1977 Reliant Scimitar GTE – Project Profile

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By Chris Pollitt

Over the years, there have been many weird and wonderful old cars, and pleasingly, a great many of them come from the UK. Back in Britain’s automotive heyday, we loved building cars that we wanted to build, just for the sake of building them. As such, the automotive landscape was once awash with cars of wildly different looks and styles. Not like today, where every car is a EuroNCAP pleasing silver bubble. 

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One company that was always careful to steer away from offering anything too conventional was Reliant. The UK’s largest consumer of fibreglass, Reliant is of course the company that gave us the three-wheeled Robin, or ‘plastic pig’ as it was affectionately known. A weird little car, but that spawned a deeply passionate following who would and still will sing the praises of the wobbly little car. 

Of course, the Robin wasn’t Reliant’s only significant vehicular offering. It also branched out into the four-wheeled sports car market, as is evidenced here by the mighty Scimitar GTE. If you’re going to call a car the Scimitar, it had better be good. And it was, but then with rear-wheel drive, a featherweight fibreglass ‘shooting brake’ body and a thumping great Essex V6 from Ford up front, how could it not be? It was so good that Princess Anne had one, don’t you know? 

What is it? 

What we have here is a 1977 Reliant Scimitar GTE, which despite the year, appears to be an SE6 rather than the SE6A that was introduced in late ‘76. You can tell, as the rear vent reflectors on the sides are orange and not red. Also, it still has three vertical grooves on the sides of the front bumper – the SE6A didn’t have these. As such, we can only assume that, if it is all still original, it was a late-registered ‘76 model. 

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Power comes from a 135bhp Essex V6 engine mated to a Borg Warner three-speed automatic transmission. The SE6 was a bigger car than previous Scimitar models, largely to improve the handling and also the interior space. As such, it had a wheelbase of 104 inches, which was four more than the previous models, and the track was increased by three inches. 

If it is indeed an SE6, it’s a rare machine, as only 543 were built and sold. As such, it’s a car that is well worth taking on and well worth restoring to its former glory. Plus, we love the long, ‘shooting-brake’ design of the Scimitar. It’s unusual, but also really rather handsome and well-proportioned. Certainly, there is very little else that looks so bold. 

Why is it a project? 

This is more of a rolling restoration than an out and out project. The car has a valid MOT until March of next year, and it seems to have passed without any advisories. The seller states that prior to their acquiring it, the car has been sat in a barn for some twenty-five years, which would go some way to explaining the low mileage of just 22,000. However, the current owner hasn’t simply pushed it out and put it back on the road. They explain that the engine has been tuned recently to ensure it’s in good order. 

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All the electrics work, the engine and transmission are apparently in good order, the gauges all function and don’t seem to report any horrors. The interior is all present and correct and the paint is even believed to be original, though it has seen better days, as there is some obvious chipping and light damage. And therein lies the qualification for this car being a project. It’s a running, driving, road-legal car, but one that needs some love to bring it back to its former aesthetic glory. In the pictures, the car looks presentable, but we would imagine the paint needs some work, if not a complete respray. The interior, while complete, would clearly benefit from a professional clean, too. But other than that, this Scimitar certainly seems to be a solid proposition. 

Five things to look for:

1) Body

No, fibreglass doesn’t rust, which is great. However, it can get brittle, it can warp and it can crack. The big thing to look out for is ‘spidering’ where the body is riddled with small networks of cracks. It can be fixed, but will probably need a specialist. 

2) Chassis

The chassis of the Scimitar is steel, and it was the achilles heel of this model. Water and road grime would shoot up into the cavities and rot the chassis out. Get down and have a good look at it, maybe see if you can jack it up so you can look for rust or past repairs. 

3) Engine

The engine in this car, the Essex 3.0 V6, is a sturdy old unit. However, there is no escaping the fact it has been idle for some 25 years. Look at the condition of the oil, the core plugs, the engine mounts (have they perished) and look for any leaks or cracks. 

4) Interior 

The interior seems to be all present and correct, which is pleasing for a car so rare. It looks like it just needs a good clean, but still check it. Are any fixings broken, are there any tears. What about the Webasto roof? Is it still watertight? Is there any rot or staining on the headlining? 

5) Transmission

The Borg Warner unit is pretty bulletproof, but even so, it warrants checking. The car is road legal, so there is nothing stopping you from making sure the kickdown works and that shifts are clean and clear. The Borg Warner in this car isn’t the most alert, but changes should still be predictable and clean. 

What should you do with it? 

Buy it and enjoy it as is, if you like. The body certainly isn’t going to rust away. If the car is indeed as good and as solid as it appears, this is the kind of classic that you truly could use every day. The Scimitar was positioned as a luxury sports car, and that still stands today. This is the kind of car that could be used every day and that would make the commute far more enjoyable. 

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Failing that, you could have the body repainted, get the interior refreshed and then be left with a stunning and incredibly rare machine that will be sure to grab many an admiring glance. The market for the Scimitar GTE is always fluctuating, but even so, it would be worth spending the money on paint, there is no doubt.

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