Reliant Scimitar GTE

More than just a cosmetic triumph
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Indy Lifestyle Online

In the hall of motoring fame, Boris Forter is not a prominent figure. No surprise, maybe: you wouldn't expect the former managing director of the British Helena Rubinstein Company to be notable. And yet he helped shape a genre of British sporting cars that, this year, celebrates its 40th birthday. Without Boris Forter, there would be no Reliant Scimitar GTE.

In the hall of motoring fame, Boris Forter is not a prominent figure. No surprise, maybe: you wouldn't expect the former managing director of the British Helena Rubinstein Company to be notable. And yet he helped shape a genre of British sporting cars that, this year, celebrates its 40th birthday. Without Boris Forter, there would be no Reliant Scimitar GTE.

Mr Forter had spotted the sleek Ogle Mini SX1000 coupe at the 1962 Earl's Court motor show. A car fanatic, he asked Ogle Design to create a truly bespoke set of wheels; bigger than the SX1000 but just as elegant, and capable of 120mph.

The powerful Daimler SP250 V8 was suggested as a basis, and Ogle Design's stylist Tom Karen sketched out the car Boris yearned for -- low, lithe, modern -- taking the design to finished car in six months.

It was one of the swishest cars of 1962. As Boris Forter cruised London's streets, slack-jawed onlookers probably thought it had arrived from Italy.

But significantly, the chic appearance brought it to the attention of Reliant, the three-wheeler maker from Tamworth. Since 1961, it had built the shabby-looking Sabre sports car.

Reliant realised -- with a few adjustments -- the Ogle body could transform its sports car fortunes. So Reliant bought the rights and the Reliant Scimitar GT took its bow in 1964. Boris Forter, no doubt, grinned every time he saw one.

But there was more to come from Ogle, where Tom Karen had landed a commission from glassmaker Triplex to design a mobile showcase for its Sundym glass. This he did by modifying a Scimitar GT into an attractive estate car with roof -- as well as side and rear windows -- constructed of green-tinted glass.

It was called the GTS, and it made its debut in 1965 to massive acclaim. One fan was the Duke of Edinburgh, and a quick-thinking Karen said he'd be welcome to have it on loan for as long as he liked. Prince Phillip accepted.

Reliant saw a golden opportunity here, too. Not so much in the scalp-reddening glass roof, but in the sporting semi-estate car concept. Ogle designed one, and Reliant launched it in 1968 with a 3-litre Ford V6 engine. It was the first-ever GT estate.Reliant was deluged with £1m of orders for the £1,998 Scimitar GTE.

It was a handsome beast that tugged the aspirational heartstrings. Sloane Rangers didn't yet exist in the early 1970s, but those who split their lives between Chelsea and somewhere in the country loved the fact that Prince Phillip gave a Scimitar GTE to Princess Anne as a birthday present in 1970 (she bought six more subsequently). It was more grown-up than a Mini Cooper but more affordable than a Jensen Interceptor.

You could buy a Scimitar GTE until 1990, by which time almost 16,000 had been sold. Reliant planned to replace the car in the early 1980s but ran out of money and went bust.

Time has not been kind to the Scimitar GTE; these days, a GTE is only suitable for the penniless, ageing lothario or backstreet pub landlord. You can pick up a good runner for £1,500, a beautiful example for under £5,000.

Which, for a genuine design classic, has to be a bargain. So thanks for that, Boris.

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