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 was 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.


Mk. 1 Reliant Robin[edit]

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 executed by Ogle Design, (who had previously designed the Bond Bug, and Reliant Scimitar) and affordable price[citation needed], considering 70mpg and 85 mph is possible, 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 Designed by IAD in Worthing, UK. 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.

Mk. 2 Reliant Robin[edit]

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.

Mk. 3 Reliant Robin[edit]

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. It was the first Robin to be designed with the use of a computer, 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 BN-1 and BN-2 Robin[edit]

Manufacturing of the Robin resumed under licence by the company B&N Plastics in July 2001. This firm was allowed to produce 250 cars a year, but it was stalled by problems and production faults and went into financial trouble after producing just 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 a new 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. The revised car was re-approved, so that it was legal for sale in the UK.

The BN-2 Robin was a higher specification model, featuring 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.

General Specifications[edit]

The single wheel in the front is responsible for the steering, while the engine (also in the front) drives the rear axle. The Reliant Robin provides economical, predictable personal transportation. The 850cc engine gives a 0 to 60 in 14 seconds and a top speed of 85 mph, they also give a very good economy figure of up to 70mpg, the later mk3 reliant robin was quoted to give 60 to 100mpg.

Early British minors who started with only their motorbike licences, and those who did not 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 car 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 may 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 may be driven on a CBT licence.

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

Licence requirements[edit]

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 December 2012. As of 29 December 2012, 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" may legally drive a Robin. As it was not the licence entitlement that changed, but rather the categorization of tricycles into an existing category, the change applies to all holders of category A motorcycle licences, whenever they were obtained. Shortly after this an oversight was that a person with a full car licence could no longer drive a 3-wheeled vehicle, this was then altered by the UK government after car companies which produce 3 wheeled vehicles (such as morgan) protested over the licensing changes, this resulted in car licence holders now been able to drive a 3-wheeled vehicle but an age limit of 21 was also added, this 21 or over age limit also applies to motor cycle A class holders too.

Driving a Reliant with a motorcycle licence (United Kingdom regulations)[edit]

Originally, it was possible to drive a 3-wheeled Reliant with a motorcycle permit because when you obtained a full motorcycle permit you were given a B1 class endorsement on your licence as well, which gave you the right to drive vehicles with 3 or 4 wheels of up to 550 kg.[citation needed] However, the B1 endorsement stopped being issued by the DVLA in 2001.[citation needed]

Interest in the Reliant increased once more after January 2013, when the licensing scheme was changed once again. From then until the present, a holder of a full A category motorcycle licence over the age of 24 (or younger if passing an A2 category test at age 19+ then an A category test 2+ years later) may drive a 3-wheeled vehicle of any power. Because of these licensing changes a Reliant Robin cannot be driven with a learner's permit.[5]

Otherwise, a holder of a full car (category B) licence aged 21 or over may drive a 3-wheeled vehicle of any power. A learner driver with a provisional car entitlement cannot drive a 3-wheeled vehicle unless they meet certain disability criteria.[6]

In popular culture[edit]

Miss Shepherd owned one Reliant Robin[7] in The Lady in the Van, a 1989 book, 1999 play and 2015 film by Alan Bennett, a real-life portrayal of a case of Diógenes syndrome.

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.[8] 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.

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.[9]

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.[10]

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]".[11]

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

Top Gear[edit]

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."[12]

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. The following two episodes featured racing driver The Stig and Ken Block on their Test Track in Robin, and neither of them could finish a clean lap.

However a person appearing in the show, who witnessed the Robin driven by Clarkson, claimed the car was modified with non-matching wheels and well-placed weights.[13] Later on, Clarkson admitted that the Robin used in the show had the differential modified to allow "the poor little thing" (sic) to roll over easily.[14]


Reliant Robin variants
an early model reliant robin in olive colour
An early 748cc Reliant Robin 
Reliant Robins are also raced by banger racers 
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. Vol. 3708. 3 November 1973. pp. 18–19. 
  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. ^ "Changes to the driving licence and categories". Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency. 30 November 2012. Retrieved 28 December 2015. 
  6. ^ "Driving licence categories". Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency. 19 October 2015. Retrieved 28 December 2015. 
  7. ^ Bennett, Alan (1989). The Lady in the Van. London Review of Books. ISBN 184765357X. Retrieved 28 December 2015. 
  8. ^ "Robin Reliant - the car that doesn’t exist". Archived from the original on 2012-05-15. Retrieved 2012-05-15. 
  9. ^ "". Retrieved 2010-11-29. 
  10. ^ "Tomber". Retrieved 2 June 2011. 
  11. ^ "NFL's Tom Brady appears in tonight's Dodge Dart TV ad - USA Today". USA Today. 10 July 2012. Retrieved 22 August 2012. 
  12. ^ "BBC - Top Gear - Episode Archive - Series 9 - Episode 4". Retrieved 2007-02-21. 
  13. ^ Hardman, Robert (28 August 2010). "Stop knocking our flipping cars, Clarkson: Reliant Robin owners hit back at Top Gear presenter". Daily Mail. Associated Newspapers Ltd. Archived from the original on 31 August 2010. Retrieved 11 January 2016. 
  14. ^ "Jeremy Clarkson Has Revealed Some Secrets Regarding Faked Scenes On 'Top Gear'". The Lad Bible. Retrieved 15 January 2016. 

External links[edit]

Media related to Reliant Robin at Wikimedia Commons