Monday, 6 December 2010

Three wheels on my wagon....

Ahh the Reliant three wheeler – what a piece it was.
a Reliant Regal 21e
First of all let me correct an oft-used expression which, for former and current owners, raises hackles everytime it is heard.

It is not Robin Reliant. It is Reliant Robin.

A Reliant Robin- Completely Different
And Del Boy did not drive a Reliant Robin – he drove a Reliant Supervan III.
A Supervan III - different again, see...

Reliant actually produced some surprisingly good motor cars – not least the Scimitar, a sports estate much loved by the horsey set after Princess Anne bought one.
And for a few years in the 1990s – when BMW owned Rover – Reliant was in fact the largest British-owned motor manufacturer.

My Reliant Regal 21E (so called because it had 21 extras - carpets were just one of the many luxuries)  was not really a classy piece of motoring heritage.

One of the curious vagaries of the British motor vehicle licensing system is that you can drive a three-wheeled vehicle on a full motorcycle licence, or a full car licence.

In the days when a motorcycle test was easy to pass many a biker turned unexpected  family man would resort to the Reliant as transport for his surprise offspring.

I got the Reliant not because I had an urgent familial need, but because the boss of the insurance company I was working for insisted that I had a motor car for my rounds.
Personally as my rounds included one of the South West’s more notorious council estates – naming it Burnthouse Lane was not exactly a good omen – I felt that a big noisy motorcycle and a helmet was more likely to scare off muggers after the cash bag full of £2 pound a week premiums I had to carry around every day.

So without a car licence, but able to drive a three wheeler on a motorbike licence, a Reliant it had to be.
All I could afford was a 20-year-old example, which had doors that shut when they felt like it as they were coming away from the fibreglass body work, and in which the driver’s seat had collapsed so a fruit crate had been jammed under it so I could see over the steering wheel.
This amazing piece of kit cost me £300.
Nobody would travel in it with me, apart from my girlfriend, who had to, and I bounced off pedestrian barriers and grass verges in country lanes in it, leaving piles of glass fibre dust all over Devon for four months.

Then, travelling home from a Hawkwind/23 Skidoo/Gong festival in North Devon, the thing blew its head gasket.

It took a week to find a garage that was prepared to do the job, as to work on the engine you had to do one half of the job from under the bonnet, and the other half through plastic panels inside the cabin. it took them another three weeks for them to do it. It cost me £300 - as much as the car had cost - to get it fixed and three weeks after that I was fired from the insurance job for general incompetence.

With the Honda 500 still pretty unhealthy it was my only set of wheels and sufficed as I searched for alternative employment, without success.

Then one day there was a dreadful metal-on-metal graunching sound and it stopped again.
A “mate” offered to take a look at it and pronounced it knackered, and offered me £20 for it "for spares".

Skint and unemployed I took his £20 and spent it on Clan Dew fortified wine and food. The girlfriend and I got drunk for two days.
The “mate” promptly bought a second-hand distributor from a Mini from a scrapyard for a tenner, bunged it in the Reliant and flogged the thing for £300.

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