THE RELIANT SCIMITAR GTE
A Sports Shooting-Brake
THIS IS to some extent in the nature of a recap., because the pros and cons of the 3-litre Ford V6-engined, plastic-bodied Reliant Scimitar in normal form were discussed in MOTOR SPORT in September 1968. Shortly after this the Tamworth Company, noted maker of tricycles, with a sporting three-wheeler in the offing, announced its interesting, unique GTE, or sports shooting-brake. It is one of these that I have recently been driving.
This GTE is an imposing-looking car, with its podgy Pirellis, nose-down attitude, twin exhaust tail-pipes, and compact Ogle-styling, enhanced by good-looking road wheels. Consequently, it called forth plenty of favourable comment, especially as the paint finish on the glass-fibre body is good and the doors shut nicely, but the catch of the tail-gate was inoperative on the test car, so that a nasty rattle intruded on the otherwise quiet running qualities of this accommodating Scimitar, although spring-loaded struts held the window closed.
The GTE provides the carrying capacity of an estate-car with the lines and feel of a distinctly sporting motor car. It is an estate-car for antique furniture and camping equipment rather than for pigs, muddy dogs or rusty tool-boxes, for the floor is carpeted for its full area of 16 sq. ft., the trim is in the de luxe category, and heavy objects require to be humped up into it, there being only a ¾-tail-gate. The body is fairly narrow and elbow room restricted.
One of my earlier criticisms of the much-discussed Reliant Scimitar, namely that unless its driver adopted a racing-driver arms-at-full-stretch stance (which many of them will wish to do) the gear-lever is too far rearwards, does not apply to the present test, because the car submitted had Borg-Warner 35 automatic transmission (£122 extra), the central lever for which, controlling P, R, N, D, 1 and 2 selections, is fairly well located, although it is a big toggle-lever, and to me a toggle is something to pull up and down, not push backwards and forwards, although in this case it provides conveniently for the pinch-in reverse and hold locks. The Reliant's controls, especially the angled central hand-brake, are well placed, although the is-in. leather-rimmed steering wheel isn't adjustable.
Between speedometer and tachometer there are the thermometer and oil gauge, with the ammeter, clock (accurate, by Smiths) and fuel gauge in the centre of the black instrument panel, which also has the flick-switches for panel lighting and rear-window heating. The white needles of ammeter, oil gauge and thermometer hang vertically when all is normal, i.e., approx. 50 lb./sq. in. and 90°C on the two latter dials, and the 140-m.p.h. speedometer and the oil gauge have additional metric readings.
Apart from the fact that the faulty tail-gate catch rendered the car unlock-up-able, there were two other minor shortcomings—two of the main digits on the trip milometer only half exposed themselves and the multi-purpose r.h. control stalk did not always automatically cancel the flashers after a turn.
The Reliant GTE is a four-seater, with two bucket back scats and somewhat restricted leg room, these seats folding to provide the full estate-car rear compartment flat floor, and bucket front seats which are rather small and flimsily mounted on their runners but which have friction-held reclining squabs and are snugly comfortable. The black p.v.c. upholstery is matched by black facia covering and interior trim, and the lining of the roof is black, which is not acceptable to everyone. Small adjustable fresh-air vents at thc facia extremities supplement openable front quarter-windows, and the body is rear vented. The central console carries the flick switches for lights and heater-fan; two rotary switches, their markings none too easy to read, look after heater settings. There are two knobs for the screen and rear-window wipers (the former two-speed) which, when depressed, operate the washers. This rear-window wiper, in conjunction with a rear-window heater, solves estate-car rear visibility problems very effectively and is an excellent feature of the GTE, used also by Volvo, Porsche etc., and originated by Lancia for their Flaminia. The facia has a deep, lockable cubby-hole, standing proud of the facia in a rather ugly manner, there is a lidded central stowage box, and a cigarette lighter and lidded ash-tray on the console.
Forward visibility is good, although the n/s of the bonnet isn't visible. The rear of the body slightly impedes vision at oblique junctions and the screen pillars are rather thick. The central rear fuel filler is of quick-action type and the engine is well screened against radio interference.
In action the GTE has a long stride, the change-up after kick-down not bringing the engine anywhere near its 6,000-r.p.m. limit yet giving very effective acceleration, although from 70 m.p.h. onwards takes longer than I expected and it pays to use hold-2 to overcome this. Top speed is in the region of 120 m.p.h. but is of only academic interest in this country, where the s.s. ¼-mile time of 18 sec. and 0 to 60 m.p.h. in 10.7 sec. is of far greater value. Road-holding is of a very high standard, aided by dual trailing-arms and a Watts linkage to locate the coil-sprung back axle, and by Cinturato SR tyres, which are 183 x 14 on the GTE, against 165 x 15 on the normal Reliant Scimitar. Roll is excellently resisted and the quick, though rather heavy, rack-and-pinion steering (3.6 turns, lock-to-lock) is complementary. There is reasonable castor return action and no lost motion. The steering is not beyond criticism, however, for there is a most unpleasant "stickiness" as one commences to make a turn at low speeds, it transmits some shake, and very severe kick-back results if a front tyre strikes a pot-hole. On the other hand, the GTE goes where it is aimed and is essentially a fast-cornering, safe car. At some speeds a transmission hum intrudes on the otherwise quiet running.
The GTE, then, is better on open roads than in heavy traffic, where transmission snatch, a rumbling engine idle, and that sticky steering intrudes. The disc/drum Girling servo brakes are a thought Spongy. The V6 Ford engine is an easily overlooked aspect of this Reliant, because it functions so unobtrusively. It starts impeccably on autochoke and runs smoothly, and it gave 20.8 m.p.g. of 4-star fuel, mainly on short runs and in London traffic. Oil thirst was nil, after 650 miles.
The body is taut and mainly rattle-free (apart from that back window, benefiting from the rigid John Crosthwaite-designed braced chassis, but the well-damped suspension thuds down after negotiating humps and wind whistles round the o/s quarter-window. Some vibration is felt from the transmission. The front seats lift up complete to overcome the two-door configuration. There is a 17-gallon fuel tank, giving a range of at least 340 miles; the gauge is notably accurate at the zero reading. The ride is generally good, verging on the lurchy over poor roads, and the front-seat passenger is apt to complain that the deep foot-well does not provide enough bracing for the feet. A small point—the labels for the flick-switches are placed where the switches obscure them until in use, the sort of mistake perhaps R-R wouldn't make... ?
The four Lucas headlamps give good main and dipped beams, the bonnet lid is self-propping, the under-bonnet essentials like dipstick, battery, screen-washers reservoir, fuse boxes and hydraulic fluid reservoirs are accessible, and the spare wheel is fitted ahead of the power unit, where it gets warm and is not entirely easy to remove and replace. The heater is undrainable, so must be protected with anti-freeze, Smiths Bluecol on the test car. The windscreen is Triplex zone toughened but a laminated screen is available for an extra £20 8s.
The Reliant Scimitar GTE is unique, a luxury estate-car of very high performance, and an uncommonly exciting-looking one into the bargain. Its greatest shortcoming is the unpleasant "feel" of the steering but it should find many followers and is an excellent poor person's "bread van", of very sporting demeanour and appearance. The price, as tested, with Radiomobile radio two speakers), etc., is £2,237.—W. B.