‘Motorways were always the GTE’S heartland as a high-speed cruiser’
Launch-year cars are increasingly collectable so I’d target the first 1968/69 Reliant Scimitar GTE SE5S wearing G- and H-plates. They have a simplicity of design and detailing carried over from the earlier SE4 coupé and the first run of GTES are now the rarest Scimitars of all. Look for the tell-tale two-year-only chrome strip running along each flank (if it’s still fitted) and the now-rare original plastic wheel centre covers crafted to look like alloys. The DVLA list around 770 GTES of all ages surviving – but I’d bet that fewer than 70 are the early ’68 to ’69 examples, so you’re looking at a rare car indeed. The first prototype, NRE 845F, registered in February 1968, is still listed on the DVLA mainframe so it’s out there somewhere. Restored and lovely, that one could be worth £50k.
Inspired by the Triplex GTS (Glazing Test Special) of 1965, designer Tom Karen raised the SE4 coupé’s waistline and seamlessly grafted on a shooting brake rear end with such enormous skill that the GTE debuted to rave reviews at the 1968 Earls Court show. With a list price of £1559, it created a new market segment all its own and adverts promised buyers that they’d be joining ‘The GTE Set’ or ‘Taking off for the Seventies’. The raspy Zodiac MKIV 3.0-litre cast-iron V6 was the perfect powerplant, giving 120mph and 0-60mph in nine seconds. If you went for the optional overdrive you could pull 107mph in third.
Soon GTES became a suburban sensation helped by owners like Princess Anne (she had nine), the Duke of Kent, George Lazenby and Rita Tushingham. The gymkhana set loved its towing prowess, 17-gallon tank and British classiness. The first Scimitar’s freshness, modernity, and equestrian and royal connections helped shift more than 4000 units before the SE5A arrived in 1971.
With all this contemporary hoopla you’d expect prices to have risen in sympathy with other game-changing classics. But no. You can still buy a decent driving GTE SE5 for £3500 and an absolute cracker for £9000. And compared to contemporary rivals – the Volvo 1800ES, Gilbern Invader Estate and Lancia Beta HPE – early Scimitars are puzzlingly cheap. And it can’t be because they’re flimsy or a challenge to own – they’re not.
The glassfibre bodies may crack and craze but they definitely don’t rust. The pressed steel box-section chassis is tougher than most, with corrosion rarely being terminal, and the Ford mechanicals are hardy, cheap and plentiful. Even re-trimming the largely PVC interior will cost much less than refreshing the cabin of a Jaguar or Mercedes.
The reason why GTE prices have plateaued for so long is twofold – they’ve never really come back into fashion and their homely Staffordshire heritage isn’t exactly glam. And fashion, as we know, is a major factor in classic car consumer sentiment and why this surprisingly competent, clever and gruff two-door performance estate has stayed in the shadows for so long.
But drive a well-sorted early GTE and you’ll wonder why you waited. This is a genuinely brisk, well-planted machine that handles neatly and rides well. Try to find one with the overdrive option, and avoid the auto because the Borg-warner 35 fitted to the first cars feels a bit jerky. Flicking the overdrive in and out gives lively bursts of speed for overtaking accompanied by a determined growl through the V6’s twin tailpipes. Motorways were always the GTE’S heartland as a high-speed cruiser, so keeping up with modern traffic is easy and you can expect up to 30mpg with the overdrive’s raised ratio on fourth. The unassisted steering is lumpy at parking speeds – especially if the front suspension is worn – but once you press on the whole thing feels lively, solid and strong.
You’ll like the huge interior with its individually folding rear seats, toggle switches and white-on-black Smiths gauges. While prices are so low go for the best and earliest GTE you can find and you’ll own one of a tiny number of survivors of the world’s first trend-setting sports shooting brake.
The GTE’S sports shooting brake formula was soon copied by more glamorous marques – and that’s something the market has to wake up to sooner or later
PVC aplenty, but that helps keep interior retrim costs low
The Ford Essex V6 is easy to look after with good spares backup