Historic Car Brands
When the Raleigh Bicycle Company discontinued the manufacture of three-wheeled vehicles in 1934, works manager T L Williams and a colleague E S Thompson decided to build their own vehicle in Williams’ back garden. Their home-built prototype closely resembled the Karryall van previously built by Raleigh and was licensed in January 1935.
This seven-hundredweight (cwt) or 356kg gross vehicle mass (GVM) van had a steel chassis and was powered by a 600cc single-cylinder engine, driving the rear wheels through a three-speed gearbox and chain drive. The body had a hardwood frame, with aluminium panels attached to it, like other cars of the time.
Having a motorcycle front end, mounted in the open air, it was essentially a motorcycle fitted with a box body. The initial prototype had handlebars and the driver sat centrally on the vehicle astride the engine, much like a motorcyclist. However, after several trials with small local companies, steering was changed to a wheel.
Manufacturing moved to a disused bus depot and in June 1935, the first JAP-powered production Reliant was delivered, but was judged to be under-powered.
In March 1936, a repowered Reliant was released; powered by a twin-cylinder, water-cooled JAP engine and with an increase to eight-cwt (407kg) GVM. The driver no longer sat astride the engine and the vehicle had forward-facing seats.
1950 Reliant Regent Van – Zoom Viewer
In 1938, the Reliant Motor Company started to use the Austin Seven’s 7hp, 747cc, four-cylinder, side-valve engine and when the Austin Car Company ceased production of the engine, Reliant bought the tooling and manufacturing rights. Economy of scale dictated that the Reliant crankcase was sand-cast rather than die-cast.
During World War II, Reliant machined parts for the War effort and in the post-War years, three-wheeler production resumed, with the 10-cwt Regent van that had sliding glass windows in the doors, rather than plastic/canvas side screens. Larger 12cwt Regent and Prince Regent models followed.
1953 Reliant Regal MkI – SV1ambo
In 1952, a four-seat car was launched, initially with a War-surplus-aluminium body, but panel by panel, the company substituted it for fibreglass reinforced plastic (FRP), as their understanding of the material improved and the price of aluminium increased. By 1956, the bodywork of the Mark 3 version of the Reliant Regal was all-FRP, including the floor panels that were previously hardwood.
Reliant tuned the Austin engine and lifted its output to 17.5hp, while retaining its side-valve engine design and continued its production until 1962.
1956 Reliant Regal Mk3 Convertible – SG2012
The Hodge Group bought the majority of Reliant in 1962, selling it 15 years later to the Nash family.
From 1963, the Regal was powered by a purpose-designed, mass-produced, overhead-valve, aluminium-alloy engine – the first in Europe and the UK. Displacement was initially 598cc in the Regal 3/25, but was later upgraded to 700cc in the Regal 3/30.
In the early 1960s, Reliant designed some vehicles for home-grown production in overseas countries. Vehicles were exported in kit form for the countries’ own workforces to assemble.
The first was the Anadol in Turkey, based on a mix of Ford parts and a four-wheel, custom chassis. The Anadol began as two-door and four-door saloons, followed by commercial pickup and van versions. The pickup was produced until the early 1990s.
Sabra – Josef Neefs
A similar endeavour was the Israeli Sabra Sport, powered by a Ford Consul four-cylinder, 1.7-litre engine, with Ford running gear. Reliant was impressed with the design and sold it in the UK as the Sabre, to help Reliant’s company image expand beyond that of a three-wheeled, micro-car maker. The car sold poorly against offerings from Triumph and MG, however.
Reliant Sabre – Charles 01
Later, Reliant bought a prototype design for the replacement Daimler Dart that became the Scimitar Coupe and then the best-selling sporting estate; the Scimitar GTE.
Reliant GTC M – GTC Register
To power the Scimitar GT Coupe and Sabre, Reliant used Zephyr 6 and Consul 4 engines. The Coupe GT could be purchased with the 2.5-litre or the 3.0-litre Essex V6 engines. The 3.0 GTE was powered by the Essex V6 and the axle ratio changed to suit a four-speed gearbox or one with an overdrive unit.
The Scimitar SS1 was released in 1984, with a FRP convertible body and powered by Ford 1300 or 1600 CVH engines. In XR2 tune the latter engine produced 96hp and gave the little dart a top speed of 180km/h. Unfortunately, this car didn’t enjoy the success of the previous Scimitar models.
Reliant Scimitar SS1 – Charles 01
Scimitars were expensive, compared with other British sports car offerings and production ceased in 1987.
After production at Reliant ceased, Middlebridge Scimitar Ltd acquired the GTE manufacturing rights and produced a 2.9-litre version with electronic fuel injection and five-speed, Ford T9 gearbox with the Ford A4LD four-speed auto as an option.
1990 Middlebridge Scimitar GTE – Foshie
The fifth Middlebridge Scimitar built was delivered to Princess Anne, who was a keen Scimitar fan. Only 78 Scimitars were produced by Middlebridge before the company went into receivership in 1990.
Reliant bought out Bond Cars in 1969 and used the Bond name for the 1970s Bond Bug, sporty three-wheeler designed by Ogle designer Tom Karen. The Bug used a shortened Reliant Regal chassis and other mechanical parts, but many parts, such as the front swing arm, were new designs that were used on the 1973 Reliant Robin.
Bond Bug Three-Wheeler – Mick
Reliant built four-wheeled versions of its three-wheelers and the first was the Reliant Rebel, which had three-quarters of the rear chassis design of the Regal, but Triumph Herald front suspension and Austin steering.
1969 Reliant Rebel 700 – Homer Simpson
The styling of the Rebel was intended to make the car look unique so it did not seem like a four-wheeled version of the Regal; the Rebel came in saloon, estate and van models.
The Rebel engines were the same 600cc and 700cc units used in the Regal, but with higher compression ratios. The last model came with a 750 cc version.
1977 Reliant Kitten DL Estate – Andrew Bone
The Reliant Kitten was the four-wheeled version of the 1970s Reliant Robin, designed to replace the Rebel and powered by an 850cc engine derivative.
After Kitten production stopped in 1982, the rights were sold to Sipani Automobiles in India who made the vehicle near-exactly the same, but with the name Sipani Dolphin.
Between 1983 and 1990, a Kitten-based, utility/pickup vehicle called the Reliant Fox was produced in the UK. It was based on an original development by Reliant to design a vehicle for the Greek company MEBEA.
Reliant TW9 848cc – Charles 01
Reliant also made a small, three-wheeled, chassis/cab called the Reliant TW9 that proved popular with public utility companies and councils, because of its ability to negotiate narrow alleyways.
Reliant’s expertise in composite car-body production also saw the company produce lightweight body-shells for Ford RS200 rally cars and a fibreglass-bodied MetroCab.
During the early 1990s, the owner of Reliant was a major housing developer and when the 1992 recession hit, the company folded and Reliant was sold to Beans Engineering.
By 1996, Jonathan Heynes took over at Reliant and created a new range of Robin, Rialto and SLX models. Sales doubled as a result, because previous Reliant vehicles were basic, without even the option of metallic paint.
In 1998, the Robin model was given a facelift and development of a Kitten for the modern age continued. However, the axe as about to fall.
Throughout its history, Reliant’s main business remained three-wheeled vehicles that didn’t require a car-licence test. That situation ended in 2001 when the EU eliminated the provision for a motorcycle licence holder to drive a three- or four-wheeled vehicle up to the weight of 550kg. The change severely affected Reliant’s market share.
Production continued of the Robin model until 2001, when shareholders decided to import Ligier microcars and Piaggio Ape three-wheelers instead. The last Reliant was finished in metallic gold, to celebrate 65 years of car production.