December 20, 2013 by admin
After 65 years, Reliant finally ended production on 14 February 2001. To understand the company and why many people believe that the end of Reliant is a great loss we need to understand a bit more about the history.
Three wheelers and their variants
The company’s roots can be traced back to 1935 when Tom Williams, left Raleigh (famous for bikes) to make his own interpretation of the Safety Seven, a three wheeled four seater car equipped with a 742cc v-twin engine. Popular belief is that the name Reliant was chosen because some of the components were already stamped with the letter R. In addition Williams also bought the rights a van version and launched it as a Reliant in 1935.
JAP motorcycle engines were used by Reliant instead of the Austin 7 power in 1937, but Reliant later started to build its own engines. In 1953, the company launched the Regal, made from wood and alloy, and by 1957, the same thing was clothed in the then new material called glass-fibre or (GRP).
Regal – 300 made each week
With weight saving in mind, in 1963 Reliant improved its three wheeled vehicles by unveiling an all-alloy engine that proved to have surprising tuning potential. The sixties and seventies were boom years for Reliant, when tens of thousands of three wheelers known by many as “Plastic Pigs” were released from the Two Gates factory that straddled the A5 near Tamworth.
Reliant Kitten was another attempt by Reliant to move the three-wheeler design onto four wheels. (A previous attempt, the Rebel of 1964 to 1973 was not very successful). The Ogle-styled Kitten was essentially a Robin with an extra wheel and a Reliant engine up rated to 848cc producing 40bhp. Whilst a good concept competition from the Mini, Fiat 127 and the Renault 4 made things tough and only 4074 were built. Nowadays, the Kitten is seen as a good donor car for a basic electric vehicle conversion.
Cruelly mocked by comedians and savaged by Esther Rantzen and other consumer champions, the Robin achieved cult status. However, whilst the Robin had a lyal fan club and second-hand values stayed high sales gradually dropped through the eighties. The re-style Robin of 1990 did very little to help and after passing through a series of owners, the company left Two Gates in 1999.
The Robin ceased production on 14 February 2001 and now Reliant is concentrating on importing small cars from Spain and Italy
Reliant sports cars (Sabres and Scimitars)
It was in the sixties that Reliant started making cars that appealed to petrolheads. The Reliant Scimitar appeared in 1964 as a 2.3 litre 2+2 coupe.
The real innovation came later when the was a bold attempt to produce a high performance GT car with the practicality of an estate car. After much head-scratching they succeeded in designing an estate car that didn’t look like an estate. The GTE was a bold design which was to prove long lasting. It was also the first car with split and folding rear seats, allowing a long flat luggage space (or a bed!).
Fitted with a three litre Ford engine and later with the 2.8 V6, the car was no slouch either, making for a fast, stylish and altogether unique car. The car received a face lift in 1975 (after 9,000 had been produced) when a wider, longer car with a new chassis was introduced. Production peaked in 1978 when fifty cars a week were being produced. The Scimitar GTC also made an appearance providing open top motoring for Scimitar fans. Scimitar production finally ceased in 1986. Reliant’s next venture into the world of sports cars wasn’t until 1984 when they released the Nissan powered SS1.
The diminutive two seater isn’t a car with much presence and whilst it sold in small quantities, it never proved a hit like the Scimitar. Production continued right up until 1992 when a revised version named the Sabre was launched.
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