Quite possibly some of this car looks vaguely familiar. Imagine now just one wheel at the front (and no wheel arches). Basically it’s a Reliant Robin with an extra wheel. In fact this was the second time Reliant had produced a four-wheel version of their more (in)famous three-wheelers.
(ED: just in case anyone isn’t familiar with the more (in)famous three-wheel Robin, here it is. And yes, the Top Gear episode of them repeatedly tipping a Robin was utterly staged, as are/were all of their shows).
From 1964 to 1973 they made the Rebel, based on the Regal 3/25; my Dad caught one in the background of a photo he took in Victoria Park, Hackney in 1970.
They are small, even by 1960s/’70s British standards, though not quite Mini small being 13″ longer and about 1″ wider. Their mechanical layout though was ‘conventional’ with the engine at the front driving a live back axle on leaf springs, with wishbone IFS at the front. Whereas the three-wheelers had the advantage of cheaper road tax and only required a motorcycle licence to drive, the four-wheel variants were classed as cars so needed a full car driving licence and cost more in road tax. Still, their glass-fibre bodies wouldn’t break out into rust spots after 3 to 5 years like most mass-market cars of the time; even their steel chassis were galvanised. The Kitten gave slightly more room up front as the engine could be moved further forward between the front wheels rather than being behind the single one of the Robin and they looked less comical.
They were still light weight, just 1186 lbs in this form, so the 40hp 850cc engine was enough for quite nippy performance combined with economy (over 50mpg was easily obtainable) and the 23 foot turning circle was useful around town. Of course, accommodation was quite basic and, from reading a contemporary review, they were severely lacking in refinement. ‘Car’ magazine called the Kitten ‘one of the least satisfactory cars we have ever encountered‘ and concludes ‘Close up, the Kitten looks, sounds and feels like a kit car.’ What really counted against it though was price. This version would have cost £1574.82 new. For about the same money you could buy a Ford Escort. In the eight years they were made (1975-83) they made just 4074* Kittens, including those exported. Ford sold 103,817 Escorts – in the UK in 1975 alone!
I first saw a (so 1970s!) orange Kitten saloon locally more than five years ago, but though I have seen it several times since it has always remained elusive when I’ve had my camera with me. I saw it last a couple of months ago, at a local filling station. Last Wednesday though I had my camera with me so, of course, the orange Kitten didn’t show. No, instead I saw another one I’d never seen before!
It’s about the same age as the orange one (the P suffix gives a registration date between 1st August 1975 and 31st July 1976) though the metallic paintwork is uneven in places. It is the estate (wagon) version with a practical, upright rear door (side hinged, not tailgate). The side window shape is vaguely like the contemporary Austin Allegro estate in that the lower edge sweeps up in a gentle curve, though less pronounced than the Allegro. Of course, the latter was a bit like Reliant’s Scimitar GTE in the first place. The rectangular headlights contrast the round ones of the Robin and are normally set into a black grille surround, though this one has had the surround repainted like the body.
At the rear of this particular car it’s obvious that the owner has also ‘upgraded’ the rear lights, the original small red/amber ones, shared with the Robin, replaced with a larger, more comprehensive set which I am pretty sure are those for a 1980s Ford Escort van. The chrome ‘KITTEN’ letters also non-original, but neatly done.
Name note: There’s a kind of edgy juxtaposition between the three- and four-wheels versions. A Regal should be wary of a Rebel, while a Robin may feel threatened by a Kitten. Was this deliberate? Not to worry; in sales terms this Kitten was never going to catch the Robin.
*figure from the Reliant Kitten Register
Automotive History: British Deadly Sins (A Touch of Class, part3) by Tatra87
I find this car(?) rather attractive, and I shouldn’t.
Wow, that’s a find! The letters in the back look like Volkswagen ones from here, overall that isn’t unattractive though as you state I can’t really see picking it over an Escort or similar at the time. Are the wheels Mini units, they look familiar somehow but I know I haven’t seen a Kitten before.
Those letters are motor factor specials rather than anything OEM. I believe the stud pattern is the same as a Mini so those wheels may have seen service there?
They did have 10″ wheels so those would have been interchangeable with Mini wheels (at least until the Mini went over to 12″ wheels).
Cute and practical-looking car. Good squared-off cargo space in the rear. Makes you wonder why Reliant didn’t switch entirely to four-wheelers. They could have sold a lot of these.
Great find. These are hard to fathom. But obviously 4,074 buyers found them irresistible, despite their kit-car looks and panel gaps. Love that hood; it looks like a frunk in an EV.
And yes, the naming is clearly no coincidence.
I can’t believe it my self Paul. The Robin could be driven by any one with a motor cycle licence as the rear axle width was within tricycle specs so DLVA classed it as such. A friend brought one from the usual country garage network Reliant had in the day. Yes not cheap as the price as a proper car!. Never a fast driver his engine blow within 9 months!. Perhaps Reliant hoped that the Kitten would retain Robin customers who just passed their car tests!. Great find.
You’re missing the point – it was less about the relevant licence and more about annual tax on a “motorcycle” being a fraction of the tax on a car.
There’s a fellow on YouTube who goes by the name HubNut who has the pickup/van version, the Reliant Fox. I rather like the form factor.
Did dealers give away funeral wreaths with each purchase?
Once you’ve graduated to 4 wheels and lost the tax advantages of a 3-wheeler, why not get a real car?
TV show Flipping Bangers did one of these up, Id never heard of them and they made one out of two different models beginning with a stalled project of course being in the UK they found somebody with a huge parts hoard for what they needed to finish the job interesting toy car and a rare find from what Ive seen.
I love these little cars. There’s a red and silver 2 tone hatchback version in my local town, but I’ve never managed to get a picture of it yet. Much better looking than a Robin and something I would definitely take on as a toy.
It’s a Scimitar Kitten! Especially in the rear quarter panel area, if you squint a bit.
Then there always the Robin featured in the Mr. Bean show while he was being chased as he drove his famous Mini!!
@R&DMan: I find your reluctance to like this very odd. I’s an awfully pretty little car, and while I’ve admired plenty of 3-wheelers NONE of them has its single wheel in front! Two front, one rear is the only correct way to go, unless the thing won’t be driven more than 25-30 mph.
I’ve wanted to see more of the Kitten for some time, having seen only very small shots in large compendiums, such as Georgano’s massive work. I’d also like to see more of the engine, since its specs make it sound like a much nicer piece that the BMC A-block I’m used to messing with in Spridgets and Minis. My thanks to the Curbsiders for this glimpse!
Customer: I need a new car but I haven’t much of a budget.
Dealer: we have this lovely jaguar, just traded in by denis thatcher.
Customer: really, that’s a bit out of my range.
Dealer: there’s a nice sunbeam tiger also
Customer: . . . Less expensive
Dealer: a mercury cougar has just come in traded by famous British actress who owned a mercury cougar
Customer: less dear please
Dealer: dawn and French owned this mercury lynx.
Customer: less dear please
Dealer: mercury bobcat?
Customer: too pricey
Dealer: we have a reliant kitten!
Customer: just the thing!
No, I’m not quitting my day job
Clearly owned by an enthusiast, with those custom touches ( love the rear lights) but the size and angle of the tailpipe let it down badly.
After the Robin, probably the most inadequate form to new car you could buy. How much? How much of the glue inside it have you been sniffing for that to make any sense?
1970s UK cars were not all great, but they weren’t as bad as this as a rule.
Cute lil bugger. I’d give it a try.
It’s amazing what *two* wheels up front do for the looks of this little Reliant Kitten shooting brake. I like that Reliant Motors was the “cottage industry” carmaker of England with tiny machines like this. The taillamps borrowed from another vehicle and chrome “Kitten” letters show pride of ownership. No matter what one drives, that should always be the case to some degree.
Let’s have some proportion here…The Escort you could buy for the Same money was the 1100 popular, the absolute base model with drum brakes and crossply tyres. The dinky little 1100 kent engine had its work cut out in the larger escort body, so.performance and economy lagged behind the Reliant. Plus it didn’t have the practical rear hatch, plus it was very likely to be significantly rusty in a very short space of time.
Yes, that’s true, but, as Ford advertising of the same would have said ‘Ford give you more’. I suspect the survival rate as a percentage is far, far lower for base model Escorts than Kittens, not least due to rust (and any good 2-door Escort shells would end up as Twin-Cam or Mexico clones).
I read that Car article from ’76, and it’s rather amusing. They say that the Kitten is zippy through traffic, which is a good thing as it gets you to your destination an out of the car quicker. They also describe a car with no suspension travel, a short wheelbase, permanent oversteer, poor build quality, an awful gearbox and noise enough to make passengers literally shout to be heard at the top speed of about 75 mph. Oh dear.
The Peugeot 104 they compare it to is fairly close in price, but may as well be on another planet for sophistication and excellence.
For US readers, imagine paying for this instead the same for a Honda Civic.
It is actually quite a decent looker, but that just makes it a pretty shitty Kitty. Four thousand loyalists CAN be wrong.
My Mum had a blue one of these as the second family car in the 1970s. My Dad had a sage green ’72 Scimitar. We’d had a Mini Countryman estate with the wood trim, a Vauxhall Victor 101, a Viva and a Renault 12. But my dad just got so fed up with the rampant rust of lots of cars of the 60s and 70s, that he went for lower tech cars that didn’t fall apart with rust in no time at all. Poor refinement and pricey – yes, but not falling apart outweighed that. The GRP sprang back and shrugged off minor parking impacts. The Kitten would no doubt have been poor in a higher speed accident. The Scimitar though had a reputation for being strong in a crash by the standards of the time, even having a built in roll over hoop in the roof.
The Youtuber ‘Hubnut’ actually has a roadtest video of a Kitten.