Three-Wheeled Wonder! 1989 Reliant Rialto Estate

“Three points define a plane,” as we learned in Geometry class, and the three-wheeled Reliant Robin and its successor the Rialto prove this geometrical tenet lacks the stability normally expected in a motor car. Enthusiasts outside the U.K recognize the Robin thanks to British TV show Top Gear‘s send-ups. This 1989 Reliant Rialto in Issaquah, Washington made its way to The Colonies when the seller bought it in England nearly a decade ago. After some good fun, it seeks a new owner here on craigslist. Marked “Pending Sale,” the Reliant’s asking price of $2600 seems realistic for an entry-level collector of odd little cars, especially considering it comes with what the owner reckons to be about $2000 in spare parts. Thanks to reader Kris for spotting this fascinating three-wheeler.

Do you suppose there’s an engine in there? If so, it’s in danger of being dwarfed by a blower motor. In fact, the 850 cc engine produced about 50 lb-ft of torque and enough power to propel the Rialto to a top speed of more than 100 MPH, according to Reliant. In normal driving, the Rialto could achieve better than 70 MPG.

Joking aside, the Robin and its successor, the Rialto, appealed to a niche market as a sort of “enclosed motorcycle” at the low end of the vehicle market. This estate (station wagon) version adds even more utility to this vehicle that carved out a niche one step above a motorbike. While similar to the steel-bodied Robin, the Rialto featured mostly fiberglass panels. That combined with a galvanized chassis rendered rust a minor concern.

The Top Gear video includes a Reliant enthusiast’s group suggesting a sack of concrete in the passenger’s footwell helps counter-balance the driver’s weight and reduce the comical yet potentially fatal tendency to roll over. Misunderstanding any vehicle’s limitations can turn deadly, but let’s hope anyone buying this interesting classic has no plans to test those limits. Would the Robin and Rialto have been produced from 1973 until 2002 if they were hopeless death traps? Would you daily drive this quirky British three-wheeler?


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  1. Howard A Member

    “Crazy Todds Place of Automobiles”

    Like 6
    • Todd Fitch Staff

      Ha! Thanks Howard – I hadn’t seen that one, but I’ll be stealing it for a future Reliant write-up… if I dare. Thanks for a good morning laugh.

      Like 4
  2. Steve Clinton

    “This posting has been deleted by its author.”

    Like 1
  3. Slightly Askew

    I checked with my accountant to see if this would be a prudent, long-term investment. He told me I would surely become upside down…

    Like 11
    • Emmet

      I see what you did there!

      Like 2
  4. Derek

    These are classed as the same as sidecar outfits, in that they weigh below a certain amount so you’re allowed to drive them on a motorbike licence. A pal of mine used to be into Robins (the 70s predecessor) and could pedal them quite quickly; the trick to defeating gravity was to keep your foot down through corners.
    The engine’s Austin 7-derived, incidentally.

    Like 2
  5. Craig

    Yet again all facts based on the top gear prog. They never had handling problems, I know people who where involved in making the prog (it was filmed in our county)they had to be specially weighted on the front corners to make them rollover .
    Reliants cars from the 50’s onwards always had fibreglass bodies with steel chassis.
    With their own engs, the earlier versions ( with motorcycle front forks) used the Austin seven 750cc eng.

    Like 4
  6. ClassicCarFan

    No, the engine in the Reliant Rialto and Robin is not based on an Austin Seven engine.

    There was an earlier generation Reliant engine years before that was…but by the time of the introduction of the Robin in 1973 it was a new OHV design with 750cc, later upgraded to 850cc. from the Reliant website:

    “1939 saw the introduction of the first Reliant made engine, a 747cc side-valve unit that was based on the Austin 7 engine. This was then followed in 1962 by the Reliant 600cc OHV engine that was based on a Chinese copy of a Standard engine. This was updated several times into a 848cc engine” “

    Like 1
    • Bill McCoskey


      Thanks for clarifying the issue, You beat me to it!

      I visited the Reliant factory in the mid 1990s when a Tatra friend of mine, Tim Bishop, was the primary engineer for Reliant. He was very proud to hand me a Robin’s 4 cylinder machined aluminum engine block, waiting to be assembled into a new engine. To my astonishment, the entire engine block weighed an amazing 7 pounds!

      Tim took us on a tour of the factory assembly line, and I was surprised at how small the factory was, and it was a beehive of human activity, no robotic systems were seen. I can also agree that the entire body was fiberglass with a galvenized ladder type frame.

      Considering how cheaply these were priced compared to most of the cars offered in the UK, they were very well engineered and constructed vehicles, and I always wanted to bring one of the van versions back to the US. [The van was like this wagon, but without the rear side windows.]

      Like 1
  7. Malcolm Boyes

    The only way to have a three wheeled car is to have two wheels in the front like the Berkeley and Morgan and the new trikes out there. With that setup they handle like a four fact the Berk with front wheel drive handled better than its four wheeled counterpart because the rear suspension on the 4’s was swing ankle. I outcornered a couple of 4 wheelers in my Berkley T60 and, believe me, your biggest issue was understeer not rolling over.

    Like 3
  8. Gerard Frederick

    Research suggests that a 3-wheeler which has 2 wheels in front and one in the rear handles appreciably better than the configuration used by Reliant. I have always wondered why they used the obviously inferior choice of wheel placement. Having said that, the vehicles they produced were perfectly safe as long as the driver didn´t try to outcorner a TR3. I think the Top Gear programs ridiculing the little car were very funny, but also rather unfair. In reality, it was a cute, viable little car, even if never popular outside the UK or with people taller than 5´10¨.

    Like 4
    • Neil Harris

      I’m 6′ 3″ and drove Reliants for many years as I only had a full motorcycle licence. The layout selected gave a 4 seater car, with space for luggage. I folded the back seat down and brought a motorcycle back from Germany many years ago. Try doing that with a Morgan/Berkley etc.

  9. Dr Ron

    It’s GONE already!

  10. smokeymotors

    Unsafe just looking at it, take it thru a hair pin turn, yikes! well maybe a good thing it’s to slow, good for a gated comunity run, at least you could stay dry in the rain.

  11. Ohio Rick

    Just for the record Top Gear modified the suspension for their Reliant Riot to ensure instability.

    Like 1
  12. Steve Clinton

    But what do you do when there’s a ‘buy three, get one free’ sale at the local tire store?

    • Tv

      A new spare tire.

      Like 1
  13. rodknee

    There is nothing practical, useful or financially smart about buying that car. And yet, I still want it.

    Like 1
  14. Wayne

    Steve Clinton, You then a full size spare tire!

    Like 2
  15. ClassicCarFan

    Thanks Craig for pointing that out. I saw this article and just wondered how long it would be until someone who watches Top Gear pitched in with some inaccurate fats on the handling.

    I get it, Top Gear is much loved by many people. it’s fun, but it’s a comedy, slap-stick. people enjoy the sniggering school-boy humor, the “blokes” being rude to each other and about everything. My kids thought it was hilarious – when they were about middle school age. The jokes are scripted, the stunts (as pointed out for the Reliant feature) are staged, fake.

    But seriously, if you actually want to learn anything about cars you need to look elsewhere. I always felt it was aimed at the sort of “enthusiast” who could quote you the BHP and torque figures for the Bugatti Veyron vs the McLaren F1 verbatim….but most likely couldn’t change the brake rotors and pads on their own car.

    Like 3
  16. Steven Doan

    So ugly I WANT IT…

  17. Titus Ragalie

    Hey that’s my car! I just bought it! You can check out my progress on Instagram @the_guy_with_the_cars. I’ve pretty much ironed out all the issues so far, now I’m just tackling the cosmetics.

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