If you drive northwards up A 5 and instead of turning right at the traffic-lights into industrial Tamworth you go straight on, in a few hundred yards you will see factory buildings on each side of the road, bearing the blue “Reliant” nameplate. This is the home of the most successful 3-wheeler produced in this country, and of the Ford-engined Reliant Sabre Six.
In some quarters the low-tax, easy-to-maintain 3-wheeler is now regarded as a vehicle without a future, but the Reliant Engineering Co. gives the lie to this, for they are currently turning out about 10,000 vehicles a year, and the week before we paid them a visit 250 Reliant 3/25 Regal 3-wheelers had left their assembly lines. Of these, approx. 33% were delivery vans.
This simple vehicle makes no concessions to bubble-car practice. Indeed, the Reliant has a substantial box-section chassis frame, Girling brakes, a water-cooled 4-cylinder o.h.v. four-stroke engine, and a roomy glass-fibre body. The single front wheel is sprung ingeniously on a coil-spring and mounted so that it is easily detachable. Rear suspension is by simple ½-elliptic springs, with telescopic dampers.
The original pre-war Reliants were powered with Austin Seven engines and when this engine ceased to be made, in 1938/39, Reliant began to make their own 747-c.c. power units, of similar design, although full pressure lubrication was introduced and these engines were not, in fact interchangeable with the Austin engine, to the disappointment of ambitious 750 M.C. and 750 Formula exponents.
In recent times another change was made, to a most interesting 600-c.c. engine of Reliant’s own conception, using a light-alloy block and head. The use of a light-alloy engine costs about £4 more per car than if a cast-iron block had been retained, but for 3-wheeler taxation a total weight not exceeding 8 cwt. is essential, and the Reliant o.h.v. power unit, with clutch and all components, but without gearbox, weighs only 138 lb. Moreover, whereas the old s.v, engine gave only 17 b.h.p., the latest o.h.v. unit develops 25/28 b.h.p. at 5,000 r.p.m. without any attempt to obtain the highest possible output. Indeed, for the sake of economy, it has a quite small Solex carburetter. These little engines have wet-liners, sealed at the upper end on the pinched gasket system, and alloy rockers running directly on the rocker shaft. The cylinder blocks are supplied by the Birmingham Aluminium Company and the cylinder head, with valve inserts is a pressure die-casting, Reliant pioneering this form of alloy head.
I was interested to discover that in their quest for low weight coupled with rugged construction, Reliant make not only their own engines but also their-own gearboxes and complete back axles.
Recently a war-time factory was taken over at Shenstone, for the production of engines and gear-cutting, etc., the machinery for making the light-alloy power unit and the gradual introduction of semi-automatic gear cutting plant involving an outlay of £70,000. One thousand employees are now on the pay-roll and Reliant would like to expand this new factory, an ambition which is parried by the Board of Trade’s directive for a move to distressed areas further North.
At Tamworth a new body shop is being erected to replace the one destroyed by fire, Reliant making their own glass-fibre bodywork for both 3-wheelers and the Sabre Six. At present, complete 3-wheeler chassis have to be wheeled across the A 5 road to receive their bodies, a hazardous procedure in view of the heavy traffic using the section of this road above M 1. The Sabre Six shop is, however, self-contained and produces some three or four cars a week, and another five or so a week for export.
Of the total Reliant vehicle output, 3,000 a year go overseas as CKD units. At the Shenstone engine-building factory every Reliant power unit is run for 1½ to 2 hours-on one of eight running-in benches while tappets and carburetter are adjusted, the sump full of flushing oil. Engines are then taken by road to Tamworth, where the flushing oil is drained off and the sump refilled with the normal lubricant, an occasional engine being put on a test bench and power readings taken. Finally, every Reliant 3-wheeler undergoes, a seven-mile road test.
I noticed that the 4-speed gearbox has an oil dip-stick and queried whether this is necessary, in view of the long life of modern gear oils. “Never mind what goes in the car world,” I was told, “Reliant owners, very often ex-motorcyclists, do, most of their own servicing and like this means of keeping an eye on oil level.” The Managing Director went on to say that the wet cylinder liners can be replaced for a total cost of only £12 10s.—W. B.