Reliant Robin

Reliant was a British car manufacturer. The company was traditionally based at Tamworth, but in 2001 it moved to nearby Cannock. It ceased manufacturing cars shortly afterwards.


Reliant Logo

Reliant Logo

Reliant was founded in the early 1930s by T L Williams in a disused bus depot on Watling Street in Fazeley. The initial purpose of the company was to take over the manufacture of the Raleigh three-wheeler delivery van. Williams had designed this in 1933 and Raleigh no longer wished to produce it. It was powered by a 750 cc V-twin engine driving the rear wheels through a 3-speed gearbox and shaft drive. The first Reliant built version was registered on 1 January 1935. However, in 1936 British finance minister Neville Chamberlain abolished (as it turned out, only temporarily) the “road fund licence”, an annual car tax which had not been applied to three wheelers and which had therefore conferred a major competitive advantage on Reliant’s “three wheeled motor goods vehicle”. However, Reliant did not follow several other producers of three-wheeler vehicles into insolvency at this time, and in 1939 the engine was replaced by Reliant’s version of the straight-four cylinder 747 cc Austin 7 side-valve engine.

In 1952 a four-seat car version was launched, initially with an aluminium body, but panel by panel the company substituted glassfibre, as the company’s understanding of the material improved and the price of aluminium increased. By 1956 the bodywork of the (by now) Mark 3 version of the Reliant Regal had changed completely to glass fibre.

The company is notable for building composite-bodied specialist vehicles, such as the sports cars Reliant Scimitar (including the upmarket sports estate Scimitar GTE, owned by Princess Anne) and Reliant Sabre; and the infamous three-wheeled Reliant Regal, Reliant Robin and Reliant Rialto economy cars.To power the Reliant Scimitar and Sabre, Reliant first turned towards Ford of Britain and were supplied with the Zephyr 6 and Consul 4 engines. Later models followed with the Ford Essex V6 engines.

After absorbing Bond Cars, which had also been a maker of three-wheeler cars – though in their case with more stable rear engines – Reliant used the Bond name for the iconic 1970s Bond Bug, a sporty three-wheeler designed by the Ogle designer Tom Karen.Reliant also built four-wheeled version of the Regal and Robin, called the Reliant Rebel and Reliant Kitten respectively. Between 1983 and 1990 a utility/pickup vehicle called the Reliant Fox was produced. This was based on an original development by the Greek company MEBEA on Reliant mechanicals and was jointly developed for production by MEBEA and Reliant; it had originally been built in Greece by MEBEA between 1979 and 1983. Reliant also made a small three-wheeled commercial vehicle called the Reliant TW9, later sold by other companies as the Ant, which was basically a chassis and cab, onto which a custom rear body was fitted and used by public utility companies.

Most of these quirky and distinctly British small cars used Europe’s first mass-produced lightweight overhead valve aluminium alloy engine, initially 598 cc, but enlarged through the years to a final 848 cc in 1975. Early Reliant three-wheelers used an engine derived from the 747cc 1930s Austin Austin 7. Reliant’s own aluminium alloy engine is also used as the replacement for the Austin Seven engine by the 750 Motor Club in their Formula 750 motor sport.Reliant’s expertise in the area of composite car body production has also seen the company produce lightweight body shells for Ford RS200 rally cars and a glass fibre-bodied taxi, the MetroCab — the first to have full wheelchair provision, manufactured by a division of Kamkorp.Reliant has provided designs to several other manufacturers, including Autocars in Israel, Otosan in Turkey and the proposed Anziel Nova in New Zealand in the 1960s; and MEBEA in Greece and Sipani Automobiles in India in the 1970s.

In 2001, production rights for the Reliant Robin were sold to a Sudbury-based firm called B&N Plastics, but production ceased in 2002. Reliant concentrated on importing “speciality” vehicles from European manufacturers, including Piaggio, Bultaco and Ligier. The firm also had plans to import the Indian San Storm sports car, but this plan never came to fruition.

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