The Reliant Robin. It has three wheels, a passionate following, and sometimes rolls over when you drive it aggressively, especially after modifying it to do so.
It’s easy to see the Robin as a quirky old car, but there was a time when it was a fresh answer to the problems of fuel shortages, emissions regulations, and the increasing cost of automobile ownership. Let’s go back to that time where Tony Bastable and his impossibly long turtleneck will tell us all about it.
The Reliant showed up on the British market in 1973, replacing the three-wheeled Reliant Regal. The Regal was a replacement for the three-wheeled Regent, a vehicle that was arguably more motorcycle than car. While the Robin was registered and taxed at motorcycle rates, it brought more buyers from cars than from motorcycles. It was more a car with one less wheel than a motorcycle with one extra.
To qualify for the motorcycle rates and the B1 category driving license, the Robin had to weigh less than 450kg. This was achieved in part by using a fiberglass body shell, a feature that helped the car earn the nickname “Plastic Pig.”
The low weight results in performance that Bastable calls “surprisingly brisk,” even though the early Robins made only 33 horsepower. The original engine was a 748cc inline-four, but that was increased to 848cc a couple of years into production. The car is good for a 73 mph top speed and it apparently can get up to 64 miles per UK gallon.
The vehicle cost just over £800, which Bastable tells us is (was) actually not very cheap. That’s about £8400 today accounting for UK inflation rates, or just under $11,000 If you prefer your money green.
The Mk. 1 Robin was made until 1981, but Reliant revamped the Robin in 1989 for a 13-year run. Another 40 or so were made under license by B&N Plastics starting in 2001. In 2002, the company announced an electric version with a 50-mile range, but production of the electric never began and the company ceased all Robin production shortly thereafter.