Friday July 13, 2018
The place is outer London, the year is 1971 and the venue is a chase in a forgotten thriller entitled Universal Solider. The law is in a Jaguar S-Type Traffic Car and they are pursuing a red sporting estate car that positively exudes both elegance and menace. N.B. Fans of Browns Lane classics might want to avoid viewing this scene.
A Reliant Scimitar GTE is one of those rare cars that looks right in any circumstances, including an obscure B-film starring a hirsute George Lazenby. When it made its bow in October 1968 it immediately established a niche as smart transport for the up and coming professional who appreciated fine motor cars. The idea of creating a four-seater three-door Grand Tourer from the Scimitar GT dates from 1965 when Ogle Design created the one-off Triplex GTS (“Glazing Test Special”) that was based on the Reliant. The car was a promotional vehicle for the glass manufacturer, but its potential did not go unnoticed at Tamworth, not least because it was subsequently acquired by HRH The Duke of Edinburgh. Two years later the company approached Ogle to create an estate version of the Scimitar.
August 1968 saw the GTE SE5a announced to the press and in October it was one of the undoubted stars of the London Motor Show against some fairly stiff competition - the new Jaguar Xj6 was also appearing at Earls Court. One of the major achievements of the latest Scimitar was that the estate had managed to enhance the lines of its parent model with that distinctive rising waistline. The coachwork contained any number of clever details such as the separately folding rear seats and the armrest that could be pivoted to serve as a luggage barrier. Underneath the GRP coachwork was an entirely new chassis while the GT’s track and wheelbase had been extended and there was also a larger fuel tank, as befitting a car that was perfectly suited for touring the Cotswolds in style.
The GTE was powered by Ford’s Essex 3-litre unit - a plan to also offer the 2.5 litre straight six engine was abandoned at a fairly late stage. At £1,759, it was not a cheap car by any circumstances – it cost as much as three Mini 850 Mk. IIs – but nor was it so expensive as to be out of reach to an ambitious lawyer or architect. Despite weighing about a hundredweight more than the GT, there was barely any penalty in performance with a top speed of 117 mph and when Motor tested a GTE they approvingly noted that ‘nothing at all has been sacrificed for versatility’.
A further selling point was that the Scimitar had no direct British alternative. The three-door Ford Capri Mk. II lay six years in the future and while the MGC GTC cost over £400 less it was more of a 2+2. The Vauxhall Victor FD 3300SL Estate was aimed at an entirely different market and perhaps the closest early rival to the Scimitar was the 1969 Triumph 2.5 PI Estate Mk. I but that was an adaptation of a four-door saloon rather than a dual-purpose sports car. As the GTE’s sales copy put it – ‘Only Reliant offers the benefit of a grand tourer and a capacious estate in one car able to take four adult passengers and their luggage in high speeds, in extreme comfort’.
Production of the GT Coupe ended in late 1970 and the GTE was facelifted as the SE5a in 1971. Princess Anne was one extremely high-profile owner, thereby gaining the marque even more invaluable publicity. In 1975 Reliant unveiled the more substantial-looking SE6 and today the original model is guaranteed to attract as much – or even more – attention as it did some 50 years ago. It was the right product that was launched at the right time and to have an idea of its impact here is some prime Pathé News footage of the 1968 Motor Show. The Reliant Scimitar GTE was a car that, quite simply, created its own niche.