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Reliant Scimitar GTE (1968 - 1990)

Last updated 25 March 2013

 
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Model Timeline

October 1965
Ogle shows the Triplex GTS, the inspiration for the Scimitar GTE

The 1965 Triplex Ogle GTS

The idea of a three-door Scimitar certainly came about as the result of the Triplex Ogle GTS (Glazing Test Special). This special-bodied SE4 was produced following Triplex Glass Company’s desire to promote its new Sundym laminated glass. The company approached Ogle to build a prototype that would suitably show-off the properties of this new safety glass (something they did later with great success with the 10-20 Special and Princess-based 10-20 Special Glassback). In short, it was SE4 Scimitar with a heat-absorbing glass roof, curved round side windows, laminated heated front and rear window. In total, the car was clad in a total of 43 square feet of safety glass.

The car was shown at the London Motor Show at Earls Court in 1965, and was then acquired by Prince Philip, who used it as his own car. As publicity goes, this was as good as it gets – and it certainly led to its creator Tom Karen thinking in terms of an expansion of the concept.

February 1967
Reliant approached Ogle to devise a production Scimitar three-door

Styling sketch from 1967 shows the rising window line and panoramic roof window, which only made it onto the 1968 Ogle concept.

Styling sketch from 1967 shows the rising window line and panoramic roof window, which only made it onto the 1968 Ogle concept.

Reliant loved the GTS, and asked Tom Karen of Ogle to come up with a production-viable expansion of the concept. He immediately began working on the new four-seater. There was never any intention to glaze it as extensively as the GTS, but what Karen wanted to do was give the new car an identity all of its own – and that was when he came up with the idea of the rising waistline. The concept was honed by Ogle designer Peter Bailey, and rapidly translated into full-sized mock-ups. Reliant’s Managing Director Ray Wiggin, Chief Engineer John Crosthwaite and glassfibre body expert Ken Wood visited Ogle’s base in Letchworth to view the Karen mock-ups, choosing one, approving it for production.

October 1968
Scimitar GTE shown at the London motor show

Reliant Scimitar GTE - or GT/E as it was originally known as

Reliant Scimitar GTE - or GT/E as it was originally known as

Again, within an almost impossibly tight timescale, the new car, christened Scimitar GTE (and known also as the SE5) was developed for production by Reliant – with its public debut taking place at the 1968 London Motor Show. From full-sized mock-up to production reality, very few styling details were changed, these being the front light/grille layout and the rear air vents were moved from above the rear screen and fitted adjacent to the rear lights. All changes were made as a result of close collaboration between Ogle and Reliant.

In engineering terms, a great deal was changed in the transition from SE4 to SE5. John Crosthwaite and his team designed a new chassis frame, and fitted revised and improved suspension. A new and relocated fuel tank now boasting 17 gallons for an extended touring range was fitted, and most importantly, full-sized rear seats were fitted, and an opening glass tailgate. Clearly, the Scimitar GTE was going to hit the market without any direct rivals.

Unusually, the Reliant Scimitar GTE’s launch was complemented by Ogle showing its own version of the car. In a press release to accompany the Ogle Scimitar GTE, its creator said: ‘The new and exciting 3 litre Scimitar by Ogle, based on the Reliant GTE, incorporates a number of extra features which give this new concept car an even more futuristic look. Apart from the large windscreen and glass roof over the front seats the most striking difference is the frontal grille area. The Ogle Scimitar has a concealed headlamp system which embodies four of the new Lucas “all-glass” rectangular sealed beam units, with electrically operated shutters. These 60/60 watt light units are a result of two years development work, and offer all the advantages already associated with the sealed beam principle. When the headlamp shutters are closed, the light units are fully protected and the full frontal area of the car has a flowing and distinctive appearance.’

As before, the Reliant Scimitar GTE was powered by the Ford Essex V6 in 2.5- and 3.0-litre forms, and that was lusty enough to give the new car a 120mph maximum and a 0-60mph time of 8.5 seconds (claimed). Autocar magazine would later conclude in its 1973 road test: ‘The latest version of glassfibre GT offers effortless cruising and over 100mph in third, thanks to the improved Ford Granada engine and close-ratio gearbox. Balanced handling, good wet road grip and responsive but heavy steering are also bonuses, as are practical load capacity and long range.

‘Not least of the Scimitar’s advantages is that its sturdy box section chassis and glassfibre body should ensure it an extended life, free from corrosion, although little or no protection to the chassis was noted when we inspected the underneath on the hoist. The GTE offers adequate accommodation, a high standard of safety, and caters for those who want to travel fast and far.’

In short, it was the ultimate car for GT man – but without the huge cost of the usual four-seater supercars.

June 1971
Scimitar SE5a launched

1975 Reliant Scimitar GTE

1975 Reliant Scimitar GTE

The Scimitar’s subsequent story become one of continued development to keep abreast of changing fashions and engine supplies. In 1971, the SE5a was launched, and although it looked very similar externally, it received a new dashboard and a later version of the Essex V6, reflecting the upgrades it had acquired to accompany the introduction of the new Granada.

June 1976
Scimitar SE6 launched

The first major changes to the GTE were reserved for the SE6 upgrade of 1975. It’s here that the car’s move upmarket was cemented. By this time, the Scimitar’s influence on other manufacturers was becoming more apparent, with the arrival of the Gilbern Invader estate in 1970, Volvo P1800ES in 1972, the Lotus Elite in 1974, and the Lancia Beta HPE in 1975. But the SE6 was designed to be more profitable for its maker – it was wider, longer and heavier – and was more easily identified by its bold 1970s front-end styling, safety bumpers and far roomier interior. But with a higher list price, came sterner rivals, and the once amiable build niggles which could be laughed off in a value product, became something more serious in a car with an executive-sized price tag.

June 1979
Scimitar SE6B launched

That car became the SE6A following some minor upgrades in 1976, and then the SE6B in 1979. It’s the latter that ushered in the biggest changes, with the arrival of the 2.8-litre Ford Cologne engine in fuel injected form, to up the power from 138bhp to 160bhp. The additional power went some way to offset the additional weight that had blighted the Scimitar since it grew up in 1975…

March 1980
Simitar GTC launched

1980 Reliant Scimitar GTC

1980 Reliant Scimitar GTC

In 1980, and after a three-year gestation period, the Reliant Scimitar GTC (or SE8) was revealed. As before, the car was styled by Tom Karen’s Ogle company, and once again, the final product was good looking and innovative. Considering it was based on the SE6B, the GTC was an altogether different proposition, being a full-sized convertible with a practically-shaped boot. The GTC was new from the B-post back, and received plenty of under the skin bracing to reduce the effects of body-flex.

Just as Triumph discovered back in the 1960s with the development of the Stag, bracing would be needed in addition to the under-floor stiffening. So, the roll hoop from the GTE was retained, and for additional support this was linked to extra tubes running around the front screen creating a T bar design that would ensure the rigidity of the new body design. It was so close in concept to that of the Stag, that commentators at the time considered the GTC as the spiritual successor to the ill-fated Triumph.

May 1986
Scimitar production ended

Sadly, though – and despite favourable road tests – the GTC failed to find favour on the marketplace. The UK in 1980 was a rough place to be selling anything even mildly flamboyant, and as a consequence, a mere 442 open-topped Scimitars were built between its launch, and its death in 1986. Following the launch of the Scimitar SS1 in 1984, the company had decided that the GTE’s days were over anyway – and after a production run of 14,273, the Scimitar was dead.

August 1987
Middlebridge announced it had taken over production of the Scimitar

The Scimitar’s story didn’t end with Reliant’s decision to stop making it in 1986. It sold the manufacturing rights to Middlebridge Engineering, who decided to reintroduce an upgraded version of the car. In 1987, a 2.9-litre five-speed Scimitar was unveiled, and fewer than 100 were built before the Middlebridge operation folded in 1989. The fifth car off the line was sold to long-time The production rights were once again sold – this time to main dealer Graham Walker, who would build you one to order.

March 1990
The last Middlebridge Scimitar sold

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