Robin comes rolling out of the financial ashes

CITY DIARY
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The financial tribulations of the scatterbrained Duchess of York have the insolvency profession salivating like Pavlov's dog. John Alexander, head of insolvency at Pannell Kerr Forster, points out that the Duchess could face bankruptcy and might like to consider the more palatable alternative of an "individual voluntary arrangement''. He notes that as a bankrupt the footloose one could be turfed out of her rented home PDQ. Not so under a voluntary deal where creditors could allow her time to adjust to a more frugal lifestyle.

The three-wheeled Phoenix that is the Reliant Robin is rising from the ashes of insolvency - again. Reliant Motors, which went bust for the third time in four years just before Christmas, is up for sale, proving that the fibreglass horror can still survive in the face of industrial logic after more than 60 years.

"Dealers are crying out for the car,'' said administrator Kevin Murphy. "So far we have had 50 inquiries for the company, some of them very serious.''

Unfortunately, this sudden show of interest came too late for the bulk of the workforce. The administrators sacked 95 people only last week. That leaves Reliant - a subsidiary of the private engineering components company, Avonex - with just 12 employees and about 80 cars in production - a far cry from the halcyon days of the mid-1970s when it turned over more than pounds 30m and employed 3,700 people in seven factories. Then the Robin (which is still taxed as a motorcycle) was being produced at 330 a week, taking a remarkable 1.25 per cent of the UK car market.

Nothing, however, could disguise the fact that the Robin had a tiny engine, uncertain road holding, limited luggage space, and a price tag that made it more expensive than many four-wheelers. And when Reliant's much-acclaimed Scimitar GT and GTE (Princess Anne did wonders for sales when she was caught speeding in one) began to get too long in the tooth it was downhill all they way.

Evidence emerges that Lazard Brothers is taking its role as adviser to Granada too seriously. Lunch guests at the merchant bank yesterday were astonished to be served a mixed grill consisting of bacon, kidneys, sausages, fried mushrooms and (of course) chips. Limp chips to be precise.

They'll be selling petrol next.

City advisers are moving east in their increasingly desperate search for takeover bid code names. Yesterday's pounds 550m agreed bid by Unichem for Lloyds Chemists provided the novel tags of Ukraine and Latvia. Students of current affairs will quickly realise that this represents a dangerous precedent that can only lead to tears before bedtime. Suppose the bid target had been dubbed Chechnya (yes, I know it doesn't begin with C, but just suppose). You can imagine the potential for confusion given the current troubles.

"It could have been a lot worse,'' agrees a Ukrainian adviser.

The chatter in telephone circles is that it will be an American who eventually takes on the vacant chief executive role at Cable & Wireless. The telecommunications giant has already changed its articles of association to allow a foreign-born leader and the name in the frame is Dick Callahan, the statesmanlike president of US West International, one of the biggest cable companies in the UK. Mr Callahan has the advantage that he is already based in London.

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