It's 1969 and the cinemas are showing “Easy Rider”, a cult film that reflects exactly what the young generation felt. Freedom! Spin the throttle on a chopper, to the sounds of Creedence Clearwater Revival. A new era was approaching, dominated by Aquarius, everything became possible. Drugs, free love, the pill, the psychedelic colors, the mini skirt, Woodstock, in your ears Steppenwolf sings “Get your motor running”…
No wonder that industrial designers in this period indulged in the hippest, craziest things, preferably in the new material plastic and preferably in orange and purple, the colors of Tibet, the scents of incense. The whole world seemed to become orange, green, or purple plastic: telephones, alarm clocks, ashtrays, side tables, and table lamps.
One of those design firms was Ogle Design in England. Indeed, no Michelotti or Giugiaro this time, but a team of young graduates bursting with ideas in Swinging London, where fashion was also suddenly determined. Let's take a look at some of the imaginings that came out of that.
The Bond Bug
We stay in 1969, because it wasn't that boring. Take the fashion alone: knee-high boots, mini skirts and knitted dresses turned every day into a new spring. And at the London Motor Show there was an awesome cart that fit right in: the Bond Bug.
The Bond Bug (insect) was the result of the takeover of the extremely boring tricycle brand Bond by that other tricycle brand Reliant. Under the design of Ogle was therefore the technology of a Reliant Regal, with its 750cc aluminum engine and rigid rear axle. It was intended as a small series of city cars, with its two seats and lack of luggage space. But the cart was so popular that demand was nowhere near being met. Almost a thousand orders could be registered during the show, which would be an impossible task for a factory with traditional production. An extra production line was therefore set up in seven haste at the Reliant factories in Tamworth and work started.
Yet the success collapsed just as quickly as it had begun. Riding on three wheels has no advantages, except that at the time a motorcycle license would suffice. I'll come back to that later with the Reliant Robin and Kitten. With its feather-light construction, the Bond Bug was quite fast, running 135 kilometers per hour. But getting in and out through the huge top-hinged door was not very convenient and visibility to the side and to the rear was downright poor. Also, on closer inspection, it had quite a plastic look on the inside and no penny had been spent on sound insulation, so that a radio or good conversation was of little use. And that in combination with a purchase price for which a Mini 850 could also be purchased. And yes, a Mini, that was a classy car with four seats, four wheels and six windows. In that year 1969, the Mini also received a nice advertising campaign in the movie “The Italian Job” with Michael Caine. British Leyland naturally sponsored all those scenes with Minis in the colors of the Union Jack.
The Bond Bug would conquer the cinema audience in the Star Wars films.
Director George Lucas had three Bugs converted into Land Speeder floating cars, creating the effect of flying with mirrors, or with a dash of Vaseline on a glass plate in front of the lens. Not three, but zero wheels. Not even Ogle could have imagined that.
Back to 1969, and the movie Easy Rider
Ogle Design had experience with two-wheelers: it had been the designer of the Triumph Trident and his twin brother BSA Rocket 3, beautiful British motorcycles, but no hip choppers on which guys with meters long hair drove around. From 1970, however, that opportunity was reserved for the secondary school boy who wanted to make a big impression ... with a bicycle.
The Raleigh Chopper was a kid's bike based on boys' ever-present desire for motorized transportation, and this bike had everything that looked like a smashing motorcycle party: a buddy seat, a sissy bar, a chopper handlebar and a gear stick that, depending on daddy wallet, three or five gears could be chosen.
Not that it was such a great bike… if you wanted to be beautiful, you had to suffer. The thin saddle became a pain in the ass on longer rides and whoever slipped off it (which is guaranteed to happen often) ended up with its sensitive parts on the gear lever. Just hope the button is still there. In some American states, this bicycle was withdrawn from sale after a few nasty amputations had taken place with lasting consequences for reproduction. The Ralleigh Chopper was also not particularly stable and could spontaneously shoot backwards. But nice to see, he was.
The Reliant Robin and Kitten
Reliant has always been the odd man out in car land. The concept of tricycles was not new, the Germans and Italians were also big on that, but Reliant has been the only brand to date that has launched a more or less full-fledged passenger car with one front wheel and two rear wheels.
Making a car with a wheel missing was not even the biggest challenge, to be allowed to drive it with a motorcycle license, the curb weight also had to remain under 400 kilos. That's why the body of a Reliant Regal or Robin was made entirely of polyester, mounted on a steel chassis. Engine and gearbox were made of aluminum to save weight. An additional result was that it was a very economical car. But it was not very beautiful or exciting, as we see in the TV series Mr. Bean, who is constantly fighting a Regal Van.
Ogle was asked to live out their Bond Bug fantasy on a successor to the Regal.
The result was the Robin, which indeed looked a lot better and of which a four-wheel version appeared, the Kitten. A driving license was required for this, but the economy was preserved.
The anger was great at the Reliant Owners Club, when Jeremy Clarkson had himself filmed for the Top Gear program in a Robin that turned more or less at every street corner. The enthusiasts couldn't laugh about that, because later it turned out that the differential had been fixed for the shots and concrete blocks had been placed left and right in the forecastle. As a result, the car tipped on its side with every movement of the steering wheel, but it had nothing to do with reality. Of course a three-wheeler is less stable than a four-wheeler, but it wasn't that bad.
The most beautiful Ogle Design design for Reliant was of course the unsurpassed Scimitar. This sports car with Ford V6 was, like the other Reliants, built from a steel chassis and a polyester body. The model attracted many customers (including Princess Anne who went through as many as six). Where a small factory can be big. Incidentally, Reliant called itself “Britain's second largest car manufacturer” for years. The good thing was that it was still true.
Where has that proud British car industry gone since then?