Three Wheels on My Wagon...
When Someone Took Dad's Reliant Robin for a Joy Ride and Only Got as Far as the End of the Street!
'Where's Your Other Wheel Then, Mate?'
My father always owned a three-wheeled vehicle of some description as far back as I can remember. There were his motor-cycle combinations dating back to the late sixties and his Reliant Robins of later years, but he drew the line at owning a "bubble" car, which at one time was amazingly popular considering it had a reputation for being unstable with its odd wheel configuration of two at the front and one at the back. The vastly over-sized single door, when opened, exposed the interior of nearly one whole side of the vehicle.
Dad's Motorbike and Side-Car in his Pre-Reliant Days
The Motorbike and Side-Car Era
Motor-cycle combinations were fun; dad had a lovely silver and black one with matching chequered trim. The side-car looked just like a one-man rocket ship and for me as a child with a vivid imagination, this was exactly what it was. I would stand up in the single-seater side-car with my head through the soft-top roof and the wind in my hair. Mum would ride pillion and dad would be up front - just the job for a family of three that couldn't afford any other mode of private transport. We would pop along at quite a reasonable speed but I don't think we'd have survived long in today's traffic. Mum always had a fear of motor-bike and side-car parting company but when we watched "On the Buses" on the big screen she couldn't stop laughing when this happened to the main characters Stan and Olive Butler as they negotiated a roundabout too fast.
After this, dad had a huge, wooden side-car custom built which would easily take two passengers and even a bit of luggage. It served him well until the day he decided to change the colour. Removing the old paint with a blow lamp on a windy day was not a good idea and the side-car left our lives in a spectacular sheet of flame. Dad just managed to save the attached motor bike, a BSA Shooting Star, and I remember mum shouting and screaming blue murder, dashing down the garden path and out into the back lane with my old, pink baby bath full of water.
It seemed as a child I was destined to continue the three wheel trend when one Xmas I became the proud owner of my very own tricycle, complete with the most capacious boot one could imagine. My friend up the street had a home made wooden go cart also with three wheels and together we'd race down the back lane to our hearts' content. I had a wooden wheelbarrow too but I don't suppose it qualified as vehicle in its own right although I often attempted to take the cat for a ride in it.
'Rolls Royce? No, it's a Reliant Robin!'
In his post motor-bike and side-car days, dad took all the ribbing that went along with being the owner of a Reliant Robin completely in his stride: "What happened to your other wheel then, mate? Did it drop off?" was a frequently asked question when he was out in the front street giving his car a good rub down on a Sunday afternoon. "What's the difference between a Reliant Robin and a Jehovah's Witness?" they would ask...
"You can shut the door on a Jehovah's Witness."
He would laugh along with them and even invented a few jokes of his own. In fact he himself had been known to drive along singing: "There's three wheels on my wagon, and I'm still rolling along, them Cherokees are after me and I'm singing a happy song." The only time he didn't see the funny side was when some revellers took his beloved three-wheeler for a joy ride but it was hardly a getaway car; they only reached the bottom of the street where, deliberately or not, they crashed it into a wooden fence.
'I'm Still Rolling Along...'
The Rolls Royce That Never Was
I was often in for a bit of flack myself when friends' dads acquired flashy Renault 16's at the start of the seventies. I remember trying to get my own back by saying that dad owned a vehicle that had the initials R.R. secretly hoping they'd think I meant Rolls Royce. I even took a picture of dad standing beside a real roller, but somehow he didn't look convincing.
History of the Reliant
My mum, Lucy - a passenger travelling in style!
The back Lane and One of Dad's Reliant Robins
The not so reliant Reliant
I don't suppose I really minded that our only mode of transport was inferior by most people's standards. As long as we got to the beach and back with or without assistance from the RAC, dad was happy. Sometimes it was all get out and push because some of "Them thar Devon hills are mighty steep," and often when the reluctant reliant wouldn't start at all dad would have to run alongside it with the door open and jump in when the engine eventually sprang to life. It was almost as comical as watching: "The Flintstones" as they started up their stone age vehicles with their feet poking through the floor.
At least life was never boring, even a trip to the petrol station was an adventure in itself. Half a gallon and a drop of Red-Ex and dad's Reliant would go for miles. - if he could get it to start. He would invariably drive off forgetting to put the petrol cap back on or leave his glasses on the bonnet.
Even in later years when money was no longer an issue, dad would never have swapped his beloved three-wheeler for a proper family car. He had his favourite Dean Martin songs playing on his eight-track stereo all the way to town and to him; a vehicle with a wheel in each corner just wouldn't have been the same. To be honest I don't think he would ever have managed to pass a full driving test; his eyesight just wasn't up to it, but in all his years on the road he never had one accident (this was probably more due to luck than anything). He had absolutely no idea how to deal with roundabouts and traffic lights, which according to him were purely for ornamental purposes.
Reliant owners are generally a friendly, happy-go-lucky bunch just like dad who wave to each other as they pass by and the popularity of the sit com "Only Fools and Horses" has given the vehicle something akin to celebrity status. Constructed of fibreglass, there has never been anything quite like the Reliant Robin. They have stopped making them now - they belong to the twentieth century as does my father. "I'm just taking the car to the garage for a service, get the kettle on for when I come back," he waved to my mother one afternoon in January 1999, then he drove off down the street just as he'd always done. Like an old cowboy riding off into the sunset, that was his final trip in his beloved vehicle; he reached the garage, left it there for repair and dropped dead outside in the street as he made his way home.
Our back lane in Sithney Street, Plymouth
Dad and his Reliant Robin 1981
Mr Bean and the Reliant - a Funny Sketch
© 2015 Stella Kaye