Are Three Wheels Enough? 1980 Reliant Robin

1980 Reliant Robin

This 1980 Reliant Robin was not the result of a cost-cutting suggestion! In the UK there were some licensing laws that allowed the operation of a three-wheeled vehicle without a regular driver’s licence, and there may have been some taxation reasons as well (can a UK reader enlighten us?). Thanks to reader Troy W. for this find, which is located in Chester County, Pennsylvania and is for sale here on craigslist for $3,250.

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I suspect if you have been exposed to a Robin in the US, it’s from this clip from Top Gear which takes a very humorous look at the stability of the little Reliant. In reality, as long as it’s driven sanely, there’s nothing wrong with a Robin as basic transportation (they added weights to get the car in the video to roll and wheelie). There are four seats, albeit small ones, and the Robin could yield up to 70 miles per gallon from the little 850cc engine.

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The interior looks relatively normal, albeit with the steering wheel on the wrong side for the colonies. I guess I was expecting something a little more “far out.” Of course, if you are a Top Gear fan, you may remember this other video clip of a far up use of a Robin. This one is even the right color to replicate that show!

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The glass hatchback provides some versatility and with a fiberglass body, at least the body panels will never rust. The seller tells us that the car runs and drives, and has three new tires. It certainly looks clean in the pictures and parts seem readily available. Even with $2/gallon gasoline, 70 miles per gallon sounds pretty good! My commute is mostly straight roads as well, although there are a few corners that might be challenging. I don’t think I’m up for the challenge of driving this unique classic, but I can see it’s charm. How about you?

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Comments

  1. steven

    There are still some around in th UK an have a bit of a cult following you can still drive one unsupervised on a learner licence and tax was same as a trike only slightly more than motorcycle around 70% less than a car

    • Simon

      No you could drive them on a motorbike licence with out a car licence and they were taxed as motorbikes so dirt cheep they were usually bought by Northern miners as cheep runabouts in the winter months

  2. rogerowen

    As far as I can remember your could drive a 3 wheeler car on a motorcycle licence – given that back in the days when life was in Black & White in the UK, many family’s only affordable road transport was a motorcycle combination (motorbike and side-car). I think you had to have passed your motorcycle test to be able to drive a 3 wheeled car though, (honestly can’t remember………………. oooh, yes I can – you could drive a 3-wheeler on your own, but couldn’t take passengers unless they had a full licence). For motorbikes you could learn on a bike up to 250cc at the age of sixteen and when you passed your test – ‘the sky’s the limit’! I passed my test on a series 1 Lambretta scooter (125cc) – and went straight on to a 1000cc Ariel Square Four (as you do!). Car driving minimum age was (and still is) 17 – and many Uk 16 year olds would look at the USA in envy! …………….. 14 in India!

  3. wynkin

    You cannot drive one of these unsupervised in UK on a provisional licence unless you are accompanied by a full motorcycle or car licence holder.

    You can drive one unsupervised on a full motorcycle licence, which is why a lot of older men who had motorcycle licences purchased them.

    Because they were under a certain weight they are classed as a motorcycle and sidecar and therefore pay less road tax than a car.

    Driven carefully they are fine, Top Gear just wanted to make fools out of themselves and the car. It is good fun going around corners on two wheels.

    I didn’t pass my car test until I was 26, but had a full motorcycle licence at 17. In my twenties in the winter I started to feel the cold so would buy a Reliant for the winter, yes they do have a heater!

    The all aluminium engine is very good and as they are light they get of the line pretty quick. Early ones had a wooden chassis. While the body will not rust the steel chassis rot through on UK salted roads.

    You can access the engine by removing a panel by the gear shift or through a smallish panel on the bonnet. We always said working on the engine was like performing an abortion through a belly button.

    Changing a rear wheel is easy as you can just lift the car up by hand.

    They also made a four wheeled version called a Reliant Kitten and a pickup called a Fox.

  4. packrat

    Sure, I’d drive it. I have a surplus ex-police Interceptor (Go-4/BT-57) that still needs work (some genius at the motor pool welded the front fork in place to keep it from sagging) that I hope to trundle around in one day. They are not as stylish as a Robin, but several manufacturers made sturdy, crash-hardened & enclosed trikes, which originally sold to municipalities (usually for exorbitant prices) for ‘edge case’ usages like security or traffic control. The website http://sillylittlecars.com/ has manuals for some of them as well, which is quite the life-saver.

  5. Corners

    I saw 2 of these around town in Brighton last month.

  6. Doyler

    Lovely jubbley.

  7. boxdin

    When I see one of these I remember Jeremy Clarkson rolling the thing over and over…

  8. bcavileer

    Yes, watch TopGear episode on the Reliant. A real hoot.

  9. Tony Waters

    The attached file should include a letter I wrote about a very similar 3-wheeler called a Bond mini-car. If the text is there, and legible, it speaks for itself. It was published in Keith Martin’s Sports Car Magazine. The photo of the car seems to have disappeared; click on image to make it large enough to read the text.

  10. jim s

    might be ok in town, not sure how fast you would want to go. do a PI and make the seller an offer. interesting find.

  11. Rich

    I’m not entirely sure it needs that aftermarket bonnet scoop. I love quirky, oddball cars, these are if anything a bit too mainstream for me, I’d rather a Rebel, Fox or Kitten with the extra wheel.
    There have been a number of these over the years fitted with larger engines, a 2.0 Pinto will allow wheelies with no trouble, and at least one has been fitted with a Rover V8…

  12. julian

    JUst to add my “half pennyworth”
    Living in Suffolk one frequently sees Reliant 3 wheelers, sometimes with driver wife and kids which must be a strain. They are not as easy to roll as the “knob heads” on Top Gear suggest; probably no easier than an old type fiat 500. They are very economical but not very good on the motorway.
    They are VERY dangerous in a crash and I have two memories of an unrecogisable pile of fibreglass with a chassis and engine, one also burnt to the ground (as will also happen with a Daimler SP250) Modern resin is so much better.

  13. mikec

    Lot of these Reliants are used as a basis to make a trike in UK- see pic of a tasty looking Reliant based /engined trike. Back axles off a reliant often sought for trike builds.

  14. mikec

    Also a pic of my non Reliant based trike with a V8 motor.

  15. krash

    ….reading the seller’s Craigslist ad, I noticed ” 3 new tires”….

    …immediately I wondered why he was so cheap as to only replace three…..

    It was my “duh” moment for the day…

    • Joe Howell

      Krash I had the same ” Duh ” moment :)

  16. krash

    ….I’m gonna buy it and git me these fancy duds fer cruisin’ ’round innit…

  17. Paul R

    With only one front tire, a large pothole could be potentially fatal!

  18. Howard A Member

    I believe rogerowen ( and others) are right, and I believe, was the premise behind the Morgan 3 wheelers. Pretty wild. Didn’t Homer Simpson test drive one of these at “Crazy Vaklav’s Place of Automobiles”? ( actually, it was a “Harper Invacar”)
    http://vignette2.wikia.nocookie.net/simpsons/images/f/f0/Crazyv.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20100717053527

  19. Mark-A

    Or you could always do same as this one & fit the 3.5ltr Buick/Rover V8 as per this clip http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=za0uCTNGL4A&sns=tw in the UK at least they were modified with a vast assortment of engines, for a while the 2ltr Ford Pinto running twin carbs was the go to but nowadays it seems to be bike engines that are used mostly! Remember that they also make a 4 wheel version called the Kitten as well now I’d enjoy that with the big engine & stability that comes from the extra wheel!

  20. Bill McCoskey

    I visited the Reliant Factory back in 1997, to meet the mechanical engineer behind the Robin’s engine, Mr Tim Bishop. He was also importing new Tatra 613 cars into the UK and designed a Bosch fuel injection to get the Tatras to conform to the UK emissions requirements.

    I remember Tim handing me a bare Reliant Robin engine block. He held it in one hand, his arm outstretched. Taking it in my hand, I was amazed at how light it was. Tim said he had been able to keep the entire engine block below 7 pounds by using the die casting process rather than sand casting! He allowed me to drive a new Robin out on their extensive test course [ahem . . . Local city streets!], it was quite peppy and was very easy to drive. I would love to have this little car in my collection.

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