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You are in: Stoke & Staffordshire > Entertainment > Books > A Reliant Obsession

A blue Reliant Robin car

Good as new!

A Reliant Obsession

Elvis Payne (real name!) is obsessed by the Reliants - the great little three-wheelers built in South Staffordshire. He explains here how he came to write a book about restoring them...

My interest in Reliant dates back to 1990.  For many years I was a biker and after spending several months restoring a Yamaha XS250, the bike was then stolen a couple of weeks later. 
At this time I was about to start Staffordshire University in Stoke-on-Trent and my mum said to me, “Why don’t you buy a Reliant Robin”? 

I howled ...and wiping tears of laughter from my eyes she continued, “Think about it, you can get all your things in it for University... it’s dry... you can drive it on a bike licence” and with a smile added, “… and there are things that you can do in a Reliant that you can’t do on a motorcycle”. 

What these things were she didn’t explain - but a few weeks later I was the proud owner of a Carnival pink 1974 Reliant Robin.  Owning a Reliant was one thing - but owning a bright pink one was something else!  And so, armed with several aerosol cans of paint, the car soon became electric blue.  

Babe magnet

At university my Robin became a star in itself with many ladies naming it “Gwen” after its GRE 33N registration plate.  The ladies liked Gwen more than me - but then it wasn’t as spotty as me at the time.  Sadly Gwen was written off  in 1993 when a wandering Vauxhall Astra decided to park onto my rear seat whilst I was stationary at a Zebra crossing. 

"At university my Robin became a star in itself with many ladies naming it “Gwen” after its GRE 33N registration plate...."

Elivis Payne - self confessed Reliant enthusiast!

With the insurance from that I bought a 1981 Reliant Rialto but that never exuded the fun character and the cheeky charm that the Robin did and it seemed far too sensible. 
After graduating I got a job in I.T. and as I needed a full driving licence a 4-wheeled car was soon to follow. 

They say however that once a Reliant 3-wheeler gets into your veins you can never resist its charm.  Whilst at university I did a project on Reliant. Living in Tamworth was obviously a major help as I was able to tour the Reliant factory and research Reliant’s history by reading archived copies of the local “Tamworth Herald”. Tamworth Library have copies dating back to the late 1800’s and so I was able to trace Reliant’s history through the newspaper.

History

Reliant was founded by a chap called Tom Williams in 1935.  Prior to starting at Reliant Mr. Williams worked at Raleigh in Nottingham and had been involved with their 3-wheeler projects.  Raleigh however ceased making 3-wheelers and so Mr. Williams decided to make his own in the back garden of his Tamworth home.  His first “Reliant” was completed and licensed the on the 1st January 1935 and was a 3-wheeled 7 cwt van, powered by a 600cc Jap engine. 

In their early years Reliant only produced 3-wheeled vans but in 1953 Reliant produced its first 3-wheeled family car with the Reliant Regal Mk 1.  This vehicle (a convertible) was very different from modern Reliants as it had an ash frame fixed to a steel chassis and the body was made from aluminium panels.  Reliant continuously improved the Regal over various Mks and with the Mk II in 1954 started to experiment with fibreglass which resulted in Reliant’s first all fibreglass vehicle in 1956 with the Regal Mk II. 

An old shabby Robin Reliant car

Looking a bit worse for wear!

The Regal family continued to march forward with the Mk VI in 1960 being the last new car in the world to have a side-valve engine.  In 1962 the Regal 3/25 was introduced and unlike “ye olde” Regals, it featured a unitary construction body of re-enforced fibreglass and so did not need a supporting ash framework. Polyester was moulded in two major units (outer and inner) and then bonded together and bolted to a steel chassis. The 3/25 also featured a new aluminium 600cc overhead valve unit; this was Britain's first flowline production light alloy motor engine.  With slight modifications, a revamped front end and a rebored 700cc engine the Regal 3/25 became the Regal 3/30.  (It is the Regal 3/25 and 3/30 range that is covered by the book).

The Regal range became the best selling 3-wheelers of all time and were finally replaced by the infamous Reliant Robin in 1973.  The Robin range lasted until 1981 when it was replaced by the Reliant Rialto but folks continuously called all Reliant 3-wheelers Reliant Robins and so the Robin name came back in 1989 and lasted in various forms until Reliant ceased producing Reliant 3-wheelers in 2001.

Reliant left Tamworth in 1998 and moved to Burntwood near Cannock, but from 1935 to 1998 it employed many hundreds of local people.  It is hard to find a Tamworthian from that era who has not worked (or does not know someone who has worked) at Reliant at some point through their lives.

Restoring Reliants

Even though Reliant 3-wheelers are no longer made and sightings of them on the roads appear to dwindle, there are literally still thousands of them out there zipping up and down our streets. There are also a large number of them that just sit there day in, day out staring at a tree or a garden fence after having been abandoned in gardens and fields. 

The book therefore is a great help to those who find a Regal (in any condition) and helps detail how to get it back into A1 condition.  Many folks may need help before even buying a Regal and the book helps here to as it explains all the things to look out for prior to your purchase (whether the vehicle is running or not) so you can assess just how much work is needed. 

A man putting a Robin Reliant car together

Getting there...

It is not just Regal owners who will appreciate the book.  The mechanics of later Reliants like the Robin, Rialto and the Bond Bug are almost identical and so the book is also a good guide to restoring these vehicles to.

Despite owning a 4-wheeler now I have always wanted to own a Reliant 3-wheeler again and my interest was captured on the internet with the www.3-wheelers.com web site that I started in July 2000 (see the link at the bottom of the page.)

Purchasing my Reliant Supervan III in 2004 was very exciting; despite the huge amount of work it needed.  Many people may well have thought that it needed far too much work and sent it off to the local scrap yard but Reliant Supervans are quite hard to get hold of and so eagerness insisted that I see the project through. 

Of course when I started I had no real idea about the amount of work involved but I got to a stage where I had done so much that it would be a shame to abandon the project and so battled on determined to finish the restoration.  It is amazing how many restoration projects end as a result of needing too much work or lack of time or indeed just lack of technical know how.  I was very lucky as I had my brother (Geoff) and dad (John) helping me who are both mechanical gurus.

My dad used to build and race stock cars in Tamworth during the 1970’s and can rebuild old engines with his eyes shut. My brother has built 4x4 racers from scratch that he charges around in. Even my mum helped as she made a new headlining for the interior.  My brother would quite often give up whole weekends to help me with the restoration and when I was feeling down would always spur me on. 

My poor girlfriend (Sue) had to suffer a Reliant slowly being built in her back garden, without her the restoration would not have happened and hence the book would not have existed.  The end result of satisfaction off all the work was well worth it and the enjoyment of being able to work with my brother on such a project was superb as before hand we did not see each other that often. 

Of course every who knows me thinks I am totally mad restoring a Reliant 3-wheeler rather than a vintage sports car but that is until the see the car itself.  Then they are fascinated by its design and simplicity and almost without fail they ask, “Can you take me for a spin in it”.


Elvis Payne

How to Restore Reliant Regal by Elvis Payne is available from December 2005 from Veloce Publishing on the link below.

last updated: 26/01/2009 at 11:45
created: 16/11/2005

Have Your Say

Have you ever owned a reliant? What do you think about them?

The BBC reserves the right to edit comments submitted.

Ron Gooding
I've owned the same 1971 Regal Supervan III for the last 35 years ...Great Car,Love it,would NEVER sell it.

adi cartlidge
i have owed a mk1 robin and now have a rialto 2 se great cars luv em

reaper
i know its blasphomy but i have a reliant rialto in very good nick the problem i have is this tho im turning it into a trike and rather than rip it apart as i have done in the past i wondered if anybody had a diagram of all the locating bolts so i can take off the body in one peice and save it for somebody else to use

Andrew luckwell
Hi everyone im 15 and i've just bought my self a tatty run down reliant railto estate in red love the car to bits always wanted one. I've started to restore the body and going to have it sprayed in an english green. Just bought a new set of door cards and complete new dash board i thought that reliant parts would be cheap i was wrong very good engine. it passed its MOT first time that was really good. better than my sisters mini that always failed its mot. my reliant named (oniker) was a bargain at £200 as i see really bad conditions ones on ebay for over £400.

brian lewis
had a reagle in the 1980,s now had a realto given to me engine runs well but probleme with elec south yorkshier

RON "S"
Hi had 1 SE6A 2 KITTENS and now got SS1 and focus THE KITTENS WERE THE BEST

eddie
hi.i had a rialto 25 years ago and i razzed all over the nth west in it.i now have a 960 volvo est "boring" i retired a few weeks ago,and have now bought an A reg rialto est i just love it.regards1

Steven Davy
There great have had one on ande off for years and always had fun with them its a shame that they were brought to n end i still think they can sell and make a diffrene to motoring yours steve

stuart sturgess
i have a reliant regal mk iii supervan desperate to restore her and pep up the moter a bit

dave
i think that reliants are cool cars

Daniel Williams
i have never actually owned a reliant, but having having known people driving them, they seem to be great little cars. would consider getting one in the future.

john munday
I loved my robin. I had it when i was a student. My mates and i used to go down to the pub in it. It was a laugh. I once took it round a bend too fast and a car came the other way on my side of the road and i swerved to avoid it and roled it twice. I got out ov it with a broken hand and a concishion but the car was ritten off.

Daphne Hazell
I have had a Reliant Robin 850 for two years now and love it, I dont know how fast it can go as the speedo has never worked, it needs to some attention. and as to the remark made by Dawn-Marie Hampshire about driving them on a bike licence,this only applies if you took your licence before October 2001 i found out the hard way and now have to pass a car test

Nathan Clark
I have got a Reliant Regal supervan and i am very proud of it. It catches attention and is very fun. It really offers cheap frills.

Jeff Cox
Being in The United States I only saw a Reliant or Bond in books and I had a Dinky Toy of one. But in 1972 or 3 I saw a Bond Bug. I wanted one so bad. I have read much about Bond and Reliant over the years. I always felt they missed the mark by not trying to sell them here in the States.

bobby
nice car mate

paul klein from holland
I want to buy a robin this week,and everybody in family is smiling about, I don't care! nice site ! (The BBC cannot publish e-mail or telephone details)

David Walker
I own a Reliant Regal Supervan 3 which was restored 11 years ago and made into an Eddie Stobart lorry complete with stobart trailer. Corgi produced a model of this and it enjoyed a 4 year run of sales. The Regal is still in very fine condition and is only taken out 6/7 times a year.

Mike Cope
I owned a Reliant in about 1972, but the previous owner had let it go to 'wreck & ruin', so when I got it the paintwork was destroyed and the engine knackered. Howver, I still have a hankering to own a BOND BUG, so am actively pusuing that avenue of investigation. "THREE WHEELS ARE A COMPROMISE" Nomad.

IDA
I own a 200000 modle estate model robin it is my 8th i dont think they can be beat i drive in all weather with no troble

David Willshaw
Further to my earlier note I should say tha tthe car was great fun to drive. I used to take several burly cross country runners to race meeetings in it They wouls sit 3 or 4 in the back with 2 sitting on the sides. The engine and mechanics were very easy to repair and maintain. We even changed a head gasket at the roadside!! Tappet setting was difficult, it was easier with the engine on a bench as you could not get 3 hands in the gap at the side of the engine under the bulkhead!!

David Willshaw
My late father bought a Regal Mk2 1954 from Glanfield Lawrence Highbury Corner. This was kept for me and was my first car in 1963 when I became 17. Sadly because of a steering modifcation done on a recall at the Tamworth factory the offside front "upright" chassis member rotted through and the car was scrapped with only 46,000 miles on it. A schoolfriend had a 1953 Mk1 and we drove them to school together. I have not seen either model for some yearsnow. I don't imagine there are many left now. sadly the original manual which I kept for many years has now beennthrown out.

Allen Syms
I had my Regal Supervan III a 1969 model between 1970 and 1972. It needed a new clutch when I purchased it. Fitting the new clutch took about 1 1/2 hours and I never had any breakdowns in the 2 years that I owned it. The only problem was changing the spark plugs through the small engine access panel. It was a great little vehicle and enjoyed every mile that I drove in it. Not forgetting the friendly wave that you received from other Reliant drivers passing in the opposite direction. How times have changed

bill bumford
ive owned a reliant reolta for 7 years and i think they're a magic little car, ive had mine of the road for 2 years but i go out to start

bill bumford
ive got a reliant reolta and its a great little car ive had it for six yrs and brought me alot of fun its a great car

Dawn-Marie Hampshire
I have owned 3 Reliants so far.Great cars, and driveable on a motorcycle licence, which is perfect for me. For anything you want to know about Reliants, and to meet a sound bunch of people please visit www.Reliant3Wheeler.co.uk

Graham Hodgson
If you like 3-wheelers (and if you've read this far, you probably do), buy the book and sign up on http://reliant3wheeler.co.uk/forum You'll meet hundreds (600 and growing) of like-minded enthousiasts willing to share wisdom, wit and spareparts. I found the book invaluable for restoring my Regal.

Anthony Baxter
Thanks Elvis for keeping the Reliant name alive. I see you are a moderator on www.reliant3wheeler.co.uk/forum and I look forward to chatting to you there. p.s. Please do a restore a Rialto nest

str8lolly (Ray Whitehurst)
Have owned Reliants in one form or another for over 35 years. A great little car. With the internet I can now get help from other owners at the ROC forum - http://www.reliant3wheeler.co.uk/

Elvis Payne
Thank you for the comments people have left on this page though sadly for those who have asked me to contact them, I do not have an email address. I can be contacted via the "Contact Me" page on my web site at www.3wheelers.com

Mr. P. Baxter
My first Reliant was a 1954 Mk1 Regal which I still have thoughi it is now in dire need of renovation. I also ran two Robins which were a much better car than the Mk1. they all were purchased as second cars. they were all quite exciting to drive being very unforgiving. my Web www.bakster.freeserve.co.uk

david.walker
hi elvis, my wife and I have owned 6 reliants in the past, but for the last 10 years we have owned a regal supervan 3 which is painted up in eddie stobart livery and in great condition, if you'd like a picture I will be only too pleased - dave walker

g scothern notts
when i had a yellow regal i carried a lot more than i ort to many people did not beleave how much could de got in

malcolm marshall
yes I still do, a great little car good luck and a happy 2006 to all owners

g scothern notts
I WISH OUR GREAT LEADER T BLAIR WOULD HELP ROBIN B N TO RESTART MACKING3 WHEELERS AGAIN WE SEAM TO HAVE A FLOOD OF FRENCH CARS AND VANS HEAR IS TONY TRING TO SACK ALL BRITISH WORKERS Rover LDV.

glyn KIRKBY-IN-AHFIELD NOTTS
YELOW REGAL 700 VAN UNFORTUATLY BEFORE DEL BOY IT WAS LIKE A TARDIS I ONCE GAVE A LIFT TO 3 WOMEN EACH WITH A CHILD ON A RAINY DAY ONCE A CHAP IN A POSH CAR COULD NOT BELEVE HOW MENY GOT OUT.

glyn KIRKBY-IN-AHFIELD NOTTS
i had a 3 wheel yellow van 700 cc after a few days i wonted a 850 cc engine never did I NEVER WATCHED FOOLES AND HORSES UNTILL YEARS LATER ..I WOULD HAVE KEPT IT GLYN

Sean Smith
I notice that all your tags for the images on this page refer to a Robin Reliant. The actual correct name for the car is Reliant Robin (company name then model name). Although having said that, the car depicted is a Reliant Regal.

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