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Reliant book: ‘TIPPING POINT: Designing a Great British Underdog’

by Andy Plumb

2021 review by James Loveridge

“Tipping Point: Designing a Great British Underdog” has benefited from the skills of Andy Plumb as both author and designer. The result is a very attractive and readable book. A sense of his refreshing attitude is given by the note on the rear cover “Derise and fall of the Reliant Robin”.

This is not a history of the Reliant company: for that you need to refer, for example, to Elvis Payne’s “The Reliant Motor Company” published in 2016. However this book does contain a good bit of the history of that remarkable company from its origins to its demise. It briefly notes its numerous successes other than just producing a very successful series of ingenious and economic vehicles.

What this book is about is the design and production of the three wheel, and briefly four wheel, range of their principal product and his role in the design of the last, the Reliant Robin Mk 3. The book is copiously illustrated with photographs, drawings and tables and, to me, is reminiscent in some ways of the charming brochures the likes of Austin, Triumph and Standard put out in the 50s and 60s.

Reliant were pioneers in the UK of the use of Glass Reinforced Plastic for large scale production of motor vehicle and if you want to make something in GRP Mr Plumb shows you how. Reliant were very much followers of the KISS (Keep it Simple, Stupid) philosophy, thus being able to use numerous major parts such as frame, engine and body panels in a succession of models of the car, estate, and pick-up truck. They were also able to sell their abilities to other companies: for instance in 1984 Ford contracted them to build its RS200 Group B rally car.

Mr Plumb lists many of the industry figures involved with Reliant over the years including Ogle and John Crosthwaite who designed for Lotus and BRM and did the chassis for the much lamented Reliant Scimitar. The book also tells of the company’s success in export markets with variants being sold or made in India, Turkey, Israel and Greece.

The Author takes several pages to explain how you would have to work very hard to get one to turn over in normal usage – Top Gear‘s alleged putting a larger real wheel on one side not being considered normal.

The bulk of the book is, indeed, about the design of the vehicles and this is dealt with in great but not overwhelming detail. Appropriate illustrations are used to clarify the points the author wants to make so that the skill and ingenuity that went in to these almost iconic little vehicles is obvious.

As with so many small-scale manufacturers Reliant went through several ownerships and the vicissitudes suffered are mentioned – and one is left with the feeling that successive owners sadly failed to exploit the abilities and reputation that had been built up over the years.  Maybe there was no longer a place in the market for a Plastic Pig but Mr Plumb seems to be saying that, with better management, there could still have been a place for Reliant in the current market; after all they did experiment with electric power as long ago as 1982.

This is a very interesting book, a pleasure to read. It was Octane’s Book of the Month in August and, at £34.99 from Amazon or Etsy, is well worth the money when compared with current prices for motoring books.

Publisher: Andy Plumb

Price: £34.99.

Description: Hardback with no dust jacket, 264 pages in full colour on quality paper in A4 landscape format.

ISBN: 978-1-5272-5619-4

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