Reliant Robin

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Reliant Robin
Reliant Robin Green.jpg
1999–2001 Robin
Manufacturer Reliant
Production 1973–81 (UK)
1989–2001 (UK revamped)
2001–02 (B&N Plastics)
Assembly Tamworth, England
Athens, Greece (1974-78, under licence)
Burntwood, England
Body and chassis
Class City car
Body style 2½-door 3-wheel saloon with large opening rear window[1]
3-door 3-wheel estate
3-door 3-wheel hatchback
Layout FMR Front-mid engine with rear wheel drive
Related Reliant Robin Van
Reliant Kitten[1]
Reliant Rialto
Engine 748 cc and 848 cc OHV light alloy Straight-4[1]
Transmission 4-speed manual all-synchromesh[1]
Wheelbase 85 in (2,159 mm)[1]
Length 131 in (3,327 mm) (saloon) [1]
Width 56 in (1,422 mm)[1]
Height 54 in (1,372 mm) [1]
Predecessor Reliant Regal
Successor Reliant Rialto

The Reliant Robin is a small three-wheeled car formerly manufactured by the Reliant Motor Company in Tamworth, England. It was produced in several versions (Mk1, Mk2 & Mk3) over the course of 30 years. It is the second most popular fiberglass car in history, with Reliant Motor Company being the second biggest UK-owned car manufacturer for a time.


MK1 Reliant Robin

The Robin was first manufactured in October 1973[2] as a direct replacement for the Reliant Regal. These models featured a 750cc engine, but in 1975, the car gained a number of improvements including an engine boost to 850cc. The Reliant Robin was well received in the 1970s because of good design and affordable price[citation needed], considering it could do up to 70mpg and achieve 85mph, and orders increased with the 1970s fuel crisis. The final original version of the Robin rolled off the production line in 1982, and after a number of limited editions, including the GBS and the Jubilee, it was replaced by the restyled Reliant Rialto. The vehicle was also produced under license in Greece by MEBEA between 1974 and 1978, and it was manufactured in India by Sunrise Automotive Industries Limited as the Badal.

MK2 Reliant Robin

In 1989, Reliant revived the Robin name, producing a new and totally revamped Robin featuring a new fibreglass body featuring a hatchback, with later an estate and van joining the range. The Rialto continued in production alongside the new Robin until 1998 as purely a cheaper model in saloon, estate and van models also. Later on in production, the Robin would receive new 12 inch wheels, improved brakes (from the original mini) and an improved interior with new dials and interior trim. Reliant also started offering an unleaded engine (shown by having a green rocker cover) which featured different stem seals. As well as this, the new models joined the range with the LX, SLX, BRG, and Royale models. Royale and BRG models were top of the range, and cost over £9,000. New colours such as metallic silver, British racing green, royal blue and nightfire red were used, along with a range of retro-style optional extras such as minilite alloy wheels and jaguar custom seat patterns, which then became available on all Robin models.

MK3 Reliant Robin

This Robin was facelifted again in 1999 with the design executed by Andy Plumb who was Chief Designer at Reliant at that time. When the final version was launched that had its biggest change since originally launched with completely new panels, and Vauxhall Corsa front lamps. Designed as a hatchback-only model, it was the first Robin to be designed with the use of a computer, and it had a 'soft nose' design so that gaps around the headlamps could be minimised, and facelifts or other variants easily applied. An electric and a diesel version along with a pickup variant were conceptualised, but never made production but a hatchback van was. The mk3 Reliant Robin sold well from 1999, with waiting lists across the range right up until Reliant announced the end of production in 2000. The final sixty-five Robins were all produced in a special gold metallic paint featuring leather trim, walnut interior, and a numbered plaque, red carpets, radio, sun roof, white dials, chrome door handles, front foglights, minilite alloy wheels, and sold for approximately £10,000. The cars were meant to end production in 2000, but actually carried on until the end of 2001 where the final Reliant Robin 65 special edition rolled off the production line.

The BN-1 and BN-2 ROBIN

Manufacturing of the Robin resumed under licence by a company called B&N Plastics in July 2001. This firm was allowed to produce 250 cars a year, but many problems with the company and production faults stalled the company and it went to financial trouble after only producing 40 or so complete cars up to October 2002.

The BN-1 Robin was based on the Robin 65 limited edition, and featured all the expensive extras but added a more modern feature set. The car was now endowed with a completely redesigned interior, with new a dashboard and interior in black. The body also received some under the skin features, including integrated fiberglass skims for the door hinges and a new whole-body fabrication process, which resulted in reduced weight. Also, the revised car was re-approved, so that the design was legal for sale in the UK.

The BN-2 Robin was the higher spec model to the BN-1 which featured higher grade materials for the interior, a custom metallic paint finish, a radio/CD (instead of radio/cassette) and front electric windows, a first for the Robin.


The single wheel in the front is responsible for the steering, while the engine (also in the front) drives the rear axle. The three-wheel configuration results in a vehicle that handles quite differently from a conventional four-wheeled car. Sudden direction changes and high-speed cornering attempts are not advisable. However, if driven with reasonable care, the Reliant Robin provides economical, predictable personal transportation.

Early British miners who started with only their motorbike licences, and those who didn't have the required driver's licence, bought the Reliant Robin because of its B1-category licensing, and also because it allowed them to stay warm while working in cold conditions. This resulted in the Reliant Robin becoming highly popular in the north of England, so much so that the American embassy in England bought and ran three of them for diplomatic reasons. The Reliant Robin can now be driven on a full category A motorcycle licence if above 21 years of age and only after your restriction period. It is a myth that any reliant 3 wheeler can be driven on a CBT licence.

A 2011 survey reported that Reliant Robin owners were statistically Britain's safest drivers.[3]

Licence requirements

Despite its size, by being a three-wheeler with an official mass below 450 kg (992 lb), the Robin could traditionally be driven by holders of a B1 category driving licence[4] in the United Kingdom, and registered and taxed at motorcycle rates, which gives a saving of 55 GBP per year over a conventional car. Up until 2001, the B1 licence entitlement was given to those who passed the category A motorcycle test, leading to the common misconception that people could "drive a Robin on a motorcycle licence". Those passing their motorcycle test after 2001 could not drive a Robin, until the law changed in January 2013. As of 19 January 2013, tricycles such as the Robin no longer fall within the B1 category licence; in-line with European Union law, tricycles are now classified under the category A "motorcycle licence". As such, any person holding a "full motorcycle licence" can legally drive a Robin. As it was not the licence entitlement that changed, but rather the categorisation of tricycles into an existing category, the change applies to all holders of category A motorcycle licences, whenever they were obtained.

In popular culture[edit]

Reliant three-wheelers enjoy a special place in British culture, often as the butt of jokes, such as when Patsy Stone dismissively refers to Edina Monsoon's isolation chamber as resembling one in the TV series Absolutely Fabulous. In the United Kingdom, the Robin is sometimes affectionately nicknamed the "Plastic Pig" because of its distinctive shape and fibreglass body shell. It is also often, and erroneously, referred to as the Robin Reliant.[5] Georgia Nicolson, the fictional heroine of Louise Rennison's Confessions of Georgia Nicolson book series aimed at teenaged girls, regularly makes fun of the family car, referred to as a Robin Reliant.

The Reliant Robin is staple material for comedian Jasper Carrott. However, perhaps two of the best known Reliants in British comedy are actually Reliant Regal Supervans — the dirty yellow van owned by the Trotter brothers in Only Fools and Horses, and the light blue van that always ends up getting tipped over, crashed into, bumped out of its parking space etc. by a British Leyland Mini in Mr Bean.

The Robin has been featured in several British car shows. For example, in the 18 June 2007 episode of Fifth Gear, Tom Ford and Johnny Smith both modified a Reliant Robin, to compete against each other in a speed challenge and a destruction derby. In the 18 February 2007 episode of Top Gear (Series 9, Episode 4), a Reliant Robin was used by Richard Hammond and James May in an attempt to modify a normal K-reg Robin into a reusable space shuttle. The booster rockets separated cleanly, but the fuel tank did not detach, and the Robin crashed into the ground. This launch was the "largest non-commercial rocket launch in European history."[6] In a subsequent episode of Top Gear (Series 15, Episode 1), a 1994 Reliant Robin was used by Jeremy Clarkson to drive 14 miles from Sheffield to Rotherham. He described driving it as dangerous as "inviting your mum 'round for an evening on chatroulette," and that "(the Reliant Robin) wasn't funny, it was a complete menace." During the segment, Clarkson rolled the Robin at least six times due to the odd-sized wheels and the weights which were attached to the car to allow filming, before having front support wheels mounted for safety.[7] The following two episodes featured racing driver The Stig and Ken Block on their Test Track in Robin, which neither of them could finish a clean lap, and rolled over like Clarkson. The Reliant Robins in these episodes were fitted with bigger wheels on the passenger side and front to make the car unstable; the overall intention was to exaggerate the car's tendency to roll for comedic effect.

Reliant Robins make semi-regular appearances on Scrapheap Challenge, often stripped down to a light three-wheeled chassis. One team converted the car into a wheelie-racer.[8]

The 2011 Disney film Cars 2 features a French character named Tomber who is patterned on a Reliant Regal saloon car, though he also has been compared to a Robin. His name means "falling" in French, referencing the reputed instability of three-wheel vehicles.[9]

The first television ad for Chrysler's revived Dodge Dart, which is now based on a Fiat platform, also features a scene referencing the notorious reputation of the Robin. The ad, first shown to American audiences during the 2012 Major League Baseball All-Star game, suggests that the designers of the new Dart "[kicked] out the committees" because "they lead to compromise, and compromise leads to this: [shot of Robin rolling over]".[10]

On the fourth season of the BBC television show Bang Goes the Theory, Jem Stansfield used a Reliant Robin as a stylus for his singing road.

A Robin appears in a light-hearted US video of Imagine Dragons song 'On Top of the World' concerning the moon landing bearing the registration BEN ISDEAD, referencing the title of a defunct Los Angeles punk magazine Ben Is Dead


Reliant Robin variants
an early model reliant robin in olive colour
An early 748cc Reliant Robin 
Reliant Robins are also raced by enthusiasts 
reliant robins racing at mendip raceway
1994 Reliant Robin Mk2 SLX 

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "The Regal is dead...long live the Robin". Motor 3708: pages 18–19. 3 November 1973. 
  2. ^ "Reliant". 2001-02-14. Retrieved 2012-02-05. 
  3. ^ "Three wheels are better than four! Reliant drivers are the safest on the road". London: 13 June 2011. Retrieved 21 May 2012. 
  4. ^ The B1 category used to cover motor tricycles/quadricycles, weighing up to 550 kg (1,200 lb) unladen (see Driving licence in the UK)
  5. ^ "Robin Reliant - the car that doesn’t exist". Archived from the original on 2012-05-15. Retrieved 2012-05-15. 
  6. ^ "BBC - Top Gear - Episode Archive - Series 9 - Episode 4". Retrieved 2007-02-21. 
  7. ^ "BBC - Top Gear - Episode Archive - Series 15 - Episode 1". Retrieved 2007-02-21. 
  8. ^ "". Retrieved 2010-11-29. 
  9. ^ "Tomber". Retrieved 2 June 2011. 
  10. ^ "NFL's Tom Brady appears in tonight's Dodge Dart TV ad - USA Today". USA Today. 10 July 2012. Retrieved August 22, 2012. 

External links[edit]

Media related to Reliant Robin at Wikimedia Commons