Road impressions - The Reliant Scimitar GTE

A fast liftback with an appeal of its own

It is impossible not to feel somewhat sorry for the Reliant Motor Company of Tamworth, in the English Midlands. Not because they have, akin to the vast British Leyland complex, had financial setbacks and management changes, but because their clever Scimitar GTE, the original sporting liftback or Grand Touring Express (of which HRH Princess Anne has had three and HRH the Duke of Edinburgh has driven the unusual glass-topped Triplex Special version) with the Ogle-styled glass-fibre body on a substantial John Crosthwaite-designed separate vintage-type chassis, was such a sensible concept that it no longer has the monopoly of this market.

The Scimitar has, however, an appeal of its own, and it was to re-acquaint myself with this and to discover how greatly this Reliant product has been improved since I last drove one eight years ago, that I road-tested the latest version. Like Rolls-Royce, Reliant have their own special number-plate for their Press and demonstration car. So it was in the Caspian blue RMC 6L that I drove away from the factory which now is situated on one side of the A5 road south of Tamworth, to find out, before I had arrived home, that the shortcomings of the original Scimitar model, and the ride and handling problems that for a time beset the larger, revised 1977 version, have been eradicated.

Indeed, I enjoyed this rapid run back into Wales as much as I have in any car recently used in such a fashion. The Reliant may be old-fashioned to a degree, but in the nicest possible way. The leather-cloth upholstery is easily mistaken for the real leather which I favour for a high-grade car, and the comfort of the front seats was outstanding even on the longer runs and was remarked on by my passengers. On this initial sampling I drove quickly and remained in direct top-gear, Ignoring the lever, extending conveniently from the top of the facia for flicking with the right forefinger, which brings in the overdrive. It was an enjoyable run, but fuel consumption was only 19.8 m.p.g. Later I was to find that the Ford V6 3-litre engine, that universal supplier of smooth, unflurried power (135 DIN b.h.p. at 5,500 r.p.m.), will pull away from absurdly low speeds, 1,500 r.p.m. and under, so that it pays to make good use of the easily-selected overdrive, which gives an indicated motorway 70 m.p.h. cruising speed with the quiet power unit idling at a mere 2,500 r.p.m., against 3,000 r.p.m. at this pace in normal top gear. The Scimitar is also uncannily quiet in respect of wind noise, and road noise too, and the one-time creaks and rattles from its non-rust bodywork have been eliminated, judging by the hushed running of RMC 6L. Handling, too, is now good, with no roll, and satisfactory bad-road damping and adequate ground clearance, the power assisted steering almost indistinguishable from manual steering in accuracy, and free of the former hisses and sighs, except at full lock, as the small-diameter 14.8 in. wheel is turned, while this is sensibly high-geared steering, asking less than 2 1/2 turns, lock-to-lock, although the turning circle could be smaller. This steering is not particularly light but is pleasant to use, with good castorreturn action. The controls are very nicely contrived, with two stalks for the minor services, the central hand-brake lever well positioned. There is a rest for one's clutch foot, and the slim gear lever in about the right place for an average-sized driver, although it has rather long movements and is apt to be notchy. It is heavily spring-loaded to the top/3rd gear positions. Although the Scimitar, the origins of which date back to 1968, makes good use of components from other makes of car, such as the compact Ford V6 engine and gearbox, Vauxhall control-stalks, and Triumph's dial-type warning lights cluster, these fit in well with the overall Scimitar concept. The visors are recessed in the roof but are rather shallow.

I found no particular disadvantages of having the front seats separated by the wide transmission tunnel, and a vertical binnacle housing the five smaller instrument dials, four neat switches for rear-window demisting, lamps, hazard-warning and fog lamps, the centre circular adjustable ventilation ducts, the vertical heater control levers, the switch for the two-speed heater-fan, the Philips-860 stereo set-cum-radio, and the big knobs that bring in the rear-window two-speed wipers and washer and the rheostat-controlled panel-lighting. These small dials are for battery voltage, water temperature (normal reading about 85"C), oil-pressure (normally at 75 lb./sq. in.) and fuel contents, supplemented by a clock of matching size. The oilgauge is also calibrated in kg./cm.2, and these neat Smiths instruments are matched by the bigger Smiths 140-m.p.h. speedometer and tachometer directly in front of the driver. The speedometer has k.p.h. readings, and total and decimal-trip mileometers, and the tachometer dial is red-lined from 6,000 to 7,000 r.p.m., showing that the Ford power unit can be extended 500 or more r.p.m. beyond its peak-speed, when occasion demands. Between these two mails dials is the aforesaid Triumph warning-lamps cluster, with tiny and therefore very neat symbols; the petrol-pump symbol begins to wink when the fuel tank is about a quarter full, and stays on with about two gallons, or say 40 milesworth of petrol, in hand. The black-finished instrument panels, with white needles On scattered black dials, are a throwback to a different age!

Down on the centre console, ahead of the gear lever, there is a lidded ash-tray and cigarette lighter. The loudspeakers are in the doors, as is now customary, and the positioning of the driver's exterior rear-view mirror is adjustable manually by means of a plated knob on the driver's door. The switches for the electric door-windows are on the leadingedge of the big lidded stowage-box, behind the gear lever. Stowages in the Scimitar are generous. Each door has a very spacious rigid pocket, there is a rather ditlicult-to-open kickable cubby of good size on the left side of the facia, and there is a shallow tray at the rear of the console for the use of rear-seat occupants. The doors have neat exterior and exterior pull-out handles, there are, in all, four sizes of key, and the facia carries at its extremities additional adjustable cold-air vents, matching the central one in size. The front-seat squabs, adjustable by the use of small plated levers, have head restraints, and black side-levers release them so that they can be swivelled forward for access to the back compartment—whereas on earlier Scimitars the whole front seat had to be lifted. The rear-hinged bonnet is self-propping but not self-releasing, the doors open sufficiently wide and have good "keeps", and the "fibreglass" smell has gone.

The rear seats have two separate seat backs, which fold forward to increase the loading area when required, thus giving a flat estate-car upholstered floor, reached via the rear window, which rises under the action of gas-filled struts, after a knob on the body, which can be locked, is turned. There are shaped arm-rests moulded into the body sides for the rear-seat occupants and the leather-cloth trim matches that of the seat upholstery. The roof is cloth lined and there is a vinyl-covered panel between the side windows. The Scimitar has an imposing outline, yet when I had to take a considerable load, including an English Setter, from London down to Wales, I found that, with the tear seats folded, there was a very acceptable amount of luggage stowage area, nor was this as much restricted by the sloping roof-line as might be expected. Altogether, therefore, the Reliant GTE lives up well to its original purpose. The Ford engine shows almost vee-eight smoothness, starts impeccably, and idles at 500 r.p.m.

Of its "express" aspect there is no question, for it combines a top speed of nearly 115 m.p.h. if top gear is used, or a maximum of 109 m.p.h. in overdrive-top, with acceleration in the order of to 60 m.p.h. in 11.8 sec. (a time of under 10 sec. is possible, under good conditions, using full r.p.m.) and 40 to 60 m.p.h. in top gear in 11.2 sec. The overdrive operates on top and second gears, so that much fast driving can be accomplished by merely flicking the o/d. switch. The car's appearance and handling are both enhanced by the use of those impressively-large Dunlop SP Sport 185SR-14 radial-ply tyres and the latter by the rubber-enshrouded wrap-round bumpers. There are rear-guard fog-warning lamps brought in automatically with the auxiliary lamps. The four Lucas headlamps are effective. The body styling is otherwise unchanged Scimitar, the lines uncluttered, with just the GTE and Scimitar-motifs on the sides. The petrol tank holds an uncommonly-useful 20 gallons, representing an absolute range of more than 400 miles in average usage, and the quick-action filler on the rear of the body couldn't be more accessible.

Here I should remark that by making use of the overdrive I was able to get 25.3 m.p.g. of 4-star petrol over some very varied motoring, and if a little of this was done at a sedate 40 m.p.h. because I was giving my 1922 8-h.p. Talbot-Darracq two-seater a send-off on a journey to Scotland in the hands of the son-in-law who rebuilt it, the rest included quick motorways work, carrying varying loads. No oil was required in 912 miles. The Ford engine is set well back in the box-section, cruciform-braced chassis, and the spare wheel is mounted horizontally in front of it. This makes the sparking plugs and oil dip-stick rather inaccessible, but the Lucas Pacemaker battery is easily topped up.

The servo-assisted disc/drum brakes are light and powerful. At times back-axle elonk can be induced, unusual in modern cars.

The present Reliant Scimitar has a wheelbase of 8 ft. 7.81 in. and it weighs 2,762 lb. at the kerb, in automatic form. It gives the impression of being less arm-cramping than formerly. The model I tested in 1970 had this form of transmission and was priced at £2,237. It is not Reliant's fault that the automatic-transmission model now costs j,:6,449 and the manual-gearbox car £6,332. With the extras on the test-car, including the electrically-operated radio aerial, the cost is further increased. Nevertheless, the Reliant Scimitar, with its interior redolent of highgrade cars from an early era, yet one which is rustproof as to bodywork, is a line loadswallower, and possesses high performance and individuality, should continue to appeal to discerning drivers, much as, in earlier decades, the Allard sold well to those who accepted that it was made largely of Ford components but appreciated its extra refinement. So the future of this British motor manufacturer at Tamworth would seem to be assured.—W.B.

International E-type Day

The largest gathering of E-types in the World is expected to collect at Mallory Park Circuit tor International h-type Day, organised by the h-type Register of the Jaguar Drivers' Club on Sunday, June 25th.

Activities will include a Concours D'Elegance, a static display of historic Jaguars such as Cand D-types, XKSS and SS too and some of the better modsports h-types. The Jaguar factorywill be represented by a display of Leylandowned E-types, including the last production Series 3 and the Quaker State racing V12.

An innovation this year is a test session on the circuit for JDC members in any types a Jaguars, so long as they carry laminated screens and thedrivers wear helmets. Only six cars at a time will be allowed on the circuit in a series of 20 minute sessions. The cost will be £5 per car and entries can be made through D. M. Nurscy, 26 Dove House Lane, Solihull, West Midlands.

Morgan Three-Wheeler Activity

That Morgan three-wheelers are active in the land is evident by the mingling of these with Austin Sevens and MG Midgets, we believe, at last month's Donington races (very much in the 1928 New Cyclecar Club tradition!), and by the announcement of a sprint to be held at Kimbolton Airfield by the Morgan Three-Wheeler Club on June 10th, starting at 12-noon, as part of its National Morgan Weekend. Although this is an airheld course, it says Twisty Sprint, so corners hgurc last and slow, left and right-handed, in the 2,000-yard course and it's even faintly traditional again, because the Inter-Varsity Speed Trials used to be held, before the war, at Kimbolton, in a private park, but presumably not far away? The Club's Bulletin for May contained many interesting items, including more about Gerald Carr's one-owner F4 and an article by Roger Richmond about his now well-known four-wheeled Morgan. the Membership Secretary is Mick timber, 62, Greenways Crescent, Shoreham-by-Sea, Sussex, BN4 6HS and this Club is highly recommended to users of Malvern-built tricycles.