It all began in 1935 when bicycle company Raleigh decided to discontinue its three-wheeler delivery van. The van’s designer was T L Williams, who founded Reliant to take over production. This led to a series of three-wheelers culminating in Reliant Robin economy cars and the extraordinary Bond Bug.
However, the company also became active at the opposite end of the performance spectrum. First up was the punchy Reliant Sabre, but this was soon followed by the company’s innovative Scimitar.
The Scimitar SE4 appeared in 1964 as a two-door booted coupe. With around a thousand sold, the SE4 was successful enough to encourage the Scimitar’s next evolution, which saw the completely redesigned SE5 model introduced late in 1968. With its sturdy chassis and cute fiberglass body, the SE5 was a head turner.
This four-seater GT was based on a design by British consultancy Ogle, which came up with a racy estate car with ample fold-flat rear load space accessed through the hinged, sloping rear window. The only car that came close to a similar layout was the Volvo P1800 estate, but the Reliant True Brit was the preferred repository for the muddy green wellies of sporty country types (famously, the Scimitar would acquire at least one high-profile fan, with the young Princess Anne rarely seen driving anything else).
There was a choice of straight six or V6 engines, but the latter was more powerful and proved the popular choice, leading to the former being dropped. Performance was excellent. The Scimitar had a snappy four-speed manual gearbox that later acquired overdrive, and Borg-Warner automatic transmission was offered as an option. Fewer than 2,500 SE5s were hand-built at Tamworth, but the upgraded SE5A (1972 to 1975) would be the best seller in a long line of Scimitars stretching ahead to 1995.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
1968 (until 1972)
2,553 cc Straight Six or 2,994 cc V6
With the V6 engine – top speed of 121 mph (195 km/h); 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 8.9 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
Many cars on both sides of the Atlantic were named after the sleek fighter aircraft of World War II, but it was surely a coincidence that the 1960s Reliant Scimitar shared a designation with the SE5 – that fine British biplane that dueled with the Red Baron’s Fokker Triplane in World War I.