You might not think of Reliant as a particularly visionary company, but when it launched the Scimitar GTE in 1968, it carved out a new niche: the sporting estate car. It was an evolution of the earlier coupe SE4 coupe, adding a hint of practicality. This might have been a relatively short-lived category, occupied by other suitably left-field choices like the Volvo P1800ES, Lotus Eclat and Lancia Beta HPE, but it’s one that proved a moderate success for Reliant.
It was never an out-and-out sports car to challenge the likes of Lotus or TVR, but Reliant did a great job of making the Scimitar very a capable GT. The Tom Karen-designed body was attractive, and Ford V6 power made relatively easy work of propelling the not inconsiderable c.1200kg weight of the Scimitar.
The heavy-duty steel chassis and sturdy fibreglass body make this a reasonably easy and cost-effective car to restore – and relatively low values mean it is still a great buy today. Just like anything, especially cars of this nature, you need to be careful to avoid previous bodge repairs.
Which Scimitar to buy?
There isn't really huge choice, but all left the factory with Ford V6 engines – which makes things a little easier. Officially you have the choice of 3.0-litre Essex or 2.8-litre Cologne engines, but a number have been retrofitted with the more potent 2.9 engine with a more usable five-speed manual transmission, similar to the rare Middlebridge-built 2.9-litre fuel injected cars from 1989. Whatever is under the bonnet generally provides enough performance, thanks to the low weight of the Scimitar, with a suitably sporty engine note to match.
It is important to try a few different versions before you make a decision, because various changes over the years significantly altered the character of the GTE. The difference between a healthy example and a ropey one is stark, so choose wisely. In terms of values, anything built before the UK tax exemption date is more highly valued than later models, however be prepared to pay a premium for galvanised SE6bs or cars in outstanding condition.
Performance and specs
Reliant Scimitar GTE SE6b (Cologne engine)
||135bhp @ 5200rpm
||159lb ft @ 3000rpm
||Four-speed manual, o/d
|Price when new
Dimensions and weight
• The one thing you won't have to worry about is rusty body panels, but the glassfibre shell does present its own issues. Check the bodywork carefully for any signs of cracking, or previously repaired damage. If done correctly repairs are usually fine, but poor workmanship will come back to bite you later.
• Inspect the whole body for signs of fibreglass crazing – a common problem on most GRP cars. This phenomenon usually occurs due to the stress in certain areas, like the A posts and around the rear glass tailgate. Other common areas to check are around the door handles, bonnet corners as well as the wheel arches.
• While the body will be rust resistant, the chassis most certainly isn't. Check all the major tubes, outriggers and side rails – most easily done on a ramp. Late model SE6b left the factory with a galvanised frame, but this protection only lasts so long before corrosion can set in. It's also important to check for accident damage while underneath.
• One fairly common issue with a lot of these Ford engines is overheating, so it's important to be sure the cooling system and head gaskets are in good health. The most common Essex lump is a simple engine that will generally go on forever, but tired engines are not uncommon. The most obvious tell-tale sign is poor oil pressure, so pay special attention to this once the oil is fully warm.
• Standard four-speed gearboxes are generally reliable, but worn examples will feel baggy and jump out of gear. All will leak oil, but rebuilds to fix all these are cheap and easy. Three-speed Borg Warner automatic gearboxes were also offered on early cars with later models getting a unit from Ford. Neither will give any trouble generally, but fluid must be replaced regularly.
• With the suspension, the key is preventative maintenance. Failures are common, but regularly lubricating various components twice a year will keep everything in check. All parts are available off the shelf, as well as uprated bushes. Alignment can be out if rebuilds are not done carefully.
• Once inside, there are numerous potential issues to check for, such as damage to the seat frames. They were never up to the job and can crack, while you should also check for cracked plastic trim (especially the dashboard on an SE5a) as most of it is unavailable new or used. As always, check that the switches and electronic equipment all work, and importantly that the heater blows hot. Fitting a new matrix is an undesirable job!
• Electronics are a weak point, but most cars will have been upgraded by now. Fitting a better alternator and more modern fusebox is the best option. Any additional electrical devices could cause the original set-up to overload, while problems .
1968: Scimitar GTE launched in SE5 trim.
1971: SE5a appears with fresh light clusters and vacuum-formed interior panels.
1975: The SE6 arrives; new plastic bumpers wrap the slightly longer and wider facelift. The interior is also better, there’s optional power-assisted steering and a new 20-gallon fuel tank plus Girling dual-circuit brakes. There’s a stronger automatic gearbox too.
1976: The SE6a brings a stronger scuttle, stiffer front springs, a change to Lockheed brakes, larger rear drums and smaller front discs.
1980: Ford’s 2.8-litre Cologne engine is fitted to the new SE6b. There’s also better cooling and a lower final drive.
1986: The final Reliant-built car is made, and delivered to Princess Anne.
1987: Middlebridge buys the production rights to the GTE.
1989: Production restarts, with a 2.9i engine and five-speed manual or four-speed automatic gearbox. Before 75 cars are produced the company is liquidated.
1990: The GTE’s production rights are sold to Graham Walker.
Owners clubs, forums and websites
• www.scimitarweb.co.uk – Reliant Scimitar and Sabre Owners’ Club
• www.reliantownersclub.co.uk – Reliant Owners’ Club
Summary and prices
The Scimitar GTE has always been curiously undervalued. It has all the ingredients for cult status: low volumes, sharp styling, and excellent club and parts back-up. Build quality is not the finest, and the glassfibre body can look very tatty if not loved, but the Scimitar is good-looking and practical, and its Ford V6 offers reliable grunt.
Cars are available from £1500, if you’re feeling brave, but £3500 is really the starting point for solid projects. £6000 will get you a stonking GTE, while you’ll have to pay £8000 for the convertible GTC in similar condition. Restored cars can be more, and have often had more money put into them than they will ever return. We've been saying it for years, but bag one now while they’re so cheap...