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Meet the man who restores wrecked Reliants – and turns heads in Del Boy’s three-wheeled van

Hobby vintage vehicle restorer Lewis Buchan with some of his 11 three-wheeled vehicles. DCT Media/Kenny Elrick
Hobby vintage vehicle restorer Lewis Buchan with some of his 11 three-wheeled vehicles. DCT Media/Kenny Elrick

Comic character Mr Bean was the unlikely inspiration for one man’s lifelong passion for restoring vintage Reliant vehicles.

It was while watching the hapless Mr Bean as a child, that Lewis Buchan first set eyes upon the blue three-wheeled Reliant Regal Supervan.

Mr Bean famously disliked the ‘inferior’ three-wheeler, which often resulted in the car getting tipped over or shunted out of parking spaces.

But the young Lewis was utterly transfixed by this comical car.

Now as an adult, he owns a fleet of the unconventional vintage vehicles which he lovingly restores, drives and exhibits.

And while others may think of three-wheelers as naff 1970s throwbacks, it’s no joke for Lewis who dedicates all his spare time to finding and fixing forgotten Reliants.

No laughing matter

Thanks to Rowan Atkinson’s comedy creation, what started as a childhood dream has gone from a bit of spare-time tinkering to a full-time hobby for Lewis.

He said: “When I was little I used to watch Mr Bean on TV, there was a little, blue three-wheeled van that used to get bumped out of spaces and get knocked over.

“That set me on a decision that when I was older I wanted to own one of those vans.

“The Supervan is the one that most people forget about, and now I’ve got one of them.”

A trio of three-wheeled Reliants owned by vintage vehicle hobby restorer Lewis Buchan. DCT Media/Kenny Elrick

Lewis, 28, bought his first three-wheeled project in 2012 and is now the very proud owner of 10 Reliants and a rare three-wheeled Scammell lorry.

The roofer, who hails from Alford, said: “Over the course of the last year, I went from saying I was quite happy with the five of them, by the end of the year I was up to 10, and I added an eleventh a month ago.”

His Reliant collection now comprises MK 1 Robins, a few Regals, an earlier Regal 325, a Regal 330, the Supervans, a Bond Bug and Kitten.

Only about 150 roadworthy Reliant Bond Bugs still exist.

He added: “I’ve completely taken over my dad’s garage.

“I come home from work on my day job and go straight into the workshop, and that’ll be me until about 8 or 9 o’clock at night.

“It’s a great hobby to have, it’s really rewarding when you look at it afterwards and think ‘it’s gone from this wreck, to this’.

“It’s something you can really take pride in.”

Scrapheap challenge

Lewis is so passionate about his hobby that he has gone to extreme lengths to track down and save stricken Reliants, which can be quite hard to come by.

His most recent purchases have involved trawling city scrapyards and co-ordinating a rescue mission to Shetland.

“Two I saved from a scrapyard – I got sent a photo of the Reliant Kitten on the back of a lorry”, said Lewis.

The stricken Kitten sitting in a scrapyard in Aberdeen.

“I was told it was heading to a scrapyard in Aberdeen, so I hunted it down and tried to get a hold of it.

“The first day I couldn’t get it, but a few days later I managed to buy it and a Robin.

“Ever since I saw it in the photo it was on my mind, and I was thinking ‘I can’t believe these are going to be broken up’.

“It was a determination – I had to save them from being destroyed.”

And it’s very likely the two vehicles would have been broken up – the fate of many Reliants over the years.

The Reliant Regal 3/25 next to the barn in Shetland where it sat rotting for many years.

Lewis explained: “Scrapyards don’t usually take them because they’re fibreglass – it actually costs them to get rid of that, there’s very little scrap value.

“A lot of them would have been smashed up because the scrap price wasn’t there – they would have been cut into pieces and binned or burned I imagine.

“The one in Shetland I’ve saved was actually abandoned because the front wheel had snapped off it.

“It sat next to a barn for years until earlier this year when I started getting plans in place to move it.

The dilapidated Reliant Regal 3/25 being lifted over the fence when it was saved in Shetland.

“I found it on Facebook initially, then a couple of friendly guys up there moved it with a tractor and it got lifted over a fence.

“It was collected by a hire lorry and it was taken from Bressay over to Lerwick, then it went on the ferry down to Aberdeen.

“I collected it in Aberdeen.

“It was just one of these unique little cars and I thought ‘it’s screaming out to be saved’ – and I knew I could do it!”

The Reliant Regal 3/25 back at Lewis’ workshop near Alford awaiting restoration.

How do you restore a Reliant?

How long it takes to renovate these increasingly rare vehicles really depends on the condition they are found in.

Many have literally been left to rot in fields, not considered worthy of the treatment other classic cars receive.

But Lewis likes a challenge, and insists that repairing a Reliant is a great entry point for anyone wanting to begin vehicle restoration.

The red Reliant when Lewis first took ownership of it.

Can anyone with a toolkit and a Hayne’s manual take on the task?

Lewis said: “They’re quite simple little cars to restore.

“The Reliant is a fibreglass shell and a steel chassis.

“With the three-wheelers, you take the shell off them which is about 20 bolts.

“And then you can strip the whole chassis down, they are very easy to work on – the parts are near enough self-explanatory.

The red Reliant is unrecognisable after Lewis’ meticulous restoration work.

“They are ideal for someone who wants to get into classic cars to work on.

“But I do have to build the chassis myself, because when they are totally rotten you can’t just buy them off the shelf.

“That’s an extra skill I’ve been doing in the last year or so.

“Some parts are quite hard to come by, some you can find no problem.”

When it comes to rescuing abandoned and wrecked Reliants, nothing fazes Lewis.

One thing Lewis is happy to leave to the experts is the final paint job.

He added: “I do all the repairs – the only thing I don’t do myself is painting them.

Lewis’ meticulous handiwork has seen him win awards, and one of his Reliants is on display in the Grampian Transport Museum.

Incredibly, Lewis managed to transform this carcass of a car into an Only Fools and Horses inspired three-wheeler.

While another – restored as the famous yellow Trotter’s Independent Trading three-wheeler from 1980s hit sitcom Only Fools and Horses – is a guaranteed head-turner.

He said: “One of the hardest restorations was a 1970 Supervan, now a Trotter’s van replica – it took me just under a year to complete it.

Lewis Buchan’s replica Trotters Independent Trading van attracts lots of attention on the road. DCT Media/Kenny Elrick

“It was completely smashed to bits and was the biggest transformation.

“But it won the restoration trophy at the Kildrummy Rally in June.

“I do try to get them out to show as often as I can, but with Covid the last year, there hasn’t been as many shows.

The finished vehicle the day it won the restoration trophy at Kildrummy rally in June.

“The very first time I took the Trotter’s van out, the amount of people slyly trying to film me when I went past was brilliant.

“It’s quite a nostalgic vehicle for people and a lot of them don’t realise it’s a replica – they think it’s the actual van off TV.

“It’s quite funny.”

Del Boy’s famous three-wheeled Reliant during the filming of the 1991 Only Fools and Horses Christmas Special in Peckham, London. <em>Shutterstock</em>

One careful owner

As part of his repair work, Lewis also likes to research the history of his vehicles.

One former owner was amazed to see his old Reliant Supervan and got in touch with Lewis to share its story.

Lewis said: “They couldn’t believe it still existed. What I find with Reliants, there’s a great atmosphere around them – people are always happy to see them and the previous owners are brilliant people to speak to as well.”

And now Lewis is hoping the owners of his latest scrapheap find will also recognise their old motor and get in touch.

Lewis Buchan with one of his latest purchases – a Reliant Kitten rescued from an Aberdeen scrapyard. <em>DCT Media/Kenny Elrick</em>

When he saved the Kitten it was a shell with no identifying features giving any hint to its past.

He explained: “All I know about the ones I recently saved is that they had been lying in a yard in Aberdeen.

“The Kitten had no registration on it or anything, and being in a scrapyard there was nothing on the car.

“I managed to sort out the Robin, but the Kitten has been a bit of a head-scratcher.

The old Reliant Kitten has no registration or identifying details, Lewis is hoping to track them down. DCT Media/Kenny Elrick

“I’ve started on some of the repairs, but because of the list of cars to restore, I’ve been reluctant to take on too much.

“I’ve got two cars in front of it – one of them is at the painter’s and the other is in preparation for getting painted.

“The Kitten is waiting for its chassis to come back so I can get it built on the rolling frame to get it up to the workshop.”

Even in its state of disrepair, Lewis is hoping previous owners might recognise photos of the distinctive vehicle – or have photos of their own to share.

The only information he has is that it may have been owned in the Huntly area.

And while former owners may be surprised and bemused to see their previous motors still running, so far none have been in any rush to buy the vehicles back.

Lewis has had offers elsewhere for some of his quirky cars, but he’s not planning to part with his collection just yet.

Pride and joy

The jewel in the crown of Lewis’ curious collection has to be the last remaining Post Office three-wheeled Scammell lorry.

It’s an articulated lorry – of dinky proportions.

It’s only about the size of an average pick-up truck that can turn on its length, but it’s an extraordinary sole survivor of a long-gone aspect of Aberdeen’s postal history.

How the rare three-wheeled Post Office Scammell Scarab looked when Lewis acquired it.

The rare vehicle came to Lewis through his involvement with Alford Valley Railway – another restoration project.

He said: “The owner of the lorry offered it to me if I was able to restore it and show it locally.

“He’d seen the first Robin I’d done and was quite impressed, it has a nice tie in also being a three-wheeler.”

After taking ownership in 2015, it was four painstaking years before the vehicle was restored due the scale of the deterioration of the metalwork on the cab.

The fully-restored Scammell back to its former glory, complete in its original Post Office red colour. DCT Media/Kenny Elrick

The metal was so damaged it needed a specialist restorer to get involved, but the first attempt did not go well.

Although it “didn’t go to plan” first time, the second man that took it on treated it like his own pride and joy and did “a fantastic job”.

He explained: “It’s called a Scammell Scarab and it worked in Aberdeen all its life, going from the Crown Street Post Office, down to the railway station and back again.

One of Crown Street Post Office’s Scammell lorries setting off on the nightly run to the railway station in 1957. <em>DCT Archive</em>

“This one is from 1964, it was registered in London then dispatched to Aberdeen to work at Crown Street.

“This is a genuine Aberdeen Post Office lorry, all restored with its original roundel on the door with its fleet numbers.

“I’ve just recently got it fixed again as the engine needed some work.

“It’s a lovely little thing.”

The three-wheeled Post Office lorry is a sole survivor from a bygone era in Aberdeen. DCT Media/Kenny Elrick

Lewis has been told by the Post Office and the Scammell Club that there isn’t another one left.

He added: “You never see them, there’s a handful of these Scammell lorries left, but being the only Post Office one makes it unique.

“It’s one of a kind – one day I might display it, but for now I just want to enjoy it.”

The Aberdeen Post Office livery on the lorry which worked out of Crown Street for its entire service. DCT Media/Kenny Elrick

As well as turning heads in Alford, Lewis’ vintage vans recently turned the heads of television producers.

It was a proud moment for him when his vehicles featured in Susan Calman’s Happy Space.

The show was looking for people with quirky hobbies, and producers were keen to use the vehicles as a short montage in their collections episode.

Lewis’ obvious passion for these overlooked vehicles makes his hobby all the more rewarding.

He said: “There’s not a lot of people restoring Reliants, I find people treat them as a bit of a joke vehicle.

“They think it’s just a ‘plastic pig’ as they call them, and they haven’t got a big following.

“It’s a unique interest.”

  • If anyone has more information about the Reliant Kitten, you can get in touch with Lewis via email at
  • Follow Lewis’ restoration adventures on YouTube at Lewi Buch Productions

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