Mention Reliant Cars and most people associate them either with the comical Reliant Robin three wheeler or the more beefy Scimitar sports estate. In fact the company dates back as far as 1935. T.L. Williams, an engineer by trade, set the company up from his home in Tamworth to build three wheeled vehicles. His first prototype van was licensed on 1st January 1935.
The vans sold well and Reliant thrived even producing their own 747cc side valve engine. The outbreak of World War Two stifled its growth however whilst their engineering expertise was used for the war effort.
...to passenger cars
Things picked up again after 1945, with the factory at Tamworth growing as demand for the quirky three wheelers increased. It was 1953 before the first passenger car appeared, named the Regal.
This was an aluminium alloy bodied car, sat atop a wooden frame. It too was a wheel short of convention.
It wasn't until 1956 that Reliant began using glass fibre, a skill which was to stand it in good stead for years to come. The expertise in this area allowed it to expand into export markets and in particular to produce the 'Anadol'. Sounding more like a headache tablet, this car was in fact a Reliant designed and built saloon. It wasn't built in this country however. Produced in Turkey, over 100,000 Anadols were sold.
'Rebel' and 'Kitten'
Reliant have been a bit hit and miss with the naming of their cars. 1965 saw the introduction of the four wheeled 'Rebel' which was superseded by the 'Kitten' ten years later. The Kitten was even licenced for manufacture in India. Both were simply four wheeled versions of the three wheeled cars using the same drivetrain. The Kitten was superceded by the 'Fox' utility vehicle which remained in production until 1991.
The famous Robin three wheeler appeared in 1972 with a host of variants introduced ten years later with two and three door versions and a van.
Cars for petrolheads...
It was in the sixties that Reliant started making cars that appealed to petrolheads. The Reliant Scimitar appeared in 1964 as a 2.3 litre 2+2 coupe.
The real innovation came later when the was a bold attempt to produce a high performance GT car with the practicality of an estate car. After much head-scratching they succeeded in designing an estate car that didn't look like an estate. The GTE was a bold design which was to prove long lasting. It was also the first car with split and folding rear seats, allowing a long flat luggage space (or a bed!).
Fitted with a three litre Ford engine and later with the 2.8 V6, the car was no slouch either, making for a fast, stylish and altogether unique car. The car received a face lift in 1975 (after 9,000 had been produced) when a wider, longer car with a new chassis was introduced. Production peaked in 1978 when fifty cars a week were being produced. The Scimitar GTC also made an appearance providing open top motoring for Scimitar fans. Scimitar production finally ceased in 1986.
Reliant's next venture into the world of sports cars wasn't until 1984 when they released the Nissan powered SS1.
The diminutive two seater isn't a car with much presence and whilst it sold in small quantities, it never proved a hit like the Scimitar. Production continued right up until 1992 when a revised version named the Sabre was launched.
In recent years the company has been through financial turmoil with the company going into receivership in 1988. It was acquired by Beans industries only to go into receivership again in 1994 despite the Reliant part of the business being healthy. The company had a few more hiccups before being acquired by Glen Investments who own it now. The company is now under the direction of Stewart Halstead (ex-TVR) and is enjoying renewed success after working with Piaggio and Ligier to distribute each other's products.
Rumours are that Reliant are working on a new sportscar. They've certainly got the design and engineering expertise to produce good cars, the question just remains can they come up with the goods in the styling department and a decent name for it!