x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Only fools and horses relied on the Robin

The sight of wobbling, three-wheeled Reliant Robins cornering with all the stability of a three-legged octopus on rollerskates first appeared on British roads in November 1973.

Portsmouth FC's Sean Davies runs past his
Portsmouth FC's Sean Davies runs past his "A-Team" resprayed Robin Reliant. The car is given to the squad member who has the worst Champions League predictions every year to modify for the amusement of the team.

The sight of wobbling, three-wheeled Reliant Robins cornering with all the stability of a three-legged octopus on rollerskates first appeared on British roads in November 1973. Reliant had been making three-wheeled delivery vans since 1935, but it was the Robin, a quirky passenger car, that attained collectable status. With just 32hp produced by a water-cooled, 750cc four-cylinder engine, the original was never going to break any land speed records, but it found a following. HRH Princess Anne drove about in a Robin Super Saloon when she was living at Sandhurst Royal Academy in the late Seventies.

On UK television, the Reliant Robin gained a place in popular culture history when it appeared as the battered yellow runabout for Derek "Del Boy" Trotter, the quintessential Cockney wheeler and dealer in the hit sitcom Only Fools And Horses, which ran from 1981 until 2002. A Reliant Robin Supervan also made cameo appearances in the Mr Bean comedy series. With a faceless driver, a light-blue Reliant was the three-wheeled nemesis of Rowan Atkinson's title character. The Reliant impeded the progress of Mr Bean in his Mini as they fought for parking spaces and road supremacy. Ultimately though, in a small but rare victory for the hapless Bean, the Reliant was tipped over by the Mini.

Despite being the butt of jokes, the Reliant Robin was not without its charms and innovations. Designed by Ogle Design Limited, it had a fibreglass body attached to a box steel chassis and the opening window on the rear hatch became a trend used on cars worldwide. The handy window helped owners make full use of the cargo space. With the back seats folded down, loading capacity was 30 cubic feet.

In 1975, there were slight tweaks to the chunky design, and the 750cc engine was swapped for 850cc. This kicked up the horsepower to 40, with a top speed of 135kph. Doing 0-100kph was never going to be a sprint for the Reliant - the upgraded engine meant it could hit the old 60mph mark in a sluggardly 16.1 seconds. But with just one front wheel, who would want to go that fast anyway? In 1981, the Reliant Robin was superseded by another three-wheeler, the Reliant Rialto, but the Robin was resurrected in 1989 with a galvanised chassis and a single central windscreen wiper to try and give it a more sporty look.

The rear hatch door now lifted completely. Oh, how Del Boy would have appreciated that as he offloaded goods all over Peckham. In 1989, the company's plant in Tamworth, England closed down and the last 50 cars to roll off that production line had commemorative plaques. By 1999, a redesigned Robin, complete with teardrop headlights, a claimed fuel consumption of 60-100mpg, deep pile carpets, radio-cassette player, fog lights, alloy wheels and chrome door handles was launched from a plant at Cannock. But sales weren't brilliant and, by February 2001, production had stopped altogether.

An attempt to revive the badge by B&N Plastics also failed. Plans for a new model, with a re-engineered gearbox and axle, electric windows, CD player and redesigned interior, were announced but production was put on hold indefinitely in October 2002. glewis@thenational.ae