End of the three-wheeled Reliant is no laughing matter

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The Independent Online

British industry regrets to announce the death of another source of comic jokes - the three-wheeled Reliant Robin will end production in December.

British industry regrets to announce the death of another source of comic jokes - the three-wheeled Reliant Robin will end production in December.

Some might think it was sheer lack of fashion that doomed the car, but fans say the price was simply too high, about £9,000 for the three-wheeled machine, top speed: 80mph, or 95mph with following wind, downhill, on ice.

A small, four-wheeled family car starts at about £6,000.

Reliant, based in Burntwood in Staffordshire, is among the last British car makers. "What will our nation of comedians and funnymen do for cheap laughs?" asked a Reliant spokesman. He may have been offering a hostage to fortune, because the company will unveil the first of its new generation of four-wheel machines next month at the British International Motor Show in Birmingham.

The Robin and its relatives, being three-wheeled, are officially classed as motorcycles, so require half as much road tax as a standard car. The three-wheel Reliant Regal van gained immortality, or perhaps confirmed its notoriety, by being used as the "company car" of the spivvy Del Boy Trotter in the BBC series Only Fools and Horses. About 44,000 Reliants are trundling around Britain's roads, getting up to 90 miles per gallon. In 1992, astonished traffic police saw a souped-up version with a tuned 1,000cc Nissan engine (rather than the standard 850cc) pass them at 102mph on the M20 in Kent. The driver was caught and fined.

The Reliant company was founded in 1935 to build vans, and did not produce its first car until 1952. But they proved popular, notably in Austria and Holland; the Russians have built a slightly larger version called the Fox.

The company hit the financial rocks in the mid-1990s. It was bought from nearbankruptcy in 1996 for just £305,000 by a consortium led by Kevin Leech, a Jersey financier and three-wheel enthusiast who (besides owning four of the cars before he bought the company) also owns Land's End and John o'Groat's.

The firm aims to mark the end of a motoring era in a "blaze of glory" by producing special edition Robin 65s, hand-built with a numbered plaque inscribed with the original owner's name, and costing £10,000. Each will be in "anniversary metallic gold", with alloy wheels, chrome handles, a rear wipe wash, a walnut dashboard, driving lamps, stainless steel exhaust, and leather upholstery.

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