Reliant Scimitar four-wheel-drive Ferguson prototype

This unique 4wd Scimitar GTE prototype is to be sold with no reserve at the Affordable Classics sale of ex-Jaguar Land Rover James Hull cars at Bicester Heritage

Reliant Scimitar four-wheel-drive Ferguson prototype

One of the most interesting cars at the Jaguar Land Rover sale of surplus classics is the one and only Ferguson prototype of a four-wheel-drive Reliant Scimitar GTE.

The standard Scimitar, although built on a steel chassis with a glassfibre body, was mechanically utterly conventional for the period – Ford V6 engine, manual or automatic transmission, rear-wheel-drive.

The car here, though, is four-wheel-drive, and utterly unique. It was previously part of the James Hull Collection, later bought by Jaguar Land Rover Classic and now to be sold off at the Brightwells Affordable Classics sale at Bicester Heritage on March 21.

It was built by Ferguson Formula, a company that came about through the unlikely alliance of tractor company boss Harry Ferguson, racing driver Tony Rolt and Rolt's mechanic Freddie Dixon.

Rolt, a war hero, won the 1953 Le Mans 24 Hours, took part in the Mille Miglia and raced in Formula 1 – including the first ever World Championship Grand Prix at Silverstone in 1950. But, after witnessing the 1955 Le Mans disaster, he stepped down from racing to concentrate on developing four-wheel-drive systems.

Together, Rolt and Dixon invented the viscous coupling, which led to backing from Harry Ferguson to form Ferguson Developments. The company produced the famous Ferguson P99 four-wheel drive Formula 1 car, driven by Stirling Moss in 1961, as well Indy 500 four-wheel-drive cars for STP. Ferguson transmissions were also used in the Lotus 56, Novi-Ferguson and STP-Paxton Turbocar Indy cars of the late-1960s.

After Harry Ferguson's death in 1960, Ferguson Development closed and Rolt later founded FF Developments in 1971. It converted cars, vans and ambulances to four-wheel drive – well ahead of its time, as it turned out. The best known of the road cars was the Jensen FF, a four-wheel-drive version of the Interceptor, but there were also four-wheel-drive Ford Zephyr police cars amongst other successes.

The one-off Scimitar used the same technology. The Scimitar chassis had to be adapted to add the drive to the front wheels and to allow the transfer of power past the Ford V6 engine and clutch housing to a front differential. The drive to the front differential was taken from the rear of a special overdrive gearbox by Hi-Vo chain and propshaft containing two constant velocity joints.

The chassis and suspension also had to be strengthened and modified to take the extra weight of the GKN transmission, and to ensure that steering geometry was maintained despite the steering rack having to be moved in order to clear the front differential. Pictures of many of the original design modifications can be found on the Sporting Reliants website.

However, while it was initially through that the Ferguson Scimitar used the same Dunlop Maxaret anti-lock braking system as pioneered on the Jensen, it was later found to have retained conventional brakes.

The Scimitar was designed with a front-to-rear torque split of 40/60, and was tested by the Reliant team – former-BRM chassis designer John Crosthwaite, designer Ted Laban and Os Webb from Ferguson – before being laid up at the back of the Reliant factory development department in Tamworth, Staffordshire.

There it stayed, in a sorry state apparently, until Crosthwaite persuaded managing director Ray Wiggin to sell the car to him. It was registered NRF 519L and restored by John, who kept it for many years, before selling it to James Hull.

It's clearly been well-used over the years, mostly by Crosthwaite it seems, with 44,000 miles showing on the odometer, and heavily worn carpets and sagging seats. The running gear is covered in surface rust, as are many of the components in the engine bay – but as a unique and remarkable survivor of the British motor industry of the 1970s, it certainly deserves a good home.

For more about the Brightwells sale and the James Hull collection, click here.

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