Thursday February 7, 2019
‘People are never sure what it is. They always say, “what a beautiful little car”, and some are surprised when I say it is a Reliant as most people only ever remember Reliant Robins and Reliant cars having three wheels’. This reaction to the 1968 Rebel 700 owned by Martyn Hubbard is quite understandable, as the marque’s main association with four-wheeled motoring tends to be the Scimitar family.
In fact, the 1964 Earls Court Motor Show marked the debuts of both the Scimitar GT and the Rebel. The latter was intended for the former three-wheeler owner who now held a car licence – and who might have otherwise considered buying a Mini or a Hillman Imp.
As Martyn points out, the Rebel did represent a ‘major step’ for the Tamworth concern, for although it was not Reliant’s first four-wheeled car – that honour goes to the 1961 Sabre – it was their first four-wheeled saloon. Power was from the familiar 600cc unit driving the rear wheels, with a GRP two-door body atop a ladder type chassis; the doors and front windshield were sourced from the Regal.
Raymond Baxter evaluated an early Rebel for the BBC and was impressed by its fibreglass body ‘that doesn’t mind being left out in all weathers’, the 27 ft turning circle and how ‘the little car goes very willingly’ - https://www.facebook.com/BBCArchive/videos/462320024141033/.
The coachwork of the Rebel was created by Tom Karen and the result was the anthesis of ‘flamboyant’. This was wholly in keeping with the image of Reliant’s economy cars - the historian Heon Stevenson brilliantly described the Regal as appealing to ‘the kind of motorist who, when man landed on the moon, would have wondered if the astronauts had remembered to cancel the milk before going away’.
The Rebel was a car in that tradition and to look at the Hubbard 700 is to be reminded that in the late 1960s many Britons preferred sensible motoring and a nice cup of tea to beads, incense and Jethro Tull records.
By 1967 the Rebel 700 gained a modified chassis and a larger engine, as well as now being available in estate car form. The saloon now cost £569 11s 11d, plus another £15 9s 7d for a heater and seat belts at £3 19 11d each (!). Car magazine evaluated the 700 opposite a Mini, an Imp and a Honda N600 and thought ‘despite its ‘relative slowness’ (the recorded top speed was 70 mph), some modifications by Reliant could turn the Rebel ‘into Britain’s answer to the Renault 4L’. Avan became available in 1971 and in the following year the Rebel 750 boasted 748cc power and, at last, an all synchromesh gearbox.
Production ended in 1974, with Reliant introducing its Kitten successor in 1975, but by the 1980s, the Rebel was semi-forgotten as compared with the Regal and the Robin. Martyn came by his 700 ‘in November last year, shortly after the NEC show and it was an unusual purchase as I've always been a fond Maestro owner. The Rebel has a full range of history, and she's in an average condition; the bodywork is fairly good, the interior requires some love, the carpets need a good clean, and the front seats need to be re-covered’. As to the performance, Martyn finds ‘It’s great, very enjoyable as long as you’re not in a hurry. When I first acquired the car, I had a few teething troubles to sort out, but now, it runs very well’.
The cabin of the Reliant Rebel is free from almost all distracting luxuries but Martyn points out ‘my everyday car is a 2017 Fiat Tipo which is full of gadgets and things - so it's a breath of fresh air to go “back to basics” and enjoy the experience of just driving’. Best of all, he acquired his 700 after ‘looking through old cine films of my late grandfather who owned a Rebel that was very much the same in colour’.
The Reliant never had any claims to glamour but in terms of social history and sheer nostalgia, it is the equal of any Jaguar E-Type – and that is why the Hubbard Rebel is such an important car.