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Reliant Scimitar GTE

Published: 13th Mar 2012 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

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Which classics still have the potential to get up and go? Alan Anderson remembers the cars, the people… and how to make a classic hot car!

With its sturdy chassis, rot-free fi breglass body and Ford running gear, the Scimitar GTE was the fi rst real sports hatchback and was a superb car for its day. Even now the GTE offers a blend of performance, practicality and prestige that’s hard to find anywhere else yet despite the car’s exclusivity and royal connections (HRH Princess Anne, was a fi rm fan of the car for many years) prices for this classic have yet to take off, keeping it one of the best value workhorses around as well as a fi ne usable a great daily driver or club racer.

Get one now

Following on from the success of the Scimitar coupe, the GTE was launched in 1968. In 1972 the car received a mild facelift and the pokier Capri 3-litre engine with its added 10bhp (138bhp) This car became known as the SE5b. By the time the SE6 arrived in 1975, the GTE was at the peak of its considerable heights. Sadly Reliant ruined a good design by making it bigger (four inches longer, three inches wider), heavier and softer all as a sop to move further upmarket. A bit of a tidy up and the ditching of the old V6 in favour of the later, sweeter Granada 2.8 V6, gave the Reliant a welcome shot in the arm by the decade’s end. Dubbed the SE6b, less than 500 were made both as the hatchback GTE and the drophead GTC. Scimitar was reintroduced for a short time in potent 2.9-litre V6 EFI format. Tired examples – of which there are many – that will require a lot of work to bring them back into line are easy £500 buys. Expect to pay between £1500 and £2000 for a decent specimen, while even an absolutely top-notch example would fi nd it diffi cult to bust the £6000 barrier. Chassis rust is the main concern but the body is sturdy enough while the pick ‘n mix mechanicals means running one is not a problem. 

Hotting one up

That evergreen Essex V6 saw much success in Group 2 racing and even F5000 single seaters during the 70s when it was stretched to 3.4-litres but for road use 3161cc remains the best compromise in terms of cost and gains, as it costs around £1000 for pistons alone! It’s a big heavy low revving old lump in standard guise and while 300bhp is achievable it needs a lot of strengthening to do so, especially the troubleprone timing gear. Unless you invest in a heavy duty bottom end, 6500rpm should be the limit.

It’s an engine that’s short of breath so the first step is better induction and exhaust; go for a K&N filter. Exhaust and manifolds is the next bolt on before you start looking at heads. That well known Ford tuner, Burton Power of Essex (0208 581 9195) markets its own replacement heads which, costing between £710-£1110, are worth up to 10bhp in Stage One form and 18bhp as Stage Two. Costly but they come from a known name and also converted to unleaded. 

It was the revised camshaft and timing that raised the earlier engine’s game from 128bhp to 138bhp (Burton warns that while the units are indeed very similar there’s a lot of parts which aren’t interchangeable) and a hairier cam really does pull out more power. The most extreme is the Kent V63 camshaft although Burton’s produces more user-friendly road cams at £170. You’re looking at the thick end of 200bhp now and while the standard Weber 38 DGAS produces decent enough fuel management for up to 180bhp, above this you really need something more exotic and expensive – such as triple 40DCNFs or American Holley carbs. In this form anything from 200-240bhp is on the cards. Any form of upgrading must be twinned with improving the boring bits such as cooling, which can be marginal in the GTE anyway. A good ‘breaker-less’ electronic ignition is essential while tuning on a rolling road is highly desirable.

The later ‘Cologne’ unit was fitted to last of the line GTEs in 2.8 and 2.9-litre sizes. The latter uses better, less restricted heads but these don’t fit the 2.8. However, you can fit a 2.9 crank to a 2.8 block although some expert machining is required – speak to Burton for more details on this.

Tuning a Cologne is similar to an Essex lump and broadly costs the same although the heads are appreciably cheaper (£500-£705) because they are already ‘unleaded’. Again it’s not a high revving unit unless you suitably beef up the bottom end to avoid the Big Bang. Burton’s Stage One head with a (£138) V6T1 cam should see some 165bhp while more extreme work sees 200bhp or more.

Burton says the 2.9 sees around 10bhp more on average over the 2.8 with like-for-like tweaking plus yields more torque. If you don’t mind experimenting with ECUs and electronics then the wonderful 200bhp 2.9 24V engine can be fi tted with some grafting.

Burton Power produces a cracking catalogue containing all the above info and more besides and is well worth getting your hands on.

Another route to more power is fitting a bigger engine such as a V8 and this has successfully been done. Opt for the evergreen Rover V8 unit and you can also fi t the SD1 or the B/W T5 fi vespeeder at the same time.

Handling the power

When Ford launched the Capri II with the rear hatch, the Scimitar looked under threat but the Reliant always scored with its much superior chassis, especially the rear end which featured coil springs and a Watts linkage to harness the rear axle. At the front it was Triumph TR-derived until the SE6 came along in ’76 when it was mainly Reliant designed. Amazingly, there’s mot much information on making a sharper-handling Scimitar other than the usual dampers/springs and polybushing route. AVO adjustable coil-overs seem the favoured dampers when it comes to suspension hardware to make the chassis tauter but with the provision to fi ne tune the ride. Willwood calipers are popular for brake conversions although rear discs aren’t really needed. There’s no reason why a Ford fi ve-speed ‘box from the Capri 2.8i or Mk2 Granada can’t be utilised but there’s little wrong with the overdrive system either. The rear axle, also used by Jaguar’s XJ6, is very strong and should withstand most power increases. Power steering only came along with the SE6 and according to leading Scimitar experts, QRG of Northampton (01536 518319) who helped with this feature, it’s “a nightmare” to fi t to the earlier, smaller model.

How Did It Drive?

In its day the plastic-bodied GTE was pure class combining GT performance with estate-like pragmatism and practicality care of that lusty Ford V6 engine up front and a crisp chassis that was pretty sophisticated for its time. Yet the GTE was perhaps best as a relaxed, versatile family cruiser, especially the larger SE6, which is not quite as agile. Power steering is almost essential if you are used to a modern as it’s pretty heavy otherwise especially on the SE6. Many GTEs were automatics, but the Scimitar was always best in tall-geared manual overdrive guise (something Ford never offered on the Capri, strangely) and surprisingly frugal too for a big quick V6: expect over 25mpg. 

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