It’s hard to introduce a car like this, but all I can say is that buying it seemed like a good idea at the time. I’d almost immediately regretted selling my Triumph Spitfire and convinced myself that the only thing that could fill the little car-shaped hole in my heart was another British car. Despite my meager budget at the time, I refused scale back my ambitions and this led to me to buy a hand built British sports car in dire condition that was never sold on this continent. You can probably guess the results at this stage, but follow along.
I was a member of a casual British car club at the time and among our members were two brothers who I’d also count as friends. Despite–or perhaps because of–their being of Irish decent, they were fans of British cars, though they preferred saloons to sports cars. One night over beers, the older brother mentioned that he’d just saved a Reliant Scimitar from being scrapped and I was intrigued enough to research the model further. The two often saved unusual cars from the local scrapyard and had amassed a good size assortment of mostly European classic oddities. Their preferred marque was Vauxhall but that didn’t stop the occasional Renault, Austin or DKW from sneaking into their collection. You can just see a few oddball cars in the photo above: the brown car next to the orange Reliant is a 1972 Vauxhall Firenza (known elsewhere as a Viva HC) and behind it are a Subaru XT, a Nissan Micra and a Jaguar Mk X.
Reliant is mostly known for two things; little three wheelers and the Scimitar grand tourer. Their rich history has its beginnings in Raleigh Bicycle Company’s decision to eliminate production of three-wheeled motor vehicles. Two colleagues felt the market for these vehicles was still there, however, and began producing their own three wheeled delivery vehicle in 1935. While not much more than a motorcycle front end joined with a delivery box, it sold relatively well and had the additional refinement of two cylinder JAP (J.A. Prestwich Industries) power added in 1936. Austin Seven 747cc four-cylinder motivation followed shortly after. As a move to lessen dependence on outside suppliers, Reliant developed their own side valve four cylinder engines after Austin discontinued the production of theirs. It was extremely similar right down to its 747cc displacement.
Postwar production initially began with the refinement of Reliant’s commercial three wheelers, but passenger car production started in 1952. As an early adopter of the use of fiberglass, Reliant was making all fiberglass bodies by 1956 for the Regal three wheeler (which had started out with an aluminum body three years earlier). Other highlights include the Ford-powered Sabre sports which was developed with Israeli company Autocars. Reliant’s expertise in fiberglass again helped with the development of Turkey’s Anadol A1. Reliant also built the fiberglass bodies for London’s Metrocabs and the light weight body shell for Ford’s RS2000.
Reliant is a fantastically interesting company and I could ramble on about them all day, but let’s get back to the Scimitar. The company was looking for something new to replace its Sabre sports car and they found it in Ogle’s SX250 prototype, built on a Daimler SP250 chassis. Ogle found its self in some financial difficulty as a result of poor sales of their Mini based SX1000 and the loss of founder David Ogle, and a deal was struck with Reliant to marry the SX250 bodyshell to the Sabre chassis.
The first coupes were sold starting in 1964 and were powered by a 2.6L Ford straight six engine fitted with triple SU carburetors. By 1966 the engine had been swapped over to the more powerful but less visually beautiful Ford V6 available in either 2.5L or 3.0L displacement. A touch over a thousand coupes were built before the discontinuation of the bodystyle in 1970.
Based on Ogle Design’s GTS estate car, the Scimitar GTE was launched at the 1968 London Motor Show. Known as the SE5, the chassis was actually all new with revised suspension, though the body was again fiberglass and the front end looked familiar to the older coupe GT. The Ford 3.0L V6 engine carried over and was offered with either a three speed automatic gearbox (after 1970) or a four speed manual, available with overdrive on an intermittent basis for an additional cost. The Scimitar offered sporting performance, effortless high speed cruising in a practical package with a rear hatch window and independently folding rear seats. Top speed was 117mph initially but this was bumped to 121mph as a result of a 7hp boost which was part of the SE5A refresh in 1972.
A push towards the executive market came in 1975 with the SE6 makeover. A more modern look accompanied the growth in width and length. Additional suspension and brake tweaks in 1976 were part of an update codenamed SE6A. By 1980, Ford stopped producing the torquey 3.0L Essex V6 engine so Reliant was forced to swap over the similar specification 2.8L Cologne V6, creating the SE6B. The differential was given a higher numerical specification to cope with the loss of some low end grunt. The SE6B was produced until 1986. A drop top conversion GTC model was also offered in small quantities from 1980 to 1986.
As an interesting footnote, Middlebridge Scimitar Ltd was able to secure the rights to the Scimitar design, as well as a tooling and parts supply, and modernized the design with a fuel injected 2.9L Ford V6 hooked to either a five speed manual or four speed automatic gearbox. Over the next two years, they were able to build a further 78 of these modernized examples until their demise in 1990, when parts supplier Gramham Walker Ltd., who still builds Scimitars to order, acquired all the rights to the car.
I blame my excitement to own something really unusual for buying the Scimitar, which I only gave the most brief look over. Given that Reliant manufactured cars in tiny volumes, they borrowed a large number of parts from other marque’s cars, potentially making part supply issues a little easier. A few examples of this on the Scimitar were its use of Triumph TR series (TR4 to TR6) front suspension pretty much intact and tail light lenses sourced from a Hillman Hunter. I had come across a parts interchange list that detailed these shared components quite well, but even the large number of the donor vehicles had become seriously uncommon over the years. Even the windshield, which I thought could be sourced from the more common 70s European Ford Capri, came from very much more obscure 1960s British Capri.
Oddly enough, the Lotus Elan +2 used the exact same windshield, but the price tag for one of those was rather steep. Sourcing vintage glass for an oddball model can be a real issue, and mine was only solved by a very helpful Brit who shipped me a windshield from a Scimitar he happened to be parting out. Having it shipped over was as massively expensive as expected, even though he pretty much gave me the glass for free, and no carrier would guarantee its safe delivery. I was a nervous wreck until the windshield arrived safe and sound.
Now that I sourced the near-unobtainium glass, I could also replace the Hillman Hunter rear taillight lens and Scimitar badges that had likely been stripped off by souvenir hunters. The interior was absolutely filthy and full of garbage when I got the car, but it actually cleaned up to very presentable condition. Once I figured out how to bypass the missing ignition key, I was able to get most of the electrics functioning. The starter was the one electrical component that didn’t seem to work. Unfortunately, the car seemed to have been built around the starter motor as it wasn’t accessible from the top and blocked by the beefy frame from below.
Being an early GTE, my Scimitar had the 3.0L Ford V6. Unfortunately this was a British Essex engine that was never sold in North America, so parts would have to come from overseas. It had a two barrel carburetor and featured a sixty degree angle between the cylinder banks. Interestingly, there is also an Essex V4 engine based on the same architecture which was used in various British Fords like the Corsair and, more famously, the Transit cargo van. The Essex was developed for both gasoline and diesel variants, and while the latter never made it to the production stage, the engine is known for its beefy construction and considerable weight. You can just make out from the photo above that my Scimitar had originally been brown with the orange paint coming sometime later.
My Scimitar’s V6 was hooked to a four speed Ford manual gearbox that also featured electrically actuated overdrive. The overdrive toggle switch is actually on the dash just above the speedometer. The interior was my favorite part of the car, with its whimsical array of switches, dials and gauges.
While I had done some light wrenching on my old Z28 and further repair work on my Spitfire, with the Scimitar I was a little over my head. While I could likely resuscitate the car today, progress was very slow and a house move to a nearby city loomed. Rather than cart the Scimitar along with me, I decided to cut my losses, sell it on and perhaps buy another, less needy car. I found out later that the guy I sold it to only wanted the windshield to flip to a Lotus owner, and the car ended up outside a local British car repair shop. A few years afterward, I was contacted by a gentleman from Manitoba who’d purchased the car sans windshield, and who informed me he was finally giving it the proper restoration it deserved.