Jeremy Clark­son: love me, love my Re­liant Robin.

The Weekend Australian - Life - - FOOD & DRINK - JEREMY CLARK­SON Jeremy Clark­son’s views are ex­pressed in the con­text of the Bri­tish car mar­ket.

To judge from the let­ters I get and the re­marks in the street, it seems the most mem­o­rable thing I did on Top Gear was a short seg­ment about the Re­liant Robin. You may re­mem­ber: I drove it around Sh­effield and it kept fall­ing over.

Well, now’s the time to come clean. A nor­mal Re­liant Robin will not roll un­less a drunken rugby team is on hand. Or it’s windy. But in a head­long drive to amuse and en­ter­tain, I’d asked the back­room boys to play around with the dif­fer­en­tial so the poor lit­tle thing rolled ev­ery time I turned the steer­ing wheel.

Nat­u­rally, the health and safety depart­ment was wor­ried about this and in­sisted the car be fit­ted with a small ham­mer in case I was trapped af­ter the roll, to break what was left of the glass. Not the best idea, be­cause I dis­tinctly re­mem­ber see­ing the ham­mer trav­el­ling past my face at about 2,000km/h dur­ing the first roll. Af­ter that I in­vited the health and safety man to eff off home, with the ham­mer in his bot­tom.

Since then I’ve used sim­i­larly doc­tored and ham­mer-free Re­liant Robins in count­less games of car foot­ball dur­ing our live shows. As a re­sult there’s prob­a­bly no one on the planet who’s rolled a car quite as much as I have. It makes me sad, be­cause rolling a Re­liant Robin on pur­pose is a bit like putting a tor­toise on its back. It’s an act of wan­ton cru­elty. When you see it ly­ing there with its three lit­tle wheels whizzing round help­lessly, you are com­pelled to rush over and put it the right way up.

I feel sim­i­larly ag­grieved when peo­ple — and ev­ery­one does this — calls it a Robin Re­liant. That’s like say­ing you wor­ship Christ Je­sus or that you drive an Ac­claim Tri­umph. Or that your favourite FIFA pres­i­den­tial hope­ful is Sexwale Tokyo.

I’ll be hon­est with you. I re­ally like the Re­liant Robin. It has a rorty-sound­ing 848cc en­gine and the sort of snick­ety gear­box that makes you lament the pass­ing of the proper man­ual.

Plus, it’s an ab­so­lute hoot to drive, partly be­cause it’s light and nim­ble and partly be­cause passers-by are gen­uinely fond of it. It’s like go­ing about your busi­ness in one of the Queen’s cor­gis. Mostly, though, it’s a hoot to drive be­cause you know if some­thing goes wrong, you will be killed im­me­di­ately. There’ll be no lin­ger­ing and ag­o­nis­ing spell in hos­pi­tal. No priest with his last rites. One minute you’ll be bounc­ing up and down wear­ing a child­like grin, the next you’ll be meat.

In fact, I like the Re­liant Robin so much that when Richard Ham­mond, James May, Andy Wil­man and I formed our new pro­duc­tion com­pany, I rushed out im­me­di­ately and bought one as a com­pany car. In­ter­est­ingly, the other three did ex­actly the same thing. So now we have a fleet sit­ting in the park­ing spa­ces at our of­fices and we love them. Es­pe­cially the fact they cost us less than £15,000. That’s £15,000 for four cars.

Of course, they’ve all been fet­tled to suit our tastes. May’s is an ivory white es­tate model that is stan­dard in ev­ery way, right down to the chromed over­rid­ers. Ham­mond’s is a lovely choco­late brown with white­wall tyres. Wil­man’s is fin­ished in rac­ing green and in­side is fit­ted with a wooden dash­board and lamb's wool seat cov­ers — as be­fits, he says, the chair­man of our en­ter­prise. Mine — a coupe, nat­u­rally — is fin­ished in win­ner blue and is fit­ted with an Al­can­tara dash and quad tailpipes. Minilite wheels com­plete the vi­sion of sporti­ness.

A lot of peo­ple think we have bought the cars as some kind of weird pub­lic­ity stunt, but noth­ing could be fur­ther from the truth. We re­ally do use them on a daily ba­sis. Or, to be hon­est, we try to use them …

My first at­tempt had to be aban­doned be­cause the en­gine de­cided that tick­over should be about 5500rpm. Which meant that in fourth gear I was do­ing about 130km/h with­out putting my foot on the ac­cel­er­a­tor. I say “about”, be­cause the speedome­ter wasn’t work­ing. For an ac­cu­rate read­ing I’ll have to wait for a let­ter from the speed-cam­era peo­ple.

Ham­mond’s has no func­tion­ing fuel gauge and he would there­fore like to apol­o­gise to ev­ery­one on Lon­don’s Cromwell Road for run­ning out of petrol the other night while turn­ing right into Earls Court Road. Ap­par­ently the chaos he caused was spec­tac­u­lar. Wil­man’s hasn’t ac­tu­ally gone any­where be­cause as he tried to put it into re­verse, the gear lever came off in his hand. I’m not sure what’s wrong with May’s. He tried to ex­plain but af­ter four hours I nod­ded off slightly.

We didn’t give up, though. The other night I went all the way from our old of­fices in Not­ting Hill to our new of­fices, ap­pro­pri­ately enough in Power Road, in Chiswick, west Lon­don, and then — get this — all the way back to a party in Chelsea. Where the car spent the night, be­cause its starter mo­tor had bro­ken.

Ham­mond said he’d come to the res­cue, but an­noy­ingly his ig­ni­tion bar­rel came out as he turned the key, and Wil­man was of no use be­cause the gear lever popped out again when he went for first. So I rang May, who turned up in his Fer­rari.

Any­way, on my trek across Lon­don I learned many things about my Re­liant Robin. First of all, to get my right shoul­der in­side, I have to drive with the win­dow down, which makes life a bit chilly. And there’s not much I can do to rec­tify that is­sue, be­cause while there is a knob on the dash that says “Heater”, it doesn’t seem to do any­thing. The only other knob says “Choke”. Pull that and im­me­di­ately the whole car fills with petrol fumes.

But de­spite the cold and the like­li­hood of it sud­denly be­com­ing very hot, the Re­liant Robin is bril­liant to drive. The steer­ing is ex­tremely light, pos­si­bly be­cause there’s only one front wheel to turn, the ac­cel­er­a­tion is great for any­one who’s used to, say, a horse, and in a typ­i­cal Lon­don park­ing bay it’s so small and looks so lost and lonely, you are tempted to give it a car­rot or some other treat.

This is what makes the Re­liant Robin such a joy. My Volk­swa­gen Golf is a car. The Porsche Cayenne I used over Christ­mas is a car. The Re­liant Robin is not a car. It’s not even three-quar­ters of a car. It’s more than that. It’s sit­ting out­side the of­fice now, in the rain. And I’m wor­ried about it. I hope it’s OK and isn’t miss­ing me. Own­ing a Re­liant Robin is like hav­ing a fam­ily pet. Yes, it’s a nui­sance some­times, and yes, it can be stub­born and un­re­li­able, but it scam­pers when you go out to­gether, and if you play with its dif­fer­en­tial, it will even roll over so you can tickle its tummy.

Jeremy Clark­son takes his com­pany car, a Re­liant Robin coupe, for a spin

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.