Road Test Report

The Reliant Scimitar GTC

The Reliant Motor Company of Two Gates, Tamworth, Staffordshire, thought up the idea of a fast hatchback, using Ford power and transmission, as a follow-up to its original Ogle-styled Scimitar, and this pioneered a sports-type Estate-car which has great appeal to those wanting a fast car of this kind and one of marked individuality. Last year Reliant brought out a convertible version of this GTE, a booted drophead four-seater, for which a hard-top is available. With the demise of the Triumph Stag this is a useful V6 with which to capture sales which Leyland’s V8 might have secured.

The Reliant GTC, as this Convertible model is called, is a very worthwhile car in its own right – long-legged, surprisingly thrifty of fuel, nice to drive, and “different”. It also has the merit of a fibre-glass body by a constructor well skilled in this kind of work, which is comforting in an age of rust-prone bodywork and salted winter roads. To combat the tail-off in availability of the former Scimitar power-pack, the Essex-Ford 3-litre V6, Reliant now use the German-manufactured Ford 2.8-litre engine. This has a shorter piston-stroke and there is a small saving in weight; even in carburettor form as used in the Scimitar, the power difference amounts to only 3 b.h.p., and performance has scarcely suffered from this power-unit transplant. Incidentally, the Reliant Scimitars are made in the factory, in a very Midlands setting, that also builds the economical Reliant Kittens and the Robin three-wheelers, and while I have never had much desire to use one of these tricycles, after long experience of the Kitten’s practicality I am beginning to wonder whether the three-wheeled version of it might not be a good idea, in these days of ever-inflationary motoring costs.

Back to the Scimitar GTC, the specification is well-suited to a fast car of somewhat old-style (I didn’t say vintage) charm.

In this context the Reliant Scimitar has a separate box-section steel chassis, on which the fibre-glass body is mounted. Front suspension is by double wishbones, and the live back axle is located by trailing-arms and Watts-linkage, the suspension medium being coil springs damped by hydraulic shock-absorbers. Power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering is used, geared satisfactorily high at 2½ turns lock-to-lock, although as the Scimitar’s turning-circle is only moderate this somewhat balances out. Braking is by a disc/drum dual split-circuit system with vacuum servo assistance, the discs having a diameter of 10 ½”, the drums a diameter of 10”. The Scimitar rides on large 185 HR 14 Dunlop SP tubeless radial-ply tyres on Wolfrace cast-alloy four-stud 6J x 14 wheels. The wheelbase is 8’ 7½” and the kerb-weight is approximately 30 cwt. 

The 60-deg. V6 ford engine develops 135 (DIN) b.h.p. at 5,200 r.p.m. and 152 lb./ft. (DIN) torque at 3,000 r.p.m. and it can be run up to 6,000 r.p.m., without getting into the red on the tachometer or the Bank balance. The drive goes through a hydraulically-operated 9½” diameter clutch and a four-speed gearbox, with a flick-in and flick-out manual overdrive. The final-drive ratio is 3.45 to 1, equal to 20.6 m.p.h. per 1,000 r.p.m. in top gear. Selecting the geared-up overdrive increases this to an impressive 26.88 m.p.h. per 1,000 r.p.m., from which much of the “long-leggedness” of the Scimitar stems. The rather agricultural-looking, compact iron power-pack is set well back in the Scimitar chassis, enabling the big spare wheel to be packed in horizontally between it and the radiator. The engine does not have fuel injection, using instead a twin-choke downdraught Solex-Pierburg carburettor, but it does have breaker-less ignition and a thermostat-controlled electric-fan. On a compression-ratio of 9.2 to 1 this very oversquare (93 x 68½ mm. 2,792 c.c.) engine with its push-rod-operated overhead valves and four main bearings gives the aforesaid power and torque figures with nonchalance, starts promptly from cold, and then opens up immediately.

So “torquey” is this Ford V6 power unit that it is possible to take the Scimitar through towns at a speedometer 30 m.p.h. in overdrive-top, at just over 1,000 r.p.m., from which it will pull away smoothly, although nothing much happens until beyond about 2,500 r.p.m. This might suggest that this remarkable car could be even higher-geared, but as it gives a quite exceptional fuel economy as it is, there would be no point in thus reducing performance. Unless one is in a hurry it is quite normal to drive the Scimitar largely in top and overdrive-top gears, using just the convenient flick-switch that controls this.

As petrol prices are rising again, let me say right away that I was most agreeably impressed by the economy of this big 120 m.p.h. car. Fuel thirst varies from 25 m.p.g. or less when the car is driven really hard, to over 28 m.p.g. when trying to be fuel-conserving. My overall figure was a most acceptable 27.3 m.p.g., obtained in fast long-distance driving (when the Scimitar will average comfortably over 50 m.p.h. without exceeding, shall we say, 60 and 70 m.p.h.) and also with much short-haul usage, as the fuel tank holds 20 gallons, the range is the commendable one of well in excess of 500 miles in normal circumstances. The tank has an old-fashioned quick-action filler cap in the centre of the rear body panel and it is easy to see that the tank has been filled to the brim, even though putting in the final gallon takes time. The fuel gauge never indicates quite full, but is otherwise accurate and steady reading, although the little blue light, that shows a tiny fuel-can as the low-level indication comes on when about four or more gallons remain unused. That useful fuel-range is but one aspect of the Scimitar and its intentionally old-fashioned concept, which should appeal very much to dedicated sporting drivers. It has a number of others. Before I deal with these, however, the car’s performance must be summarised. It will attain the magic two-miles-a-minute maximum speed under favourable circumstances, and it will do nearly 90 m.p.h. in third gear. From the acceleration aspect, 60 m.p.h. comes up from a standstill in exactly 10 sec., 80 m.p.h. in a matter of 17 ½ sec., 100 m.p.h. can be reached in 30 sec., and the standing-start ½ mile time is only fractionally longer than the car takes to get to 80 m.p.h. Overdrive operates in third gear as well as top, and increasing speed from a town-gait of 30 m.p.h., to 50 m.p.h., will occupy 12.7, 8.5, 7.0 or 5.2 sec., depending on whether the driver is using overdrive-top, direct-top gear, overdrive-third or the direct-third speed.

The gear lever is slender and its knob pleasant to handle but because the power-pack is mounted far back in the chassis the lever may seem rather far back also for those who prefer to sit quite close to the steering wheel, and then the large lidded stowage box between the front seats can somewhat obstruct the left elbow when changing gear. However, as I have emphasised, it is mostly only necessary to drive in the top and overdrive-top gears, which makes the rather sticky, if positive, gear engagements, unlike Ford’s own smooth action, excusable. Reverse gear is not difficult to select, however, and is to the left and back, in the gate. The gear lever is very strongly spring-loaded to the two higher-ratio positions. The power-assisted steering functions very acceptably, with smooth castor return. The central hand-brake lever is well placed and the overdrive switch is a long stalk convenient to the driver’s right hand, as it extends from the fascia, overdrive being obtained by moving the stalk down. The slim pendant foot-pedals are only slightly biased to the right and there is a useful “rest” for one’s clutch foot.

The suspension is on the hard side, which can sometimes deflect the back wheels a trifle on rough rods, but once this has been allowed for, the Reliant scimitar is a car in which to corner fast with confidence, the steering characteristic being initial mild understeer, which can be changed to oversteer by the application of power, or on slippery road surfaces. The brakes are admirably powerful but also progressive, needing but light pedal pressures, and although the hydraulically-operated clutch has a long pedal-travel, it is also reasonably light to use.

The bucket-type front seats are very comfortable, and the test-car had real leather upholstery. Gaining access to the back compartment of the two-door body is achieved by moving forward the front-seat squabs, and this is done the cushions also slide forward. The squab adjustment is normally done by plated side levers. In the back compartment there are two separate seats, comfortable and with somewhat more foot space than many 2+2 coupes provide.

The instruments and controls of the Reliant Scimitar are out-dated in some ways but very nice to contemplate and to use. Most of the lesser instrumentation is contained on the big vertical central console. Along the top of this are four Smiths dials, of sensible diameter and very easy to read, due to their black faces and white needles. They convey messages as to oil-pressure (normally 50 lb./sq. in.), water heat (normally 88 deg. C.), fuel contents, previously commented on, and the condition of the Lucas 12 volt, 50 amp./hour battery. Below this there is a Smiths clock, with a Philips radio or tape-player to the left of it (with an electrically-raised aerial). Below this an angled shelf carries the switches for the heated rear window (of the GTE), hazard-warning lights, lamps, and the rear fog-guard and front spot-lamps (the latter have dirt-excluding covers). Between these four switches are a subdued light asking you to belt-up, and the switch for setting the exterior mirrors if these are of the electrically-adjustable kind. Lower down on the vertical face of this binnacle are two adjustable fresh-air vents, with the two vertical heater-ventilation levers between these. Lower down again are two big knobs control respectively the intensity of the instrument lighting, which is never overbright and which can be switched completely out, and the rear wipe/wash (on the GTE). A notable item is that even when the fascia lighting is not in use the switches remain lit just sufficiently for them to be instantly located at night. Also, the quality of these switches is very good and their action pleasant – further Scimitar luxury touches.

The base of this central console carries a cigarette-lighter and a lidded ash-tray.

There is a dual roof-lamp, giving either a bright or a more subdued light, the latter being actuated by the door courtesy-switches and remaining on for a short time after the door has been shut. The fascia and other switches are well defined, the Scimitar’s doors have effective “keeps”, and the driver is reminded of the sporting nature of this excellent motor car by the subdued burble from the exhaust pipes as he accelerates.

The Smiths speedometer and tachometer are directly in front of the driver; the former reads to 140 m.p.h. and has small k.p.h. readings and its m.p.h. digits show 30 and 50, but not 60, m.p.h. speeds. The tachometer goes to 7,000 r.p.m. red-marked from the 6,000 r.p.m. reading. Both have black dials and white needles, in good classic-car style. Between these main dials is a circular warning-lights cluster, of the short pioneered for Triumph cars. It covers ignition on, fuel low, rear-window heater in use, main beam on, turn-indicators in use, and also forewarns of serious brake-pad wear or a low level of the hydraulic fluid. The switches for the electric window-lifts are on the rear edge of the central console, behind the gaitered gear lever and brake lever in their own well. Behind the aforesaid oddments-box there is a lidded ash-tray for the rear-compartment occupants. Stowages in the Scimitar are confined otherwise to a good-sized lidded and lockable left-hand fascia cubby-hole, and rigid door pockets-cum-armrests, set rather far back. There are more fresh-air vents, adjustable, with central cut-off knobs, at the extremities of the fascia. Two stalk controls operate respectively the wipers (left-hand) and washers and (right-hand) lamps dipping and flashing and the turn-indicators.  The wipers are two speed, with a flick intermittent action. But to cancel the latter it is necessary to move the stalk back to the slow-speed setting and down again, which is inconvenient. The wiper action is effective, the heater works very well and has a neat two-speed fan-switch, and the headlamps are powerful, although still consisting of large and smaller pairs of lamps. You sit quite high in a Scimitar, with a footwell.

The bonnet-lid release is well placed on the right of the car and the light bonnet-lid is rear-hinged and self-supporting. The battery and oil-filler are reasonably accessible, the rear-placed tubed oil-level dip-stick less so. The engine was using oil at the rate of about 1,500 m.p.p. after 8,000 miles. Another ingenious feature of the Scimitar GTC is that either of the rear-seats squabs can be folded down to increase the luggage capacity of the boot and if this is done the carpeted floor is uninterrupted. The boot has to be loaded over a high sill but has an unobstructed floor, the big spare wheel being under the bonnet (which makes for a satisfactory weight distribution), and the jack and wheel-changing tools are contained in a locker beneath the boot-floor, under a plywood panel. The boot capacity is normally 7.2 cu. ft., which the back-seat folding arrangement increases to a useful 23 cu. ft.

The GTC came for test with the optional hard-top in place and I confess that, being busy over the Christmas break (and with no place to park the big top), and the weather breaking up thereafter, I never removed it, any more than did a colleague that on a Mercedes-Benz 500SL, in spite of the Snowdonian scenery through which he was driving that car. I am prepared to accept the comments of those who have used this Scimitar GTC in the open form, which is the prime purpose of the car, that its hood is easy and quick to put up and to fold and stow away. It is certainly very well done, of German made fabric that is taut and is concealed by a good hood bag when stowed. There is a protection when the car is open, from the T-strut, and vision is no more cut off by the hood and side pillars than in most other convertibles. It is rattle-free in hard-top form; removal instructions are printed on the driver’s anti-glare visor. There are subtle improvements in this 2.8 GTC over the earlier GTEs, in body construction.

After driving this Reliant Scimitar GTC for a four-figure mileage I liked its high performance achieved without noise or fuss, its notable “long-leggedness”, especially the extraordinarily good fuel economy that matches that of the average family saloon, and its individuality, the last named virtue presented in much the fashion of top luxury cars of past decades. The Reliant Scimitar is a good-looking British car and the test-car had the Company’s own registration number RMC-1L, the GTE which I had for appraisal some years ago carrying the Reg No. RMC-6L. Hand-built cars do not come cheaply and with all the equipment on the test car the total price of the GTC would be £12,066.85. However, the basic Scimitar GTC costs £11,360 with tinted glass, power steering and Wolfrace alloy road wheels as standard equipment. Twelve standard colours are available, with special colour options as well. For a 120 m.p.h. car of high individuality and notable fuel economy, which is very pleasant and “different” to drive, the Scimitar should be readily acceptable to those seeking a rust-free-bodied car of distinct “character”. W.B.