Why you’d want a Reliant Scimitar GTE
The aura of Royal patronage and innovative British design and engineering that surrounded the Scimitar GTE like a halo at its launch has long since tarnished and fallen away.
Decades of decaying at the back of secondhand car lots due to excessive insurance premiums and an undeserved reputation for unreliability and catching fire pushed prices to rock bottom, leading to neglect and a one-way trip to the breaker’s yard for many Scimitars.
Behind all of that, the car’s true character shone through and a surprisingly high proportion of the 18 years of Reliant-built GTEs are still with us, showing the Scimitar’s durability and appeal.
And it remains a triumph of British ingenuity, the world’s first series production sporting estate. Princess Anne famously loves GTEs: she bought the last Reliant-made car and still owns a Middlebridge Scimitar, her eighth.
For today’s buyer, the GTE offers exclusivity, durability, practicality and a great sporting feel. Costly insurance disappeared when classic policies were born. ‘Catching fire’ was always unfair, resulting from a long-cured Ford V6 carburettor failing. And unreliability results from neglect rather than any inherent weakness, and can be avoided with some intensive tender loving care.
Yet the Scimitar market is still flooded with tired cars that struggle to fetch £1000 and well-restored examples can be found for a fraction of their rebuild cost – though, as with any classic, an exceptional car can create its own market.
High gearing was a Scimitar hallmark, making for relaxed rapid cruising with the torquey Essex V6. Unlike Jaguar, Reliant fitted its autos with longer diffs than the manuals (giving direct top closer to the manual’s overdrive top).
At first the manual final-drive ratio was 3.58:1, later raised to 3.31:1, while the auto was 3.07:1. Sadly this had to be lowered for the SE6A’s less torquey 2.8 V6.
Glassfibre won’t rust, but impact damage and flexing cause crazing that’s expensive to eradicate unless you do it yourself, and a respray can be dearer than on a steel body. The steel frame rusts and needs careful inspection; unique trim items such as SE5/5a back bumpers are tricky to source.
Even a neglected cabin or worn running gear will cost more than the car is worth to renew. Parts availability is good, but several specialists have gone in the past few decades.
Images: Tony Baker
Reliant Scimitar GTE: what to look for
See above for trouble spots
Ford V6 is durable and straightforward: look for regular servicing, excessive oil breathing and knocks or rattles. Check fuel pipe to carb is secure and that cast-iron manifolds aren’t cracked.
Tubular manifolds common, but may reduce access to starter and cause heat problems for nearby electrical items and fuel system.
Front suspension is a weak spot: TR6-derived parts are overloaded, notably with wider wheels/tyres. Inspect for evidence of frequent lubrication.
Manual gearchange is notchy; check for jumping out of second and top or a dragging clutch. Test for for smooth changes and kickdown on automatics.
Bumpers are unobtainable so look for good, straight chrome. These lights are shared with Hillman Hunter, SE5a/6 with Aston and TVR; both are £96 each.
Electrical faults are common due to the extra earthing wires required with a glassfibre body and a tendency for owners to bodge when problems arise.
SE5s only came with black vinyl trim; SE5a brought tan and leather options; blue came with SE6, more on SE6b. Inspect for cracked front seat frames.
SE5a’s vacuum-formed dashboard is prone to disintegrate with age; GRP substitutes can be found. Chrome surrounds have been added on this SE5.
Reliant Scimitar GTE: on the road
Narrow-body SE5/5a Scimitars feel lively, gutsy and nimble; their long legs are shared by the softer, more touring SE6a, though the 2.8 SE6b is more revvy. Engine life of 100,000 miles is normal if it’s well maintained: look for at least 40psi oil pressure at speed and no excessive leaks or breathing.
If the car is driven hard on unleaded, valve-seat inserts will be needed eventually, but standard heads will last for ever if driven gently. The fibre timing gear can disintegrate; only noisier steel replacements are available. Look for signs of overheating (slow warm-up indicates no thermostat – a warning sign) and leave ticking over after driving to check that the electric fan cuts in when hot. SE6/6a cooling systems should be uprated to SE6b spec.
Manual gearboxes jump out of second and top when worn; it’s not uncommon for the clutch release fork to become bent, making selection difficult. Overdrive is vital for relaxed cruising: ensure it cuts in and out and does not slip. Ford auto gearboxes on SE6s are more durable than earlier BW 35s, which need rebuilding by 60,000 miles; check for smooth changes and kickdown without excessive slipping.
The Salisbury rear axle is sturdy but blows oil past the seals and wears rapidly if the breather hole on the top gets blocked. If it’s noisy, budget £1000 for a rebuild. The Reliant’s brakes should be reassuringly effective. Stiff steering, rattles and uneven tyre wear at the front signify worn suspension and/or excessively wide tyres – 195/70x14 is the sensible maximum. Check that all electrical components work; the powered windows were never swift.
Reliant Scimitar GTE price guide
- Show/rebuilt GTC, late/uprated GTE £9000
- Average GTE £2750
- Restoration GTE £750
Reliant Scimitar GTE history
1965 Triplex Ogle GTS shown at London & Turin
1968 Aug: SE5 GTE launched (4311 built)
1969 Rear wash/wipe added, auto optional
1971 Oct: SE5a; detail trim changes, electric windows, new rear light clusters (5105)
1975 SE6: wider, longer, larger doors, better cabin/soundproofing, 20-gallon tank, stronger auto, optional power steering (543)
1976 SE6a: stronger scuttle, smaller discs, larger drums, better power steering (3877)
1980 SE6b (437 built) and GTC soft-top (442): Köln 2.8 V6, new chassis scuttle hoop, improved cooling, side rubbing strip, bigger front spoiler
1981 Chassis now galvanised
1987 Middlebridge buys rights to GTE & GTC and commences production in ’89: 2.9 injected V6, 15in wheels, 5-speed man or 4-speed auto
1990 Middlebridge fails; 77 GTEs, 1 GTC made. Graham Walker buys rights and builds a few cars
The owner’s view
“I was fed up with welding my cars,” recalls Dave Poole, “when I met a guy with an SE6b. I was brought up with sporty cars but I needed room for camping gear, so it was ideal.
“I bought my ’69 SE5 12 years ago: 12 fun years. Scimitars are so underrated: what other classic can tow a caravan, go to track days or drag strips, drive like a sports car and cruise over long distances? I started sporting-reliants.com and am really into them. They are very affordable, with basic mechanicals, easy to maintain and reliable if you keep on top of the suspension.
“But watch out: lots of neglected cars keep reappearing on eBay every few weeks or months. The cost of parts, especially axle and engine rebuilds, outweighs their values.”
The West Brom firm made its -Healey into a luxury coupé when the fuel crisis killed Interceptor sales. Dearer than an SE6 when new, it matched the Scimitar on performance, but not on torque or practicality, and it rusted.
Sold 1975-’76 • No. built 511 • Mpg 20-28 • 0-60mph 8.7 secs • Top speed 119mph • Price new £3342 (1975) • Price now £10,000
Introduced when the P1800 shape was a decade old, so an anachronism with a cramped rear – yet it outsold the GTE over its short run. Rot is the main enemy; mechanicals are reliable if sorted. Now as costly as a P1800.
Sold 1971-’73 • No. built 8078 • Mpg 21-32 • 0-60mph 10.8 secs • Top speed 112mph • Price new £2623 (1973) • Price now £15-20k
Reliant Scimitar GTE: the Classic & Sports Car verdict
The Scimitar GTE deserves a much better fate than the classic market has given it so far: it offers outstanding value for money, a sports hatch that is practical, innovative, distinctive and ridiculously cheap to buy. Try to find one that has not been neglected, and cherish it. As numbers continue to decline, its day will eventually come – we promise!
- Immensely versatile and usable
- High gearing gives relaxed cruising
- Combines sports car handling with space, versatility and practicality
- Glassfibre bodywork does not rust
- Tired bodywork is expensive to put right
- Low prices means most are in need of TLC
- Chassis rot can render repair uneconomic
Reliant Scimitar GTE specifications
- Sold/number built 1968-’86/14,273
- Construction steel tubular chassis, glassfibre body with steel-tube reinforcement
- Engine all-iron, ohv 2994/2792cc V6, with twin-choke Weber or Solex; 128bhp @ 4750rpm-135bhp @ 5200rpm; 152-173lb ft @ 3000rpm
- Transmission four-speed manual or three-speed automatic, driving rear wheels
- Suspension: front double wishbones, anti-roll bar rear live axle, trailing arms, Watt linkage; coil springs, telescopic dampers f/r
- Steering rack and pinion, power assistance optional from 1975 Brakes discs front, drums rear, with servo, dual circuit from 1975
- Length 14ft 2in-14ft 61/2in (4320-4430mm)
- Width 5ft 5in-5ft 7in (1650-1700mm)
- Height 4ft 41/2in (1335mm)
- Wheelbase 8ft 31/2in-8ft 71/2in (2525-2630mm)
- Weight 2542-2945lb (1155-1339kg)
- Mpg 19-26
- 0-60mph 8.9-12.3 secs
- Top speed 110-121mph
- Price new £2517 (SE5a, 1973)