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

Triumph Spitfire V Reliant Scimitar SS1

Keeping the spitfire flying Published: 28th Jul 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Triumph Spitfire V Reliant Scimitar SS1

What The Experts Say...

To say John Unwin of the Reliant Sabre and Scimitar Owners Club is a fan of anything the Tamworth outfi t made (apart from the Bug) is an understatement. He says what let early Scimitars down was poor build because Reliant farmed the work out – although when it went back to fi breglass with the 1800, quality reverted to GTE standards. Parts supply is good but the chassis on pre 1800s rot badly. He likes those looks too!

Triumph Spitfire V Reliant Scimitar SS1
Triumph Spitfire V Reliant Scimitar SS1
Triumph Spitfire V Reliant Scimitar SS1
Triumph Spitfire V Reliant Scimitar SS1
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

Kiss my sports car! Well you can pucker up if you want to but what we really mean is KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid, and nobody did it better than us Brits during the 1960s right through to the 80s before the MX-5 came along. But there’s a lot to be said for Spartan sportsters: they keep you close to the action driving-wise and the prices are also quite low, while simple designs mean easy repairs at the kerbside.

By the 1980s, the cheap British sports car was largely dead and buried. The MG Midget had gone and the Spitfi re was soon to follow. In its place came a promising newcomer from Reliant, makers of three wheelers and the departed Scimitar GTE. Its new namesake, the Scimitar SS1, was a quirky looking roadster that was the modern replacement to the Spitfi re and Midget, plus harked back to the days when the Staffordshire company made proper sports cars, like the old Sabre. Actually the SS1 (renamed Sabre in 1992) had a lot in common with the Triumph Spitfi re, being designed by the same bloke and also relying upon a separate chassis. In that case, then, the Scimitar was the new Spitfi re back in the 1980s – but was it any better?

Which one to buy?

Style over substance

Similarities between the Spitfi re and the Scimitar were significant; both used a separate chassis to plonk a body on, but in the Reliant’s case this body was injected moulded fi breglass (like the Lotus Eclat) and with looks only a mother could love! Short for Small Sports, the Reliant was designed by Giovanni Michelotti, no stranger to Triumphs of course, and it was to be the last car he styled before his death. It was hardly his best effort, but perhaps it was the three-wheeler connotations that put most people off? Whatever it was, a redesign in 1988 (when the car became the SS2) and another hefty restyle in 1990, didn’t do anything to halt the decline in sales. This latter version was called the SST (the T being for Towns, as in the designer William Towns, of Aston DBS fame). Ford CVH engines were the mainstay of these models, originally in 1.3 and 1.6 forms, with the 1.4-litre superseding the earlier 1.3. There was also a pretty potent Nissan 1.8Ti power plant, before the delightfully crisp and much wronged 1.4 Rover K Series was listed. The car ran from 1984 to 1995, renamed Sabre in 1992.

The Triumph is well known of course. A Herald in sports clothes it may be, but the transition to Spitfi re was as neat as it was clever. Most folks say the Mk3 was the best, but the Stag-tailed MkIV is more common and the 1500 is the easiest to live with on modern roads. If you hanker for a hardtop, then the Spitfi re (also available as a permanent one, remember) is by far the most stylish; the Reliant’s lid made the car even more ungainly, as if that were at all possible!

What’s the best to drive?

Cutting edge Scimitar

It’s only the 1.8-litre turbo SS1 that’s genuinely fast, but all Scimitars perform much better than they look, with sharp handling and surprising agility, thanks to a chassis that wouldn’t shame an Elan. They drive like a modern Midget. It’s worth upgrading the Metro-derived brakes as they are a bit of a weak link, but with light, sharp steering and a well-damped chassis (assuming decent aftermarket shock absorbers are fi tted), the rear-wheel drive SS1 offers as much fun per pound as you’re going to fi nd anywhere – and yes that includes a Caterham. Naturally the Spitfi re feels from another generation, although, unlike a Midget, at least there’s overdrive to give it an old fashioned ‘fi ve-speed’ box, Performance lags considerably behind the Scimitar, naturally, and across country you couldn’t live with one, but the compensation is a more traditional feel, which is important to many. Plus there’s numerous upgrades to make a Spitfi re perform much better.

Owning and running

Triumph triumphs!

Understandably the Reliant from Tamworth can’t hold a candle to the Canley product when it comes to running and restoring a car. Although not quite was well served as a Midget or Triumph’s own TR, the Spitfi re is well catered for by the aftermarket and virtually all you need is available. In contrast the Scimitar is what it is – a glorifi ed kit car relying upon a hotchpotch of tried and tested components. There’s nothing wrong in that, but some parts are drying up – try getting a Ford Sierra fi ve-speed ‘box for sensible money, for example. Chassis rot is also a major concern because new frames aren’t available (later ones were galvanised) as are corroding suspension wishbones; these are modifi ed Opel Kadett ones now only available from Germany – where the Reliant bodies were produced, incidentally. The Nissan turbo unit can prove pricey to repair as well but on the other hand the Reliant is more refi ned and better suited to today’s roads than the Triumph. Ah yes prices. The bottom line is £500, which buys you an early 1300-1600 SS1 for restoration. If you can stretch to £1000 you’ll be able to purchase a very usable everyday car, while closer to £3000 nets a really nice example that doesn’t need anything apart from petrol, which is about the price of a decent Spitfi re…

And The Winner Is...

If we were being sensible then the Reliant would be the easy winner. But cars – especially classics – are never logical buys, which is why the Spitfi re gets our vote. Dynamically the Scimitar cuts the Triumph to shreds but, in terms of looks (and that’s a main reason for owning any sports car let alone a classic one), the Spitfi re guns it down, plus is easier to maintain. These two cars have much in common, but perceptive as ever, monthly Car magazine described the Scimitar as a “Spitfi re without the style”. And you have to agree.

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%