Magazine Cover - Classic Cars For Sale - 1000s of Classic Car Reviews, How To Service & Maintenance Guides

Reliant Scimitar GTE

Reliant Scimitar GTE Published: 9th Aug 2019 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Fast Facts

  • Best model: SE5a
  • Worst model: SE6
  • Budget buy: SE6
  • OK for unleaded?: Officially no, seemingly yes
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): L4242 x W1600mm (SE5)
  • Spares situation: Superb
  • DIY ease?: Excellent
  • Club support: Very good
  • Appreciating asset?: Steadily
  • Good buy or good-bye?: Good buy while they’re cheap
Magazine Subscription
The latest issue of Classic Cars For Sale is on sale now - Pick up your copy from all good newsagents including WHSmith or click here to subscribe now

Subscribe to Classic Motoring Magazine and save over 20%

Subscribe NOW

Available at all good newsagents including WHSmith

Landmark classic that’s still seriously undervalued in every sense. Practical and prestigious with great owner support. Huge choice

We just don’t get it, we never have. Here’s a car that created a new market segment half a century ago, gained Royal seal of approval and are individual and pretty prestigious. And yet Reliant’s Scimitar continues to fail to cut it as a classic. Back in the late 60s you could have something sporty or cavernous, but not both – until Reliant came along with the V6 sports hatch – which, in turn, gave rise to the hot hatch. Could this be the most practical sporting classic ever built – yet the most underrated – and for how much longer?


1968 Launched that August as a sporting estate based on the earlier more conventional SE4 coupé. Zodiac V6 powered (3.0 although 2.5 was listed) with choice of transmissions but only one set trim level.

1972 By now a rear wash/wipe was made standard, there was a mild facelift while a Ford automatic became an option (1970) and overdrive was standardised from mid ’71. September 1972 saw the uprated 138bhp Ford Capri V6 engine (SE5a).

1976 Dropped in favour of a new longer, wider, roomier more palatial but less sporting SE6. Power-assisted steering now made available, a new 20-gallon fuel tank along with Girling dual-circuit brakes plus a stronger automatic gearbox.

1978 SE6a is a much needed rethink with a stronger scuttle, stiffer front springs, a change to Lockheed brakes with larger rear drums and, strangely, smaller front discs. Stag-like GTC is launched for ’79.

1980 SE6b débuts with the new Ford 2.8-litre Cologne engine boasting better cooling and a lower final drive ratio; 437 were made. The final Reliant-built car was made in 1986, and delivered to GTE fan HRH Princess Anne – who else?

1987 Specialist Middlebridge buys production rights to the GTE but it wasn’t until 1989 that a relaunched car became available. There was now a 2.9i engine and five-speed manual or four-speed automatic, but before 75 cars had been produced, the company went bust. Within a year the production rights had transferred to specialist Graham Walker, although production was never resumed.

Driving and what the press thought

Launched at a time when most deigns still harked back to 1950s, Reliant – best remembered for its three-wheelers, remember – went in the other direction, equipping the GTE with a sophisticated chassis using an Aston DBS-style stern suspension for remarkably adept handling – the GTE is more of a driver’s car than you think any estate of this era could possibly be although this Reliant’s forté remains its impressive long distance, mile munching ability thanks to tall gearing (particularly so with the overdrive transmission) and a massive fuel tank; the only long running detriment was fi rm, wooden ride perhaps.

Not that it was a slouch; SE5s were GTi quick, less so the lardy SE6s which could see 0-60mph slump from a best of 8.7 seconds to a more sedate 12 second mooch (in the case of the SE6 auto-ed) but all were good for nigh on 120mph pace and a respectable 22-28mpg depending upon how you drive. When the later German 2.8 V6 replaced the evergreen Capri 3-litre, the Scimitar was blunted but was improved on the MIddlebridge motors when the freerbreathing 2.9-litre came on stream.

Overdrive really gives this Reliant a magnificent longer stride, however most came as autos. The bigger, SE6 benefits from a much roomier cockpit (plus PAS option) but the trade off is a less sharper Scimitar although if you haven’t driven the SE5 you will not have known plus the suspension can be easily uprated if desired.

One thing the SE6 desperately needs is power steering however as the unassisted set up is heavy and also requires a tedious four turns lock to lock.

Autosport summed the GTE thus: “The demand for a real sports car with four seats has at last been satisfied”. Monthly Car asked way back in 1971 “Is this [SE5] Britain’s most underrated car?”. Three years later, in a group test squaring up to the Triumph Stag, it thought the GTE was more the sports car and desirable although in later larger, lardier SE6 guise the mag’s opinion changed to “Softer now, but still good” although by the time the GTC surfaced, the edit had changed its tune to “Starting to age and not so pleasant”.

Motor’s view started off with the original SE5,”A strong favourite among the Motor staff”, thought the SE6 lost a lot of its fun factor (“Marred by understeer and heavy, low speed gearing”) but reckoned it a better buy than the similar in concept MGB GT V8. “Its blend of sportiness, refinement and practicability is unique… in such a distinctive package”, remained the verdict.

DIY caring

Fibreglass-bodied, there’s no rust worries although shell still deteriorates; chassis was galvanised after 1982. Being a parts pick-and mix– spares aren’t a big problem, although certain Zodiac engine and transmission bits are becoming harder to source. Fuse boxes can melt; SE5 units are under the bonnet while those in an SE6 are in the passenger footwell. Make sure you check all the switchgear works okay; from the SE5a onwards they are fragile. Apart form the usual electric problems associated with plastic-bodied cars, the GTE is no harder to service than a Capri V6 although engine access is harder due to its location and the engines are also more prone to overheating. Help is at hand via Graham Walker, QRG and, Sporting- Reliant’ and


With its Ford running gear and Triumph front suspension, modifications and improvements are easy yet, most owners prefer to keep them standard apart from fitting a tow bar. In fact, it’s reckoned that half are so equipped and the GTE has historically been put to work more than a Range Rover!

Even kept original, the owners’ club advises a better radiator and header tank, electric cooling fan and on later SE6, reverting to SE5 plumbing. The ‘Essex’ V6 is capable of around 170bhp (speak to Burton Power) care of a racier camshaft, heads and better breathing.

The Triumph TR suspension was said to have been compromised by the damper choice by Reliant and the SE6 went through several changes to make it handle more like the SE5. You can’t fit the SE6’s power steering to SE5s without a lot of work warn specialists so it’s best to opt for an electric conversion from the likes of EZ or Litesteer. A modern five-speed with better ratios from later Capri or Granada can be fitted; ditto later Ford four-speed auto fits. Many axle ratios used. The 2.8 models had much lower gearing to counter lack of guts.

Values and specialist view

With a claimed 3000 around, there’s no shortage of runners and projects. Scimitar specialist Graham Walker has always maintained that their prices will soar and “you’ll be kicking yourself for not buying an SE5 when they were so cheap”. He was right because now, he says, values have soared over past 18 months primarily for the SE5 generation, witness a recent sale for £30,000. Walker adds that’s a car he restored as most Scimitars aren’t in such excellent condition meaning the problem is locating the best cars left.

Walker can bespoke build you a ‘new’ one for much the same although generally a fairly decent one can be had for a quarter of this outlay, and the grandest of GTEs around ten grand to fi fteen grand. The cheapest – although not by a great deal as condition counts the most – are SE6s although Middlebridge cars can command £20,000. GTCs are coming on strong and priced slightly higher over an equivalent SE5 – say around £12,000 for something really nice.

QRG (Queensbury Road Garage) has been around for almost half a century and during the 1970s was not only a Reliant distributor but also supplied TVRs and Jensens. Nigel Palmer says the GTE was by far better built than an equivalent TVR and isn’t surprised that values have rocketed, particularly for pre-SE6 models, with the exception of the GTC. Out of interest, QRG has an SE6 for sale on behalf of a customer; a one owner car which the specialist converted to Scorpio Cosworth 24V power complete with sorted suspension for £16,995. In contrast, a similar aged standard SE6b with modded engine is offered at £5500, so there’s something for everybody it appears.

Vee sting?

Trusty units, once hot, expect to see 15-20psi at tickover and 50-75psi at 2500rpm. Being unstressed, the Essex powerplant tends to be durable. Oil pressure can be reduced through engine wear as well as the oil pump drive pencil wearing; replacing this is cheap and easy. The other likely maladies include stripped timing gear (the done thing is to replace with stronger albeit nosier steel gears) and rocker posts pulling out of the cylinder heads; if the engine sounds especially tappety, suspect this is about to happen. Capri experts Tickover of Kent sells fully overhauled engines for a tad over £2100. The German Cologne unit doesn’t suffer these problems but certain engine bits are fast becoming hard to source; you can fi t 2.9 pistons to 2.8 block but only after skilled machining work.

What To Look For

Plastic fantastic?

Rust isn’t an issue, naturally. However, cracks, crazing and poorly repaired accident damage are all too common and causing lots of grief and expense to properly make good. Prone areas are the corners of the bonnet, the base of the windscreen pillars, the panel below the window on the tailgate. The steel chassis is unlikely to be rotten badly. Some late SE6bs and GTCs have a galvanised chassis which is unlikely to have any corrosion. The key thing to check is the state of the main rails. Less of an issue is corrosion in the outriggers just behind the front wheels, along with the side rails below the sills. The rear suspension mounting points on the axle, you’ll be able to see better by removing each rear wheel. Graham Walker sells new chassis frames at under £3000 and that’s good value.

Still sharp?

If the Scimitar has an Achilles’ heel, it’s the TR front suspension, which is prone to wear in numerous places – some specialists reckon its due to the greater weight and cornering forces employed. The top inner wishbone bushes wear, while the fulcrum bars on which they pivot corrode. Replacing both is easy (poly bushes are readily available), but in the case of the latter the correct shims should have been used or the camber will be out. Also expect to find wear between the vertical link and bottom trunnion; this is best checked by ensuring the steering isn’t stiff when the car’s nose weight is lifted off the ground.

Four types of wheel were offered. There were steel items with three different glassfibre trims, ‘Princess Anne’ alloys, Dunlop composite wheels (with an alloy centre riveted to a steel rim) or Wolfrace alloys.

Scimitar gearboxes (fourspeed with or without overdrive) are tough enough, but prone to oil leaks. The first sign of old age is jumping out of second or fourth gears. Early cars featured a Borg Warner Type 35 auto while from the SE6 there was a better Ford-sourced C3 ‘box. The latter is also the stronger of the two, but both are generally reliable.

Three Of A Kind

BMW 2002 touring
BMW 2002 touring
There aren’t many Tourings left and as a result you’ll have to look hard to find one yet despite rarity, are worth less than an equivalent 2002 saloon. Beautifully built, superbly engineered and nice to drive, the 2002 Touring was built between 1971 and 1974. It was offered solely as a 2-litre in the UK, but 1600, 1800 and 2002Tii versions were available elsewhere.
Volvo 1800ES
Volvo 1800ES
A direct rehash of the coupé to rival the Scimitar, the Volvo is also one of the best-built and perhaps the most distinctive if not pretty. It’s a rare car though, as it was offered for just two seasons and most of the cars built were shipped to the US. More practical than the coupé that sired it, the ES is every bit as good to drive yet it’s even cheaper although some body parts are rare and expensive.
Ford capri
Ford capri
As soon as Ford put a rear door in the Capri II, the GTE was on a sticky wicket, especially as it was much cheaper. Better built into the bargain, but the Ford always, irritatingly, lacked the overdrive transmission that made the GTE so relaxing and economical. Handling wasn’t so much fun either although the gap closed once the 2.8i was introduced.
Classic Motoring

Share This Article

Share with Facebook Share with Facebook

Share with Twitter Tweet this article

Share bookmark with Delicious Share bookmark with Delicious

Share with Digg Digg this article

Share with Email Share by email

User Comments

This review has 0 comments - Be the first!

Leave a comment

Keep it polite and on topic. Your email address will not be published. Please do not advertise products, all posts of this nature will be removed. We do not stock or supply any of these products, we independently review these products.

Subscribe Today
Latest Issue Cover - Click here to subscribe

Subscribe to Classic Motoring Magazine and save over 25%

Britians top classic cars bookazine