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The Fastest Wedge Of Orange In The Galaxy: The Bond Bug

Image by Mick from England – Bond Bug 3 Wheeler, CC BY 2.0,

It’s groovy.  It’s bright orange.  It’s a small car that aimed to capture the younger section of the automotive market that came out during a fuel crisis.  It’s the Bond Bug.  What’s more, it’s decidedly weird.

The Bond Bug isn’t like any other car found on the roads, and I very much doubt if you’ll see one on the roads of Australia, as only a few thousand were produced during its production run, which lasted from 1970 to 1974 (yes, this car is older than I am).  Although the engine is fairly standard – a nice little 700 cc water-cooled inline four engine – it’s the styling that really turned heads and is still turning them.  It wasn’t just the fact that the car had three wheels (which one motoring enthusiast described was either one wheel too many or one wheel too few). It also had a futuristic wedge shaped shape with a very space-age lift-up hood as well as two doors and pop-up lights. You could call it a two-door hatchfront instead of a hatchback. It seated two people on its black seats (bright orange and black – you could hardly get something more seventies than that!). It did have a boot that was able to get a small amount of luggage, such as a guitar, but that was about it.  The bodywork was made from fibreglass, meaning that the vehicle was light, allowing for better fuel economy (but probably not safety!).

The looks were the brainchild of Tom Karen, a designer for the Ogle company who, among other things, designed the Raleigh Chopper bicycle, a very cool-looking bike that I vaguely remember the cool kids having when I was at primary school (if they didn’t have BMX bikes, that is). The Raleigh Chopper made a brief comeback this year, possibly to commemorate the death of Tom Karen in January 2023.

The Bond Bug was produced by Reliant. Reliant also produced another three-wheeled car, namely the Robin, which is best known as the three-wheeled car that shows up in the Mr Bean skits as the adversary of Mr Bean’s trusty little Mini. This (meaning the Robin, not the Mini) was also designed by Tom Karen.

In terms of performance, the Bond Bug wasn’t quite a supercar, shall we say? The 700ES variant boasted 23 kW of power when the curve peaked at 5000 rpm, and had 52 Nm of torque at the same number of revs. If you think that it could barely overtake a fairly speedy snail or a leisurely cyclist, the Bond Bug was capable of a top speed of 121 km/h and did the 0–100 km/h sprint (?) in 19.7 seconds. Needless to say, it had a rear wheel drive. The handling also left something to be desired.

If you think that the Bond Bug looks like something out of a sci-fi movie, you are absolutely right. In fact, Tom Karen worked with none other than George Lucas and used the chassis from a Bond Bug to create the Landspeeder that Luke Skywalker drives in the early scenes of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (the anti-grav effect is done with mirrors).

The Stanley Steamer

Now that electric cars are becoming more popular, and there’s talk about hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, our attention has been turned to what’s powering our cars.  In this context, it’s interesting to one of the solutions used in the past as an alternative to petrol or diesel power: steam.

One of the inventors of the Stanley Steamer and his wife driving in his invention.

A good friend of mine, during a discussion on fuels, EVs and similar topics, wondered whether steam could be used to drive a car.  I was sceptical, but it turns out that I was wrong. A little over 100 years ago, steam-powered cars were indeed a thing.  They aren’t just a steampunk fantasy, as I had thought.

One of the most popular type of steam-powered cars was invented by the Stanley twins in the USA at the end of the 19th century. Bizarrely, F.E. and F.O. Stanley also invented one of the first photographic airbrushes, as they started their business ventures in the area of photography.  However, automobiles were a lot more interesting, and they started the Stanley Motor Company in 1902 after an earlier attempt with a company known as Locomobile. 

At that time, many internal combustion engines that ran on petrol or diesel needed a crank to start them up.  These cranks were tough to turn and required a fair bit of elbow grease.  They could even be dangerous, as if the car backfired while someone was cranking it, this could leave the person doing the cranking with a broken arm.  However, the Stanley Steamers used gasoline (petrol) to generate a good head of steam, which provided the power to turn the wheels, and they didn’t need cranking.  Stanley Steamers were designed with safety in mind, as they had a system in place to prevent the boiler from exploding if too much heat and pressure was generated.

For its time, the Stanley Steamer had some fairly impressive specs.  It was a rear wheel drive affair, and didn’t require a transmission or clutch system, meaning that they were easier to drive.  The power output varied depending on the engine type.  The basic model (the compact engine) could deliver 7.5 kW.  Two twin-cylinder engines were developed, the smaller one (3¼-inch bore and 4¼-inch stroke) also put out 7.5 kW, but the larger one (4-inch bore and 5-inch stroke) delivered a massive 15 kW.

For its time, the Stanley Steamer was quite fast.  In fact, a customised version of the Stanley Steamer known as the Stanley Rocket Racer became the holder of the world land speed record for automobiles over a mile, clocking up 204 km/h in a trial at Daytona.  This record stood for five years, and remained the best time over a mile for a steam-powered car until 2009.

As time went by, the Stanley twins refined their design, switching to lightweight aluminium bodywork and features such as condensers that harvested the steam so that the range of the water tank could be extended. 

However, the makers of cars with internal combustion engines managed to find an alternative to the crank: the electric starter motor. This meant that the drawbacks of cranks were no longer, and the Stanley Steamer lost its biggest attraction, especially with the rise of cars produced via mass production and sold cheaply, Ford being the best known example of these.  The Model T cost less than a quarter of the price of the Stanley Steamer and the engine of even the base model, which ran on petrol, kerosene or ethanol (now, that’s an idea worth revisiting), had the same power output as the best of the “Flying Teapots”, as the Steamers were known.

Given the stiff competition from the internal combustion engines inside the Model T and similar vehicles, things didn’t look good for the Stanley Steamer. Eventually, after one of the twins died (in a car crash, of all things), the company went under, ultimately closing in 1924.

The Stanley Steamer wasn’t the only steam-powered car in existence.  Others have been made and sold, especially the Doble, and the idea has come back now and again over the past century or so, especially given concerns over pollution and the availability of fuel.  Saab had a go at making a steam car in the 1970s during the fuel crisis of that decade (the project failed, unfortunately).  An Australian inventor and enthusiast named Ted Pritchard tried to develop one in the 1960s and beyond and had some success.  Until he died in the early 2000s, he was pushing for the use of steam-powered cars. 

External combustion engines (which is what a steam engine is) aren’t as efficient as ICEs but they produce a lot less pollution, as they don’t burn as much fuel.  They are heavy, thanks to the need for a strong boiler and a water tank.  They can accelerate quickly once they’ve got a good head of steam up, but they do need a fair bit of time to boil and let the pressure build; this is one of the things that experimenters wanting to bring back the steam car try to work on.

And what about the future?  Given the push towards vehicles that are less dependent on petrol and diesel, will we see attempts to make the steam car come back again?  Electric cars have made a comeback (and how!), so perhaps steam will do the same. 

Simca: A Forgotten Marque?

The first car I ever owned was a Simca. Before I owned it, I had never heard of the marque, and my dad, who had helped me find this set of wheels to get me to a summer job, described it as the French equivalent of a VW Beetle or a Mini.  After that summer of using the Simca to get to my holiday job, I ended up selling it and using the money to buy a fridge, which I needed for my new flat. I have never heard or seen any other Simcas since then. Needless to say, there is that part of me that, now that I have left my student days well behind me and am probably officially middle-aged, is kicking myself for selling it (the fridge is also long gone). Especially as now, it would be worth a lot more than a refrigerator, given that would have been a fairly rare classic car. The same could probably be said by most of us about our student cars.

I cannot remember the model of Simca that I owned.  However, a quick crawl through the range of images online suggests that it was probably a 1000 or 1100. Given that the engine was at the front (I remember almost ritually checking up the fluids every week on a Thursday, opening the bonnet to do so), I can therefore conclude that it was a 1100, as the 1000 had a rear engine, like a VW Beetle.

Simca 1100 – a wee trip down memory lane for me.

I have noticed blank looks similar to mine when I start talking about my first car. “Who makes that?” is quite a common question. As it would be nice to have a nice article to direct these dinner party guests to, I thought I’d put together a bit about Simca, what they made and what happened to them.

My father had called the Simca the French equivalent of the Beetle or Mini. He would have done better to say that Simca was the equivalent of the Fiat Bambina or Fiat 500.  This is because the company, originally known as “Société Industrielle de Mécanique et Carrosserie Automobile” (that’s French for “Mechanical and Automotive Body Manufacturing Company”) was founded by Fiat in 1934 so they could outsource the production of their 508 and 518 models.  Then World War 2 happened and Simca nearly went under, especially because of its Italian roots, and the Italians (under Mussolini’s Fascists) had been rather pally with the Nazis who had occupied France during the war. However, the company won a contract to repair US Army Jeeps, which put them on a sound financial footing.

For the next two or three decades, Simca grew slowly, although they were overshadowed by the better-known French marques, Renault, Citroen and Peugeot, especially Renault. However, it was successful in its home country, with the 1100 being one of the most popular cars in France by the late 1970s. Simcas were manufactured in a number of countries, including Australia, which is probably where the one I owned was made. The company also managed to take over the Talbot-Lago brand, with several Simca models also being sold with Talbot badging.

However, Simca was itself taken over, slowly and surely, by Chrysler. The American company bought a sizeable share of Simca in the late 1950s, although the company was still mostly a subsidiary of Fiat. Chrysler gradually edged Fiat out and took over the majority of shares in the 1960s. Finally, by the early 1970s, Chrysler took the company over completely and Simca’s name was changed to Chrysler France.  The old Simca badge was phased out, with the last official Simca being made in 1973, which tells me that my car was older than me. After that, the cars made in Simca’s factories all had the Chrysler badge, including the Alpine and the Horizon.

I doubt I will try hunting down another example of my old Simca (presumably) 1100. If I were to look for a classic car, it would probably be something else, even though I thoroughly enjoyed driving my Simca, despite the lack of power steering and the fact that the speedo was in mile per hour, meaning that I had to do plenty of mental arithmetic during my daily commute to ensure I kept to the speed limit. However, given that Chrysler Europe was itself taken over by the Peugeot group in the late 1970s, I started speculated what the closest modern-day equivalent would be. I had a look at the latest offerings available from Fiat-Chrysler Australia (an appropriate blend of names, given Simca’s history) and decided that the closest thing was… the Fiat 500.  Which is where Simca started, ouroboros fashion.

The Ouroboros – ending where it begins. Wouldn’t it make a great automotive logo?

The Rise Of The South Korean Motor Industry

When I was a child, I hardly ever saw a car made in South Korea. Japanese cars, yes. They were everywhere. But cars from South Korea, no. However, after about 2000, I started seeing them everywhere. What was behind the big upsurge? Was it simply the case that I didn’t notice them on the roads, or was it that they weren’t around?

It’s certainly the case that today, South Korean cars are among the most popular best sellers on the roads. And it’s certainly true that the South Korean motor industry has absolutely mushroomed of the past 50-60 years. In fact, this is true of many industries in South Korea. Back in the 1950s, Korea had barely any heavy industry going. Today, it’s a work leader in a number of fields, including the automotive industry.

Before we go any further, quick note: to ensure that this article doesn’t fall into the TL/DR category, we’ll refer to “Korea” from here on out instead of South Korea. North and South Korea went their separate ways in 1953 at the end of the Korean Civil War, which was when the Korean motor industry got started. Given North Korea’s political stance, we don’t hear much about their cars…

Not that politics have nothing to do with the Korean motor industry. According to one historian on the topic, the Korean government played a long-term game, creating policies and strategies that guided not just the motor industry but other industry sectors (e.g., ship building) across the years.

From Zero To Hero In A Few Decades

The Korean motor industry got started in 1953 when the US military forces on bases in the South needed more spare parts for their Jeeps. They sent up a local assembly plant with the Jeep name to make these spare parts. The owners of the company also had the bright idea of using old oil drums left behind by the army to make the chassis for their own vehicles, known as the Sibal, which were very popular as taxis. And that’s where the Korean motor industry got started.

After the success of the factory for spare parts for Jeeps, other companies started looking at Korea as a location for production lines and factories – and Jeep kept on going. These were often owned by US and Japanese car companies. This went on until 1962, when the Korean government made a law meaning that foreign companies were only allowed to set up joint ventures that local automotive companies had a share in.

During this period, a surprising number of vehicles that we think of as Japanese or American were actually put together in Korea. Mazda, Nissan, Fiat and Ford were just some of them. In fact, Kia started off as an assembly plant for Mazdas, whereas Hyundai was originally a factory for producing Ford Cortinas.

However, the joint venture model wasn’t enough for the Korean government, as they wanted to stimulate the local economy and industry, and reduce the dependence on foreign companies. In 1973, they therefore switched to focus cars that were not just manufactured in Korea but developed there as well. Some of the companies began the process of developing their own products. To do this, they often copied what they had seen during the process of putting other vehicles together, with a few wee tweaks to make them unique. This often involved using licensed parts from companies outside Korea to ensure a good quality product before the final shift to coming up with their own innovations. And things took off from there!

Hyundai – A Case Study

Hyundai is a typical example of a Korean car company that went through all the stages of imitation and innovation. This company started in the late 1960s as an assembly line for the Ford Cortina. When the Korean government called for locally designed cars in the 1970s, they got licences from other companies for various technologies and developed a locally designed car, the Pony. This was followed by the Excel in 1980. Both of these used tech licensed by Mitsubishi. Because the Excel and Pony sold so well and competed with Mitsubishi, the Japanese company didn’t renew the license for any new tech. Wanting to develop further, Hyundai grabbed technological licenses from a number of different companies just in case, and also set up a training consultancy, where trainee developers headed over to Italy to learn the principles of top car design. After 18 months in Italy, these trainees came back to Korea primed with their new knowledge.

What they (and trainees from other Korean companies such as Kia and Daewoo) had learned worked well. In 1993, the Elantra was Australia’s best-selling vehicle. After Kia and Hyundai joined forces, sales of Korean cars grew even more, until, in 2010, the Sonata and Elantra got onto the list of 10 ton best sellers worldwide. In 2013, Hyundai earned more from car sales than BMW, Honda and Peugeot. In short, the Korean motor industry is a force to be reckoned with, and Korea is certainly one of the countries you should think of when you think of places where cars are made.

You may very easily have driven or owned a Korean car at some point; although I haven’t done so personally, various friends and family members have, and they found them to be sound, reliable and good to drive.

Where To (Or From) Next?

Korean cars may be here to stay, but one has to wonder who’s next? Where will our cars come from in the future? We’ve already seen a few of the Chinese players (LDV, Great Wall and its subsidiary, Haval) enter the Australian market – will we see some of the others? Geely already owns Volvo, so will we see more actual Geely vehicles? India’s another possibility, with a few Tatas and Mahindras already hitting Australian roads. Other Asian countries currently have factories assembling vehicles for other countries, so will Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia take the same route as Korea has done? What about countries from beyond Asia – are we going to drive vehicles from Brazil’s Effa or Uganda’s Kiira? Given the trend towards EVs and the fact that much of the world’s lithium for car batteries comes from African nations, I won’t be the least bit surprised if African vehicles started appearing on the market around the world in the next decade or so.