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The History Of Reliant



This article is about the car manufacturer. For Chrysler's "K car", see Plymouth Reliant.

Reliant was a British car manufacturer. The company was traditionally based at Tamworth in Staffordshire, England, but in 2001 it moved to nearby Cannock. It ceased manufacturing cars shortly afterwards.

Reliant was founded in 1935 by T L Williams to take over the manufacture of the Raleigh three-wheeler delivery van. Williams had designed this in 1933 and Raleigh no longer wished to produce it. It was powered by a 750 cc V-twin engine driving the rear wheels through a 3-speed gearbox and shaft drive. In 1939 the engine was replaced by Reliant's version of the straight-four cylinder 747 cc Austin 7 side-valve engine. In 1952 a four-seat car version was launched, and in 1956 the bodywork was changed to glass fibre.

The company is notable for building composite-bodied specialist vehicles, such as the sports cars Reliant Scimitar (including the unusual sports estate Scimitar GTE) and Reliant Sabre; and the infamous three-wheeled Reliant Regal, Reliant Robin and Reliant Rialto economy cars.

After absorbing Bond Cars, which had also been a maker of three-wheeler cars – though in their case with more stable rear engines – Reliant used the Bond name for the iconic 1970s Bond Bug, a sporty three-wheeler designed by the Ogle designer Tom Karen.

Reliant also built four-wheeled version of the Regal and Robin, called the Reliant Rebel and Reliant Kitten respectively. Between 1983 and 1990 a utility/pickup vehicle called the Reliant Fox was produced. This was based on an original development by the Greek company MEBEA on Reliant mechanicals and was jointly developed for production by MEBEA and Reliant; it had originally been built in Greece by MEBEA between 1979 and 1983. Reliant also made a small three-wheeled commercial vehicle called the Reliant TW9, later sold by other companies as the Ant, which was basically a chassis and cab, onto which a custom rear body was fitted and used by public utility companies.

Most of these quirky and distinctly British small cars used Europe's first mass-produced lightweight overhead valve aluminium alloy engine, initially 598 cc, but enlarged through the years to a final 848 cc in 1975. Early Reliant three-wheelers used an engine derived from the 747cc 1930s Austin Austin 7. Reliant's own aluminium alloy engine is also used as the replacement for the Austin Seven engine by the 750 Motor Club in their Formula 750 motor sport.

Reliant's expertise in the area of composite car body production has also seen the company produce lightweight body shells for Ford RS200 rally cars and a glass fibre-bodied taxi, the MetroCab — the first to have full wheelchair provision, manufactured by a division of Kamkorp.

Reliant has provided designs to several other manufacturers, including Autocars in Israel and Otosan in Turkey in the 1960s, and MEBEA in Greece and Sipani in India in the 1970s.

In 2001, production rights for the Reliant Robin were sold to a Sudbury-based firm called B&N Plastics, but production ceased in 2002. Reliant concentrated on importing "speciality" vehicles from European manufacturers, including Piaggio, Bultaco and Ligier. The firm also had plans to import the Indian San Storm sports car, but this plan never came to fruition.

  • Regal 1951-1972
  • Sabre 1961-1964
  • Scimitar GT 1964-1970
  • Rebel 1964-1973
  • FW5 1966-1975
  • TW9 1967-1987
  • Scimitar GTE/GTC 1968-1982
  • Robin 1973-1981, 1989-2002
  • Kitten 1975-1982
  • FW11 1977
  • Rialto 1981-1998
  • Fox 1983-1990
  • Scimitar SS1 1984-1990
  • Scimitar SST 1990-1992
  • Scimitar Sabre 1992-1995

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