Buy­ing Guide

Ex­pert buy­ing ad­vice for a Scim­i­tar GTE

Classic Cars (UK) - - Contents - Words MAL­COLM MCKAY Pho­tog­ra­phy TOM WOOD

De­spite be­ing fast, fun, prac­ti­cal, durable, im­mensely strong and surely the car that has en­joyed the long­est and most faith­ful Royal pa­tron­age, Scim­i­tar GTES have re­mained stub­bornly cheap. They of­fer bril­liant value for money and pun­dits have tipped them for decades as bar­gain clas­sics. Princess Anne still owns and drives Mid­dle­bridge no.5 and sup­ports the ex­cel­lent Re­liant Sabre Scim­i­tar Own­ers’ Club (RSSOC), which you re­ally ought to join if you’re think­ing of buy­ing one.

But in­creas­ing num­bers of GTES are be­ing re­stored by en­thu­si­asts and pro­fes­sion­ally, and this is fi­nally hav­ing an ef­fect on prices, with cars at both ends of pro­duc­tion – SE5S and Mid­dle­bridge – show­ing sig­nif­i­cant up­ward trends, so you’ll need to act soon if you want one. Re­ally good cars are few and far be­tween and un­less you’re happy with a project car it’s worth seek­ing out the best you can find be­cause restora­tion costs still ex­ceed fi­nal val­ues.

Nigel Palmer at QRG knows Scim­i­tars in­side out, sup­ply­ing a vast range of parts and re­build­ing them. With a vast stock of sec­ond­hand parts, Gra­ham Walker and his team have more than 30 years’ experience of re­pair­ing, restor­ing and sell­ing Scim­i­tars. Fi­nally, Jim Pace is SE5/5A Reg­is­trar of the RSSOC.

Which one to choose?

SE5 1968-71 A bril­liant en­large­ment by Ogle’s Tom Karen of the V6 Scim­i­tar Coupé with an all-new chas­sis by EX-BRM de­signer John Crosth­waite, the sports es­tate SE5 pi­o­neered split-fold­ing rear seats and a rear wiper. An elec­tric ra­di­a­tor fan re­placed the me­chan­i­cal unit early in pro­duc­tion. Th­ese cars have durable glass­fi­bre body­work and black (or tan from 1971) trim. The lusty 144bhp Ford Es­sex V6 gave 115/111mph and 10.2/11.3sec 0-60mph (man­ual/auto) and high gear­ing gave rea­son­able fuel econ­omy; 2469 were built.

SE5A 1971-75 Smoother and qui­eter, the 5a could top 120mph and do 0-60mph in 8.7sec. You could have beige in­te­rior trim, and elec­tric win­dows were of­ten fit­ted. In 1972 power went up by 7bhp; 6635 were built.

SE6 1975-76 Re­liant sharp­ened styling and made the GTE longer and wider for 1976, adding 4in to the wheel­base and 3in to the track. Dra­mat­i­cally im­proved

rear seat space with big­ger doors, moulded bumpers and bet­ter sound­proof­ing added less than 100kg but (with emis­sions mod­i­fi­ca­tions) this took the edge off per­for­mance; 543 were built.

SE6A 1976-80 A stronger scut­tle, stiffer front springs and im­proved brakes and power steer­ing; 3877 built.

SE6B 1980-86 Re­liant fol­lowed Ford in fit­ting the Cologne 2.8 V6. A scut­tle hoop im­proved stiff­ness while a sim­pler grille, side rub­bing strips and big­ger front spoiler were dis­tin­guish­ing fea­tures. Cool­ing was also im­proved. Chas­sis gal­vanis­ing was adopted in 1981; 437 were built plus 442 GTC con­vert­ibles.

Mid­dle­bridge 1989-90 Mid­dle­bridge bought the rights to the GTE and GTC and be­gan pro­duc­tion in 1989 with a 2.9 in­jected Ford V6 with a five-speed man­ual or four-speed auto and up­rated sus­pen­sion. One GTC and 77 GTES were built before Mid­dle­bridge failed; Gra­ham Walker as­sem­bled a few more.

is the most likely cause of a Scim­i­tar’s demise, even though the en­tire body is glass­fi­bre. The chas­sis is im­mensely strong, as is the tubu­lar rollover pro­tec­tion bonded into the body, but nei­ther is im­mune to rust. Some can be re­paired in situ but if rot is se­vere, es­pe­cially on the top faces of the main rails (check for swelling/lay­er­ing rust ox­ide be­tween the top of the chas­sis rail and the glass­fi­bre above), re­mov­ing the body is the only op­tion. Gra­ham Walker sells gal­vanised re­built SE5A chas­sis for £2640, while QRG has new orig­i­nal gal­vanised 6b chas­sis at £3k.

Other ar­eas to check on the chas­sis are the front box met­al­work around the ra­di­a­tor and bumper mounts (remove spare wheel to check), Se6-on bot­tom front wish­bone brack­ets (cracks and rot here can be dan­ger­ous), chas­sis side rails and chas­sis out­rig­gers – es­pe­cially the round ones in front of the rear wheels that carry the ra­dius arm mounts and bolt to the rollover bars – plus the links be­tween chas­sis and rear seat belt mounts and the rear di­ag­o­nals ei­ther side of the fuel tank. All the steel re­in­force­ments in the body can suf­fer from con­den­sa­tion lead­ing to rust. As well as the rollover pro­tec­tion, the A-posts, sills on 5/5a (bulging sills are a sure sign of rot), win­dow aper­tures and door hinge sup­ports in­side the doors can rot.

It’s all labour-in­ten­sive to re­pair: typ­i­cal re­place­ment of both A-posts at QRG costs £1800. The top of the

huge 75/90-litre fuel tank is an­other favourite rot spot, as are the heater fan boxes be­hind the head­lights on SE6 and later. A new fuel tank is £430. Chas­sis were gal­vanised from 1981 (in­clud­ing Mid­dle­bridge) but the fix­ings are mild steel and can still rot.

Glass­fi­bre body­work is durable, but craz­ing from stress and im­pact dam­age is un­sightly and time­con­sum­ing to erad­i­cate, mak­ing a re­spray po­ten­tially more ex­pen­sive than on a steel-bod­ied car. Check for poor re­pairs. New panels are avail­able.

Trim items unique to the GTE can be hard or im­pos­si­ble to find, though the sit­u­a­tion is im­prov­ing: for­merly un­ob­tain­able SE5/5A rear bumpers are avail­able as a car set in stain­less steel for £900.

In­te­rior trim is mostly un­ob­tain­able new. Soft trim can be re­fur­bished, re­placed or up­graded by a com­pe­tent trim­mer; it was black vinyl only at first, though leather (and tan) soon be­came op­tional on the SE5, then blue on the SE6. More op­tions fol­lowed.

The 5a had a vac­uum-formed dash­board that’s prone to crack­ing and is un­ob­tain­able new; glass­fi­bre re­place­ments have been pro­duced in the past, and Walker has a few sal­vage­able sec­ond­hand orig­i­nals. En­gine The low-revving Es­sex V6 has few weak­nesses be­yond its fi­bre tim­ing gear, which even­tu­ally strips. For decades only noisy steel re­place­ments were avail­able, but cur­rent al­loy re­place­ments (£199) are ‘50 per cent qui­eter than steel, but still 50 per cent nois­ier than the orig­i­nals’, says Nigel Palmer. With­out ad­di­tives cylin­der heads will need hard­ened valve seat in­serts if you ha­bit­u­ally drive much over 3000rpm.

The Cologne 2.8 V6 on the SE6B is less torquey but more free-revving, so Re­liant fit­ted a lower axle ra­tio; Mid­dle­bridge used the in­jected 2.9 ver­sion. Ex­pect 40-plus psi oil pres­sure at 2000rpm hot. Poor per­for­mance is usu­ally down to a worn camshaft; cams and fol­low­ers wear quickly if oil changes are ne­glected. All en­gine parts are avail­able and a spe­cial­ist re­build of a worn en­gine costs £3.5k-6k.

Over­all gear­ing was high, es­pe­cially on the au­to­matic. This was ini­tially the ubiq­ui­tous Borg Warner 35, which suited the car well and is cheap and easy to re­build at about £750. A Ford C3 au­to­matic box re­placed it dur­ing SE5A pro­duc­tion, which can be re­built by a spe­cial­ist for around £1500. Man­ual cars used a Ford gear­box with over­drive on third and top, giv­ing six use­ful ra­tios and 2700rpm at 70mph. A drag­ging clutch may mean

‘Prices of both early and late cars are show­ing sig­nif­i­cant up­ward trends, so act soon if you want one’

a bent clutch re­lease fork, a gear­box-out job. Bud­get £600-1500 for a gear­box re­build if needed, plus fit­ting. Mid­dle­bridge used the Ford Type 9 five-speed.

Brakes were ex­cel­lent, with servo as­sis­tance and dual cir­cuit by the SE6. The front discs were unique on SE6S but are avail­able new from spe­cial­ists, and new Gir­ling calipers for SE5-6 have been rein­tro­duced at £107 each.

Cool­ing sys­tem be­comes mar­ginal over time. A new ra­di­a­tor should fix over­heat­ing, but sim­ply in­stalling a new or big­ger elec­tric fan won’t. The SE6 and 6a ben­e­fit from adding an ex­pan­sion bot­tle.

Sus­pen­sion is de­rived from the Tri­umph TR6 at the front and is at the limit of its load ca­pa­bil­ity, re­quir­ing fre­quent lu­bri­ca­tion and bush re­place­ment; Poly­bush con­ver­sion is worth­while. Ra­dius arms, coil springs and a Watt link­age give ex­cel­lent lo­ca­tion to the Sal­is­bury live rear axle. A limited-slip dif­fer­en­tial was op­tional. Noisy axles can be re­built for £1700-plus.

Electrics can be trou­ble­some be­cause the glass­fi­bre body re­quires in­di­vid­ual earths for ev­ery­thing. The fuse­box can also suf­fer from poor con­nec­tions.

It may have glass­fi­bre body­work but rust is still the Scim­i­tar’s most deadly en­emy if it takes hold in the chas­sis or the tubu­lar rollover pro­tec­tion in­side the body

Ford’s Es­sex and Cologne V6 en­gines are ro­bust and re­li­able units, and avail­abil­ity is good

Cabin trim is mostly un­ob­tain­able new The bril­liant Scim­i­tar de­sign com­bines sporty per­for­mance with an es­tate car rear end that makes it a use­ful load lug­ger

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