Throughout the UK the Reliant Robin to many people is commonly referred to as, “The Plastic Pig” and yet many people may well ask why is this the case. As with many euphemisms its hard to say exactly how the term Plastic Pig derived but here a a few suggestions that I think have a firm basis.
Tamworth in Staffordshire, UK, has a rich and long history that can be dated back to 43AD. In its early years its been invaded by nearly every group of invaders throughout history and has been host to many a Royal figure at its Castle. Its in the fairly modern history of Tamworth that our answer may well be hiding.
One of Tamworth’s most famous sons is a Sir Robert Peel (Second Baronet & Statesman - 1788 - 1850). After entering into the House of Commons in 1809 Sir Robert enjoyed a long and successful political career. It was whilst in Ireland in 1809 that Sir Robert discovered a breed of pig referred to as the “Irish Grazer” that appeared to impress him so much, he had several of them imported to his Drayton Manor Estate in Tamworth where the pigs were bred. The breed became very popular and in 1865 were given a separate classification as a breed at the English Royal Show and since have been exported to practically every English-speaking country in the world. Due to the “sandy” colour of the Tamworth pig, it is often referred to as the “Sandy Back”.
In 1829 politicians had become increasingly concerned about the problems of Law and order in London and so it was Sir Robert Peel’s idea to change the way London was policed. His resulting reform created the Metropolitan Police Force that we know today and this is one reason Police men are often called “Peelers” or “Bobbies”... ie: they are “Bobbies’s Men”. So where does this all leave us. Tamworth it appears is now famous for amongst other things, the Tamworth Pig, The Modern Day Police Force and the Reliant Robin.
In the UK the Reliant Robin is seen by many 4-wheeler drivers as a vehicle they would never drive, and despite being amazingly clean animals pigs are often thought of as dirty greedy animals. In our every day speech many of us at some time or another refer to the stereotypical habit of pigs. For example, “I had a flat tyre last night and it was a pig to change” or “Have you come out of that piggin bathroom room yet?” or even, “Don’t eat all that you pig”. So, as the Reliant Robin is made from Glass fibre, some how both the Tamworth Pig and Reliant Robin have been merged as one to form the “Plastic Pig”.
That seems one logical explanation so I guess you are wondering now where the Police come into this. As mentioned the Police Force (as we know it) was created by Sir Robert Peel and we know Sir Robert Peel liked Pigs. Could this also be why in many of the older Police Dramas on the television that the Police are often referred to as “Pigs” or the “filth”. Maybe the Police Force have suffered the same wrath as the Reliant Robin. Two Tamworth products, Police and Pigs, combined together to be simply, “Pigs”.
Whilst this theory of the Plastic Pig may appear to work the question remains, why wasn’t the Reliant Regal, the most sold 3-wheeler of all time, dubbed with the same label? Reliant have been making 3-wheelers since 1935 and Tamworth Pigs first existed from 1809 so why wait until 1973 when the Robin was introduced? A friend of mine, Malcolm Norris, runs the Reliants web site and he informs me that perhaps it didn’t! Malcolm told me that prior to the Robin the Staffordshire Police Force in the late 1960’s had a small fleet of Reliant Regals that were apparently “Pigs” to drive. It’s possible therefore that the term “Plastic Pig” may well have started here. We now have Police men, driving Reliant Regals. As we have discussed, Police men were often referred to by some as “Pigs” and so a Police man driving a “Reliant Regal” may have possibly earned the Reliant the tag, “Plastic Pig”. But then perhaps the Police Force them selves daubed the vehicle a “Plastic Pig” as some of them thought they were “pigs” to drive. (Could the term “Road Hog” creep in anywhere here?)
What ever the theory it seems apparent that the term “Plastic Pig” has possibly been created from three main Tamworth elements; the Tamworth Pig, The Metropolitan Police Force and the Reliant 3-Wheeler. Who knows had Sir Robert Peel took a liking to Goats and imported them instead we would be calling the Robin, “A plastic Goat”!!!
Addendum: In 2003 Elvis Payne took part in a BBC film entitled “Plastic Pigs” This can be viewed on YouTube by clicking here.