This is a Reliant Rialto 2 GLS from 1983, it was the successor to the famous Reliant Robin and it shared the same three-wheel arrangement and steel chassis of the earlier model.
The GLS was the most opulent trim level of the Rialto, offering such opulent luxuries as a clock, FM/AM radio, a voltage gauge, and cloth covered seats. These cars were prized for their extreme fuel economy and for the fact they could be driven by someone with just a motorcycle license.
Fast Facts – The Reliant Rialto
- The Reliant Rialto was introduced in 1981 as a successor to the popular Reliant Robin. Designed and manufactured by the British company Reliant Motor Company, the Rialto was developed to offer an affordable, practical, and economical mode of transportation, primarily targeted at the domestic market.
- The Rialto featured a distinctive wedge-shaped design, which was a departure from the more rounded shape of the Robin. Its body was made from fiberglass, a material choice that was signature to Reliant for its cost-effectiveness and resistance to rust. The Rialto was available in several body styles, including a saloon, estate, and van.
- Powering the Rialto was a small, efficient 850cc OHV engine. This engine was known for its simplicity and reliability. Despite its modest power output, it was suitable for the lightweight frame of the Rialto, providing adequate performance for everyday use.
- The Reliant Rialto gained popularity for its economic benefits, particularly in the UK where its three-wheeled design allowed it to be taxed and insured at a lower rate, akin to a motorcycle.
- The Rialto was produced from 1982 to 1998 over three major generations, the Rialto, the Rialto 2, and the Rialto SE. The GLS was the highest trim level, and all were powered by variations of the Reliant 850cc inline-four cylinder engine.
The Reliant Motor Company: A History Speedrun
The Reliant Motor Company is today best remembered for their three-wheeled vehicles – this makes sense as the company was originally founded in 1935 to produce three-wheelers which were cheaper to buy, attracted lower sales tax, lower insurance premiums, and they could be driven by anyone with a motorcycle license.
Reliant did make a number of more conventional four-wheeled vehicles over their 1935 to 2002 lifespan, including the Kitten, Scimitar, Fox, Sabre, and Rebel – but today the name Reliant typically conjures up just one model name for most people – the Reliant Robin.
Reliant Cars That Made It Big
The Robin is perhaps the best vehicle to exemplify Reliant, it became a pop culture icon in its own lifetime and its fame only seems to have continued to climb since it left production – most famously when it appeared on the British TV show Top Gear with Jeremy Clarkson at the wheel who proceeded to comically flip the car onto its roof or side at every available opportunity.
Other Reliants that achieved stardom include the Reliant Regal that was Mr Bean’s nemesis on the long running TV series of the same name. The long-running BBC sitcom Only Fools and Horses also featured a Reliant Regal as the main form of transportation for the show’s antihero Derek “Del Boy” Trotter (played by David Jason).
The 2011 Pixar film Cars 2 featured a car based on a Reliant Regal saloon car named Tomber, who was French rather than British. Another Regal was shown in the closing ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics.
The one Reliant that almost everyone has seen but few recognize as such is the Landspeeder from the 1977 film Star Wars, which was piloted by Luke Skywalker across the desert sands of Tatooine. The Landspeeder was built on the chassis and running gear of a Bond Bug which was based on the Reliant Regal and built by Bond Cars Ltd – a subsidiary of Reliant.
Above Video: This is the now infamous Top Gear clip featuring Jeremy Clarkson who, for comedic purposes, has a very difficult time keeping the car on all three wheels.
Although Reliant vehicle have been the butt of countless jokes the Reliant Motor Company deserves far more respect than it typically gets. For a time in the 1970s it was the second largest British-owned automaker left in the world and the largest producer of fiberglass goods in Europe – including kitchen worktops, train bodies, and boat shells.
The Reliant Rialto 2 GLS
This is a 1983 Reliant Rialto 2 GLS, 1983 was the first year for this model which had been developed as an upgrade over the first Rialto which had debuted just a year earlier in 1982.
The improvements applied to the Rialto 2 included a modified engine with a skimmed head, improved cam, re-jetted carburetor, and a new distributor. This engine was a version of the Reliant 850cc inline-four cylinder unit and for the Rialto 2 it was given a yellow rocket cover which led to the nickname “yellow top.”
The earlier version of the engine had a red rocker cover and had been called the “red top.” To better suit the new yellow top engine the rear axle ratio was raised to 2.78/1 resulting in a top speed of 100 mph and fuel economy of 72 mpg at 56 mph. All of that said, it would take a braver man than me to pilot a Rialto to 100 mph.
Much like the earlier Reliant Robin the Rialto model series featured a steel ladder-type chassis with a live axle in the rear on leaf springs and the engine mounted up front. The body was made from fiberglass in a saloon, estate, and van variants.
The GLS was the more upmarket option package that came with things like a clock, FM/AM radio, a voltage gauge, cloth covered seats, thicker carpets with a carpeted trunk area, GLS decals, a leather steering wheel, and radial tires.
The Rialto 2 GLS you see in this article is one of relatively few that found its way across the Atlantic to the United States. It’s said to have been based in California from 1989 up until it was acquired by the selling dealer earlier this year.
It’s now being offered for sale with a clean California title, a jack kit, and 7,000 miles on the odometer out of Fenton, Missouri. If you’d like to read more about it or register to bid you can visit the listing here.
Images courtesy of Bring a Trailer
Articles that Ben has written have been covered on CNN, Popular Mechanics, Smithsonian Magazine, Road & Track Magazine, the official Pinterest blog, the official eBay Motors blog, BuzzFeed, Autoweek Magazine, Wired Magazine, Autoblog, Gear Patrol, Jalopnik, The Verge, and many more.
Silodrome was founded by Ben back in 2010, in the years since the site has grown to become a world leader in the alternative and vintage motoring sector, with well over a million monthly readers from around the world and many hundreds of thousands of followers on social media.