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BBC Top Gear - and the infamous rolling Reliant Robin episode

These days it seems it seems that in most conversations about Reliant 3-wheelers, the BBC TV programme Top Gear is mentioned for one episode in particular when a Reliant Robin was being rolled with apparent ease.  Club founders Elvis Payne and Mark Cropper are no strangers to the show having both been in the audience for particular episodes.

The episode that most people refer to was shot in June 2010 and Elvis was contacted by the BBC.  He has helped the researchers on “Top Gear” a number of times over the years though was delighted this time to be added to the guest list so that both he and his wife could attend the filming of the show, this one being the first episode of Series 15. The premise of the film he was helping with was that it with be an informational film on the history of 3-wheelers with a few jokes thrown in on the way.  It sounded as though the main bulk of the story would be on the Reliant Robin though a Morgan F4 and a BMW Isetta were also requested. 

The BBC wanted Reliant Robin drivers from the North of England and Elvis had no trouble in tracking down various owners for the film and they all met up in the North to do some filming with Jeremy Clarkson although before the studio filming (on 24th June 2010 at Dunsfold, Surrey, UK)  they were all sworn to secrecy as to the film content.   Through his 3-wheeler web site at, Elvis also managed to track down a Morgan F4 and a BMW Isetta for the film.  A Peel P50 and Heinkel were also found as additional though not used in the end.  Finding vehicles was tough going as apart from Reliant drivers who pretty much knew the film would be a joke against them, non-Reliant owners were a bit reluctant to take part.

Despite the story line, the Top Gear show was a superb experience and a lot of fun for seeing the comments in between the different sections of the program and seeing how everything is stitched together. At first everyone was trying to get around the stage to try and be seen on TV and then a few were getting wise to the various vehicles parked around the studio and would loiter around those so they were at the front of the crowd when the cameras rolled. Elvis also got wise to this as well.  There was a Morgan F4 in the studio and given its angle he prompted his wife to stand with him next to it.  Sure enough a few scenes later the cameras came in their direction followed by a crowd of folks and as such they were in the front row.  This meant that when the episode was shown a few days later on 27th June 2010, when it came to that particular segment, they were just in the right place to be spotted on TV.

It was a shame that the actual film shot on 3-wheelers was devoid of anything non-Reliant with Elvis being informed that the scenes with the Morgan and the BMW Isetta were cut due to time constraints.  The film therefore turned from a history of 3-wheelers into a comedy  to see how many times a Reliant Robin can be rolled over.  The task was for Jeremy Clarkson to drive a Reliant Robin for 14 miles, bearing in mind that Elvis and his brother had driven a Reliant Robin 5,500 miles to the North Cape and back in 2008 without so much as lifting a wheel.

One of the things that make Top Gear entertaining is the way it approaches things and the film about 3-wheelers was no different with Jeremy Clarkson seemingly tipping over a Reliant Robin with such ease when in reality it isn’t that easy a thing to do.  From photos and looking at the footage it is apparent that there were two red Reliant Robins used (both Mk IIs) and that they were being portrayed as one vehicle, this is noticeable when the Robin doing a wheelie in the programme suddenly supports a Reliant badge at the front and then it vanishes again.

In addition the Robins used were fitted with a full racing harness, a roll cage and even the petrol tank appeared to have been taken out and replaced with a sealed one.  We are told that to help the car roll over on command the front wheel was replaced with a larger one.  This would shift the center of gravity and make for a very unstable car indeed - which is exactly what came off in the film, that said even during filming it took several attempts to get the car to roll over.  In addition it seemed that the car was always rolled on to the driver’s side rather than the passenger side which given Clarkson’s weight in the car would have been seriously hard to do.

Elvis was in the audience and when the episode was filmed, they were hysterical at the Robin constantly rolling over and yet what wasn’t really noticed was just how resilient a Reliant is to just keep on going no matter how badly you treat it.   Sadly some people actually believed that a Reliant rolls over on every corner and after the film was aired we heard stories about people in 4-wheelers giving Reliant drivers an extra wide berth.  The end shot of the film shows the Reliant rolling and crashing into the canal in a very well edited crash.  Freezing the shot of the Reliant in the canal reveals that it hasn’t actually got a gear box or engine in it.

It wasn’t real!

Whilst it was well known to those in Reliant circles that the episode was very cleverly staged, as mentioned, many people believed that many Reliant 3-wheelers actually behaved like this. That was until January 2016, when Jeremy Clarkson came clean about the episode,

In 2015 there was a bit of a shake up in the Top Gear team when the whole team, Clarkson, May and Hammond left the program creating quite a media storm.  Then on January 10th 2016, Clarkson came clean in his article in the Mail on Sunday and admitted that the whole thing was rigged. Clarkson wrote,

    “You may remember: I drove it (the Reliant Robin) around Sheffield and it kept falling over. Well now’s the time to come clean. A normal Reliant Robin will not roll unless a drunken rugby team is on hand. Or its windy. But in a headlong drive to amuse and entertain, I’d asked the backroom boys to play around with the differential so that the poor thing rolled over every time I turned the steering wheel”

Clarkson also acknowledged that the Health and Saftey department were very worried about doing this but then went on to say that the program has used many “similarly doctored” Robins especially in the live shows for games of car football.

In homage to the Reliant Robin, when Clarkson, Hammond and May formed a new production company and began filming for Amazon Prime for their new, The Grand Tour program, the trio each used a 1970s Reliant Robin as their company cars spending 15,000 was spent on them.

As for the BBC Top Gear program itself, this was taken over in 2016 by Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc amongst others.  The lure of the Reliant 3-wheeler however seemed to much to resist as the duo undertake a journey in a pair of Reliant Rialtos.  Whilst the cars this time appear to stay on all three wheels they do still suffer as no general maintenance seems to have been performed on them before the journey leading to one of then constantly overheating due to the core plug at the back of the engine popping out and leading to coolant loss. In reality if well maintained, a Reliant will travel for thousands of miles without a single hiccup.


Top Gear Reliant Robin

One of the photos of the Reliant Robin taken by Elvis Payne whilst at the Top Gear studio.

Top Gear Reliant Robin

On Camera the Robin apparently had issues staying on all three wheels...

Top Gear Reliant Robin

.. and even defied the law of physics by doing a wheely.

Top Gear Reliant Robin

Reliant Robin football that was a feature of many of the Top Gear live shows.

The Grand Tour Reliant Robins

The original Top Gear trio with their Relant Robin company cars whilst filming the series The Grand Tour for Amazon Prime.

Top Gear Reliant Robin & Rialto

Replacement Top Gear host continue to feature Reliants in the Top Gear series with a challenge featuring two Reliant Rialtos.

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