terra firma at the ERF factory in Sandbach – moulds, jigs, paper work everything bar the Bond Bug ploughed into the ground…
Now he’s busy working towards retirement. Hmm.