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Reliant Scimitar GTE

Reliant Scimitar GTE Published: 15th Jun 2015 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Reliant Scimitar GTE
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 said Motor back in 1976.

It’s widely regarded that Reliant, better known for fibreglass-bodied, economy three-wheelers, invented the sports hatch when it launched the Scimitar GTE but the car went much further than that because it forced carmakers to reappraise the working estate car market during the 1970s.

Before the Scimitar GTE came along in October 1968, three and five-door cars were very much the poor relation of the range, aimed at the working ‘commercial traveller’ (the old term for a rep) who needed a workhorse rather than something to brag about on the driveway. There were some exceptions; Vauxhall marketed a very nice Crestaengined Victor estate but badged the Victor 3300 rather than Ventora, while you could have a more upmarket Triumph 2000 or 2.5 PI estate – the BMW 5 Series Touring of its day. There’s was nothing in the small car market save for Ford which did offer a Mk2 Cortina GT estate while you could have your very stylish Vauxhall Viva converted to Brabham spec, itself a better bet than the thirsty but quite lusty 1600 alternative. Amazingly, since it badge-engineered just about every other Austin and Morris, BMC never saw fit to market Wolseley, Riley or MG Traveller or Countryman offshoots.

CUTTING EDGE

Reliant made its first sports car, the SX250, which was based upon an unused Daimler SP250 body design penned by David Ogle (of Ogle Design), powered by a Ford Consul engine which morphed into the Sabre Six featuring Triumph TR4 front suspension. 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-1960s.

The coupé body pointed the shape of things to come but while the GTE shared some of the SE4s 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 refined 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 highpoint being its pretty yet practical estate-like body and four separate seats where the rear ones could be also dropped individually. Why didn’t anybody think of this before?

With its pokey Ford 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 work. Taking its cues from the Zodiac MKIV the Scimitar shared its engine with, 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 cruising abilities.

Successive facelifts and upgrades saw an improved dash layout, overdrive and automatic transmission options and, for 1972, the uprated 138bhp Capri engine. HRH Princess Anne received a (manual overdrive) SE5 as a joint 20th birthday and Christmas present in November 1970 by her parents and it was the start of a 45 year love affair 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” hailed Motor in an early road test and understandably rivals weren’t slow to follow in the tyre tracks of the Scimitar. BMW was arguably first with its very neat 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 or its towering touring capabilities.

Or 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 mainstream maker who saw the potential of a sporting estate was Vauxhall of all people who, in 1972, launched the 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 small Viva body and the car was always criticised for lack of refinement, although considerably improved in later Magnum trim.

Ford got it right a couple of 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 far cruder suspension, the Ford was better built, a more rounded design and much cheaper.

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

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 1000prm (itself superior to the identical-engined Capri) to a nosebleeding 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 (inc Granada) when it still supplied the engines and transmissions to Reliant…

Forty years ago the Scimitar went under the knife to create the SE6, the most fundamental change to the car because it also effected its character. Reliant knew it had to do something drastic as the sportshatch was now the in-thing with rivals surfacing from all quarters, including Lancia with its Bete HPE, Alfa’s new if indifferent 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 Scimitar GTE had also caused mainstream carmakers to reappraise the role of the previously spit-and-sawdust ‘commercial traveller’ estate car such as the Cortina which was king. 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 rather 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 specialist manufactured deficiencies even though the fundamentals, save for softer less sporty handling, survived intact. Reliant tried to give the Scimitar an edge again in 1978 with a raft of changes including a stronger scuttle, stiffer front springs, a change to Lockheed brakes with larger rear drums and, strangely, smaller front discs.

A year later the Scimitar SE6a became a double-edged sword when the Tamworth company announced a Stag-like GTC, complete with its Triumph-derived 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!

However, by the end of the decade 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 life-long GTE fan Princess Anne.

Middlebridge Scimitar Ltd bought the production rights to the GTE but it wasn’t until 1989 that the relaunched car became available, now boasting a better breathing 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 showjumper which she still cherishes. Production rights are currently owned by GTE specialist Graham Walker who will build you one to order.

HE CAR IS THE STAR

More like stars buy the car because famous faces bought GTEs such as magician David Nixon, DJ car fan Noel Edmonds, racing legends Graham Hill and Barry Sheene, TV presenters Dickie Davies and Leonard Parkin plus investigative journalist Roger Cook. Apprentice judge Nick Hewer owned one while Ken Barlow (actor Bill Roach) had a couple. Music men included Keith Emerson (ELP) and Roger Glover (Deep Purple) while other royals included the Duke of Kent and Prince Edward. One-off 007 actor George Lazenby used his own GTE in the film Universal Soldier.



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