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Reliant Scimitar GTE

Reliant Scimitar GTE Published: 24th Oct 2018 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Reliant Scimitar GTE
Reliant Scimitar GTE
Reliant Scimitar GTE
Reliant Scimitar GTE
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Scimitar’s GTE changed the way we regarded estate cars and invented the sports hatch reckons Scott Bradley

It’s hard to sum up the Scimitar GTE better. “If genius is the ability to hit a target that no one can see, the management at Reliant Motor Co certainly exhibited a touch of it when they created the Scimitar GTE. For the Scimitar was a new kind of car which immediately created its own market,” so hailed Motor back in 1976.

It’s widely regarded that Reliant, better known for fi breglass-bodied, economy three-wheelers, invented the sports hatch when launching the Scimitar GTE but the car went much further than that because it forced major car makers to reappraise the working estate car market.

Before the Scimitar GTE came along in October 1968, three and fi ve-door cars were very much the poor relation of the range, aimed at the working ‘commercial traveller’ (the old term for a rep) needing a workhorse rather than something to brag about on the driveway. There were some exceptions; Vauxhall marketed a very nice Cresta-engined Victor estate but badged the Victor 3300 rather than Ventora, while you could have a more upmarket Triumph 2000 or the 2.5 PI estate – the BMW 5 Series Touring of its day.

Sadly, since it badgeengineered just about every other Austin and Morris, BMC never saw fi t to market Wolseley, Riley or MG Traveller or Countryman.

Cutting edge

The first Scimitar (SE4) surfaced in 1964, using the old Sabre Six chassis and Zodiac straight six power which changed when Ford went over to its new fangled Vee engines in the mid-60s.

The coupé body pointed the shape of things to come but while the GTE shared some of the SE4’s design cues it was mostly all new, especially the chassis. Tom Karen (who designed the Bond Bug) penned the now classic shape which was related to the Ogle GTS estate concept, further refi ned by stylist Peter Bailey.

Known as the SE5, the GTE came to fruition in less than a year and was shown at the 1968 Earls Court Motor Show to much acclaim, the high point being its pretty yet practical estate-like body and four separate seats where the rear ones could be dropped individually. Why didn’t anybody think of this before?

With a pokey Ford Zodiac 3-litre V6, the Scimitar was one of the fastest cars on the road while the shorter engine configuration, now more centralised, improved the weight distribution and handling no end even if it did hinder engine access.

Taking its cue from the Zodiac MkIV, the spare wheel was also mounted up front to liberate boot space and enable a giant 17 gallon petrol tank to be gainfully employed for truly long distance cruising abilities.

Successive facelifts and upgrades saw an improved dash layout, overdrive and automatic transmission options and, for 1972, the uprated 138bhp Capri unit.

HRH Princess Anne received a (manual with overdrive) SE5 as a combined 20th birthday and Christmas present in November 1970 by her parents and it was the start of a life long love affair wi the model resulting in no less than eight GTEs all bearing the registration number 1420 H in recognition of her being Colonel-in-Chief of the 14th/20th Hussars.

Cut above the rest?

“An exceptionally good car of its kind” acclaimed Motor in an early road test and understandably rivals weren’t slow to follow in the tyre tracks of the Scimitar. BMW was arguably the fi rst with its neat and functional 2002 Touring along with Volvo – of all people – who launched a glassy if hearse-like estate based upon the 1800S coupé although neither had the ‘rightness’ of the Reliant design or its towering V6 touring capabilities.

You could have Ford’s legendary Advance Vehicles Operations build you an Escort Mexico estate to order (and several did) but in fact, the only major car maker who saw the potential of a sporting estate was Vauxhall who, in 1972, launched the Viva 2300SL. It was pretty, had a sporty interior, was really good value plus that 2.3 twin carb engine pulled like a train. Sadly, that lump was rough in the Viva body and the car was always criticised for lack of comfort and although much improved in the later Magnum trim.

Ford got it right a few years later with the hatch-backed Capri II, available in a vast range of trim and engines. While lacking the exclusivity of the Scimitar as well as boasting a cruder suspension, the Ford was a better built, more rounded design yet cheaper.

In early 1975, for example Capri 3.0 Ghia at £2972 was almost £600 cheaper than a GTE; opt for the plainer 3000GT and you banked enough to buy a brand new Citroën 2CV as a town hack.

As better as the Capri was as a buy, it lacked the Scimitar’s saving grace of optional overdrive which raised the Reliant’s gearing from an already respectable 23.7mph per 1000rpm (itself superior to the identicalengined Capri) to 26.8mph – small wonder the GTE was such an exceptional tourer.

It remains a mystery why Ford never made overdrive available on its post Zodiac V6-engined ranges (including Granada) when it still happily supplied the engines and transmissions to Reliant…

The Scimitar went under the knife to create the SE6 for 1976, the most fundamental change to the design because it also effected its character. Reliant knew it had to do something drastic as the sports hatch was now the in-thing with rivals surfacing from all quarters, including Lancia with its Beta HPE, Alfa’s new Alfetta GTV, the Lotus Elite and even Jensen-Healey who introduced a hatchback GT in a bid to try to save the car that used the same engine as the indifferent Elite.

Furthermore, the success of the GTE caused car makers to also reappraise the role of their previously spit-andsawdust ‘estate cars. Ford duly introduced a flagship 2000E version for 1975, Vauxhall rebranded the old 3300SL Victor as the posh Ventora estate (complete with a Ventora interior) while Chrysler gave the decade old Humber Sceptre a welcome shot in the arm by introducing a pleasant Americanised shooting brake.

Reliant, by stretching the chassis by four inches and three inches in width made this essentially working estate more upmarket with better rear seat room, plusher trim and a power steering option.

The result was a GTE that had become more palatial yet sadly podgier and the Scimitar’s sharpness was blunted as a consequence. This wasn’t lost on the motoring press who previously were always staunch fans of the GTE but now started to criticise its deficiencies. Reliant tried to give the Scimitar an edge again in 1978 with a raft of changes. A year later the Scimitar SE6a became a double-edged sword when the Tamworth company announced a Stag-like GTC, complete with its Triumphderived hood. It was a bold yet logical move since with the demise of the Stag two years earlier, the market was ripe for a GT cabriolet and Reliant started to work on a cut down Scimitar as soon as the Stag was culled.

Some who have owned both reckon Tamworth did it better than Triumph, too!

But, by the decade’s end the Scimitar was a blunt tool even if it did sport a sort of Morgan-esque longevity. With the old Essex V6 being dropped the SE6b had to employ the new 2.8-litre Cologne engine with better cooling but a lower final drive ratio due to the new engine’s lack of guts; 437 made. The final Reliant-built car was made in 1986, and was appropriately delivered to Princess Anne.

Middlebridge Scimitar Ltd bought the production rights but it wasn’t until 1989 that the relaunched car became available, now boasting a better 2.9i engine and a true five-speed manual gearbox (or four-speed automatic) but less than 80 were made with the fifth car going to that GTE loving Royal show jumper which she still cherishes. Production rights are currently owned by GTE specialist Graham Walker who will build you one to order.

Last month’s Scimfest celebrated 50 years of this visionary car – sadly HRH Princess Anne wasn’t in attendance although she still owns one. It’s hard to cut ties once you’ve owned a Scimitar.

Remember when

1979 Mrs T swept to power – here’s some other events of a rather turbulent year when the GTE cut its roof off to become a cabrio

Punk rocker Sid Vicious dies while on bail on a murder charge, John Wayne succumbs to cancer and the first nudist beach is opened in the UK during the Winter of Discontent.

Arsenal and Man Utd staged one of the best FA Cup finals when the former snatched it 3-2. South African Jody Scheckter won the F1 crown in a Ferrari and Cloughie’s Notts Forest snatched the European Cup 1-0 from Malmo at the Olympiastadion in Munich.

Music-wise, punk rock had died out, replaced by New Romantics. Best sellers were Cliff Richard (We don’t talk anymore), Tubeway Army (Are friends electric?), Ladies Night from Kooland the Gang and, of course YMCA, from Village People.

The Sony Walkman is launched in Japan, costing around $200 (as was the first iPod in the US it is claimed) while the first snowboard is made. Volkswagen finally made its original Golf GTi in RHD form.

Boy, could you buy cheap classics back then! V12 E-types were yours from £5000, an earlier XK120 £4250, Healeys easy £3000 buys and a Ferrari 275 GTB a positive snip at just £9500. Read it and weep; one dealer had a brace of DB4s and DB5s on offer all at less than £4000 a go!


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