NEC motor show.
The SS1 tag was an abbreviation of Small Sports 1, and with its low purchase price, simple mechanicals and sharp chassis, the SS1 was bound to be a roaring success. The company planned to make 2000 examples every year, which surely wouldn’t be difficult, even with those awkward lines. Yet in a production run that lasted from 1984 until 1995, just 1507 SS1 models rolled off the production lines.
The Scimitar SS1 was designed by Giovanni Michelotti; it was to be the last car he styled before his death. While open-topped two-seaters had been all the rage in the 1970s, by the 1980s it was the hot hatch that was king, and it seemed that Reliant had missed the affordable convertible bandwagon.
Perhaps it was the three-wheeler connotations that put people off – whatever, a redesign in 1988 (when the car became the SS2) and another hefty restyle in 1990 didn’t do anything to halt the decline in sales.
This latter version was called the SST (the T being for Towns, as in the designer William Towns), and it provided a far neater solution. Not only was it much simpler to build, which meant lower production costs, but it also looked better as the lines were far smoother. Gone were the bug-eye headlamps, replaced by conventional pop-up units, and in came the Ford 1.4-litre CVH engine. There was still the option of a Nissan 1.8Ti powerplant, too – but still buyers stayed away.
In 1992 there was another restyle, with the car now known as the Sabre, and subsequently the Scimitar Sabre. Now there was the choice of Ford 1.4 CVH or Nissan 1.8 Turbo engines along with the 1.4-litre Rover K-series unit. A couple of 1.8 turbo versions exist, but while a 2.0-litre Rover variant was listed, none was built. Despite the chunkier flared wheelarches, 15-inch alloy wheels and more sporty looks of this latest derivative, the writing was on the wall.
By 1995 it was all over, with Reliant calling in the receivers. With so few SS1s having been built, the car was bound to become a classic – especially with its affordable two-seater formula. It’s well made, great fun to drive and cheap to run, while most parts are still available.
With so many positives and no significant negatives, it’s no surprise that values are starting to climb, albeit fairly slowly at the moment. That’s almost certain to change though, with demand easily outstripping supply – especially for the high-performance derivatives. At the moment, £300-600 buys an early 1300-1600 for restoration, while £1300 will get you a usable everyday car; £2000 upwards nets a really good example, but you need to add around 50% more to each of these values if it’s a turbocharged car you’re after.