If you’re tempted to try a car that doesn’t have a wheel in each corner then here’s a practical choice that defies the jokers
Introduced in 1982, the Reliant Rialto was effectively a revised version of the company’s famous Robin three-wheeler offering more stability at higher speeds plus improved MPG.
Design house International Automotive Design (IAD), responsible for the Alien concept car of 1984, plus work on cars including the Mazda MX-5 and Volvo 440, came up with the more aerodynamic wedge shape with its sloping front and squared off back. Other new features included rectangular headlights, a single large windscreen wiper, revised interior and a stronger fibreglass body. The Robin’s original 848cc light alloy engine sat in a galvanised chassis while several other components were inherited from its predecessor.
TORQUE 46lb ft@3500rpm
TOP SPEED 80mph
FUEL CONSUMPTION 60mpg
TRANSMISSION RWD, four-speed man
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
While the fibreglass bodyshell reduces the prospect of corrosion, they are liable to accident damage so still require close inspection. Be wary of cars that have been abused in the name of fun too. Below the bodyline, even the galvanised chassis is liable to corrosion. Specific areas to examine include the A-frame that holds the front wheel in place, gearbox mounts and front uprights.
ENGINE AND MECHANICALS
Because they were so compact and light (total weight coming in at under half-a-ton), well looked after and unabused Rialtos will happily last for years. They are not difficult to work on and there is a good supply of secondhand parts available at reasonable prices to keep your three-wheeler going. Regularly maintained engines will enjoy long life though check for signs of overheating and the prospects of a blown head gasket. Four-speed gearboxes also perform well though check for signs of wear on second gear synchromesh. Brakes are generally good, while a weak clutch canfairly easily be replaced.
DRIVING LICENCE CHANGES
For a long while a motorcycle licence loophole made lightweight three-wheelers a very popular choice but EU regulations saw the driving licence legislation for three-wheelers changed considerably in January 2013 for new drivers. The most important changes from that date are that new drivers must be a minimum of 21 years of age (for tricycles over 15 kW), and require a motorcycle licence (category A or A1) to be able to drive them because they no longer fall within category B1. Drivers with existing full entitlement to drive B1 category vehicles gained before January 2013 retain that right.
ON THE CARDS
Owner cards were introduced by Reliant for the Rialto that included information on the vehicle plus warranty and service information details for dealers. Bagging one of these with your car would be a definite bonus.
There was a big waiting list for the Rialto when it was first announced and it was a good seller for Reliant but despites its advantages it never equalled the popularity of the Robin that reappeared in Mk2 form from 1989.
Of the various Rialto formats available, the estate version provides the most practical choice. In 1985 a Jubilee Rialto model was introduced to celebrate Reliant’s 50th year in business.
Second generation Rialtos appeared in 1984 featuring a High Torque-Energy engine with high ratio rear axle. Despite the reduced power, 37.5bhp instead of 40bhp, it was capable of three figure speeds and fuel economy of up to 70mpg when cruising at 56mph.
Reliant three-wheelers have had to put up with endless jokes thanks to Del Boy’s Reliant Regal in TV’s Only Foolsand Horses and past Top Gear presenters’ desire to tip them over, but the Rialto does offer practical aspects that deserve more serious consideration.
These often overlooked three-wheelers offer economic fun if you treat them with respect. A project will cost you £500 and you will have to pay a premium for a concours example.