Road test

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136

YOU have to admire Reliant as a company,

even . if you’re never likely to be in the

market for one of its three-wheelers. For one

thing, it’s no mean achievement for so small

an outfit to design and build its own engines

and gearboxes, and, for another, it shows

enterprise to every so often spring a surprise

on its mainstream competitors by finding a

gap in the market and filling it. Such a car

was the Scimitar GTE, perhaps the world’s

first sporting estate car. With the SS1 sports·

car, the men at Tamworth have again looked

for a gap in the market, in this case the

relatively simple, relatively low-cost open

sports car, and have filled it with a

competent design. You also have to admire

Reliant for the way it manages to survive as a

646

small independent manufacturer at a time

when even the giants of the industry have

been forced to make international marriages

of convenience.

The Scimitar SS1 is the natural heir to the

Spridgets and Spitfires, MGBs and TR7s of

a few years ago. Like those cars, it can be

easily out-performed, in terms of stopwatch

times, by a large number of contemporary

saloons at about the same cost. There will

always be, however, buyers for whom

nothing else will do except a practical,

affordable, workaday, two-seater drophead

and though there are a number of specialist

sports . cars currently available (Panther,

Morgan, Caterham Seven and TMC Costin

spring to mind) they all have niches in the

market which do not conflict with Reliant’s

target buyer profile.

The concept of the car is simple: there is a

sturdy, rigid, deep channel backbone

chassis fitted with Ford components, two

versions of the CVH engine mated to either

a .4-speed (1300) or 5-speed (1600) Ford

gearbox driving to an independently sprung

back axle (trailing arms, coil springs,

dampers, and antiroU bar). Reliant’s chief

designer, Ed Osmond, has produced a particularly

elegant front suspension layout

consisting of an antiroll bar, coil springs and

double wishbones with long dampers at

angles across the front of the car, in the

interest of a low bonnet line, and connected

to the top wishbones by rocker arms. Disc

brakes are fitted at the front, drums at the

rear and the whole is clothed in a corrosionproof,

dent-resistant body constructed from

four types of plastic.

Semi-flexible reinforced reaction injection

mOUldings (RRIM) are used for the

bumpers and wings; the bonnet is made

from vacuum-assisted resin injected

polyester sandwiched with rigid urethane;

cold pressed reinforced polyester is used for

the boot lid; while all the other parts,

including the cockpit cell and doors, are of

hand-laid, reinforced, polyester. On a visit

to Reliant last August W.B. and I, neither

of us featherweights, found we-could jump

up and down on wing panels without

damaging them. The overall finish of the

body is good but on “my” car there were two

small paint runs.

Giovanni Michelotti’s last design was the

Scimitar and I have to say it will not be the

car by which I will prefer to remember him.

The scalloping and ridges over the wheel

arches seem unnecessarily fussy, for the

overall shape is quite simple. An

improvement in the car’s looks could be

made if the headlights were shrouded at

rest, those two little eyes looking up at you

weaken the bonnet line.

All in all, I think the body is a wasted

opportunity, though I must say that my

teenaged sons’ . friends were very

enthusiastic about it. Still, odd looks never

harmed the original Sprite.

Much of the interior of the car bears

witness to the Ford connection, with the

steering wheel and column, instruments and

switches all Escort-derived. The car I had

was trimmed in grey velour with red piping,

and very handsome it looked. When driving

against the sun when it was high in the sky

however, the top of the instrument binnacle

cast a distracting reflection against the.

windscreen at eye level, but it is something

which could be cured with a small panel of

black cloth.

Although from the outside, the

windscreen looks a little too high, once

inside, the relatively high seating pOSItIOn

makes the screen appear much more

narrow. Visibility is good under most

conditions but would be greatly improved if .

have liked a little more elbow room on my

right side and I’d have thought that the

interior door trim could be easily modified

to achieve that. An extra inch would have

been most welcome.

There is no dashboard glove compartment

nor any lockable cubby hole, an odd

omission on an open-topped car, though

there are elasticated pockets behind the seats

and on either side of the transmission

tunnel and the central armrest contains

storage space for cassettes and small items.

My main CrItICIsm, though, is the

accelerator pedal. The trouble is that it is

hinged from the top and has a long travel so,

at high revs, it moves so far away from the

driver that one is left pressing it with the

toes rather than the ball of one’s foot. The

awkwardness of this pedal at times

threatened to ruin my enjoyment of the

Scimitar’s impeccable road manners for I

could never find an acceptable compromise

between obtaining a comfortable seating

position relative to the steering wheel and

one relative to the throttle pedal.

Reliant has avoided the trap of pretending

that its car is any more than strictly a twoseater,

so there is no attempt at an

“occasional rear seat” but there is space

behind the seats which will take quite it

number of small items, or even a child seat,

and the boot space is generous, given the

concept. It’s a car you ·could realistically

take on a weekly shopping trip or for a .

fortnight’s holiday.

“My” car was fitted with the 1,600 cc

engine which gives 96 bhp at 6,000 rpm and

98 lb/ft torque at 4,000 rpm. The chassis is

good enough to take a lot more power but

the inJected (XR3i) version will not fit into

the envelope, though Ford’s V6 will and this

option is under consideration. Yes, please!

“My” car also had electrically operated windows, an electric aerial and a stereo

radio / cassette unit which bump up the

price from. a basic, and reasonable, £7,795 to

£8,105. Electrically operated door mirrors

and head restr~nts are standard.

Once on the move, the stubby gear. lever

is an immediate joy, it looks and feels the

part but the standard Ford ratios do not

really suit this much lighter car, I would

have liked closer ratios with shorter fourth

and fifth gears. Wind noise is surprisingly

low for a sports car, even with the top down

(operating the hood is a very simple exercise

and, once down, it folds flush with the rear

of the cockpitand is covered neatly by a tonneau),

though road noise from the rear

wheels is quite high with the hood up. Directional

stability in strong crosswinds is

excellent. Steering is wonderfully precise

and one needs to make only very small

. movements except when exploiting the car’s

tight (30 ft) turning circle.

On uneven road surfaces, though, bumps

are transmitted back to the driver via little

movements through the wheel. Since the car

seems so taut and controllable under all conditions,

the effect of this is to enhance one’s

en,joyment for it brings one closer to both

the car and the road.

A first rate ride/handling compromise has

been reached, making the car taut and firm

and yet very comfortable (apart from that

throttle pedal). The seating is not only

attractive, but supportive and comfortable.

The most outstanding feature of the car,

though, is itsroadholding. On the Bruntingthorpe

test track’s handling pad, which

MOTOR SPORT now uses for tests, as

opposed to · “road impressions”, I tried

everything I know to get the car to spin, but

the back end always remained instantly controllable.

The car’s performance under

the wipers travelled two more inches. I’d

 

 

admittedly artifiCial conditions was very impressive. Goodyear

185/60-14 NeT tyres, which. are standard, doubtless help, but most

of the credit goes to the chassis. Less pleasing, though, was the fact

that petrol from a less than half full tankspiHed past the filler cap

. (which is placed vertically by the boot lid) when the car was

cornered hard and the fuel pump was left gasping. I’m not

suggesting that many will reproduce such high cornering forces on

the open road but I do believe that a cae should function properly in

every department within its limits and this the Scimitar failed to do.

When filling up, care must be taken to empty the nozzle of the petrol

pump or else fuel spills over the top of the rear panels.

When cornering hard, the car handles neutrally, veering to mild

understeer, hut a quick lift from the throttle gives easily controllable

oversteer, the car being simple to control on the throttle. It’s the sort

of handling which supports, even flatters, the average driver and in

which the better driver will revel.

Reliant’s own claimed figures.for the car are a top speed of 110

mph and 0-60 mph in 9.6 sec. With the hood down, the best figure I

could achieve on the track’s qvo mile straight was a mean of 101

mph 003 mph best one way) but with the hood up, this rose to a

maximum speed of 103 mph.(l06 mph best one way). Acceleration

also fell below expectations with my best 0-60 mph time of 11.3 sec.

These figures were obtained on ,a warm, dry, day, though with

strong cross winds, and were verified by MOTOR SPORT’s

electronic test equipment.

Economy, too, did not match my expectations, the car returning

an overall average of 29 mpg, ex.cIuding time spent ,on the test track,

when it returned under 20 mpg. With over 3,000 miles on the clock,

this rather suggests that the test car was not in perfect tune.

As tested, the Scimitar SSI was an impressive motor car. The

chassis could certainly handle more power but even as equipped, a _

clos(! ratio gearbox would enhance performance. Having said that,

there are several points to be borne in mind. The first is that Reliant

is not attempting to produce a car with ultimate performance but an

honest two-seater practical sports car in the former tradition of BL.

This it has certainly done and, though the outright perfonnance

figures seem disappointing, the car’s wonderful handling and

roadholding make it rapid from A to B, and great fun too.

In all the important departments the company has got the package

right but there are a number of niggling faults which detract from

one’s overall enjoyment. All these faults are, however, easy to rectify

and I am told that Reliant has most of them in hand. Reliant

conservatively estimate a production figure of 2,000 units pa on the

home market. My fe,eling is they will achieve this easily and, given

the car’s concept, price, and the inherent reliability of its major

components, will win many friends both here and abroad. Welcome

back, the basic sports car! -M.L.