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Reliant in the 2020s by Eddie Pepall

Article reproduced from the December 2019 edition of the Reliant Motor Club Review magazine (No 7).

It is an interesting question, isn’t it … if Reliant Motors had continued to trade, what would the position be now? … and what would the company products be like now.  I have based this exercise on just one of the products of the “70’s – 90’s – the Reliant Robin 3 wheeler, a product born of its times – and a design speculation on the eventual evolution to sell in today’s very competitive world marketplace.

For one, this modern Reliant would be a clean, electric powered vehicle to compete in a global market – and so it would have to look (and be) distinctive to stand apart from the substantial competition, and the method of build would have to be competitive against the mass production methods of global manufacturers.

Reliant is still a minnow in a sea of big fish, so innovation in both image and also production method would be crucial in the marketplace – if Reliant Motor Ltd. had survived this far they would have innovated and followed something like the Lotus path – plus some solid financial planning and backing long term.

Therefore I do not see conventional unitary construction of the bodyshell viable and have proposed a structure for bench assembly (the body sides complete) and high tech. bolt and glues for the main structure, in part similar to Lotus today.

Reliant Robin 2020 - Eddie Pepall
Reliant Robin 2020 - Eddie Pepall

A major factor in attraction to the product is safety, so this is key to structure design: superior protection of the occupants in the event of a crash.  The 3 wheeler design was a unique development of its times – it grew in part from government regulations of the time which allowed anyone with a motorcycle licence to drive a 3 wheel car … (It’s like.. a motorcycle and sidecar, right bro’?! ..but no helmet.)  There was a problem – it was a bit unstable … I know, for when I was at Reliant, a callow youth, I would race a “company car” from the Two Gates factory up Watling St. to the works offices on some pretext for fun – they were a little unstable (not as the Clarkson scam, of course) but very quick.  So, my Robin has 4 wheels, but the front 2 are covered by bodywork, giving unprecedented aerodynamics – which is a significant plus.

This layout restores stability to the vehicle, I don’t think the reduced track width of the front wheels will significantly affect stability, if at all, and the rear track is adequately widened. Front suspension is now independent, no longer leading, and turning circle is good – with a clean front and a flat uncluttered floor the body cuts through the air.

Now to the “package” layout (seating and components etc.) – I have moved the front wheels centreline forward and the wheelbase and given increased space in the front footwell, but with no overall increase in length (dimensions are generally the same as current Nissan Micra).  The body sides are pre-assembled on the bench by technicians, or possibly, on an independent robotised assembly line – if financially viable – this design has one wide sliding door per side, and a whole side is assembled and tested for slide etc. before attached to the main chassis structure.  A wide sliding door has advantages …. In the fields of safety: (very strong protective side unit) – Access: (to front and rear seats and tight spaces) and manufacture and assembly – also in reliability over hinged doors.

Once the sides are solidly fastened to the chassis, which includes the safety roll over structure providing location fixtures for the sides, then the roof can be fitted  .. note: it may be possible at this point to fit the whole interior in one go from above before permanently fitting the roof to the sides – because of the total access – then finish off by fitting the roof, screen glass and tailgate etc.

Another small innovation which cost nothing is the area of function: obviously, the most wear is in the driver’s space, the driver’s seat and contact points wear out soonest .. so my solution in this design is for the driver’s seat to be trimmed in darker, more hard wearing material – the seat frame itself is identical both sides, but the driver has more supportive and substantial foams beneath the material – the passenger seat has softer foams and the fabric is lighter in colour (to emphasise the drivers importance of course).



As a teenage Industrial Design student at Birmingham College of Arts I was offered a 5+ year engineering apprenticeship with Fishers and Ludlow Ltd. in Castle Bromwich, at that time the largest independent vehicle body supplier in Europe – I was very pleased to accept…  altogether I stayed about 8 years in a very intensive mass productive environment.

Then I married and we bought a bungalow in Dosthill, Tamworth – I got a job with Reliant Motors, close by – my planned intention was to get established and then become Design head for the company, however, it was not to be as one fateful day, looking out of the office window at the main road I saw a convoy of Ogle Design cars – Ogle Mini’s – approaching, and knew that was that for my plans, so the following week I applied for a design job with Triumph Motors, just down the road in Coventry, and got it.

Reliant Robin 2020 - Eddie Pepall
Reliant Robin 2020 - Eddie Pepall
Reliant Robin 2020 - Eddie Pepall

At Triumph I did good – I entered and won several auto design competitions, both trade and public, and encouraged by Chief Engineer Harry Webster, designed the Triumph XL90 (1967), a very successful publicity exercise, so Mr Webster sent me to Turin to study under his chosen Italian designer, Giovanni Michelotti.

About 3 years later I was offered a place at the new B.M.C Design Centre, Oxford, (Roy Haynes) followed by a move to B.M.C./Rover in Solihull and Longbridge - eventually from there to south coast consultancy (I.A.D. Ltd,) as Director of Design ... this one offered global travel for many makes - Mazda, Ford, Kia, Honda etc. working in Japan, China, Korea, Malaysia, USA etc.  After a time as an independent I was headhunted for Daewoo Tech, Centre, Worthing, as Chief Designer - Daewoo eventually folded after some time, so I returned to working for myself - my current situation.

Reliant Restoration

This exercise is based on the little Robin, but I firmly believe a strategy for the restoration of Reliant Motor should be around an advanced development of the Scimitar as a true luxury Grand Tourer - an electric powered vehicle with a dramatic "one box" format - styled to be radically different, spacious and comfortable, with a unique chassis and structure concentrated on safety and quality. The premium standard of the New Scimitar would be expressed by its clean futuristic image, exclusivity and the price - and I am sure that it would find a ready market...  The premise of "Form Follows Function" is close to my heart, so I am possibly unusual among auto. designers in that much if my training was about structure and production rather than graphic, so this may explain my interest in the construction and production of the vehicle as much as the image.


Some people I have worked with: Chief Engineer Harry Webster (Triumph - Stag, Spitfire etc.), Geovanni Michelotti - David Bache, Rover - Alec Issigonis, BMC, - Colin Chapman, Lotus, - John DeLorean - Chief Engineer Toshihiko Hirai (Mazda MX5).

Eddie Pepall December 2019

For more information check Linkedin or Google “Graham. E. Pepall” to see full CV.  

We would like to thank Eddie for creating these images and allowing us to use them in this magazine. 

NOTE: All images are Copyright 2019 Eddie Pepall and may not be used else where without permission.


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