Three-wheeled automobiles are some of the most unique vehicles on the market. Most of them have two wheels in the front and one in the rear to prevent them from tipping over when the vehicle is turned. There are models, however that defy this pattern and instead have one tire in front and two in the back. One example of this type of three-wheeler was the Reliant Robin, a very popular car in northern England. Its most popular feature: it was known to tip over whenever the car turned.
You may think a car like this would not survive for very long, but in fact the Reliant Robin was manufactured for about 27 years, with the last model released in 2002. With the dangers the Robin posed, it is surprising how popular the Robin was and how long it was manufactured.
The Reliant Robin was featured on an episode of BBC’s Top Gear with host Jeremy Clarkson taking a red Robin out for a drive in northern England where the Robin was most popular. In this comical clip, Clarkson constantly tips over his Robin while passersby, mostly British celebrities, help him flip it back over. He later meets with a Reliant Robin enthusiast groupwhere Robins are painted in every color (including bright pink), and the enthusiasts explain to Clarkson why they love their Robins.
According to the clip, Robins were popular in northern England because they were classified as motorcycles because they lacked a fourth wheel. With this classification, the Robin was cheaper to register and insure for the mining and working-class communities of northern England. The Robin was also useful during winter. Since it was so light, the Robin rarely got stuck in the snow as they would just glide over the top of snow banks.
Even though there were hazards with driving the Robin, they were still popular. So how do the Robin enthusiasts keep their Robins from tipping over? They suggest putting a large cement block or heavy toolbox in the passenger seat to act as a counterweight. They also recommend driving in a straight line.
“Robin.” Reliant Owners Club. http://www.reliantownersclub.co.uk/robin.html (accessed April 19, 2012).
“Rolling a Reliant Robin – Top Gear – BBC.” YouTube. “Robin.” Reliant Owners Club. http://www.reliantownersclub.co.uk/robin.html (accessed April 19, 2012).
Verdin, Mike, “End of the Road For Reliant Robin,” BBC News, September 27, 2000. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/945083.stm (accessed April 19, 2012).
Robin Valencia is the Graduate Assistant for the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.