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A (very) brief history of Reliant

The Reliant Motor Company was formed in 1935 when Tom Lawrence Williams built the first prototype vehicle in his garden at Kettlebrook, Tamworth (UK) along with E.S.Thompson.  A former Works Manager at Raleigh who had worked on their Raleigh Safety Seven, T. L . Williams left the company to build his own 3-wheeler. He completed and licensed the vehicle on the 1st January 1935.  This vehicle, The Reliant, was a 3 wheeled 7cwt van powered by a single cylinder 600cc JAP engine which was then complimented with a 10cwt model powered by a twin cylinder JAP engine in 1936.  It was during a visit to the 1937 Commercial vehicle show that Reliant acquired the supply of the Austin 7 engine for their vehicles which they used from 1938 to 1939 when Austin ceased manufacture of the engines and Reliant made their own 747cc side-valve engine that was closely modeled on the Austin 7.

With the onset of the Second World War, Reliant continued to produce vehicles until early 1940 when their attention was then turned to machining parts for the various ministries.  After the war Reliant started manufacturing vehicles again in 1946 and introduced a new commercial vehicle with the Reliant Regent 10 cwt in 1950.  In 1951 T.L.Williams decided to introduce a passenger vehicle to accommodate four people, and in 1952 the Regal Mk 1 was exhibited at Earls Court.  The Mk 1 had an aluminium body fixed to an Ash frame along with a pram type hood.  Over the next few years the Reliant Regal took on many forms with the Mk 2 in 1955 which started to use fiberglass sections.  In 1956 the Mk 3 was the first all fiberglass Reliant.  The Regal was continuously improved upon with the Mk 4 in 1958, Mk 5 in 1959 and the Mk 6 in 1960 (The Mk 6 being Reliant’s last side-valve model).

At the same time as the side-valve Regals, Reliant created a new four-wheeled Reliant van called the Regent Four for the Israel market, this was followed by the Carmel, a four wheeled passenger car.  Reliant initially produced all vehicles as kits which were then sent to Autocars in Israel and assembled with some parts also being manufactured in Israel. Development also led to a new sports car being built called the Sabra in 1961 of which an anglicised version called the Sabre was produced for the European market,

In 1962 a major step forward was taken with the Regal 3/25.  Instead of an internal wooden frame this had a unitary construction body of re-enforced fiberglass.  Polyester was molded in two major units (outer and inner) and then bonded together and bolted to a steel chassis.  The vehicle was also powered by Reliant’s new 600cc OHV engine which was Britain’s first flowline production light alloy motor engine.

Reliant had been exporting the Regal as a 10cwt pickup model to markets overseas and its success was such that in 1967 Reliant created a new pickup type vehicle, the TW9.  The TW9 was easily adapted to be any kind of vehicle whether it be a pickup truck or a road sweeper.  The vehicle also found a good market in the UK with a 16cwt capacity.  It was also made under license by BTB Engineering and sold as The Reliant Ant.  Reliant also introduced an economy four wheeled model with the Reliant Rebel in 19?? that was powered by a 600cc engine.

In 1969 the 700cc engine and so both the Regal and Rebel with fitted with the new units.  Reliant’s production was such that in the same year the fifty thousandth Regal 3/25 model was delivered.  In 1969 Reliant took over Bond Cars and commissioned Ogle to produce a sports 3-wheeler for the younger generation.  Using the Bond name this resulted in the Bond Bug and was sold from 1970 to 1974. Early Bugs used the 700cc engine though later ones used the 750cc engine when it was up rated once more in 1973.

Along side the 3-wheelers Reliant introduced a new sports car called the Scimitar GT in 1964 that became an instant success, this was then replaced by the World’s first sporting estate car, the Reliant Scimitar GTE in 1968.

In 1973 Reliant introduced perhaps the most famous British 3-wheeler of all time, the Reliant Robin.  This vehicle, powered by the 750cc engine, showed completely different styling and was available as a Saloon or an Estate.  These first Robins were produced until 1975 when the Robin received more minor changes and a larger 850cc engine with a S.U carburettor.

Hot on the Robin’s heels in 1975 was a new economy 4-wheeled vehicle called the Kitten that shared numerous parts with the Robin making it much cheaper to build.  The Kitten was available as a saloon, van and estate version and built until 1982. Reliant also introduced what was essentially a pick-up version of the Kitten with the Reliant Fox in 1983.  Sales of the Fox, however never really took off.

By the late 1970s sales of the Scimitar GTE were slowing down and whilst attempts were made to address this with the convertible Scimitar GTC model in 1980, Reliant set about building a new smaller sorts car, the Scimitar SS1 which was released in 1984. This went through a few face lifts become the SST and Scimitar Sabre before production came to an end in 1995

In 1981 Reliant introduced the wedge-shaped Rialto which whilst still using the 850cc engine now featured a galvanised chassis.  The was replaced by a Rialto 2 model that was fitted with a HT-E engine to improve overall economy though the engine was dropped reverting to the standard 850cc unit in 1986.  Such was the fame of the previous Reliant Robin. the name was reintroduced in 1989 with the Reliant Robin Mk 2.

With the arrival of the 1990s, Reliant also produced the Metrocab taxi though this was very short lived. The 1990’s were a turbulent time for Reliant who called in the receivers on October 25th 1990.  The company was then brought by Beans Engineering for an estimated figure of 1.5 million but Beans were to call in the receivers 4 years later in November 1994.  Reliant was then acquired by the Avonex Group on 16th January 1995, who also had to call in the receivers in December 1995  Reliant was then purchased in April 1996 by “a consortium of Businessmen” led by Jonathan Heynes.  From this point on business, for Reliant, had returned to normal and by the end of August 1996, production of the Reliant Robin had resumed.  In the first full year 720 cars were built with Reliant also expanding into lightweight commercial vehicles.  By 1999 Reliant  had also moved into import and distribution with various new models that included the Ligier Microcar from France, the Piaggio Ape commercial vehicle from Italy.

Reliant production ceased in Tamworth in late 1998 and in January 1999 the Reliant company moved to new premises and to a new purpose built factory at Burntwood. (UK)  In late February, Reliant introduced a new Reliant Robin Mk 3 Hatchback for the Millennium with a completely fresh design that was the first major change made to the Reliant Robin for 10 years.  After an announcement on the 26th September 2000, Reliant ceased making 3-wheelers in February 2001 although original plans had been to stop production in December 2000.  To mark 65 years (though it was actually 66 years by the time the last Reliant was made)  of 3-wheeler production, Reliant built 65 Special Edition Robins (Robin 65) that were individually numbered with a plaque on the dashboard. The last Reliant Robin was collected by its owner on February 14th 2001.

In April 2001 Reliant Cars moved their premises to Cannock. (UK) and in the same month B&N Plastics announced that they would continue to make the Reliant Robin (now called Reliant Robin BN-1) under license to Reliant and production officially started April 30th 2001 with the vehicles being officially launched on July 12th 2001.  Unfortunately due to various problems, production was put on hold towards the end of 2002 and no further Reliant vehicles were made.

For histories of each model, please click here.

Reliant 8cwt

Reliant 8cwt

Reliant Regal Mk III

Reliant Regal Mk III

rmc_hist3

Reliant Regal 3/25

Reliant Robin (Mk I)

Reliant Robin (Mk I)

Reliant Kitten

Reliant Kitten

Reliant Scimitar GTE

Reliant Scimitar GTE

Reliant Rialto

Reliant Rialto

Reliant Robin (Mk III)

Reliant Robin (Mk III)

The Reliant Motor Club

“The Club for Owners and Enthusiasts of Britain’s finest specialist car manufacturer”

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www.reliant.website / www.reliantclub.com / www.reliantmotorclub.com

 

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