Reliant Scimitar GTE SE5A
a car to love
Our 10 month,1973 travels took us across America – Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York to finally land us in our pre rented, Queensway, London flat at just £33 a month! A very convenient London address, being central and near a major underground station. This was our 'OE' with benefits, as we were away from New Zealand for nearly a year promoting New Zealand grown fresh vegetables to potential markets in the USA, UK, France, Italy, Austria and Germany. In 1973 our Scimitar was the ultimate luxury.
High on our list of near future needs was an undercover, secure car-park and this we spotted almost directly across the road. Finding housing for our up-coming pride and joy, a brand new Reliant Scimitar GTE SE5A overdrive billed as the ‘World’s fastest production estate car’, was a priority. We had made our purchase through Campbell Motors Auckland, who were the Reliant New Zealand agents. Ours was the first on the New Zealand tourist delivery scheme operating at the time, where the vehicle could be owned for up to 12 months overseas before being imported to New Zealand with minimal tax. The Scimitar, in those days, was a bespoke, hand finished, sporting estate, created by the Reliant Motor Company of Two Gates, a suburb of Tamworth in Staffordshire. Tom Karen of Ogle Design Ltd, renowned design engineers, was years ahead with the GTE design and many other manufacturers soon followed with their own versions, Volvo in particular with their P1800. Famously, Princess Anne loved the vehicle as it suited her rural needs, and owned 8 over the life of the GTE model. The Reliant Motor Company was founded in 1935 and achieved early notoriety with the inherently unstable 3 wheeler Robin. There are many images of these motoring gems taking corners a little aggressively and ending up capsized in the ditch. A Mr Bean story included a Reliant Robin – you can imagine the outcome!
However, as we knew, the GTE Estate was an entirely different beast, having 4 wheels to start with! The power was provided from a grunty, low revving Ford Essex V6. This drove the rear wheels through a 4 speed plus 2 overdrive gearbox. Proving a delight on the open road with the electric overdrive available on 3rd and fourth. Cruising fuel consumption was excellent and power/weight ratios much in favour of power as the body was rust-free fibreglass. It sounds like a plastic car, which in a way it was, but the separate, massive solid steel chassis underneath was the Scimitar’s big hidden secret. This sat low to the road with the motor well back in the engine bay, all in all offering great stability at over 100mph. The Scimitar’s top speed was said to be 120mph, which I could easily believe, but we never tested. A heavy, solid steel roll bar welded to the chassis and incorporated in the roof construction protected the occupants should the worst happen. Outstanding compared to cars we had been used to in New Zealand – basic Holdens, Fords and British Leyland – although some are now so-called ‘classics’ there was nothing classic about them then. On most of these models, heating and radios were an extra, bench seats were covered in the most awful sticky vinyl, they featured a 3 speed column gear change and ‘handling’ wasn’t a word used. In comparison the Scimitar offered total luxury. A superior quality mid tan interior trim with 4 individual seats, a very comprehensive Smiths instrument cluster, leather covered steering wheel and a top shelf Radiomobile 8 track stereo with 8 speakers. Wow, we were to find ourselves blown away by the sound quality. A sporty, stick shift gear change with the overdrive engaged via a long levered switch on the dashboard conveniently placed just on the right of the wheel. Engage 4th, flick the overdrive, the engine revs dropped and the Scimitar assumed its long legged cruising lope. Passing, simply flick the switch again and the power came on instantly with plenty to spare. The fully carpeted cargo area, accessed via a stylish glass hatch with rear wash/wipe, could be configured in several different ways to accommodate luggage loadings. Such advances in functionality as a Triplex glass windscreen and a heated rear screen were standard fittings.
These were some of the exciting features built into the Scimitar SE5a, in which we would soon be commencing our European adventures. We had a few days in London, then ‘delivery’ day 10th July dawned, with a train trip from Euston Station to New Street Birmingham for £4.20 each one way. We didn’t need a return as we would be driving our GTE. Reliant’s, Scimitar Sales Manager, Mr Cooper met us at the front office and immediately impressed us as the true English gentleman. Tall, thin, neatly trimmed moustache, beautifully pressed dark suit and horn rimmed spectacles. We were greeted in the reserved English fashion. Led from the office through an endless progression of passages, assembly areas and open warehouses, we finally reached a large enclosed yard where we met the Scimitar GTE in person. Not just ours, splendid in sparkling white, but at least half a dozen others – royal blue, deep maroon and dark forest green. Mr Cooper opened the driver’s door of JOC511L and motioned for me to settle into the driver’s seat. Passing me the key he said “would you care to start your engine, sir?” Turning the key brought the instruments to attention, then the Essex burst into life, settling to a six hundred rev idle and emitting a low bass V6 burble from the twin exhausts. Beautiful!
After a little paperwork and a very civilised cup of tea with Mr Cooper, we were driving out of the Reliant Motor Company’s yard gates and putting the first miles on our brand new Scimitar GTE. We loved that car and it served us well through 25,000 miles of UK and European travel over the next few months, with not even a flat tyre. When the time came to head home to New Zealand, we delivered our GTE to the London shipping agents for its long ocean journey to New Zealand.