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|T L Williams, founder|
Reliant was a British car manufacturer. The company was traditionally based at Tamworth in Staffordshire, England, but in 2001 it moved to nearby Cannock. The old site of Reliant Motors, in Tamworth, was turned into a housing estate named Scimitar Park, after the Reliant Scimitar that they produced, also a number of street names used Reliant model names. The company produced over half a million vehicles over a 65 year history starting in 1935 and selling cars in 7 countries including the Netherlands, India, the UK and the middle east been popular sellers of fibreglass cars. They were the second largest car company in the UK holding that position from the 1960s right up until the 1990s.
Reliant Motor Company was producing 50 vehicles a week up to 2001 when it finished production to focus on importing French microcars and motorcycles, along with the Piaggio Ape commercial range, a run out final edition of the Reliant Robin was produced retailing at £10,000 but featured leather seats, metallic gold paint, alloy wheels, walnut dashboard, sunroof along with more luxurious features to the specification, the car was produced in the 65th year of production so was named the Reliant Robin 65.
Reliant was well known for producing the Reliant Robin but they made many different 3 wheeled models from the Rialto, Ant and Regal, along with a line of small 4 wheeled vehicles ranging from the Rebel, Kitten and Fox with Reliant's range of sports cars.
Reliant Cars Ltd. is now called Reliant Partsworld and still operates from the factory where the Robin was built.
When the Raleigh Bicycle Company decided to discontinue the manufacture of their 3-wheeled vehicles in 1934, their Works Manager Mr T. L. Williams and a colleague Mr E. S. Thompson, felt that the days of lightweight three wheelers were far from over. The enterprising pair decided to build their own vehicle in Mr Williams's back garden at Kettlebrook, Tamworth. The homebuilt design closely resembled the Karryall van previously built by Raleigh and this prototype was licensed in January 1935. It was a 7 cwt (356 kg) van with a steel chassis, powered by a 750 cc V-twin engine driving the rear wheels through a 3-speed gearbox and shaft drive. The body was a hardwood frame with aluminium panels attached to it, in the traditional manner of the time. With the obvious motorcycle front end, mounted in the open, in front of the bulkhead, it looked like nothing more than a motorcycle fitted with a box body, which essentially was what it was.
From building vehicles at home, the work moved to a disused bus depot on Watling Street in Fazeley. June 3, 1935, saw delivery of the first Reliant. Powered by a single-cylinder air-cooled 600cc J.A.P. engine, the driver sat centrally the vehicle astride the engine, much like a motorcyclist. The single-cylinder engine left the Reliant underpowered. March 1936 saw an update to a two-cylinder water-cooled J.A.P. engine and an increase to 8 cwt (407 kg) gross vehicle weight (gvw). The driver no longer sat astride the engine and the vehicle gained more conventional forward-facing seats in the front. The first improved 8cwt twin cylinder model was delivered on March 16, 1936.
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". This did not dissuade the engineers at Reliant.
In 1938 the Reliant Motor Company started to use the 747cc four-cylinder 7 hp Austin side-valve engine as found in the popular Austin Seven. The first four-cylinder Reliant was delivered on March 12, 1938. The Austin Car Company then announced their intention to cease production of the 747cc Austin Seven engine. Williams was always enthusiastic about Reliant being as self-reliant as possible. He was keen that the company did not buy parts which it could make ‘in-house'. Reliant therefore commenced manufacture of their own engine, which was essentially a copy of the Austin product. Although appearing very similar to the Austin engine, the level of commonality between Reliant and Austin remains unclear; the Reliant side-valve engine was a 747cc four-cylinder unit built using smaller-scale manufacturing techniques than Austin. The Reliant crankcase was sand-cast rather than die-cast.
The Second World War saw Reliant machining parts for the war effort. In the post-war years, three wheeler development continued. Reliant introduced a slightly modified van called the Regent. Still visually similar to an oversized motorcycle, the first Regent was completed on March 13, 1946, just ten years after the first twin-cylinder van was built.
The Regent grew to a GVW of 10 cwt and was better equipped with sliding windows in the doors, rather than canvas side screens. Two larger models were produced, a 12 cwt Regent and a Prince Regent. In 1953, the Regent continued to be built alongside the Reliant Regal. The Regent was eventually replaced by the Reliant Regal Mk II 5cwt van in 1956.
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 built 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 three-wheeled Reliant Regal, Reliant Robin and Reliant Rialto economy cars.
After absorbing Bond Cars in 1969, which had also been a maker of three-wheeler cars (though in their case with Hillman Imp 875 cc rear engines) Reliant used the Bond name for the 1970s Bond Bug, a sporty three-wheeler designed by the Ogle designer Tom Karen. The Bug used a shortened Reliant Regal chassis and mechanics.
Reliant also built four-wheeled versions 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. Many Foxes were used by third parties as a basis for compact, two berth camper-vans. Reliant also made a small three-wheeled commercial vehicle called the Reliant TW9, later sold by other companies as the Ant, which was a chassis and cab, onto which a custom rear body was fitted. This vehicle was turned out in every conceivable fixed wheelbase configuration and also as a fifth wheel (actually fourth wheel) articulated tractor unit. It was often used by public utility companies, where its ability to negotiate narrow alleyways was a big advantage.
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 was the first British all alloy engine and is popular in 750 racing series with many been modified. The engine was also used in portable fire-pump units after Coventry Climax ceased production.
Reliant's expertise in the area of composite car body production also saw 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, the also made Ford fibreglass truck cabs and ford transit high tops.
Reliant 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.
Ending of car production
The Hodge Group bought the majority of Reliant in 1962, selling it 15 years later to the Nash family. During the early 1990s the owner of Reliant was a major housing developer and when the 1992 recession hit the company folded and thus Reliant was sold to Beans Engineering. By 1996 Jonathan Heynes took the lead and his main backer took control - Haynes changed many models' design and give the Robin more luxuries and retro upgrades, doubling sales. Production was relocated to Cannock in 1997 where, following a major redesign in 1998, Reliant built a whole new model of the Robin. Production continued until 2001 when shareholders decided to import the citation needed] and Piaggio Ape 3-wheeler instead. As a consequence, Haynes sold his shares and left the company, wishing to create an all new 4 wheeled Reliant model instead.[
In 2001, production rights for the Reliant Robin were sold to a Sudbury-based firm called B&N Plastics, who redesigned major parts of the Robin, the base model was £10,000 for a BN-1 Robin but featured all the features of the Robin 65 such as a leather interior. A BN-2 model was produced which added more luxury items as standard for example like electric windows. Production ceased in late 2002 with over 200 outstanding orders. B&N Plastics ceased production after an argument with Reliant over the supply of parts.
- Base Model (No model name) 1935-1939
- Regent 1946-1956
- Regal 1953-1973 and Supervan III
- Sabre 1961-1964
- Scimitar GT 1964-1970
- Rebel 1964-1973
- FW5 1966-1975
- TW9 1967-1987
- Scimitar GTE/GTC 1968-1986
- Robin 1973-1981, 1989–2002
- Kitten 1975-1982
- FW11 1977
- Rialto 1981-1998
- Fox 1983-1990
- Scimitar SS1/SST 1984-1992
- Scimitar Sabre 1992-1995
- "Robin's rest". CAR: pages 106–108. December 2000.
- Pither, D (2001). Reliant Regal and Robin. Thrupp.
- Wotherspoon, N (1993). Lawrie Bond; the man and the marque. Minster Lovell.
- Armstrong, Aldridge, Boyes, Mustoe & Storey. Companion to British Road Haulage History. NMSI Trading Science Museum. ISBN 1-900747-46-4.
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