IN TIME for the London Motor Show Reliant released their long-awaited new economy car—the Kitten (another car with an aircraft name)—and an up-dated Scimitar GTE. I saw both, at the September preview at Warwick Castle, an excellent venue for such a function. The sunny weather was a perfect foil for the splendid photographic background provided by the Castle precincts and there was plenty of space for everyone, nothwithstanding large numbers of visitors mingling with the new Reliants; Warwick Castle was third behind Beaulieu and Woburn in the Stately Homes stakes of 1966, according to Lord Montagu’s book “The Gilt and the Gingerbread”.
The Kitten was planned to replace the Rebel when that peasants’ car was phased out some two years ago. A four-wheeled edition of the successful Robin 3-wheeler, it uses the same basic engine, but with the stroke increased to fractionally over 69 mm., giving a capacity of 848 c.c. This is an allalloy three-bearing engine with die-cast alloy block, using wet liners, and a die-cast alloy cylinder head. The Kitten is nearly 11 in. longer than a BL Mini, its wheelbase is 4i in. longer, and it is half-an-inch wider. Continuing the analogy, the Kitten’s engine, which is well-known to 750 Formula competitors in its smaller size, gives 40 (DIN) b.h.p. at 5,500 r.p.m., against 33 b.h.p. from the 850 Mini, at 200 fewer r.p.m. Kitten’s caper on 10 in. radial-ply tyres, Goodyear on the testfleet; which is interesting when you remember that Issigonis had to persuade Dunlop to make special tyres of this size for his original Mini concept. The Estate ha ,s a wiper/washer for its side-opening tailgate window, which is an extra. The front of the Kitten is suspended on Reliant-designed coil springs and wishbones, and as befits Britain’s second-largest motor manufacturer operating the largest fibreglass plant in the Industry, the saloons with lift-up back windows, and the Estate bodies are of this rust-proof material, as is obvious from the poor fit of the doors and the interior aroma. I discovered this during a short test-drive in a Kitten estate, but the main roads used did not enable me to decide whether this rear-drive car corners as well as a Mini, Which is proudly claimed for it. Indeed, some weaving in a cross-wind made me reluctant to lift a corner. The little car, steered with a
tiny wheel, settled to a happy legal cruising pace and I noted a short central, rather notchy, gear lever controlling a wide-ratio box, an open cubby that would just take my Rollieflex(!), and the usefully quick action to the driver’s window. The Kitten is said to have a smaller turning-circle than required of London taxis since 1905 and to give a petrol economy of 70 mpg. at 40 m.p.h., 60 m.p.g. at 50 m.p.h. If it can give like economy in owners’ hands it qualifies for my oft-requested “60/60” small-car–one capable of a regular 60 m.p.g., with a timed top-speed of 60 m.p.h. Especially as the Kitten is said to do around 80 m.p.h. No doubt we shall soon have an opportunity to prove these things. But I was shocked at the outset to learn that the price of the Kitten saloon is £1,499.35 (Estate version: £1,574.82). I had assumed that it would drastically undercut the Ford Popular at £1,299. In fact, it costs £251 more than a Mini 850, and this tiny car is only £300 less costly in round figures than the highly-desirable Alfasud! This is attributed to the hand-built fibreglass body; but steel is going to get more expensive. But if it is to sell well, from December, at 170 Reliant dealerships, it must beat on fuel economy all its rivals, especially the lower priced ones and prove more refined than the smaller ones. Of greater interest to MOTOR SPORT readers was the news that the desirable Scimitar GTE has been restyled and refined, with the intention of making this £4,367.61 car more competitive in the Executive market. Four inches have been added to its length, giving greater passenger area without loss of luggage space, and egress to the rear compartment of this fibreglass two-door sporting estate-car has been improved by having front seats which slide frontwards as the squabs are moved forward. The exterior of the Scimitar is now completely corrosion-proof, the bumpers being of rubber, and the frontal panel area of the car collapses in a head-on or similar crash, reducing the extent of the repair work subsequently likely to be involved. Fuel tank capacity has been increased by three gallons, to 20, aiming for a 500-mile range, as is right and proper for any GT car. A bench seat is now used for the rear compartment, luxury has been enhanced, and the manual steering improved. Power steering is an optional extra and the Automatic-transmission Scimitar sells for £4,446. We look
forward to undertaking an early road-test of this revised version of the well-established Ford-powered Reliant Scimitar.—W.B.
Brooklands on TV
AFTER Brooklands Track had been mentionin an episode of the popular ITV serial “Upstairs, Downstairs”, we were treated to a full instalment on September 28th, although with an aviation flavour. The Producer is to be congratulated on maintaining the drama contrived by allowing Lord Bellamy’s son to take his Step-Mother for a joy ride from the famous aerodrome and getting lost in fog, without ever showing an aeroplane on the screen or having to take shots at Brooklands. Suspense was maintained via a series of telephone calls.
In the main, too, the Producer must be congratulated on the authenticity. The aeroplane was named as an Avro 504, bought from the Aircraft Disposals Board for £395. As this was in the autumn of 1921, when “Avro” was synonymous with “aeroplane”, that was very plausible. That it was flown at 1,000 feet over London, up the river to Richmond, cannot cause any grumbles. Its speed of “80-90 m.p.h.is about right; of the authorities, J. M. Brute quotes the groundlevel top speed of a Clerget-504 as 90 m.p.h., of a Gnome-504 as 82 m.p.h., and A. J. Jackson’s assessment agrees. Also, the pilot was supposed to have learned to fly at the Brooklands Flying Club, but surely this didn’t exist in 1919? Whether you would describe the 504 as “easy to fly” would depend on your skill.
So far very good, but the inevitable error crept in when the engine was referred to as “a radial”. Although it is true that the Avro 504 had been fitted with ABC Wasp and Bristol Lucifier radial engines by 1919, it is almost 100 per cent certain that the fictitious Bellamy machine had a Gnome, Clerget, Le Rhone or even a Bentley rotary engine. On the flight during which it was lost, the Avro took off from Brooklands, flew over Southwold, went West instead of East in fog, and made a successful forced-landing on the beach at Poole Harbour, “fortunately while the tide was out”. All this makes sense, the range of the later Avros being around four hours,•but as the machine was little damaged and “would be able to fly again” and the pilot had to walk two miles to a cottage without a telephone and then take a trap in the morning to Bournemouth, before reporting the landing to the Police, the tide was obviously obliging! I suppose it is possible that, not having seen the evening papers, the son did not think to ‘phone his Father to say he was safe, this news coming from the “Brooklands Acro Club”, via the Bournemouth Police. Nor is it improbable that, with a pilot overdue, a Flying School would have been contacted by ‘phone at 7.30 p.m.—IF there was such a school at Brooklands in 1921? The Henderson School wasn’t registered there until early in 1927, becoming the Brooklands School of Flying in 1928. Can anyone enlarge on this? The Avro was described by its owner to the family footman as “like those used for recce. work during the war” but, in fact, very few, if any, 504s were so employed. On the whole, however, a good episode, generally free from error.—W.B.