Design Flashback: Redesigning Reliant’s Robin


The designer of the mk.3 Robin recalls the story of its somewhat humble development process

Reliant was a truly great company. Founded in 1936 by a man in his garage, it grew rapidly and became Britain’s second biggest independent car manufacturer by the 1960s. The famous three-wheelers were topped by the Regal, which sold 130,000 and had a chassis designed by a top Formula One engineer (John Crosthwaite, who designed Graham Hill’s winning BRMs).

It had an advanced composite body (they were second in the world – after the Chevrolet Corvette – to make whole composite bodies, a year before Lotus) and they had the first all-aluminium engine in the UK, that’s still in high demand today as a race engine. That was in 1962 and it was the Reliant Regal (or ‘Delboy Van’ as we all know it).

So successful was the three-wheeler, that it was the backbone of the company and funded the Scimitar GTE. It also formed the basis for four-wheeled cars for export as Knock-Down Kits to Turkey, Greece and the rest of the world. The successor was the Reliant Robin, and the first one was designed by none other than Tom Karen OBE.

Sadly, a succession of bad management and recessions bought the famous company to its knees… and this is when I joined, with new management (Jonathan Heynes, son of Bill Heynes who was a founder of Jaguar).

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