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Ford Capri vs. Reliant Scimitar GTE vs. Triumph 2000 vs. Volvo P1800 vs. BMW 5 Series

If a classic sports car is too small and restrictive for your needs then how about a sportshatch which combines performance with Published: 15th Nov 2019 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

What The Experts Say...

1st Capri | 2nd GTE | 3rd Triumph | =4th BMW & Volvo

Any car with a Ford badge is going to prove easy to run and own – Capris are no exception. Apart from low cost service parts there’s enormous interchangeability with other Fords. Where it gets expensive is with body parts and specific trim bits.

It may be a specialist build but Scimitars are remarkably easy to keep mobile and this includes replacement chassis frames being available. Trim parts aren’t so widespread but major Reliant specialists such as Graham Walker and QRG (Queensberry Road Garage) can build you a ‘new’ GTE to order if you have a minimum of £25,000 to spend. Overheating is a bane to all Scimitars due to their marginal cooling but various mods are known to the owners’ club, such as better header tanks, Citroën fans, electric cooling fans and so on.

The 2000/2500 is a mix of good and bad. Mechanically, they are exceptionally easy to fettle, the problems lie in the lack of new and old body and trim parts and, because of their low values, only the dedicated embark upon major restorations.

Both the BMW and Volvo will prove horrendously pricey to bodily rebuild although the hardware is simple to maintain with the Volvo being as orthodox as the MGB. The only main problem appears to lie in certain brake parts, such as servos. All of the five classics are supported by great owners clubs.

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Even though Aston, Jaguar and MG seized upon the idea first, before the Scimitar GTE came along in October 1968, estates were very much the poor relation of the range, aimed at the working ‘commercial traveller’ (rep to you-ed) who needed a workhorse rather than a fashion statement. There were a few exceptions; Triumph had the best posh load lugger with its 2000 or 2.5 PI estate – the BMW 5 Series Touring of its day? Vauxhall came close too with a very nice lusty 3.3-litre Cresta-engined Victor estate but badged the Victor 3300 rather than Ventora (until 1974), and Ford did offer a Mk2 Cortina GT estate before turning its Capri coupé into a sports hatch. Amazingly, since it badge-engineered just about every other Austin and Morris, BMC never saw fit to market Wolseley, Riley or MG Traveller offshoots.

“Scimitar was a new kind of car which immediately created its own market,” recalled Motor back in 1976, when testing the latest SE6 model and it certainly started a trend before the hot hatch took over to prove that a sports car could also be practical. We’ve assembled five hot haulers that are loads of fun. P1800ES, BMW Touring, Capri, Triumph 2000/2500 or Scimitar GTE – what’s your estate of the art?

Which one to buy

1st Capri | 2nd GTE | 3rd Triumph | =4th Volvo & BMW

More due to weight in numbers than anything else, Ford’s Capri must rank tops for its accessibility. Launched in 1974 and surviving up to 1987, there’s no shortage of choice in variety of engine sizes and trim, so there’s something for everybody. For no good reason the Capri II is the least liked of the three generations and so are the best value out of the lot. Of the wide ranges, we’d go for the 2-litre GT or S at least with the 2.8i the best of the breed, especially the last of the line Brooklands, although many lower ranked Capris have been uprated by owners and it’s as well to know that five-speed transmissions came on stream for 1983 for the 2-litre versions.

The GTE is considered at its best in SE5 and especially SE5a form when it gained up gunned Capri 3-litre power along with its (non overdrive gearbox). The price of the SE6 becoming posher and more palatial was a blunting of the Scimitar sharpness, but was improved with the 6a. By the end of the 1970s, the GTE, which was getting on a bit, gained the Granada 2.8 V6 engine. Dubbed the SE6b, less than 500 were made. Appropriately enough, loyal Royal, Princess Anne purchased the last in 1986. After that, GTEs were made by the new owners, Middlebridge, who reintroduced the GTE for a short time, moving it even further upmarket, in a pretty potent 2.9-litre V6 EFI powered, luxury trim format (until 1990).

Triumph’s big saloon has always been underrated as a classic but the handy-sized estates come into their own, none more so than the 2500. Initially, it came as the (TR5-powered, albeit derated to a claimed 132bhp) 2.5PI in Mk1 and Mk2 guises before Triumph switched to reliable carburettors. In 1975 the 2000TC, 2500TC and 2500S went on sale, the S having a higher specification with Stag alloy wheels; at the same time, production of the infamous 2.5PI was halted but all cars gained an improved stiffer suspension, especially the S, while power for the 2000 TC crept up by a claimed 7bhp so don’t dismiss a lower powered 2000 if good.

The Volvo P1800ES and BMW 2002 Touring are handicapped by their singleton ranges and for some, their looks will count when deciding. While Volvo done the best it could, turning the saintly coupé into ‘Snow White’s Hearse’ (as the Volvo became known), its resultant appearance is questionable, “highly distinctive if hardly beautiful” as one test put it. Less so the cleanly styled BMW 2002 Touring which looks complete and tidy from all angles. Both are offered solely with one 2-litre engine tune and trim, the Volvo sporting fuel injection for a distinctly healthy 124bhp. BMW had this option too, but only for Europe, so the carb-fed 100bhp is the only choice unless you don’t mind a left-hand drive version.

In terms of prices, they are pretty evenly matched as BMW Touring prices are below that of the normal saloons and Capri II values are the worst of the range meaning £9000 is ample for a top BMW or Ford, although all V6s Capris can go for double the value of a ‘four’. Reliant Scimitar GTE’s are – at last – starting to climb but you should be able to net a sharp one for less than £10,000, especially if it’s an SE6 model, although Middlebridge cars can go for three times this.

Cheapest of the bunch are the Triumphs (£5000+ for a good Mk2, Mk1 PIs are worth a fair bit more) and the dearest is the Volvo where desirability for the fastback P1800 has dragged ES values along and £20,000 is not out of the question for a heavenly hearse although has a nice example on sale at an affordable £13,995 – in white of course!

What's the best to drive

1st Capri & GTE | 3rd BMW | =4th Volvo & Triumph

Ford power edges it here because – in V6 form at least – they have performance to match their presence. The 3-litre has the most torque but the later German 2.8 successor is the sweeter performer although only the Capri comes in full fat 160bhp tune thanks to fuel injection; in contrast the SE6 Scimitar had to make do with 135bhp and the Reliant’s legendary lanky gearing had to be cut down to compensate. It’s still sufficiently tall and although the Reliant utilised upon an oddly-geared Ford Zodiac transmission it was the only one to be equipped with overdrive although five-speed gearbox was fitted from 1982.

Capris come with a variety of engines but it is generally agreed that away from the lusty V6, the 99bhp Pinto engine is the next best bet and a lot lustier than the peakier 88bhp 1600GT version – if you can find one, that is. The lighter four pot engine makes the Capri the better handling if not as much fun as the V6, the exception being the 2.8i as the handling was developed by Ford’s SVE division. With the best suspension fitted to any Capri aided by grippy ultra low profile tyres it’s a cut-price Aston and later 2.8s came with a limited slip differentials, unlike the earlier beefy and bullish 3-litre predecessors.

Scimitars have always handled very well, care of Reliant’s sophisticated rear suspension design and the SE5 was considered one of the sportiest cars you could buy in its day. In contrast the larger bigger, heavier SE6 feels ponderous by comparison although there’s improved space and comfort in return. If there is one notable flaw with the design it’s in the styling where, along with the Volvo, its narrow window area limits all round visibility, one area the BMW really scores against the others here.

The 2002 Touring is a very pleasant car. Performance is better than you think thanks to lowly gearing, and the handling is trim, perhaps better than the saloon due to a stiffer rear suspension. However, the pleasure comes from the entire experience of an early BMW where everything feels all apiece. The handling on 2002s can be a bit lively, particularly in the wet, but with modern tyres and only moderate power to harness, the Touring holds no fears.

The Volvo P1800 ES is derived from the 1950’s Amazon saloon and it rather feels it, though not in a bad way because, with its soft suspension and narrow track it feels not dissimilar to our MGB GT albeit with considerably more power and rather too much roll.

That the Triumph is listed last by no means discredits it because, unlike the rest, the 2000/2500 wasn’t designed to be a sportshatch and driven as such. The main thing about these big Triumphs are their smoothness and the car feels far more refined than the smaller Dolomite. The 2000 offers decent amounts of power and torque but move to a 2500 and you’ll quickly fall in love with the effortless pulling power of that longerstroke engine, 132bhp in early PI guise but savagely down rated to barely 106bhp in the admittedly more reliable TC form but, really, all big Triumphs are more suited to cultured cruising where overdrive provides a relaxed gait.

Thanks to its weight distribution and a long wheelbase, the 2000 and 2500 ride well but they aren’t the most agile of cars, suffering from a front ‘lean’ into the corner which was only cured when Triumph fitted a beefier front anti roll bar to the later 2500S model. If anything, the stubbier Mk1 handles the best.

Power steering was available on the Capri, Triumph and SE6s Scimitars and the later, larger, heavier GTE needs it the most as the Reliant was criticised at launch for not only its heaviness but lack of caster (i.e. steering wheel return) making quick driving hard going. A vast majority of GTEs and V6 Capris were automatics as it suits their easy-going characters well. A good many Triumphs were so equipped although it makes the already tepid 2000 feel rather sluggish.

Improvement potential

1st Capri | 2nd Triumph | 3rd GTE | 4th BMW | 5TH Volvo

The fact that it’s an old school Ford puts the Capri top and finding a totally standard example is becoming harder. The best results come from improving the handling and brakes and there’s copious amounts of aftermarket equipment to do this. Engine tuning is easy even if certain V6 parts are coming harder to find; current fads include later Mondeo Zetec engines and, for V6 fans, the special 200bhp 24V Cosworth is favourite although there’s not enough Scorpio donor cars to go round these days!

As the 2000/2500 shared its components with TRs and Stags, improvement potential is there for the taking and one can make a very nice fast freight carrier for not a lot of outlay but any engine tuning is best kicked off by fitting the larger 2.5-litre engine even if one enterprising tuner made delightful Stag-powered ones to much acclaim during the early 1970s, until British Leyland threatened legal action if Del Lines persisted!

The Reliant relies on a mix and match of mainstream manufacturers hardware, such as Triumph front suspension and TR brakes, for example. The possibilities are considerable although specialists say that any improvements made by owners are mostly moderate and chiefly major on better usability.

BMWs are firm favourites with younger enthusiasts but less so the models made before the 3 Series. Engine tuning is expensive and parts are scarce although suspension and brakes enhancements are not a problem plus many parts from later 3 Series cars can be substituted to keep it in-house if you so wish. Similar comments apply to the Volvo but with less scope.

Owning and running

And The Winner Is...

1st GTE | 2nd Capri | 3rd Triumph | = 4th BMW & Volvo

Last first: the 2000 Touring is a fine offshoot of the 02 range and good value, but the later ranges, such as the E30, show this sporting holdall in its best light – which is considerable. There’s a love/ hate relationship with the Volvo because the ES is a marmite P1800 and it’s as simple as that. An increasing number of enthusiasts are beginning to appreciate the many virtues of the practical and unpretentious Triumph 2000/2500 that are ideal for a growing family thanks to their inviting interiors, additional rear doors and proper estate accommodation. The Capri is by far the most sensible pick because of the wider choice of models made and remain and the ease of running that comes with the Ford badge.

It’s hard to beat a V6 Capri but the Scimitar does in certain areas. It’s just as quick, handles better, is equally as practical (did you know that half of all GTEs sport a tow bar?) and is no harder to maintain. On top of this, even ignoring the well known Royal approval, there’s real air of prestigiousness about this handmade car which was built at the same factory as Del Trotter’s Regal Supervan. The Scimitar cuts through the class barrier with ease.

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