The Reliant Scimitar is unique. When it launched in 1964 it raised eyebrows with its innovative shooting brake design and has remained in the public consciousness ever since thanks to striking looks and its famous royal connection. After all, Princess Anne had one you know?
Introduced in 1964, the Scimitar has always been an attractive proposition. Like the Ford Capri it shared an engine with, the Scimitar offered the working man speed and thrills without the high costs and histrionics of more exotic sports cars. The Reliant was, well, reliant, with a proven, durable power train and low running costs. Match that to the world’s first series production sporting estate and you get a fabulous entry point into classic car ownership and a gem you can enjoy all day, every day. What’s remarkable is how affordable the Scimitar remains despite a booming classic car market. Choose wisely and the Scimitar is brilliant value for money, offering low cost thrills and a sprinkling of royal glamour for the price of a Dacia Sandero. We know which one we would choose.
The glass fibre bodywork can be challenging to maintain, so check for any hasty resprays that could be concealing flaking or rust spots. Cracks and micro-blisters can also be a problem, but putting it right isn’t as difficult as you might imagine. As with many cars of this period, corrosion can be an issue, particularly for pre-1981 examples. Pay close attention to the outer rails just behind the sills and the outriggers behind the front wheel. Despite the glass fibre body, chassis rot is a common killer of Scimitars so check it thoroughly. While the chassis and bonded tubular rollover protection are both hardy, they are still known to rust. In particular, check for rust between the top of the chassis rail and the glassfibre. Other trouble spots to look out for include the heater fans behind the headlights (on SE6 models), front box metalwork near the radiator and bumper mountings (this can be checked by removing the spare wheel), bottom front wishbone brackets, chassis outriggers and side rails. Furthermore the links between the chassis and rear seat belt clips as well as the rear diagonals on both sides of the fuel tank are worth noting, as well as the top of the tank itself. Other areas to assess are the bottom of the roll-over hoops and the round tubes ahead of the rear wheels. The body’s steel reinforcements are sometimes fallible to condensation which can also cause rust spots.
Despite these trouble spots, the Scimitar remains a reliable machine. The reputation for catching fire was born from a faulty Ford V6 carburettor that has long since been rectified. As long as the car has been looked after there are no major drive-train issues to worry about. One of the Scimitar’s major strengths is the durability of its Ford V6, which to this day remains a strong engine. As with any classic car, listen out for rattles and knocks and be sure that the car has been regularly serviced. The fibre timing gears were an Essex V6 weak spot, but they can always be changed to steel or alloy replacements. Otherwise the engine is durable. When beginning your search, bear in mind that many Scimitars have been converted to LPG. Thanks to the size and shape of the tank, this doesn’t eat into boot space.
The gear change can be difficult so look out for the car jumping out of second and top gear during the test drive, as well as any signs of a dragging clutch (as this could point towards a bent dutch release fork).
The front suspension - carried over from the Triumph TR6 on many examples - can prove a weak spot due to the stress of carrying wider wheels, so check for frequent lubrication and bush replacements. It is worth considering the option of polybush suspension as a solution to this issue.
Because the glass fibre body demands additional earthing wires, electrical faults can be common on the Scimitar. The fusebox can also prove problematic. You may find some owners have attempted to fix these niggles themselves, which can throw up further problems. However, these issues can be solved by finding new earths or even a new wiring loom, which are readily available.
The vacuum-formed dashboard on the SE5a is known to crack and fall apart with age, and replacements are hard to come by. The unique trim items (i.e. plastic moulds and dashboard fittings) are almost unobtainable, although the soft trim (seats etc) can be refurbished. SE5s started off with black vinyl trim only, the SE5a introduced leather and tan options, while the SE6 offered a blue alternative. Remember to check for cracked front seat frames.
The Scimitar remains a rapid machine and a good example should continue to feel agile and sporting. The narrow-bodied SE5/SE5as are particularly sharp, while the SE6a has longer legs and is more suited to relaxed cruising with its softer ride. The V6 engine is generally bulletproof and ought to be good for at least 100,000 miles if maintained properly. Things to check while out for a test drive include any signs of overheating. If the engine takes a while to warm up, for instance, this could be a sign of a lack of thermostat and alarm bells should be ringing. Other issues include the fibre timing gear (which can disintegrate) and the gearbox popping out in second and top (often due to a bent clutch release fork). You should also make sure overdrive is functioning correctly. The later Ford auto boxes are generally more reliable than the earlier BW 35s (which need rebuilding at 60,000 miles). The Scimitar’s brakes have always been a strong suit, with servo assistance making them reassuringly consistent. Overly stiff steering and uneven tyre wear can signal oversized wheels, so look out for how the car handles bumps and corners, as well as listening out for any crunches and rattles.
The Scimitar has never enjoyed the soaring values of many of its contemporaries, so don’t be surprised to see an average GTE going for around £5,000 to £8,000. It is a buyer’s market. Prices have remained steady and the car is fantastic value if you find a tidy example. Like any market, prices can soar for a ‘best of breed’ example. A fully-restored, show example of a Middlebridge has been sold for £30,000 in the past, but this is very much the exception to the rule.
The Reliant Scimitar was branded with an unfortunate reputation for catching fire, with prospective buyers warned off over undeserved fears of unreliability. This, coupled with excessive insurance premiums meant that Scimitars have languished at the bottom of the used car market for years. It has led to many examples being scrapped or neglected. While this might not ward off enthusiasts who relish any opportunity to restore a classic to its former glory, buyers should go into any prospective sale with their eyes wide open. Even jobs as simple as a cabin restoration can cost more than the total value of the car, so examples with any damage or signs of neglect should be approached with caution. Problems can start arising at the bottom end of the scale. While restoration examples look temptingly cheap (very often around the £1,000 mark), the cost of restoring a Scimitar can easily outweigh the car’s total value so bear this in mind.
The Reliant Scimitar offers an affordable route into classic car ownership. Choose wisely and you can enjoy a reliable, low-maintenance gem with startling performance and a sprinkling of royal glamour. If you can avoid the temptation of cheap project cars then a good Scimitar will see you right for mile after mile.