Tuesday January 2, 2018
There is a select group of cars of such aesthetic appeal that you really have to encounter them in the metal (or GRP) to appreciate their beauty - or, put somewhat less pompously, the Reliant Scimitar GT is an exceptionally handsome motor car. In terms of automotive fame, it may be overshadowed by its three-door GTE stablemate but the importance of the original two-door model to the Reliant factory cannot be overstated.
The background to the GT is well known; Reliant’s MD Ray Wiggin was visiting the 1962 London Motor Show when he encountered the SX250 on the Ogle Design stand. It had been made as a one-off private commission and the basis for this elegant coupe was the Daimler SP250 ‘Dart’. There was little chance of it entering production under the auspices of Jaguar and so Wiggin eventually acquired the rights to create a replacement for the Reliant Sabre Six.
And so, after two years of intensive work the Scimitar GT SE4 made its debut at the 1964 Earls Court show. A price tag of £1,292 1s 3d (more than two new Minis) meant that it would be a fairly exclusive sight but that coupe body had the faintly exotic air of an imported Lancia or Alfa Romeo. The coachwork was of fibreglass construction as this was thought, by Reliant, to be well-suited to low volume production and as with the Sabre, power was from the 2,553cc straight six of the Ford Zodiac Mk. III; albeit with triple SU carburettors to propel the ambitious estate agent or junior barrister to 120 bhp and 117 mph. The Scimitar was empathically not aimed at the Flash Harry sector of the car market and so the cabin was smart and business-like although, in terms of space, the GT was best regarded as a two-seater. There was a rear bench but that was best suited to uncomplaining children or, more practically, to briefcases filled with important documents.
In late 1966, the Reliant was a new V6 ‘Essex’ power plant from the Zodiac Mk. IV and the latest GTs now featured improved weight distribution, an anti-roll bar, a better ventilation system and steel replacing wire wheels.Autocar tested a Scimitar at the beginning of 1967 and concluded that ‘in some important ways it is ahead of its rivals as a businessman’s express coupe for travelling far and very fast’. Three months later Motor thought that there were ‘few other cars which can offer a better combination of performance, handling, comfort and space for the £1,577 that the new Scimitar 3-Litre costs (with overdrive)’. 50 years ago, there were motorists who regretted the recently introduced motorway speed limits but at least they could boast in the golf club lounge that the Reliant’s top speed of around the 120-mph mark made it more rapid than the Sunbeam Tiger Mk. II and the Lotus Elan.
Towards the end of 1967, Reliant offered a second version that was powered by the 2.5-litre V6 engine from the Zephyr 6 Mk. IV at a more modest cost of £1,316 – both, to quote the advertising campaign, ‘ideal for the busy professional man’. From 1968 to the end of production in November 1970, the GT was made alongside the GTE and even in its heyday, the former was an exclusive car. To see a surviving example in all of its glory at a classic motoring event is to be reminded of the sheer ambition of a small Tamworth-based car manufacturer.