Shootin’ the Breeze


This is a 1972 Reliant Scimitar GTE with overdrive. Being a 1972 car designates this particular Scimitar as a SE5a model, which differed from the SE5 in that it received a slight increase in power as well as reverse lights that were integrated into the actual tail lamp, instead of being a separate unit below the rear bumper. I lead with this gripping bit of vehicular turn indication information because, frankly, I want to get the boring stuff out of the way first. Because this car is the merging of two of my all-time favorite things: wagons and unreliable, illogical British sports cars. I’m a little bit in love.


The Scimitar started life in 1964 as a pretty conventional British sports car: a two door, front-engined, rear wheel drive little runabout that could’ve been assembled with, shall we say, a tad more care. For example, because the Scimitar shared parts with other Reliants, namely one called the Sabre (big into sword-related names, Reliant was), whenever you pulled down the sun visor on the drivers side, you knocked the rearview mirror out of alignment. Which was inconvenient, but ultimately nothing compared with the Scimitar’s other major flaw. As was the case with much of the English motoring industry of the time, Scimitars were known to occasionally and very suddenly burst into a heaping pile of fiery death and destruction. Now, that may seem like a deal-breaker to some, but think of it this way: when do you feel most alive? At the moment when you’re just on the precipice of death. That’s what the Reliant Scimitar offered.


Power came from a Ford engine- a 3.0 litre “Essex” V6 that developed a healthy 123 horsepower. The Scimitar could reach 60 miles per hour from a standstill in a blink under nine seconds, which wasn’t bad for the time. The gearbox was a four speed manual with a thing called overdrive on the third and top gears. Now, I know overdrive sounds like a Steven Seagal film, but I hate to say it is significantly less exciting. Overdrive is effectively a higher gear for your car to operate in, which lessens wear and tear on your transmission and improves fuel economy slightly because the engine doesn’t need to work as hard. You don’t really see overdrive that much today, primarily because transmissions have advanced over the years and outmoded it. But on some older cars you’ll see an “OD” slot on the gear layout (if it’s a manual) or a button near the shifter (if it’s an automatic).


Alright, let’s address the elephant in the room (which is a delightful turn of phrase that I don’t understand in the slightest. Why an elephant? What kind of room are we talking about? How did it get there? I feel like addressing the elephant would just result in trumpeting noises and no real answers). What is the Scimitar? It looks like a sports car from the front, but then it has that big hatch over the rear end that makes it look like a low-slung wagon. So which is it? Sports car or practical family hauler to ferry your kids around in? Well, the answer is both, conveniently, but only if you switch out “kids” for “firearms.” The Scimitar is what’s known at a shooting break: in essence, a sports car with a hatchback. The term “shooting break” is a reference to the traditional “shooting party,” in which old-money barons and patriarchs would retreat to the countryside of their estates with their daughter’s suitors in order to murder some helpless woodland creatures and teach them something about manhood or whatever. I wouldn’t know, I’ve never hunted. I do know that the Scimitar, and all shooting breaks, do a admirable job of stylishly shuttling these aristocrats to and from their relaxing day of killing things, what with their spacious rear compartment and sports-car looks.


Reliant wasn’t the only company to get in on the shooting break trend. Volvo had probably the most recognizable iteration, in the form of the P1800es. Depending on who you ask, BMW and Ferrari make them too, with their “clownshoe” Z3 M Coupe and FF, respectively. And of course, there are countless examples of people modifying their existing cars to be shooting breaks. But I like the Reliant. I like the combination of basic utility and British charm. It shouldn’t work, that combination, and yet somehow the Scimitar pulls it off. Right up until the moment it catches fire.

Additional Thoughts:

  • GTE stands for “Grand Tourismo Estate”
  • The body of the Scimitar was made out of fiberglass, which meant that these Reliants weren’t susceptible to the common British car curse of destructive rust.
  • This was the first Reliant to feature a rear window wiper.
  • We’re back in London, in case you couldn’t tell, and like the Renault from last time, there’s a celebrity connection here. Princess Anne had one of these. In fact, she liked it so much she was caught speeding in it. She went on to own eight more Scimitars.
  • There’s a dog in the car. This is not a drill. There is a real dog in the car.
  • That white building in the corner of the last picture with the arches over the windows- that’s where I go to school. Just so you know.

4 thoughts on “Shootin’ the Breeze

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