Bond Minicar is the name given to a series of economical three-wheeled cars manufactured by Sharp’s Commercials Limited (The company was renamed Bond Cars Limited in 1964), in Preston, Lancashire between 1949 and 1966.
The car was invented by Lawrence "Lawrie" Bond an engineer from Preston, Lancashire. During the war, Bond had worked as an aeronautical designer for the Blackburn Aircraft Company before setting up a small engineering business in Blackpool, manufacturing aircraft and vehicle components for the government. After the war he moved his company to Longridge where he built a series of small racing cars with a modest amount of success. In the early part of 1948, he revealed what was described as a new minicar to the press.
Described as a "short radius runabout, for the purpose of shopping and calls within a 20-30-mile radius", the prototype was demonstrated climbing a 25% gradient with driver and passenger on board. It was reported to have a 125 cc (8 cu in) Villiers two-stroke engine, a weight of under 200 pounds (91 kg) and a cruising speed of around 30 mph (48 km/h). At the time of the report, production was described as "expected to start in three months’ time".
Sharp’s Commercials were a company contracted by the Ministry of Supply to rebuild military vehicles. Knowing that the Ministry were ending their contract in 1948, Bond approached the Managing Director of Sharp’s, Lt Col C.R. Gray, to ask if he could rent the factory to build his car. Gray refused, but said that instead, Sharp’s could manufacture the car for Bond and the two entered into an agreement on this basis.
It proved popular in the UK market where it’s three-wheel configuration meant that it qualified for lower vehicle excise duty and insurance. The three-wheel configuration, low weight and lack of a reverse gear also meant that it could be driven on a motor cycle license.
The prototype and early cars utilised stressed skin aluminium bodywork, though later models incorporated chassis members of steel. The Minicar was amongst the first British cars to use fibreglass body panels.
Though retaining much of Lawrie Bonds original concept of a simple, lightweight, economical vehicle, the Minicar was gradually developed by Sharps through several different incarnations, Convertibles were offered, as were van and estate versions. The cars were powered initially by a single-cylinder two-stroke Villiers engine of 122 cc (7 cu in): in 1950 the engine size was increased to 197 cc (12 cu in). The engine was further upgraded in 1958, first to a single-cylinder 247 cc (15 cu in) and then to a 247 cc (15 cu in) twin-cylinder Villiers 4T. The engines were developed principally as motorcycle units and therefore had no reverse gear. However, this was a minimal inconvenience, because the engine, gearbox and front wheel were mounted as a single unit and could be turned by the steering wheel up to 90 degrees either side of the straight-ahead position, enabling the car to turn within its own length.
A way to reverse was offered on later models by stopping the engine and starting it backwards. This was done by reversing the Dynastart unit, which doubled as both starter and generator. A similar device was used on pre-war DKW designs. It operated as a starter motor when the starter button was pressed but when the engine was running it generated power instead and recharged the battery.
At the end of production 24,484 had been made.
Minicar Mark A 1949–1951
Sold as The Bond Minicar (the Mark A epithet being added only after the Mark B was introduced), the car was advertised as the world’s most economical car. Austere and simple in design without luxuries. Production began in January 1949, although 90% of initial production was said to be allocated to the overseas market.
As with the prototype, a large proportion of the Minicar is made from aluminium alloys. The main body is a very simple construction of 18SWG sheet with a 14SWG main bulkhead. The integrity of the main stressed skin structure is enhanced by the absence of doors, the bodysides being deemed low enough to stepped over without major inconvenience. Most of the bodywork panels are flat or very simple curves and the compound curves of the bonnet and rear mudguard arches being pressed out as separate panels. The windscreen is made from Perspex. The car was said to weigh only 308 pounds (140 kg) “all-on” and it’s light weight was regularly demonstrated by one person lifting the entire rear end of the car off the ground unaided.
The air-cooled Villiers 10D 122 cc (7 cu in) engine has a unit three-speed manual gearbox without reverse. The engine unit sits in an alloy cradle ahead of the front wheel, together forming part of its support. Both front wheel and engine are sprung as part of the trailing link front suspension system, which is fitted with a single coil spring and Hartford friction shock absorber. The rear wheels are rigidly mounted to the body on stub axles with all rear suspension provided by low pressure "balloon" type tyres. The engine is started by a pull handle under the dash, connceted by cable to a modified kick-start lever. The steering system comprises a system of cables and pulleys usually referred to as a "cable and bobbin" system, connecting a conventional steering wheel to the front steering unit.
An open car tested by The Motor magazine in 1949 and carrying only the driver had a top speed of 43.3 mph (69.7 km/h) and could accelerate from 0-30 mph (48 km/h) in 13.6 seconds. A fuel consumption of 72 miles per imperial gallon (3.9 L/100 km; 60 mpg-US) was recorded. The test car cost £262 including taxes.
The cable and bobbin steering system was soon replaced by a rack and pinion.
The bodies were open two seat tourers with a single bench seat and weather protection was minimal. The headlights were separate units on stalks at the side of the car. Top speed was around 35 mph (56 km/h).
In 1950 a De luxe version was announced with larger 197 cc engine and glass replacing perspex for the windscreen.
Minicar Mark B 1951–1952
The Mark B at last featured rear suspension, independent using coil springs and a 197 cc (12 cu in)engine. As well as the open car, a commercial, van, version appeared.
Minicar Mark C 1952–1956
The Mark C saw a completely new body style. The headlights were now in the wings and a door was fitted but only on the passenger side of the car. An electric starter became an option on the 197 cc (12 cu in) villiers 8E engine.
The steering lock was increased and a worm and sector mechanism fitted replacing the rack and pinion and this allowed the engine to turn through 90 degrees allowing the car to turn in its own length so reducing the handicap of not having a reverse gear. These were the model’s best years, with production rising to 100 cars per week in 1955 and a total of 14,000 produced by 1956.
Minicar Mark D 1956–1957
The Mark D was an upgrade over the mark C, gaining a Villiers 9E 197 cc engine and a 12-volt electrical system.
The Family version had small hammock type rear seats.
Minicar Mark E 1958–1959
The final versions of the Minicar were a completely new design. The body, still in aluminium, was mounted onto a steel chassis. Doors were now fitted to both sides of the body and the gear box became a 4-speed.
The body was offered in Family, Tourer (convertible) and Van versions with an optional glassfibre roof.
The maximum speed was now around 50 mph (80 km/h).
Minicar Mark F 1959–1961
Similar to the Mark E, this model had an engine upgraded to 250 cc (15 cu in) and 55 mph (89 km/h) top speed and optional reverse gear. A closed saloon body was offered for the first time.
Minicar Mark G 1961–1966
The Mark G had a revised body with the windscreen moved forwards to give more interior room and a "reverse slope" rear window in the saloon models making the Minicar much more like a "proper car", there were even wind up windows and lockable doors. An estate car was added to the body line up and a choice of engines was offered on later mark G models – the 35A single cylinder unit (11.5 bhp) or the 4T twin cylinder unit (14 bhp). Semi hydraulic brakes replaced the old cable and rod operated system of the predecessors and the car was fitted with larger 10" wheels.