The Bond car
There is an orange Bond Minicar that is often parked in Stoke Ferry High Street. Many of you have no doubt seen it. On driving past it looks as though it might have just emerged from a showroom, it is a credit to its owner. Seeing it brought back some memories for me.
It was in the early fifties, about 1952, my kid brother came out of the army having finished his National Service and, like all young men, he was keen to get his own set of wheels. Like all young men of that time, his dream was to have an MG, preferably the latest TC, but at something in excess of £400, who could possibly afford that? Even if he could, he could not possibly afford the running costs. So, like many of the day, he reluctantly decided that his 'wheels' would have to be a motorbike and he went off to Pride and Clarke's in Stockwell Road, where they had probably the largest selection of used bikes in the country, and there he saw it, a second hand Mark A Bond.
It looked really smart in its metallic green finish, it was very modern in that it had a steering column gear change, and an under-dash hand brake. It was surprisingly roomy, with a hood and side screens that offered good weather protection. The engine was a Villiers two-stroke of under 200cc, driving the single front wheel. So it did not have the performance, the charisma or the bird pulling power of the MG , but its bench seat and largely unobstructed flat floor meant that as a 'passion wagon', a not unimportant consideration at the time, it knocked the MG into a cocked hat. The price and running costs was not very different from a motorbike. So that was it, forget the bike, it had to be the Bond. The hire purchase deposit was paid and away he went.
Driving the Bond was a new experience, there was no springing on the rear wheels so you bounced a bit and, seated no more than 8inches (20cms) above the road surface, hand signals for left turns (there were no indicators) required care if one was to avoid grazing one's hand on the road surface. London Transport buses acquired enormous proportions. Brakes were almost non-existent. The windscreen wiper was manually operated. The windscreen was made of perspex which tended to scratch and at night became almost opaque in the face of oncoming headlamps, a problem made worse because of the low position. Lighting was supplied by the engine mag/dyno which meant that the lights faded to a glimmer at low engine speeds. Finding neutral in the gearbox was a matter of trial and error and at times it seemed to have disappeared completely. There was no reverse gear, although the ability to turn at a right angle did offset this disadvantage to some extent, engine noise and vibration was considerable. The 'starter' was a lever in the cockpit that pulled the 'kick-start' crank on the engine via a cable. There were no doors, this was not a problem with the hood down, but was a major problem in the rain. To a young man, however, not seeing danger, these problems were a challenge and seemed at first to add to the fun.
Closer inspection revealed a number of engineering weaknesses: The brakes were cable operated to the rear wheels only, the brake drums were tiny and had only one leading shoe. Anyone who has ridden a bicycle with no front brake and a poor rear brake will understand what this meant. In the dry it was not possible to lock the rear wheels and retardation was very limited, what little braking that did exist was soon diminished on descending a longish hill when the tiny brakes faded as the shoes overheated. In the wet you could lock the wheels and drag them along behind you with little or no effect on the forward motion. The steering was cable operated with a bobbin secured to the end of the steering column by a taper and nut. The entire engine assembly complete with gearbox, the final drive to the front wheel, the front wheel, suspension and the steering swivel axle were all mounted on the 16 gauge aluminium bulkhead by means of a large plate and a multitude of small bolts.
In time all these weaknesses revealed themselves. The bobbin on the end of the steering column came loose so that it was possible to turn the steering wheel with only limited effect on the change of direction. The steering cable broke, which was even more alarming. The 'fishtail' on the end of the short exhaust pipe came off and cut through the aluminium floor like the dorsal fin of a shark. The kick-start crank vibrated loose and fell off at regular intervals. The final straw was the appearance of fatigue cracks all round the engine mounting plate. So, after about six months of perseverance, my brother decided to cut his losses and returned the Bond to Pride and Clarke's.
In concept the Mark A Bond was brilliant and very relevant to the needs of the day, in its execution, however, it was appalling, even by the standards of the times. It was a disgrace for British engineering and should never have been allowed on the road. Its one redeeming feature was the Villiers engine which provided a surprisingly good performance in the low speed ranges and was never any problem. In fairness to Bond the Mark A was not produced over a long period, it was soon replaced by later Marks. The Mark C, which was not unlike the example in Stoke Ferry in appearance had, I believe, the addition of a frontwheel brake, geared steering and a door. Later models had further refinements but I do not know if they ever achieved what one might describe as a safe and acceptable standard.
As for my brother, he had to give up the idea of his own personal transport for a while but he worked hard and saved hard and finally managed to achieve the dizzy heights of a rather battered 1936 Hillman Minx, which proved to be a far more satisfactory vehicle, even if its cable brakes were not of the best and were rather alarming when in reverse.