Rolling sale: A crash-prone relic of British automotive history has hit the market in Park Slope

Car show: Former Chip Shop owner and Park Slope resident Chris Sell poses with the iconic Union Jack-branded Reliant Robin.
Photo by Trey Pentecost

It’s the deadliest thing to come out of England since the Black Plague, and it can be yours for only $5,000!

A Park Slope man is looking to sell his 1982 Reliant Robin, a unique and truly ridiculous experiment in British car manufacturing, which features only one front wheel and virtually no guarantee of safety.

“It’s more unstable than my mother was,” said Ninth Street resident Chris Sell, “and that’s saying something!”

Sell imported his outrageous three-wheeled curiosity as an advertisement for his Atlantic Avenue British food restaurant Chip Shop in 2011, and many Park Slope residents will recognize the car as much by its bold Union Jack paint job, as by its odd compliment of tires.

But Sell, who was forced to close Chip Shop in December last year, said he’s now eager to find another small business owner to purchase his Robin as a roving billboard for their shop, promising there’s no other car like it in the country.

“There’s only one of this model in the country,” he said. “Wherever you are, you’ll get so much attention.”

The Reliant Motor Company introduced drivers to the Robin in cheery 1973, where it’s diminutive 750-cc engine — later upgraded to 850 cc — made the distinctly British mini an attractive purchase for motorists during the 1970s oil crisis.

Of course, the Robin’s most distinctive flaw — its single front tire — gave the vehicle a reputation as a rolling death trap, and, while the gas-powered trike would eventually prove an evolutionary dead end in terms of automotive mechanics, it would earn an enduring legacy as a staple of English comedy.

The legendary British jester Rowan Atkinson featured a close relative of the Robin, the three-wheeled Reliant Regal Supervan III, as a recurring character on his 90s sitcom, “Mr Bean,” in which the show’s namesake protagonist routinely feuded with the light-blue trike, usually rolling the car before the end of an episode.

And British car shows Top Gear and Fifth Gear both produced episodes featuring the Robin — the car was rolled in both shows.

But not long after the Robin’s Top Gear appearance in 2010, Sell produced a parody of the BBC car show in which he drove a circuitous 50-mile route from Queens to Manhattan, into Brooklyn Heights and then across the borough to Floyd Bennett Field, before heading back to Queens — without rolling the car.

And throughout, New York car lovers couldn’t get enough of the strange British coop, with locals stopping to take pictures with their kids, as Sell quipped about the Robin’s inexplicable attraction.

“It’s kind of like your old uncle that gets drunk every Christmas, and p****** himself on the couch,” Sell said. “You’re not sure why you like him, but you like him anyway.”

And — don’t tell him we told you — but the $5,000 Sell is asking for his Reliant Robin may come as a steal, according to a local car aficionado, who said that collectors have developed an appetite for minis like the Robin, which can sell for ten times their listing price.

“Its a weird thing, the collectors love micros and minis,” said Lenny Shiller, president of the Antique Automobile Association of Brooklyn, and owner of 65 classic cars. “They’ve sold for as high as $50,000!”

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505.
Photo by Trey Pentecost

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