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Space, so we’re told, is the final frontier. And since Top Gear has done pretty much everything you can do to a car on Earth, we decided that Richard and James should try to put one into space. What followed was a simply massive undertaking that combined cutting edge amateur rocketry, British grit and determination, and truly intergalactic levels of cocking about.
Using the scientific principle that ‘it’s a bit pointy at the front’, a Reliant Robin was selected as the shuttle. Our old friends from the British Amateur Rocket Society were bribed with the promise of unlimited tea, and set to work on the launch systems and providing the 8 tonne of thrust needed to power the craft. What followed was the largest non-commercial rocket launch attempt in European history.
As the timer ticked to zero, everything seemed to be working perfectly. But at the last moment the Robin failed to release from the main booster, spiralled out of control, and crashed into a hillside. On the bright side, what was the biggest non-commercial rocket launch in Europe became Top Gear’s biggest ever explosion.
First shown on: 18/02/2007
The Reliant Robin (often incorrectly referred to as a Robin Reliant) is a small three wheeled car manufactured by the Reliant Motor Company in Tamworth, England. Being a three-wheeler, the Robin can be driven by holders of a B1 category licence or car licence in the United Kingdom, and can be registered and taxed as a car at considerable savings over a conventional car. The single wheel in the front steered, while the engine (also in the front) drove the rear axle.
In the February 18, 2007 episode of Top Gear, a Reliant Robin was used by Richard Hammond and James May in an attempt to modify a normal K-reg Robin into a reusable space shuttle. Steve Holland, a professional radio-controlled aircraft pilot, helped Hammond to work out how to land a Robin safely. The craft achieved a successful launch, flew for several seconds into the air and managed to successfully jettison the solid fuel rocket boosters on time. This was the largest rocket launched by a non-government organisation in Europe. It used 6 x 40960 NS O hybrid rocket motors giving a maximum thrust of 8 metric tons. However the car failed to separate from the large external fuel tank due to a faulty alignment between the Robin and the external tank (10 thousandths of an inch out) and the Robin subsequently crashed and 'seemed' to explode into the ground soon after.
In the June 18, 2007 episode of Fifth Gear, Tom Ford and Johnny Smith both modified a Reliant Robin, to compete against each other in a speed challenge and a destruction derby.
In the UK, the Reliant Robin is sometimes affectionately nicknamed the "Plastic Pig" because of its distinctive shape and fibreglass bodyshell.