Few classic cars polarise opinion like the Reliant Robin and Rialto. Bought in period because it offered conventional motoring for those with only a motorbike licence, the Robin also provided ultra-cheap transport for four thanks to its 60mpg engine.
But even in period the Robin and its owners were an easy target for those who sneered at its lack of stability and performance, along with those faintly ridiculous looks. Nowadays though, it’s a different story. The Robin and Rialto are cherished for being slightly bonkers pieces of British motoring history, many buying it almost as an anti-style statement.
With a plastic bodyshell that doesn’t rust, potentially spectacular economy and excellent usability thanks to the spacious cabin, the Robin and Rialto make a lot more sense than you might think. Sure they’re hardly the last word in dynamics and values will never be high – so their investment potential is limited – but if you want some fun on the cheap, few cars are more affordable than these quirky Reliants, and your mates probably won’t laugh as hard as when you turn up in one of these.
Which one to buy?
As Robin, then Rialto, then Robin production progressed, these three-wheelers got ever more highly equipped. But the later cars don’t have the charm or collectability of the earlier cars – although there is a following for the later special editions, of which there were many.
So the first question has to be what do you want your Reliant for? If it’s for some fun and because it’s a quirky piece of British heritage it’s one of the original Robins that you need to track down, in either 750 or 850 form. The latter is more usable as it has that extra 100cc, but at this end of the market you’re really buying on condition rather than specification.
If you’re buying something that you’ll use more than a few times a year, the later cars are more luxurious but they’re still not especially quick – but the build quality did improve too. Track down one of the final cars built by Reliant – the Robin 65 – and you can enjoy such luxuries as alloy wheels, a sunroof, leather trim and walnut trim. And if the idea of a luxurious Reliant Robin doesn’t strike you as a bit odd, we don’t know what does.
Performance and spec
Reliant Robin 850 Engine 848cc, four-cylinder Power 40bhp @ 5500rpm Torque 46lb ft @ 3500rpm Top speed 80mph 0-60mph 16.1sec Consumption 60mpg Gearbox Four-speed manual
• That glassfibre bodyshell means corrosion isn’t an issue, but crash damage most certainly is. You’ll have seen footage of Robins being cornered at speed, and tipped over just for fun. While most owners dote on their cars, some don’t so you need to ensure you’re not buying a Robin that was bought just as a joke and now it’s being off-loaded.
• The chassis wasn’t galvanised until 1982, so any car made before this has probably got a really rusty frame – even later cars can corrode badly. The areas most likely to have corroded are around the gearbox mounts and front uprights, while the A-frame that holds the front wheel was never galvanised, so expect corrosion here – replacement frames are available.
• The engine isn’t especially powerful but it still lasts pretty well if it’s looked after. An all-alloy unit with steel wet liners and a three-bearing crank, the most likely issue is with overheating, so check for signs of a blown head gasket.
• With so little power to transmit, and such a low kerb weight (the Robin tips the scales at all of 436kg, or 962lb), the transmission has an easy time of things. The four-speed gearbox tends to last well, with post-1992 units the strongest of the lot.
• If there is a gearbox problem, it’s likely to be tired synchromesh on second gear. If the car has been used for towing or the owner has used the gearbox for slowing rather than the brakes, it’s likely to have taken its toll on the transmission.
• The clutch is a weak area. It’s not especially difficult or costly to replace a clutch, but it’s one of the things that’s most likely to need some TLC on any Robin.
1973: The Reliant Robin replaces the Regal. Power (all 32bhp) comes from a 750cc engine. 1975: There’s now an 848cc engine with 40bhp. 1982: The Robin joins the Rialto, with a restyled body and galvanised chassis. The Rialto stays in production until 1998, as an entry-level model. 1984: The Rialto MkII appears, with a High Torque Economy engine. 1989: The Rialto is replaced by the Robin MkII. 1999: The Robin MkIII features teardrop-shaped headlamps (from the Vauxhall Corsa) and a reprofiled bodyshell but it’s still the same basic car. 2000: Reliant announces the end of Robin production, and opens orders for the run-out model the Robin 65. 2001: Reliant builds it final Robin, but production then moves over to B&N Plastics, which continues to build the car under licence as the BN-1 and the more highly equipped BN-2. 2002: After just 40 or so cars are made, Robin production ends, with B&N Plastics going bust.
So there’s a little bit more to the Reliant Robin than Only Fools and Horses, and although prices remained strong due to the motorcycle licence loophole, you can find usable cars for less than £2000. Projects are anywhere from £500-£1500, although some of the later special edition cars can still fetch strong money.