20,000 miles with a Reliant Scimitar GTE
The Assistant Editor reports
The mustard coloured Reliant Scimitar GTE, registration number ECH 44J, which has been my transport for just over a year is now about 20,000 miles old. It is impossible to state with any certainty the exact mileage as the speedometer has failed twice and there have been numerous other failures that, at one time, had me close to despair. Yet, now the vehicle seems to have settled down to a much more contented middle age and my confidence in Reliant and their motor car has fully recovered. I have absolutely no qualms in recommending a GTE and in particular the latest 1972 models. In fact, nearly all the faults I have been stricken with just would not happen on the latest model. Much has already been written about the Scimitar GTE, or Great Tamworth Express as it is referred to at the factory, but let us emphasise that it fulfils the role of an executive express superbly. On the Motorway it is ideal but on twisty country roads it shows an equal talent. Its large carrying capacity so often comes in useful, its economical fuel consumption never fails to amaze and it is one of the least tiring cars to drive I have ever experienced.
Although my journalistic career with Standard House has spanned six years, mainly on our weekly contemporary Motoring News, I spent six months of 1970 running the works March Formula 3 team. I suppose I returned rather like the Prodigal Son to take up the post of Assistant Editor and I somehow managed to persuade the Management that a Reliant Scimitar GTE was absolutely essential to the job! Previously my company cars had been a 1965 Cortina GT and a 1968 Lotus Cortina Mk2 which was later tuned by BRM and both had served me with tremendous reliability. During the racing team period I had inherited an Escort 1300 Estate car which did a most incredible mileage in my hands and carried impossible loads like three Formula 3 engines all at once.
Thus I came to the decision of wanting the Reliant for a number of reasons. One was the fact that it had a Ford engine and gearbox, another was that I had grown to like Estate cars, a third attraction was its known ability for fast, effortless, high speed cruising and I also liked the idea of the attractive glass fibre body. Finally, and this is something for which I have had my leg pulled, I believe in supporting British industry and Reliant are as British as you can get in the motor industry.
Quite whether her reasons were the same as mine I rather doubt but at the time, November 1970, as Motor Sport was about to make a purchase, HRH Princess Anne became a Scimitar GTE owner. This was a fantastic boost for the Tamworth Company and the already long delivery date for the car lengthened. However a garage friend up in Derbyshire has an uncanny knack of finding cars normally impossible to obtain and, only a day after an enquiry, he produced a brand new Scimitar with manual box and overdrive which wasn't standard then but is now in a colour described as ochre which was definitely all the rage at that time. Personally, I was not at all keen on the hue but have learned to live with it and it was about the only new Scimitar GTE in captivity. So a cheque passed hands to William Green Garages, of London Road, Derby and after his mechanics had given the car a thorough pre-delivery check I proudly drove it away. It was mentioned that occasionally, the rear windscreen wiper was reluctant to self-park and this particular fault has never ever been solved. The few other problems like the non-functioning of the heated rear window, caused by a loose connection, and a non-working eye level air vent were soon corrected. At the 500 mile service Green's mechanics removed a rocker cover to find an electrical connection buried in the cork gasket and this had been causing a slight oil leak.
After 2,000 miles trouble-free motoring a slight mis-fire at low revs became apparent and Green's Sun testing equipment was put into action. After some head scratching arcing from the distributor cap to the large air filter or the radio suppression plates was diagnosed and liberal application of insulating tape to the metal surfaces immediately effected a remedy. Some eight thousand miles later the trouble reared its ugly head again but this time it was very much worse and the car spasmodically ran on only five cylinders. This problem took a considerable time to sort out and the final remedy which worked was to completely replace the distributor cap and all the spark leads and since then the engine has not missed a single beat. At the same time a set of Motorcraft sparking plugs were fitted and have remained in situ ever since. Changing plugs on the GTE with its Ford V6 engine tucked well back is not an easy task. At this point it should be mentioned that Reliant now have a much better radio suppression method and all those cumbersome plates are not to be found on the 1972 model so this arcing problem, which afflicted several owners as far as I can gather, no longer exists.
The first mechanical failure actually came at around 7,000 miles and manifested itself as a reluctance to drop into overdrive. First one thinks this is imagination but then it started to refuse to go into o/d completely. My immediate thought was that there was something wrong with the magnetic part of the overdrive and the car was booked in for a service with the problem foremost on the job list. However, before that date the gearbox developed a nasty noise everytime I attempted to enagage overdrive — something was drastically wrong. Then the speedometer stopped working while I was actually looking at it. The car was limped up to Tamworth where their service department, which is available to all owners, soon diagnosed and remedied the problem which was not unique.
A bearing in the back of the overdrive had collapsed because of lack of oil due to fault in design which had since been remedied. This stopped the overdrive falling into mesh. and the speedo cable is driven from this area so its nylon drive gear had become overheated and consequently sheared. All this was repaired under guarantee but I still finished up with a bill for labour which annoyed me somewhat. Since then neither the gearbox nor the overdrive have given the slightest hint of trouble but the box does tend to be much more cumbersome than some of those excellent boxes produced to mate with smaller Ford engines. The speedometer cable, however, broke again recently this time at the head but a replacement was easily obtained and quickly replaced. Again the speedo broke as I watched it.
The gauges have shown some funny things in their time and apart from the petrol gauge, which packed up and had to have its tank sensor replaced which proved quite a task, the ammeter started to tell some very strange tales. Every so often it would flick to discharge for a few minutes and then return to normal. At first I thought it was the ammeter itself playing up. After some time, a couple of months, the phenomenon started to occur more frequently and this tended to cause a mis-fire at high revs. After considerable head scratching a faulty part on the alternator was discovered and replaced at minimal cost. However the ammeter still shows a boost to its charge whenever the heated rear windscreen is switched on although apparently there is no adverse effects. In the 1972 models the facia lay-out has been completely revised.
At just around 15,000 miles the Scimitar really started to get me down and for that matter had a very good attempt at killing me. I was manoeuvring in the road ready to take a couple of friends home and somehow something felt funny about the brakes. Once straightened up I started to accelerate down the road but decided to hit the brakes hard just to check. The pedal broke clean off its pivot point and I was left with no brakes at all. Fortunately we were travelling about ten m.p.h. and I brought it up safely on the handbrake, visibly shaken. It later transpired that this was not a unique failure and Reliant had actually issued a service bulletin No 146 which requested all cars between chassis no 451400 and 451550 to be checked by the dealers. Somehow my car had escaped the net perhaps because it had not been purchased direct from a Reliant dealer. Anyway, I was not amused and I wrote to Ray Wiggin, Managing Director of Reliant and told him so. Later I learned that the fault had been caused by a welder, since sacked, who was skimping his job. But what price inspection procedures? A new and better pedal was fitted.
At the same time I was experiencing silencer problems and the rather vulnerable twin exhaust system finally gave up the ghost at about 14,000 miles when the back righthand silencer box actually broke away from the pipe. I was just about to set off for a trip up to Croft in North Yorkshire so needed a quick repair. Thus having had excellent service with the Escort Estate from one of those silencer specialists, Midas Exhausts, I paid them another visit. Their branch near Lords cricket ground could not help but they sent me off to another branch which specialised in the more difficult systems.
Once on the ramp it could soon be seen that the other back box was also just about to fall off and the two front boxes were also on their last legs. They would make their own system up and have it fitted by the evening which seemed a good service. This they did but relieved me of over £30 for the privilege and provided an exhaust which did not silence nearly as well as the original one. Further more only 5,000 miles later the system was blowing yet again but, so far, has not been replaced. It was undoubtedly a mistake not to have the cheaper official Reliant system, particularly as I learn Reliant have recently changed their supplier and the systems last a much greater length of time.
There have been a few other problems too including a front wheel bearing needing replacement and just 1,000 miles ago the inlet manifold gasket blew so the engine would not hold its water but this Ford part was easily obtainable. During the second part of its life the car has been maintained by Standard House's resident mechanic, Dick Phillips, and it seems to have responded to the extra loving care he has given it. Superstitiously one touches wood before writing this but I feel, after its turbulent childhood and teenage the Scimitar is now settling down to become respectable and reliable in its more mature years.
So much for the chapter of incidents, how has the car worn and worked more generally? When going properly it has lived up to every expectation, for as we said earlier, it proves to be excellent transport for long-distance runs. On a couple of flat-moving occasions the car has consumed a vast amount of luggage and chattels but many other times the rear seats have been folded forward and the extra space used for bulky objects.
The car was delivered with Pirelli Cinturato tyres, which are wearing tremendously well, although the fronts have thrown off little chunks of rubber. With 20,000 miles on them I doubt if they are even half through despite some quite sporting driving at times for the Scimitar handles exceptionally well on the twisty roads without being the kind of car you chuck into corners. The handling characteristic is mainly neutral although the tail will hang out when one tries hard but is always predictable. In the wet on the Cinturatos the road holding becomes rather more suspect and it is much more a matter of pointing it straight before you squirt it. It would certainly be interesting to try the car on some other tyres but at the moment the Pirellis look like going on for ever. Incidentally 26 p.s.i. all round seems to suit the car about the best.
Under fierce acceleration, and even hard cornering, the oil pressure gauge can often be seen to take a dive, not to zero but down to 15-20 p.s.i. This is caused by oil surge in the Ford V6 sump and happens even when the oil is topped right up to the full mark on the dip stick. Obviously a baffled 'sump is the order of the day and firms, such as Raceproved, sell these although I am surprised Reliant do not fit them before delivery. Present oil consumption is about 500 miles per pint.
The Scimitar is equipped with a 17 gallon tank which thanks to the Barclaycard credit system I tend to fill right up. In fact, as I write this, I have just come to the end of a tankful which the trip recorder shows, gave me a range of 420 miles. This is almost 25 miles per gallon which is most economical for a car of this kind.
Apart from the failure of the pedal, the brakes are superb and inspire a tremendous amount of confidence particularly when you are outbraking that man in the Mini into a road island. The steering is a little on the heavy side for some although very accurate and my only complaint regards the effort needed when parking. In fact later models are fitted with metal, rather than nylon bushes, and having tried such a car at the Guild test day I was amazed how much this effort is reduced.
I have found the seating position and the steering wheel ideal for my slightly short stature and carpets, seats etc. all seem to be wearing well. However, some of the trim round the steering wheel, the fresh air sockets and some of the back sections of the roof seems to be coming unstuck so I must have another go with the Bostik. In fact, in the 1972 model, the interior furnishing of the car has been completely revised and smartened up and colours, other than black, are now available. The driver and passenger seats both have always had a certain amount of movement in their backs due to the adjustment in rake that can be made, although this is yet another point tidied up on the latest model. The heating and ventilation system has never given a moment's trouble on ECH 44J but. the 1972 model has a completely redesigned system which one can only presume is an improvement.
Externally the car has shown very few signs of deterioration. The chrome trims down the side tend to spring off their clips as do the grille strips but both these faults have been eradicated from the 1972 model which does not have the side strips and looks better for it. The ochre paintwork still polishes up well hut the weather has started to work on the bumpers. The Scimitar appears to be exceptionally strong and when I inadvertently punted a Formula 3 friend's Mini Cooper up the rear the Reliant showed absolutely no signs of the combat but the Mini's boot did. Otherwise the 20,000 miles have been free from any other incident or police interest.
Thus, in conclusion, I have absolutely no qualms in recommending a Scimitar GTE, particularly in 1972 guise, to anyone who is thinking of purchasing such a car. Since we obtained our car the price has risen to £2,379 in manual form or £2,463 with a Borg Warner 35 automatic transmission. All being well the car is scheduled to serve me for another couple of years and in that time I feel sure it will provide thousands of miles of enjoyable and exhilarating motoring.—A.R.M.