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words & and images:  Leanne Gichard

A sideways glance; a full-on stare or mouths wide-open in shock; these are just a few of the reactions that Colin has seen when driving his beloved 1978 Reliant Robin GB Special. Three-wheeled cars just don’t feature on the New Zealand landscape, so it was with great anticipation and fascination that I met up with Colin to see this extraordinary car.

The 1978 Reliant Robin GB (Great Britain) Special is rare – in fact it is the only Reliant Robin in New Zealand and, as Colin explains, quite possibly the only 1978 Reliant Robin GB Special left on the road in the world.  Painted in a crisp white, with a red stripe trim and bright blue decals, the Reliant Robin looks very smart and with vibrant tartan upholstery and trim, retro in style.  “Reliant from time to time produced short-runs of special vehicles.  Normally the vehicle would come out with vinyl trim, but on this occasion they did a GB Special, with the tartan trim and the stripe around the outside, but only built a handful.  That is why they are so rare,” says Colin.

With a fibreglass body and powered by a Reliant 850cc, 4 cylinder, overhead valve, full alloy motor with a 4-speed gearbox, the Reliant Robin is actually very peppy to drive.  “I have no problem keeping up with the 100kmh speed limit or overtaking.  People tend to think that only having one wheel up front would make the vehicle unstable, but it doesn’t; it is just like driving a car with four wheels.  The steering is very direct and the Reliant Robin has a great lock,” Colin says.  The back seats fold down flat like a hatchback and the car has 10” wheels, with drum brakes front and rear.  

So, why three wheels?  Colin explains, “The reason Reliant used three wheels, was that it could be registered as a tricycle in the United Kingdom and you could drive it using a moped licence.  The other advantage was that the road tax was significantly cheaper.  They were also cheap to insure and register.  Reliant did produce a four-wheeler and this was called a Reliant Kitten.  As far as I am aware, there is only one Reliant Kitten in New Zealand at the Southward Car Museum in Paraparaumu.”

Colin tells me there is a very special story behind how he found the car.  “I have photos of the original owner, a British lady, who lived on the outskirts of Nottingham.  When she died, the family rented her house out for 25 years and eventually, when the family wished to dispose of the house, they did a big clean out and in the basement they found a big stack of boxes, and behind those boxes they found the Reliant Robin!  They had no idea the car was there!  As I wanted a Reliant Robin, I got onto the local dealer who was doing a sale on behalf of the family and I rang up and asked some questions.   It was a father and son dealership and the father said ‘You will need to speak to my son’.  I talked to him and he said, ‘Do you want to come around for a test drive?’  I replied, ‘Well, I’m a bit far away.’  He then said, ‘Oh, are you a few hours’ drive away?’ to which I said, ‘No, I am a 30 hour flight away.’  There was a stunned silence on the end of the line, as I explained that I was actually in New Zealand.”  After several discussions and negotiations, Colin purchased the car and arranged to have it shipped to New Zealand.

Colin laughs and relays a funny story about the Reliant Robin. “We had taken the Reliant Robin to Christchurch and Cathy was sitting waiting for me in the car and a man came up and tapped on the window and said, ‘Excuse me, do you know that one of your wheels has come off?’  Cathy tried not to laugh and kept as straight a face as she could and said, ‘Thank you, I will tell my husband!’”

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Judy McAuliffe is a writer, and publisher Essence Mid Canterbury. Her experience in media is extensive and includes approximately 15 years as Creative Director for The Radio Network, writing, and managing the writing of radio advertising, mainly in Invercargill and Greymouth. In the late 1990’s she transferred to Christchurch, moving into an Account Management role with 91ZM. In 2007 she and a business partner set up Essence Mid Canterbury, very quickly adapting her radio-writing skills to print media. Judy became sole owner of Essence Mid Canterbury in June 2014. Judy is a ‘people person’ and has found her niche writing feature stories about the community she lives in and the people who live there. She is also available for freelance writing assignments.