Good as new!
A Reliant Obsession
By Elvis Payne
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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
Have Your Say
Have you ever owned a reliant? What do you think about them?
paul klein from holland
str8lolly (Ray Whitehurst)
Mr. P. Baxter
g scothern notts
g scothern notts
glyn KIRKBY-IN-AHFIELD NOTTS
glyn KIRKBY-IN-AHFIELD NOTTS