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Reliant Scimitar SS1

LOOK SHARP! Published: 28th Apr 2011 - 1 Comments

Fast Facts

  • Best model: Sabre
  • Worst model: Scrappy examples
  • Budget buy: Ford 1.3/1.4 models
  • OK for unleaded?: Yes
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): L 3886x W1582
  • Spares situation: Not bad at all
  • DIY ease?: Push bike simplicity
  • Club support: Pretty fair
  • Appreciating asset?: No and unlikely so
  • Good buy or good-bye?: Just treat one as fun
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Not many would buy a Scimitar SS1 for its looks, but as a cheap and cheerful sports car it’s the modern Frogeye and just as much fun. It’s hardly a thing of beauty, but the Scimitar should have saved Reliant from oblivion. But, thanks to its awkward looks, the car tipped Reliant over the edge instead. And that was a crying shame because if ever an affordable sports car was the incarnation of the Frogeye Sprite it was the SS1. Whether you think this car is a classic is subjective, but you can’t knock this Reliant in the fun-factor stakes.

History

If ever the adage “it goes better than it looks” applied to a car, then it has to be the Scimitar.

Pretty it isn’t, but they go pretty darn well in a Midget-like fashion. Indeed, if you are looking for something to replace a Midget or Spitfi re, but with modern conveniences, then the Reliant has few rivals. Performance from the smaller bore CVH engines isn’t spectacular but it’s zippy enough and, in true sports car fashion, the fun comes from entertaining handling, care of a really well sorted chassis and light and direct steering.
It’s worth upgrading the Metro brakes, as these struggle to shed speed, but with light, sharp steering and a well-damped chassis (assuming decent aftermarket shock absorbers are fitted), the SS1 offers as much fun per pound as you’re going to find anywhere, especially in Nissan Turbo guise where it can give a Caterham a run for its money and prove a lot more civilised for day-in, day-out driving. For less money.

Driving

The Scimitar SS1 was unveiled at the 1984 NEC Motor Show. The SS1 tag was an abbreviation of Small Sports 1, and with its low purchase price, simple mechanicals and sharp chassis, the SS1 was bound to be a roaring success. The company planned to make 2000 examples every year, which surely wouldn’t be difficult, even with those awkward lines. Yet in a production run that lasted from 1984 until 1995, just 1507 examples of the SS1 rolled off the lines and admit it, when did you last see one? The Scimitar SS1 was designed by Giovanni Michelotti no less; it was to be the last car he styled before his death. While open topped two-seaters had been all the rage in the 1970s, by the ‘80s it was the hot hatch that was king, and it seemed Reliant had missed the affordable convertible bandwagon. Perhaps it was the threewheeler connotations that put 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), and it provided a neater solution. Not only was it much simpler to build, which meant lower production costs, but it also looked much better as the lines were far smoother. Gone were the bug-eye headlamps, replaced by conventional pop-up units, and in came the Ford 1.4-litre CVH engine.There was still the option of a Nissan 1.8Ti powerplant - but still buyers stayed away.In 1992 there was another restyle, with the car now known as the Sabre, and subsequently the Scimitar Sabre. There was a choice of Ford 1.4 CVH or Nissan 1.8 Turbo engines, along with the zesty 1.4-litre Rover K-Series unit. A couple of 1.8 turbo versions exist, and while a 2.0-litre Rover version was listed, none were built. Despite the chunkier flared wheelarches, 15-inch alloy wheels and more sporty looks of this latest derivative, the writing was on the wall. By 1995 it was all over, with Reliant calling in the receivers.

Prices

The bottom line is £200-500, which buys you an early 1300-1600 for restoration. If you can stretch to £1000 you’ll be able to purchase a usable everyday car, while closer to £2000 nets a really nice car that doesn’t need anything doing. It’s the turbocharged cars that everyone wants though, and those cost around half as much again – although three grand for a really decent one is still a lot of fun car for the money. Whether it’s worth buying a car to restore is your call but may be worth having for future parts supply,

Improvements

The Scimitar makes a good choice for a spot of small-time competition, thanks to its excel- lent inherent handling. If the car feels floaty, it’s because the shock absorbers have worn out. A far better bet is to fit Spax or AVO adjustables, which give the car a far better ride/handling balance. Polyurethane bushes to tighten the chassis are also available, from QRG.

The SS1 was originally fitted with 5Jx13 steel wheels or 6Jx14 alloy wheels, but many owners are tempted to beef things up a bit. It’s far prefer- able to keep things as they were when the car left the factory however, although fitting 6x15 wheels helps stability a little, but anything larger causes irritating tramlining.

The BL brakes are marginal at best, with the standard MG Metro-derived system. Fitting uprated pads such as EBC Greenstuff is a worth- while service-time move, especially as a set costs just £33. Alternatively you can upgrade the whole set-up; Graham Walker does an exotic bolt-on ventilated disc kit for £320 – or you could put together your own system; see http://www.ss1turbo.com for more on this.

There’s a fair smattering of good value tuning parts for the CVH and K-Series engines of course, while it’s unlikely that you’ll want to go much quicker with that Nissan Turbo unit on song, especially after it’s been chipped and the turbo boost upped to suit.

Verdict

“A modern MGB that makes sense” is how Car magazine summed the car up before adding it’s a “Spitfire without the style”. And it’s right on both counts. But you can’t argue that a good Scimitar provides a lot of cheap classic fun for the money. You may need rose-tinted specs to own one, but the more you weigh it up, the more this Reliant looks a surprisingly attractive bet. And you’ll be looked at…



User Comments

This review has 1 comments

  • I have had my ss1 1600 for just over 2 years, and I love it, its fun to drive, cheap to insure, doesnt rust [ plastic body, galvanised chassis ] whats not to like, Oh, and I quite like its looks, might be the flies in my eyes ?

    Comment by: mike cammack     Posted on: 06 Nov 2012 at 07:33 PM

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