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Triumph Stag vs. Jaguar XJS vs. Reliant Scimitar GTC

If you’d prefer a convertible with the added protection of a roll bar then only three prestigious Brits can oblige with such sui Published: 23rd Aug 2018 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

What The Experts Say...

1st XJ-SC | 2nd Stag | 3rd Scimitar GTC

We’ve compared Stag against Scimitar several times over the years – but never considered the Jaguar to make up a threesome for some strange reason as it scores as narrow victory due to its modernity and subsequent practicality plus, like all Jags, imparts a special sense of occasion for every journey. It’s just those marmite looks…

According to Jag specialists, interest in the XJ-SC fluctuates – just as it did with the XJC – so opinions remain divided but rarity should tip the balance in this model’s favour now that XJ-S values are starting to rise. Wouldn’t you sooner have the proper XJS convertible though?

It’s the sheer love of Stags which has kept this wounded animal alive as soon as BL gave up upon it. Forget the time honoured ‘Snag’ jibes, you can’t go wrong with a good one as most are these days. Just because the Scimitar GTC, by default, is placed bottom here doesn’t imply that it is the worst choice – in fact, owners that have switched from Stags swear it’s the better car! And it’s the best value for money out of this trio by far.

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spring to mind as good examples of this because they are in contrast to the hard-core, bone jarring sports cars more suiting the younger jeans and T shirt wearing enthusiast. Stylish and sophisticated 2+2s are more tailored for the cravat-and-slacks smoothies who might well own a Mercedes SL if it wasn’t for their escalating costs.

Apart from concept, two Midlands’ models use the same Triumph hood and T-bar safety roof design – was Tamworth’s Reliant trying to copy Canley cabriolet and if so what took it so long, since it seemed such a logical thing to do?

First penned back in 1977 (ironically the year when the Stag was dropped), the Scimitar GTC didn’t come on stream until almost three years later. Both were sportier developments of more prosaic machinery (Stag was initially a headless Triumph 2000 concept, while the Scimitar is little more than a GTE with its roof chopped off). Yet there’s a third choice that you may not have considered from that neck of the woods as well – the Jaguar XJ-SC.

Remember one of those? This was a curious cabriolet, again copying the Stag’s rollover cage which also help retain much needed roofless rigidity, done in rush to give the floundering XJ-S a much needed soft top to appease US buyers. What Brit suits you to a T-bar?

Which one to buy?

1st Stag | 2nd XJ-SC | 3Rd Scimitar GTC

The chief difference between these cabrios is in their build. The Stag is a totally orthodox design, while the Reliant employs a glass-fibre body sitting on a stout metal chassis. The Jaguar sits somewhere in between; the standard XJ-S being made at Browns Lane before being scootered away to local Park Sheet Metal coachbuilders to have the coupé’s rear wings clipped before being shipped off the Aston Martin (Tickford) for the roof fitting, initially at least before full scale production took place at Jaguar.

Looks are always a personal thing but – to our eyes – the timeless Stag looks the most stylish and co-ordinated, helped by being designed as a convertible from the outset no doubt. The Scimitar is not half as Stag sleek being considerably chunkier (as were all later SE6 models) but no less eye catching, while the XJ-SC, it has to be said, looks awkward from any angle and a far cry from Jaguar’s past beauties.

There again, the XJ-SC was only a stop gap model, produced between 1983-87, until a proper in-house convertible took over. Less than 6000 XJ-SCs were made (the vast bulk went overseas) which is keeping values at the top of the XJ-S tree and on par with the best Stags, perhaps as much as £20,000 for a specimen example, although like the Triumph, half this should secure a pretty reasonable runner. The bargain is the Scimitar GTC where you’ll be hard pushed to spend ten grand for the best one – more like £6000 in most cases!

Apart from spec changes and facelift Mk2 for 1973, Stags remained static over the seven year run. By the time Scimitar GTC came on scene for 1980, Reliant had already switched Ford power from the original trusty ‘Essex’ 3-litre V6 to the sweeter if not so lusty 2.8-litre German replacement found in the Granada; under 500 were produced. The XJS-C was also the test bed for Jaguar’s new straight six AJ6 engine although a V12 automatic variant arrived in 1985.

What’s the best to drive?

1st XJ-SC | 2nd Scimitar GTC | 3rd Stag

Funnily enough, while this trio stem from the 70s they feel generations apart. The Jaguar by far feels the most modern and possesses the most sports car like feel care of a sharp if not smooth 225bhp 3.6-litre engine for a vivid performance that’s head and shoulders above the others.

The Stag’s engine was always rated at 145bhp – which Autocar already described as ‘modest’ in its 1970 launch report. The torque figure (170lbft at 3500rpm) is a fat 100lbs down on Jag unit despite being a V8 while the Ford 2.8 is rated at only 135bhp and 152bhp respectively, but would have been much better if Reliant had used the 160bhp fuel injected unit later found in the Capri 2.8i. As the power rating of the Stag and Scimitar are so similar it comes as little surprise that this pair are appreciably slower than the XJ-SC although remain entirely adequate for today’s gatso-infested roads, with our favourite being the Triumph V8 if only for its soundtrack.

It’s a similar enough story when it comes to handling. Both the Triumph and Reliant dislike being pushed to a modern pace but with its stout chassis, extra reinforcement and a rear suspension not unlike that of an Aston DBS (including a Watts linkage employed to secure the rear axle), the Reliant is the sportier, plus it doesn’t suffer from overlight steering like the Stag does, nor from the Triumph’s time honoured irritating rear-end driveshaft lock-up under the power. Another bonus with the GTC is that scuttle shake is kept pleasingly low, because the body is not only braced by that T-bar but also sits on a strong separate chassis.

The XJ-SC is markedly superior and feels little different to a normal XJ-S – which means extremely good indeed if the suspension is still in good order (many aren’t however). With appreciably fatter and grippier tyres, there’s much more adhesion on offer, although, like the Triumph, the Jaguar suffers same feel-less and over-light steering set up and feels soft, even for a GT let alone sports car.

When you’re not in a Lewis Hamilton mood, all three make pleasing 2+2 tourers with, hardly surprisingly, the Jag being the most comfy and quiet – most aged Scimitars display too many creaks and rattles by contrast. Only Stag comes with a hard top and while it has its uses over the winter is a draughty, noisy affair when it’s on.

Some 70 per cent of Stags were automatic and this was as popular on the GTC too and with good reason as it suits their character well, particularly the Triumph. However, the manual with overdrive alternative on both is preferable for touring, not least because it reduces cruising revs and improves economy. Bear in mind that the 2.8-powered Scimitars ran a lower axle ratio to counteract their lack of torque compared with the earlier ‘Brit’ V6.

Driven diligently you can expect around 25mpg from any one of this trio if in good tune perhaps a tad more from the Jag as some owners report 30mpg on a run and it’s this real world economy that has us steering towards this model over the faster, thirstier, costlier to keep V12 even if the engine isn’t as smooth as the later 4.0.

Owning and maintaining

1st XJ-SC | 2nd Stag | 3rd Scimitar GTC

To be fair, none will leave you frustrated or stranded. With such a huge fan base, including one of the best car clubs in existence, plus excellent spares support and back up, owning, repairing and improving a Stag couldn’t be easier; it’s one of those classics that’s a much better car now than when it was new.

The Reliant Scimitar enjoys a smaller but no less dedicated back-up and support from the likes of QRG and Graham Walker, both who report that interest in Scimitars is finally gaining much deserved momentum. And about time, too.

However, thanks to a production lasting almost 20 years, the XJ-SC must be almost MX-5 easy. Well not quite… but spares and specialist support (not least now from the manufacturer) is excellent, the only problems you may unearth will relate to specific XJ-SC body and trim parts.

Whatever Alan Partridge sports casual you go for, buy the best head gear from the start as restoration on all are costly and unproductive let alone profitable. None boast BMW-like integrity and can become down-at-heel all too quickly; a drive in as many as possible to set a datum is a good idea although given the rarity of GTCs and XJ-SCs, this is easier said than done.

And The Winner Is...

Sussex-based Clarkes XJS World (01435 863800) is possibly the leading specialist for this Jaguar globally with four decades of Jaguar year’s experience and publishes a dedicated buying guide on line. Dan, son of proprietor Dave Clarke, admits that the XJ SC is an acquired taste but adds he’d personally sooner have one over the first 1988 floppy factory convertibles as the body is far more rigid. Also, as most 3.6 SC cars are of manual transmission, it’s quite a sporty package and parts don’t appear to be problem although, like all XJSs, is a much misunderstood car.

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