Marqued

Feature

We found one of the only Reliant Robins in the US and it's magnificent

Photography by Clark Aegerter

Today on Marqued, it is none other than the legendary and simply adorable Reliant Robin. Propelled into the hearts and minds of car enthusiasts globally thanks to a hilarious bit by motoring journalist Jeremy Clarkson, the three-wheeler ranks amongst the world’s quirkiest cars.

Its origin story, however, is more clever than you may imagine. In the UK, motorists with a certain motorcycle license were able to operate three or four wheeled vehicles up to 550kg. Niche, but interesting. Designed by Tom Karen of Ogle Design, who also penned the Bond Bug, the Robin sold over 60,000 in its production span.

Ultimately it’s an interesting and fun case study of the history of the economy car from what was once one of the UK’s top automobile manufacturers — a company who certainly wasn’t afraid to be different. Even today, British enthusiasts still celebrate it’s good-humored legacy with dedicated car clubs and events.

But in the US? It takes a certain flavor of enthusiast to collect, let alone import one. Enter Kenny Hrabar and his Reliant Robin — the only known Robin in the state of Utah of among an estimated thirty or so in the entire country. Jokingly, Kenny is the sole member of the Reliant Robin Club of Utah, posting photos to Reliant forums during grocery runs boasting 100% attendance in club activities.

Among those who own a Robin stateside, the enthusiast camaraderie is strong. Their primary base of operations is a Facebook group where tips and tricks, parts, and updates are shared among the tight knit community.

Inspired and refreshed by Kenny and his chipper Robin, we had to learn more. His story is proof that thinking outside of the box and without spending mega dollars, you can get into an incredibly fun car that turns heads wherever you go—a similar lesson we’ve learned in our Marqued-adopted Fiat Panda.

All we can say is we’re really hoping to see more Reliant Robin passion in the US.

Photographed by Clark Aegerter

Marqued: What was your first foray into the quirky cars?

Kenny Hrabar: I've been into cars since high school and have always liked the weirder stuff — cars that people would notice you driving. After seeing Fast and The Furious I bought a bright red Eclipse. It was kind of a piece of junk, but I was into the import tuner Japanese car scene. After that I got a purple Scion xB simply because so many people hated on them and I knew it would get people talking.

After growing up a little, I got into European cars. I had Audis and Volvos, but eventually something drew me to Saabs, because they just do things a little differently. I've actually had 15 of them now, and I tend to gravitate towards the rare versions of things, things that are quirky and hard to find. In addition to my Reliant Robin, I have a 2000 Saab 9-3 Viggen convertible in Lightning Blue which is one of 40 in its color scheme.

The Saab market is pretty polarized. You have the people who hate them and sell them for nothing, which means you can find rarer specs and fix them up, and sell them for top dollar to the niche of enthusiasts who love them.

Marqued: How did your journey lead you to the Reliant Robin?

KH: I've always been one for collecting unique, off-the-wall things, and the Robin fits that bill perfectly. After I saw the famous Top Gear episode, I thought, “Gosh, that'd be so cool to own one of those.” I've been looking for them ever since, but they never pop up in the States. Finally, this one popped up in Detroit and I knew I had to have it.

The history of the vehicle really interests me, as well. Reliant essentially started out as a motorcycle company, and they originally made these three-wheel bikes with bench seats on them. At first, they were primarily owned by farmers and miners, because you only had to pay motorcycle taxes on them and you didn’t need a full driver's license to drive one.

Eventually they started getting a lot of requests for enclosures, so they made an enclosed version and over the years it transformed into a proper car with three wheels. They stopped producing the original Robin in ‘75, but eventually decided to re-design it for the millennium and ended up producing their last three-wheeler, the Robin Mk3, from 1999-2001.

Feature: Reliant RobinFeature: Reliant Robin

Photographed by Clark Aegerter

Marqued: Not many people know about these cars in the US, none the less the history behind them. Do people recognize what it is when they see it, or do you often find yourself or do you have to explain?

KH: I would say probably half the people who talk to me about it know it from Top Gear. When I go to car shows, I often wear a shirt that has a Reliant Robin rolled over sideways with Jeremy Clarkson quotes on it. A lot of those conversations are just reminiscing about how funny the episode was.

The other half of people are just flabbergasted because they've never seen this car, or anything like it, before. I went to a car show a few months ago and won both best original and best modified. It was like winning fastest and slowest car -- It's kind of impossible. Turns out half the people thought it was an original classic and the other half thought I modified a Volkswagen Rabbit or something, so it split the votes.

Photographed by Clark Aegerter

Marqued: Watching Jeremy Clarkson roll the Robin in every scene was pretty hilarious, but what is it like to actually drive one?

KH: Honestly, it doesn't roll over as easily as you'd think. The sweet spot for rolling it is a hard left turn when you're all alone in the car, but a right turn isn’t bad at all. It kind of drives like a '90s Honda Civic or something, where it's just squishy. When you go into a corner it does lean, but it’s not that bad.

It's only like 39 horsepower, but it'll accelerate fine and it keeps up with traffic. It comfortably does 55 to 60mph, but any more than that and it's pretty loud and squirrely. The fastest I’ve gone is 79mph. The owner's manual says 85mph is the top speed, but I think I've got to go on a diet to hit that.

Marqued: How do you connect with other enthusiasts and foster a sense of community for such an uncommon car?

KH: When I got mine, I joined a couple of British Reliant pages and the following for them there is just as prevalent as any other car, so you can always tap into that community. Eventually I met a guy in Portland who told me that he had a page for Reliant owners in North America, but it turned out that he was the only member. I joined up with him and we've been looking for other enthusiasts in the states ever since. We're up to 29 members of the Reliant Owners of North America Club now, and we’re starting to get the word out.

The guy who created the club actually owned the Robin that was in the music video for ‘On Top of the World’ by Imagine Dragons, and there's a guy in Idaho who has gotten some attention on TikTok from off-roading one at Moab. We’ve talked about doing a meetup sometime, but that’s still in the works.

Photographed by Clark Aegerter

Marqued: Is sourcing parts challenging? That could be a barrier for people getting into the Robin game.

KH: Parts are definitely harder to find in the US, but there are a couple of people in England that I can exchange parts with if I need something. I’ll pay them via PayPal and they'll ship me the parts, but it might take a few months.

A lot of the time you just have to get creative, so I've got a lot of parts that I’ve found out here that aren't original, but they do the job. For example, I needed some heater duct hoses and couldn’t find the right size, but figured out that they were about the same size as my Shop-Vac hoses. I ended up just using those and they look identical. I was also looking for a thermostat recently, and I ended up just going into O'Reilly's and opening up boxes until I found one that fits.

Marqued: That's hilarious. Are you planning to get more Robins in the future?

KH: If my wife will let me, I think I’d like to buy a couple more. We're working on getting more garage space right now, so we’ll see. It’s funny because she hates riding in it and she'll never drive it, but she loves having it. It’s just a blast to own. I've actually been working with a guy in England to try and import a Reliant Fox Tandy Camper, which is like the camper version but with four wheels.

It’s such a special vehicle, because even though the car scene in Utah has blown up pretty big, the Robin manages to stand out. There are a ton of McLarens, GT3s and GT4s, but somehow when I go to a Cars and Coffee event I can park right next to these really nice, expensive cars and get more attention.

People always stop and talk to me about it, and I often get tagged in Instagram posts of myself spotted driving down the freeway. It just fits all of my needs and I get tons of smiles, laughs, and waves whenever I take it out. I’ve had some pretty wild cars, but I’ve never had anything quite like this.

More about Kenny

You can follow Kenny's Reliant Robin adventures on his Instagram (@rolypolyrob).

Meet our contributors

Clark Aegerter is a lifestyle and fashion photographer based in Salt Lake City with an eye for capturing the spirit of the outdoors.


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