Reliant Scimitar GTE Buying Guide

Can’t choose between a sports car and a family carry-all? You don’t have to if you buy one of these stylish shooting brakes. Here’s how to bag a solid one

How much to pay

• Project £800-1500 • Good £3000-4850 • Concours £5000-10,000 •

Overview

Practicality ★★★★
Running costs ★★★
Spares ★★★★
DIY friendly ★★★★
Investment ★★★
Desirability ★★★

Often incorrectly credited with being the first production shooting brake, the Reliant Scimitar GTE was beaten by the Tornado Typhoon Sportbrake that arrived a decade earlier. However, it was the Reliant that took the concept mainstream, getting royal approval in the process thanks to Princess Anne owning a string of GTEs.

Despite the Scimitar GTE being perhaps the ideal car for many – and certainly a brilliant classic – for decades these Reliants have been under valued. It’s hard to see why, because here’s a car that’s quick, good to drive, mechanically robust and well served by specialists. Easy to work on and cheap to run, it’s also practical, comfortable and simple to tune – and it doesn’t rust, thanks to the plastic body.

The GTE also makes a great grand tourer, with its lazy V6 up front and a long range that’s afforded by a generously proportioned fuel tank. Drive a properly sorted Scimitar and you’ll discover a perfect blend of fun and practicality, at criminally low prices.

Your AutoClassics Reliant Scimitar GTE inspection checklist

Engine

Until 1979 the Scimitar was fitted with a Ford 3.0-litre Essex V6; later cars got a 2.8 Cologne unit. The Middlebridge model got an injected 2.9-litre Cologne engine, and some earlier cars have been converted to this powerplant using either injection or carburettors.

Both engines are strong as they’re unstressed in the relatively lightweight Scimitar, but it’s inevitable that wear will eventually occur. Once up to temperature the Essex unit should show 15-20psi at idle, rising to 50-75psi at 2500rpm; if the figures shown are much lower than these, a rebuild is probably due.

For both motors, low oil pressure might be because of engine wear or it could be that the oil-pump drive pencil has worn. Fixing the former means a complete motor rebuild, which is costly, but at least the latter ailment is cheaply repaired.

If either engine seems very noisy it’s probably because steel timing gears have been fitted, to remove one of the standard V6’s weak spots: worn or stripped fibre timing gears. The steel alternative is noticeably noisier, but it’s a fit-and-forget item.

An engine that sounds really tappety could be suffering from the rocker posts being about to pull out of the head; cleaning everything up, Loctiting everything into place and tightening everything up provides a long-lasting fix.

Essex-engined SE6s overheat because of poor cooling caused by a combination of low coolant capacity, an under-spec radiator, cooling fan and water pump, the routing of the pipework and poor under-bonnet airflow. Upgrades are possible, which in conjunction with careful maintenance should allow the car to keep its cool.

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Gearbox

Most Scimitars came with a four-speed manual gearbox, with or without overdrive. It’s a tough transmission that lasts well as long as it’s kept topped up with oil; leaks are endemic. Once the ’box is worn it’ll jump out of second or fourth ratio, but getting the unit rebuilt is easy enough.

A three-speed automatic transmission was optionally available. From the introduction of the SE6 this was a Ford C3 unit, but earlier cars were fitted with a Borg-Warner Type 35. The former is the strongest of the two, but neither is weak and both can be affordably rebuilt.

The SE5/SE5a had different-ratio back axles to accommodate the different gearboxes available. The Cologne V6 doesn’t have the torque of its Essex predecessor, so Reliant fitted a lower-ratio axle to maintain acceleration levels.

Suspension and brakes

The front suspension wears in several places; frequent greasing helps to slow the rate of wear and cut the chances of suspension failures. Prime wear spots include the top inner wishbone bushes and the fulcrum bars on which they pivot. Replacement is straightforward, but in the case of the latter the correct shims must be used to get the camber right. Wear is also common between the vertical link and bottom trunnion, leading to stiff steering.

Reliant fitted four types of wheel: steel with one of three different glassfibre trims; ‘Princess Anne’ alloys; Dunlop composite wheels (an alloy centre riveted to a steel rim); or Wolfrace alloys. None of them gives problems, but each type uses its own fixings, so ensure the correct type is fitted by looking for signs of movement or wear around the mounting holes.

Bodywork

The glassfibre bodyshell is strong, but low Scimitar values mean knocks and scrapes are often patched up on the cheap. As a result it’s not unusual to encounter cracks and crazing, and while anything can be made as good as new, it can cost plenty if there is a lot of minor damage around the car.

Glassfibre repairs are a specialist job, and so is applying the paint, so look for signs of sinkage. Everything can be done on a DIY basis, but it takes a lot of practice to get things right.

When looking for damage focus on the panel below the tailgate, the areas around the door handles, the corners of the bonnet and the base of each windscreen pillar. Also check around the wiper spindles and look for cracks in the bodywork above the front wheelarches.

If the car has been bumped the steel chassis may be distorted, but corrosion is more likely. Rot is rare, yet you can expect some rust on anything prior to the SE6b and GTC, as these had a galvanised chassis. Focus on the main rails, as these provide most of the strength, while the round tubes just ahead of the rear wheels can rot. Repairing either of these things properly means a body-off restoration is needed.

Rust in the side rails below the sills or the outriggers just behind the front wheels is no cause for alarm, as repairs aren’t that tricky. The same goes for corrosion in the roll bar at the base of the B-posts, the framework around the fuel tank and the rear suspension mounting points on the back axle. For a better view of the latter, you need to remove the rear wheels.

Interior

While the front seat frames can fracture, the trim is generally durable. Leather was optional from the SE5a onwards, yet this edition has a plastic dash surround that is prone to cracking. Original dashboards are unavailable, but glassfibre replacements occasionally crop up.

The electrics can be unreliable, while the 17ACR alternator isn’t up to the job; the fusebox can also melt. This is under the bonnet on the SE5 and in the passenger footwell on the SE6. Circuits at the back of the car are particularly unreliable, so it’s worth swapping the factory-fitted glass-fuse boxes for a blade type – and get some relays fitted into the headlight and electric fan circuits while you’re at it.

The heater is poorly designed on all GTEs, and from the SE5a on the switchgear is fragile. On these later cars access to the heater is also poor, so effecting repairs is tricky.

History

  • 1968: Scimitar GTE is launched in SE5 trim; 4311 are built.
  • 1971: SE5a appears with new light clusters and vacuum-formed interior panels; 5105 are made.
  • 1975: SE6 is wider, longer, has bigger doors and moulded bumpers. Interior is improved, there’s optional power steering and a 20-gallon fuel tank, plus Girling dual-circuit brakes. Stronger automatic gearbox, too. 543 SE6s are produced.
  • 1976: SE6a brings a stronger scuttle, stiffer front springs, change to Lockheed brakes, larger rear drums and smaller front discs. 3877 are made.
  • 1980: Ford’s 2.8-litre Cologne engine is fitted to the new SE6b. There’s also better cooling and a lower final drive. 437 are made.
  • 1986: Final Reliant-built car is made, and delivered to Princess Anne.
  • 1987: Middlebridge buys the production rights to the GTE.
  • 1989: Production restarts, with a 2.9i engine and five-speed manual or four-speed automatic gearbox. 78 cars are produced before the company is liquidated.
  • 1990: GTE’s production rights are sold to Graham Walker.

AutoClassics says…

When the SE6 replaced the SE5a in 1975, it lost some of its driver appeal, as it grew in length and girth as well as weight. As a result some of the agility was lost, but the car became more practical thanks to the roomier cabin. When Ford’s 2.8-litre Cologne V6 replaced the Essex unit in 1980, the resulting SE6b was smoother and more refined, but it was also less torquey.

When Middlebridge took over the GTE’s production, it fitted a 2.9-litre fuel-injected version of the Cologne engine, which offered more of the same – extra power and refinement, but ultimately the same basic characteristics. Few would ever sample it, though, as only a handful of Middlebridge GTEs were sold.

Any Scimitar GTE in good condition is great to own and drive, but you must buy the right derivative for your needs. Later Scimitars make superb cruisers, while earlier derivatives are more sporting, but all GTEs are fast, refined, relaxed tourers that can give many moderns a run for their money.

Specifications

Scimitar GTE SE5/SE5a
  Power 138bhp
  Top speed 113mph
  0-60mph 8.9sec
  Economy 26mpg

Scimitar GTE SE6/SE6a
  Power 135bhp
  Top speed 118mph
  0-60mph 9.4sec
  Economy 27mpg

Scimitar GTE SE6b
  Power 135bhp
  Top speed 116mph
  0-60mph 9.7sec
  Economy 26mpg

Scimitar GTC
  Power 135bhp
  Top speed 119mph
  0-60mph 9.7sec
  Economy 26mpg

Middlebridge Scimitar GTE
  Power 150bhp
  Top speed 124mph
  0-60mph 8.1sec
  Economy 26mpg

Picture courtesy of MagicCarPics

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