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Robin Reliant - the car that doesn’t exist

What car do you drive, perhaps a Mondeo Ford, a Carrera Porsche, a Polo Volkswagen or maybe a 75 Rover? It sounds strange doesn’t it, adding the car model before the brand name. For the Reliant though many people are convinced they are called “Robin Reliants”, presumably made by Robin? In this sense therefore the Robin Reliant doesn’t actually exist – but the Reliant Robin does.

Where the term Robin Reliant originates from I do not know but it must have been from some thing that a mass audience absorbed as so many people use the term within the UK. My initial guess is that it has probably came from some one like Jasper Carrot, a comedian who jokes about the vehicles and often refers to them as Robin Reliants. For those who do not drive them, the name has just stuck in their heads (along with “plastic pig”). It isn’t just a name in day to day conversation the same incorrect name can be found in magazines, newspapers and in TV programs.

Another possible explanation is that Robin is a forename. When the Reliant Robin was at its peak in the 1970’s, Robin was a very popular name, it may have been more natural for people to use that word first? Having said that, how many of you have heard of the Diane CitroŽn, the Sharan Volkswagen, the Austin Ford or the Martin Aston?

Name aside though, the term Robin Reliant goes one step further because not only do some people think Reliant Robins are Robin Reliants but they think all 3-wheeled Reliants are. Regardless if the vehicle is a Reliant Regal, a Reliant Rialto, Reliant Regent or a Reliant Ant. All the models are very distinctive in their shape yet all get called “Robin Reliant”. It’s a bit like calling all Ford cars regardless of model, “Fiesta Ford” after all they all have four wheels so they must be the same? Strangely, it is a relatively modern term as Reliant were founded in 1935 and the Reliant Robin was not introduced until 1973. Up until this point Reliants were Reliants and not called “Regal Reliant” or “Regent Reliant”. Some Reliants even get double barreled names so a Reliant Rialto becomes a “Robin Reliant Rialto” such is the notion that Reliant is always preceded by Robin.

It was perhaps due to the popularity of the name “Reliant Robin” that Reliant reintroduced the Robin in 1989.  The first Robin (the Mk 1) was manufactured from 1973 to 1981 and was replaced by the wedged shaped Reliant Rialto.  For many however the Robin name had stuck and Rialtos were being called Robins and so in 1989 Reliant reintroduced the Reliant Robin (Mk II) to replace the Rialto.  This was then replaced by the Reliant Robin (Mk III) in 1999.  Even when B&N Plastics created a Reliant under license one Reliant had closed its doors in 2001, their new vehicle became the Reliant Robin BN1.

It is this strange belief that all Reliant 3-wheelers are Robins that has created a unique phenomenon surrounding Reliant 3-wheeled vehicles as many people think there is only one model. In the UK there is a TV comedy series by the BBC called “Only Fools and Horses”. In the program, the main characters drive a battered old yellow Reliant Regal Supervan II* with “Trotters Independent Traders” on the side of it. As a result many people have wanted their own version of the vehicle and buy a Reliant to paint yellow with similar sign writing, there is nothing wrong with that. The interesting thing here though is a lot of people think the vehicle in the show was a “Robin Reliant” and as they think all Reliant 3-wheelers are “Robin Reliants” they will buy any Reliant, (regardless if it is a van, estate, hatchback or saloon model - actually painting over the windows if the latter versions) paint it yellow, add sign writing and think they have a vehicle like the one in the show, even though it is the wrong type of vehicle. To put it another way, it is like buying a VW Passatt and painting it like Herbie, buying a GMC Envoy and painting it like the van in the “A Team” or buying a Rover 75 and painting it like Mr. Bean’s Mini and then thinking all these vehicles are identical to the one used n the show.

The best for Reliant is to come though as after painting a Reliant Rialto van yellow and adding sign writing, it then often appears on ebay at twice its original value with occasional claims that the vehicle was one of the ones used in the show … even though it’s not even the same model.

The term Robin Reliant is so ingrained into UK society, that it will be something that will be with us for a long time, but ask any Reliant owner if their vehicle is a Robin Reliant and many will ask, “What’s a Robin Reliant?”


*A number of vehicles were used throughout the series and whilst all had the same number plate for continuity which dated the vehicle to around 1966/ 1967, the vehicle body types varied between Supervan, Supervan II and Supervan III models. (Outwardly, with the exception of a few minor changes, they all look similar).

A few famous “Robin Reliants”, that are not even Reliant Robins

1) Only Fools and Horses. (BBC TV Series)

Only Fools and Horses - Reliant Regal

The vehicle that the “Trotters” drive is a Reliant Regal Supervan*

2) Mr Bean. (TV Series)

Mr Bean - Reliant Regal

The 3-wheeler that Mr.Bean always runs off the road is a Reliant Regal Supervan III

3) The Lady in the van. (True Story)

The Lady in the van - Reliant Regal

In Alan Bennett’s book (now also a film), “The Lady in the van” one of the vans Miss.Shepherd (pictured above)  lived in was a Reliant Regal Supervan III

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