There is no such a vehicle as a ‘Robin Reliant’ and nor did any form of Robin appear on Only Fools and Horses. The sitcom in fact used Reliant Regal Supervans. The website 3-wheelers.com wisely points out that buying a Robin Van and writing ‘Trotters Independent Trading Co.’ on the sides is akin to “buying a VW Passat and painting it like Herbie”.
Meanwhile, Chris Gunby finds the two standard responses to his 1977 Silver Jubilee are either “you don’t see many of them any more” or, from those passers-by aged under thirty, “it’s only got three wheels!”.
When the Robin was introduced in October 1973, the Reliant brand was equally associated in the public mind with suave medallion wearing types in Scimitars and Regal 3/25s driven by flat-hatted gentlemen en route to their local whippet club meeting.
Tom Karen of Ogle Design had been working on the Robin since 1963 and the new model as intended to appeal to female drivers as much as former motorcycle and sidecar owners.
The styling looked as up to the minute as any Mini Clubman, and the bodywork incorporated a hatchback rear window. Car owners were further tempted to their local Reliant dealer with claims of 70mpg fuel economy and road tax of £16, as opposed to £40, per annum.
By early 1974, the new Reliant was proving to be a commercial success, and the brochures promised “the sporty wheel and the column controls put you in total command”, the better to create an illusion of being an F1 driver while on the weekly shopping run to Fine Fare.
In 1975 the 750cc engine was replaced by an 850cc unit, and for just £1,318.50 the Super Robin boasted “twin auxiliary lamps”, a carpeted floor and cloth trim as standard with image-enhancing alloy wheels an additional £20.29. The fact that Roy Orbison and HRH Princess Anne ordered Robins only enhanced sales.
As for the inevitable questions regarding the Reliant’s handling. Gunby finds the Robin to be “surprisingly quick as it’s very light and it’s very economical” although it is “not too great on sweeping bends”. However, he believes they “tip over only if you drive like an idiot! They are perfectly safe at normal speed and very stable”. Commercial Motor evaluated the Robin Van in 1973 and thought it “an excellent vehicle for town delivery work of the stop-go variety”.
1977 proved to be a year of mixed fortunes for Robin. After several dealers reported how stress cracks were appearing on the steering column retaining bracket, the factory had to recall 20,000 cars, but in June of that year, the limited-edition Silver Jubilee came with a special paint finish, a silver coachline and individual numbers from 001-500 on the bonnet badge. According to Reliant, these proved so popular that “the cars sold out before the dealers had a chance to put up the advertising posters” and they had manufacture another 250.
The Rialto replaced the original incarnation of the Robin in 1982 and today there are just 76 Supers on the road, of which few are Jubilees. Gunby acquired his Robin three years ago as a present for his father.
“There was one previous owner before us, and the Reliant had been left in a garage for 23 years. It took eight months for restoration and I presented to it to my father on the 8th January 2018, a week after his 70th birthday”. The ‘Royal Red’ three-wheeler is certainly guaranteed to attract as much, or even more, attention than your average Ferrari; just don’t ever refer to it as a ‘Robin Reliant’.
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