Reliant Scimitar 1-8 SS1

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Keywords: 1980s,80\'s retro,backbone chassis,ford,grp,michelotti,nissan,reliant,scimitar,ss1,wedge
Description: So, in your last dose of R.A-S.H you read about the Reliant Scimitar in Grand Touring Estate guise, and we saw that it was Good. By the onset of the ’80s the game-plan was changing, and what you see before you is the result. It could be pure coincidence, but ...

So, in your last dose of R.A-S.H you read about the Reliant Scimitar in Grand Touring Estate guise, and we saw that it was Good. By the onset of the ’80s the game-plan was changing, and what you see before you is the result.

It could be pure coincidence, but the Scimitar SS1 plopped onto the motoring scene in 1984, at a time where there was no longer a mainstream mass-produced topless sports car on the market. The MGB was dead (not before time), as was the Midget, and Canley had Canned the TR7. So, here was an opportunity for Reliant of Tamworth to soak up a few sun-craving car buyers who would have been otherwise left without wheels. So how did it work out? Read on.

From being a method for four people and their encumbrances to cover great distances at high speeds, the Scimitar badge was now being applied to something that promised a way out of the rat-race. A car which was sold with fun and escapism as its core values.

What a weird proposal. A total nonsense of a sentence, but presumably Reliant knew what they meant. The style itself was penned by one Giovanni Michelotti in 1980. It would take four years before the Italian Maestros’ sketches would be translated into a production reality, and I can’t say for sure how close it remained to his initial proposals.

“On a warm sunny day, the sensation of fresh air on your face, the feel of taut control through your fingertips, and the thrust of acceleration in your back are undeniable pleasures”

Indeed, and pleasures enjoyed by anybody lucky enough to own a proper sports car. The thrust of acceleration, though, may have been stretching the point just a tad; the engines on offer were absolutely nothing out of the ordinary. There was initially two flavours, a 1300 and a 1600. Of the former:

“The well proven overhead camshaft engine develops a crisp 69bhp that takes the car to 100mph”

The all-in kerbweight of just 839kg must have helped matters, as well as the relatively low aerodynamic profile, because that engine was nothing more than Fords compound valve hemispherical (CVH) four-cylinder, as found in the Fiesta and Escort. The 1600 was no more exotic, but a least managed 96hp and a 110mph V-max. Acceleration for the two cars were 12.7 and 9.6 seconds respectively; hardly soul-stirring. This would change when the blown 1.8 litre Nissan unit arrived later, but this brochure doesn’t deal with that.

“Combines the pleasure of driving an open car with many of the practical benefits and features of a contemporary saloon”

Why can’t a car just concentrate on doing one thing well? What’s wrong with just being a sports-car? So often products which claim to do two things extremely well are flawed, being equally compromised in both regards. Witness the Amphicar. Also see my soon-to-patent Water Heater / Fishtank combination.

“Deep, velour faced seats, soft door inserts, ergonomically positioned controls and comprehensive instrumentation create an air of refined luxury you normally associate with top of the range saloons”

It was a world of plastic in there, with bits adopted from myriad parts bins including Ford and Austin-Rover. It was, though, reasonably equipped and generally a lot better resolved than a lot of fibreglass-made specials, which end up feeling like home assembled kit-cars.

It’s a frustrating thing overall, the SS1. There was nothing wrong with the fundamentals; the Lotus Elan-inspired backbone chassis was made in Germany by Thyssen and contributed to very good handling and roadholding. The mechanicals were tried and tested and, though not exotic, made sense. But the SS1 never saw a huge amount of popularity. Despite being gradually updated (as the SST, then the Sabre, and there was an intriguing V8-motivated SS2 once proposed for US import) it failed to make much of an impact.

Personally, I would have to level some of that failure at the styling, which, with its 928-style retractable headlamps and Capri rear units must have looked fantastic in Michelottis sketches in 1980, but which didn’t age terribly well as the 80s progressed. It’s a shame; those plastic body panels were unstressed and could have very easily have been reshaped as tastes moved on.

As it is, no more than a grand is required to give a home to a decent one. There are three on eBay, right now. And on this sunny bank holiday Monday, I can see the appeal. And if I never take the plunge, which I probably won’t; at least I own the brochure.

(Disclaimer: All images are of original publicity material, photographed by me. All copyright remains property of Reliant, I assume, who don’t exsist anyway)



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