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Top Gear Reliant Robin Rocket Launch

Top Gear Reliant Robin Shuttle Rocket Launch, Model Rocket Store
One of the most ambitious and spectacular stunts that Top Gear ever attempted was, without a doubt, the Top Gear attempt to launch a Reliant Robin into space.

OK, so space was probably pushing the bounds of possibility a little bit too far, however, while Top Gear’s shuttle launch didn’t go entirely to plan, they certainly did manage to boldly send a Reliant Robin were no Reliant Robin had gone before.

Many people have asked if Top Gear really did launch a Robin Reliant into space and many believe that the Top Gear shuttle launch was faked, so we did a bit of digging to find out if what you see in the Top Gear Reliant Robin video below was for real.

Top Gear Robin Reliant Space Shuttle Challenge Video

Was the Top Gear Three Wheel Reliant Robin Car Rocket Launch Faked?

Well, the truth is that Top Gear is (or should that be was) an entertainment programme so there were definitely some special effects added for dramatic effect. 

Certainly the explosion when the Top Gear shuttle crashed into the ground was most likely faked, because most of the rocket fuel would have been used up during the flight.

It’s also been suggested that James May and Richard Hammond knew that the separation of the Reliant Robin shuttle from the rocket would fail, because they had already been told that there was a problem with the ejection charges, so there is a bit of acting going there.

The launch itself, though, was real! They really did strap the shell of a three wheel car to a huge rocket and it really did fly.

Del Boy and Rodney with Reliant Robin, Top Gear Reliant Robin Shuttle Rocket Launch, Model Rocket StoreIn case you are not familiar with the Reliant Robin, it’s a compact car, similar in size to Fords Pinto or AMC Gremlin, but missing one wheel and it has a fibreglass body. Although the car is the object of many jokes in the UK, its cheap price and low running costs made it quite popular in the 1970s. 

Nicknamed the Flying Pig and often erroneously referred to as the Robin Reliant, the car achieved fame when it appeared in the British TV Situation comedy Only Fools and Horses as the company car of Derek (Del Boy) Trotter. 

To prepare the Reliant Robin for the Top Gear shuttle episode, the car was stripped right down to just the fibreglass shell. The stripped down Robin then had wings added and it was bolted to the 88ft rocket assembly.

James May, Richard Hammond, Top Gear, Top Gear Reliant Robin Shuttle Rocket Launch, Model Rocket Store
The intention was that the Robin shuttle would detach from the main rocket assembly and glide back to earth, but problems with the assembly of the ejection bolts meant that the Top Gear presenters and crew knew in advance that the separation wouldn’t work, but decided to go ahead with the launch anyway.

The rocket itself was a 1/5th scale model of the space shuttle, complete with the equivalent of the expendable tank and two solid rocket boosters. The rocket was built over a period of four months by UK based aerospace components company Rocket Men with assistance from engineering company Mottram Engineering.

Top Gear Rocket Robin Launch Specs

Top Gear Reliant Robin Shuttle Launch Specs
88 Feet
Altitude (Estimated)
3,000 Feet
Lift off Mass
In excess of 1,400kg
Total Impulse
In excess of 200,000 Ns (R Impulse)
Stage 1 Propulsion
4 x O class hybrid motors + CTI composites
Stage 2 Propulsion
2 x O class hybrid motors.

Top Gear Reliant Robin Shuttle Flight Profile
SRB separation and recovery
Second stage boost
Orbiter separation and glide
External tank recovery

So, there you have it, Top Gear really did launch three wheeled Reliant Robin on the back of a rocket and it was pretty spectacular, if not entirely successful.

As for those who complain about the added pyrotechnics at the end, we say; hey, that’s entertainment!

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