Talking Motors: Kitten with an engine purr... well, not quite

Reliant Kitten
Reliant Kitten

Volunteering for the job of hanging up the washing last weekend (an attempt at brownie points – not an unselfish gesture) I was interrupted by a sound from outside.

Engine noises generally get me to stop what I’m doing and turn my head, but there’s a certain quality not belonging to all of them that turns a passing glance into going outside for a chat.

These kind of cars need to be brown, or yellow, or blue with visible rust

The sound obviously belonged to something old and small, probably rusty, and I could imagine the smell of plastic and fumes inside the car.

The half click, half clunk of a badly-fitting door, probably leaving huge gaps, pierced the quiet in the road.

I stopped turning my shirts the right way out and went over to the window.

No. It couldn’t be, could it? It was.

A Reliant Kitten.

A lot of you will not remember when you last saw a Kitten – they’re like hens’ teeth, probably with good reason. I’ve only ever seen two.

And for those who have no idea what I’m on about, think about a Reliant Robin, then give it four wheels, and that’s about it.

Happily, the example parked in close proximity to my home, a 1976 DeLuxe, was brown. These kind of cars need to be brown, or yellow, or blue with visible rust, but this one was well looked after.

I was astonished it was out in the rain without doing the tissue paper dissolving routine many 70s cars do as soon as it drizzles, a trait which could explain why there are only 52 of the estate version, like the one I could see, left on the roads.

The Kitten was introduced in 1975 as a successor to the equally diminutive Reliant Rebel, but only 4,074 were made, despite being in production for seven years. Though according to the Kitten Register, the last new registration was in 1984. This is probably because towards the end of the car’s production run kits were offered to dealers to build themselves.

With Reliant’s own 850 cc engine churning out 40hp, it’s mad to think that a new Kitten in 1975 would have cost you £1,450 and the first person to buy the estate version I was looking at probably paid nearer £1,600.

To offer some contrast, a new Mini would have cost £999 at the time.

The Kitten looks familiar from certain vantage points because it shared some body panels with the Robin three wheeler, and even though there were three body styles, the two-door, DeLuxe and van, they all used the same chassis.

Of course, Kittens are hard to find if you want one, owing to their rarity and that they will more than likely incur a trend tax if one does come up for sale.

And in another comparison with the Mini, it appears you’ll have a job finding an original one. Reliants appear to be prime candidates for having wide wheels, neon paint and different engines fitted.

Thankfully there is at least one Reliant Kitten pootling along as it has done for the past 41 years, enjoyed by an owner who no longer has to pay tax and doesn’t mind driving it in the rain.