Reliant Robin

Were these the worst cars ever to besmirch Britain's roads?

Flipping Reliant Robins!

This car, designed by Tom Karen, was launched in 1973 and had three incarnations (Mk I, II and III) between then and St. Valentine’s Day 2001.


• Engine:700 cc-850 cc. Aluminium
• Power:32 – 40 brake horse power
• Top speed: 80 miles per hour
• Acceleration: 0-60 in 16.1 secs
• Cylinders: 4
• Weight: 400kg
• Wheels: 3!!

Main Selling Points

The main selling point of the Reliant Robin was its affordability. The fuel consumption was incredibly low because of the light glass fibre body and the world’s first all-aluminium engine.

Three-wheeler's were also cheap to tax because, technically, they were classed as a motorcycle and side car, are taxed and insured as such, and can be driven with a motorcycle licence.

The car’s creators called it a design ‘classic’ and were proud of the fact that everything was developed very cheaply. It’s thrifty ways and quirky looks (it was affectionately dubbed ‘The Plastic Pig’), gained it a cult following. Unfortunately, not everyone agreed.

The Classic Joke Car

The Reliant Robin became the target of many jokes. Jasper Carrott, the British comedian, returned to the subject numerous times. He often referred to the slowness of the vehicle, once quipping about the tail-back of milk floats trying to overtake.

Because of the inherent instability of such a light vehicle, it was impossible to go at high speeds because of the risk of ‘flipping’.

‘It is a wonder how anybody in the north survived the 1970’s.’ So said Jeremy Clarkson about the Robin in ‘Top Gear’ (Series 15, Episode 1). Although the piece lacked balance, the view that the Reliant Robin was becoming a national joke definitely took hold of our psyche.In the episode, Clarkson repeatedly rolled the car over and got passers-by to push it back on to it’s wheels (this led to a spate of practical jokes where cars parked outside owners' homes were turned onto their roofs).

There is a serious point here because reducing the weight to increase the MPG should not be done at the expense of safety, comfort, space or performance. Similarly, using a bag of cement to ballast the passenger seat for cornering is definitely not to be recommended.

Where’s my Steering Wheel?

Towards the end of its life, the Robin became the target of the consumer affairs programme ‘That’s Life’ presented by Esther Rantzen. The fact that the steering wheel kept coming off led to the re-call of several vehicles.

What do the Books Say?

Significantly, the Reliant Robin features in two books:

• ‘The Worst Cars Ever Made’ by Giles Chapman
• ‘Crap Cars’ by Richard Porter.

How About the Polls?

Not much better, I’m afraid.

• An ‘Auto Express’ poll rated the Robin as the 8th worst ever.
• In 2013, a poll for ‘The Independent’ was in no doubt that it was the worst of all time.

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