My Search for a Scimitar GTE(Purchased 19/02/04) - Don Kennedy
Why a Scimitar GTE? Back in the days of the dinosaurs when I was in my late teens early 20s I was like lots of young lads, into cars and females. Unfortunately like most Lads the cars and females I liked were not accessible. The cars due to cost and the females due to unknown factors. How could they resist a Macho Lad like me? Now I am older and married the female hunt is over (loss of hormones due to age and the misses would not be pleased). The kids have left home so I now have some money for myself. The cars that were un-accessible can now be mine. The cars ranged from Dolomite Sprint to A.C. Cobra. Cobra out of the equation due to cost. Amongst the cars was a Scimitar GTE. I always had a fondness for the GTE due to its styling and 3 litre V6, no substitute for CCs. So I thought why not investigate and research the what’s and wherefores of a GTE making it a project that I could keep and use for myself. I have completed a number of projects over the years; more due to the Friday night at the bar conversations like will a Ford V6 go into a Mk1 Escort? (Yes it does but make sure the brakes are sorted as driving it is “interesting”). Other project have been, Mini Cooper, 1600E, Lotus 7 and others.
So I spent a couple of months doing research like, how much are they, what are the availability and cost of parts, how many are still out there etc. I trawled through every Web Site that I could find, that did make thing confusing as when I accessed dealer sites the prices were £3k to £5k and upwards but private sales were averaging from £200 to £1k5 mostly around the £1k price. There did not seem to be the differential in condition to justify some of the dealer’s prices or were the private sales under priced? I recognise that cars in dealers are always a higher price and there were some good examples but they were not for me, nothing to do with them apart from normal servicing etc. During my research I found out that there were differences with GTEs, SE5 – SE5a – SE6 etc. most of the information came from a message board web site via yahoo most of whom were from the Scimitar Owners Club ( I realise there were others with different interests, GTCs, Sabres etc ). I trawled through past messages and asked questions, I’m sure some on the message board were getting fed up with me but most were very helpful in explaining the differences of GTEs and other technical questions that I asked. As with some questions I was aware that I could ask the same question to ten people and get eleven different replies. This is obviously due to their own experiences and preferences. So lots of questions later, a visit to the local Noggin meeting and I had my “Ideal” GTE in mind. An early SE5a, manual, overdrive, preferably with an Engine with the dipstick near the servo and not in the timing cover, make sure there was no trim both internal and external missing due to difficulty in obtaining replacements. Details like tatty were not a problem to me as it would be more of a challenge (mad fool). Check chassis for rust (outriggers, around top of rear shocks, and around / below radiator etc). Normal problems with fibreglass body, grazing, blisters etc. And Red would be nice! Now I am dreaming. I decided that I would pay up to £2k for the right GTE and was realistic enough to understand that “you get what you pay for” but due to the prices I had seen the cars going for about £1k were the norm. The prices I had seen seemed a bit low for what I would call a Classic Car but if that’s what they were going for all the better for me.
Most of the adverts I had seen were all around the midlands and the south east, living in Plymouth Devon meant the possibility of traveling some distance, so I thought if there were any closer I would have search them out. I placed adverts with every Web Site I could find and the local free ads etc. This I done and so I sat back waiting for all the GTEs to come to me. A couple of weeks went by, nothing. Then suddenly e-mails and phone calls. My advert was worded “GTE wanted, SE5a preferred but others considered. South West if possible. Preferably Roadworthy. Most of the replies were from miles away, the south east, midlands and Scotland but some were in the south west. When I asked was the car “roadworthy” the replies were always, Oh yes.
So off I went with tools, check list etc to view. Only 20 miles to the first one but when I arrived I was presented with a GTE that had no Timing Wheel, only two road wheels and was home to a flock of chickens. When I asked the seller “you call that roadworthy” the reply was “well it will be after a bit of work”. I smiled and said goodbye. The seller said make me an offer to take it away, not a chance I said, it was not what I was looking for. If you want it it’s yours he said, take it. No thanks, I left. I did not consider advising others as there was nothing of any use, a few small bits maybe but who would travel to the Devon/Cornwall border?
The next one was about 15 miles away from where I was. Upon arriving it looked more like a roadworthy GTE. Going through my check list (five pages) most things were OK, a slight concern with a bit of trim missing but the chassis was good as the owner had completed body off restoration to the chassis. Thinking if the price was right the missing trim would not dissuade me I asked “How much?” I don’t know what their worth was the reply. I showed him all the information I had, GTEs of the age and condition of his being between £800 to £1k2. OK he said I will accept £2k5. I asked why so much after what I had shown him, the reply was “I’ve done loads of work”. I tried to explain that time spent on most old cars is a labour of love, not an investment but he would not go any lower that £2k5. I said my goodbyes, thanked him and left. Time for home and a beer.
Next weekend a couple more to see. First one 60 miles west into Cornwall . Upon arriving I was shown a GTE in a barn. Looked promising, had a look and with my items on my list checking off OK until the chassis. No outriggers! So that was what I was lying in, rust dust, but maybe if the price is right. Went to start the engine, clunk, started jammed? Had the battery on charge the owner said so it can’t be the battery. Give the starter motor a thump with the hammer in the hope to un-jam it no difference. After lots of buggering about I tried to turn the engine with a spanner on the front pulley, no chance, wouldn’t move. Very strange said the owner it worked a treat when I drove it here 10 years ago !. I thanked him and said goodbye.
45 miles to North Cornwall for the next one. More barns here but this GTE was under a tarpaulin at the edge of a field. As soon as the tarpaulin was removed I said goodbye, how sad to see a Car in that condition, I swear even the Body looked rusty. Off home to more beer. Time to think on the way home, what part of “Roadworthy” are people having trouble with. I must have more of a conversation with them on the phone before I visit. A couple more phone calls the following week but I was ready with questions. I did not go to see them. I was coming to the conclusion that the longer someone had owned a Car the more they thought it was worth. Even if the Car was in poor condition. It seemed as if they had not noticed the gradual deterioration over time.
The next weekend off in an easterly direction, Somerset and Dorset. Arriving at the first one there was an SE6 in the drive, looking around for a SE5a there was none to be seen, the seller appeared from his house and noticed me looking around. Lost something? Looking for an SE5a I replied, there it is on the drive was his reply. That’s not an SE5a was my reply, Oh I thought it was an SE5a he said. Not feeling too pleased as I had left home at 6:30am I thought I would give it a try. It was not in too bad condition, slightly tatty inside, not surprising as it had done 190k miles. I asked the seller that this reply to my questions via phone and e-mail had been less than honest his reply was he believed once I had seen the Car I would want to buy it, another seller who had owned a Car for sometime and had a high regard of it. I thanked him for his time and left him in no doubt of my thoughts of driving 70 miles to see a Car that was not as advertised due to “Misleading” information by him. 45 miles to the next one, this I knew was an SE6. Nice greeting from the seller, allowed me to view the Car without “Hovering” he went into his house and said there was a Cuppa whenever I was ready. Not a bad example, it had been cared for but the test drive was interesting. When accelerating I thought I was in an automatic even though it was a manual. First thought was clutch slipping but it was not, I think it may have been overdrive problems as it seemed as if it was engaged all of the time, I took care to keep away from reverse gear. I advised the seller that I would contact him within the next couple of days on my decision but I was not happy with the Car. 45 miles north to the next one, a SE5. The sunroof was interesting, a gap of two inches all round, a ripple in the roof behind the sunroof, and a test drive nearly ended with me and the Car in some ones garden. Stiff steering? I had to use two hands to turn the wheel, and that was when it was moving. I advised the seller of the heavy steering and he was very surprised. Never noticed he said, how long have you owned the Car I asked, about 15 years was the reply. Another example of things happening so gradual that the owner does not notice, and the asking price was £1k. I thanked him for his time and left. 75 miles to the next one, on the south coast, Dorset. This time an SE5. Looked quite nice but outriggers needed replacing before the next MOT although I knew about them as the seller had advised me. It had the early Essex Engine with the dipstick in the timing gear cover. Apart from the outriggers all seemed reasonable. A test drive proved that the Car was not bad but turning left off a roundabout resulted in an interesting noise from the engine and the Oil Pressure Gauge dropping to 0 for a few seconds, oh yes the early Essex engine. Thinking that maybe this could be the GTE for me I pondered over changing the engine to the later Essex and getting the outriggers done. The asking price was £1.2k but I agreed with the seller £1k. He said that someone else was interested in the Car and was willing to pay him the asking price of £1.2k and would wait for them to view before allowing it to go to me for £1k not a problem as I had another Car to see the following weekend and would contact him after I had viewed it. So off home for more beer, this had been a very long day and I had to go some to make last orders, of course I never go above the speed limit officer.
The next weekend another early start, off to Hereford 190 miles this time. What a day! force 8 winds and poring with rain. Upon arriving at the house the seller took me another 2 miles to a farm. Upon opening the barn my thoughts were, not all this way for that! There was an SE5a, covered in dirt and grime;
I would have expected someone who is selling a Car to at least wash it to make it somewhat presentable. The interior was covered in grime and the floors were covered in mud. Well I'm here now so I had to look. Underneath the chassis and outriggers looked very good, asking the owner I was advised that the chassis etc had been done a couple of years ago and the Car had only done a very low mileage since. Going through my checklist the Car was proving to be a lot better than it first looked, no missing trim, five new tyres, and it started first time (I had felt the exhaust manifolds; they were cold so it had not been started that day). Driving it out of the barn into the yard the Car continued to get better.
The rain and wind soon removed a fair bit of the dust and grime and even though it had a few of the normal factory fitted micro blisters and a small amount of grazing it looked presentable. The test drive was also pleasing, I looked for potholes to listen for suspension problems, none could be heard. On and off the accelerator only a slight clunk, nothing to worry about. Shame it's an Auto, I would have preferred a manual but I knew I could not be picky.
So back to the barn, take a few pictures then back to the seller's house. The Speedo Mileage was 71k, the wear on the steering wheel and pedal rubbers etc seemed to confirm the mileage. The advertised price was £500 and it was 1972 Tax Exempt, this is getting better. Being the nice person that I am I asked the seller that I would not haggle over the price if he got a new MOT on the Car, he agreed. I paid him half the asking price and set off home. (What a Plonker, when I arrived home there was a message advising me I had not signed the Cheque !). At last I thought, I found my GTE possibly not everyone's first choice but a Car I felt I could do something with. During the drive home I was wondering how I was going to get the GTE back to Plymouth, sort that later. Three weeks later, MOT had been posted to my home, insurance sorted and Tax Disc obtained so off to Hereford . The misses (Bless her) dropped me off on the way to her sisters in London , shortcut through Hereford on the way to London from Plymouth ! Complete the payment etc with the seller. Load the GTE with stuff I had taken just in case, water, oil, tools etc and off I went. Not too much of a worry as I had RAC recovery for emergency. Not to fast I thought, take my time, no rush. Six and a half hours later I arrive home! The top speed of the Car was 45mph, 50 going downhill. I stopped at a couple of services and had a look for anything obvious but none could be found. Using some of the new parts I had taken with me I replaced the points, condensor, rotor arm, distributor cap, spark plugs and H.T. leads. No change so I thought go for it. I have been up and down the M5 lots of times before and never noticed how many hills there were, and it seemed that they were all going up, and at 45mph it is a very long road. No worries I thought, until I was just pasted Exeter . At the end of the M5 the road splits, left to Torbay , right to Plymouth so out I went into the third lane. At 4:45pm there was a lot of traffic but 45mph would not be too bad? Just as I entered the third lane the Car decided that it wanted to go slower, 10mph was the best it would do. How no one drove into the back of me is a mystery. So at a crawl I struggled up what is known as Haldon Hill. By halfway up there was a line of Lorries behind me. I waved to show I was having problems and the Lorry Drivers were very understanding and once over the hill they all went passed. This progress (Or lack of) continued all the way to Plymouth, the slightest incline was at 10mph, one and a half hours to drive 45 miles, what fun, welcome to the world of the Scimitar.
So now I own a GTE, lots to do but I will make it good again. Not concourse but as reliable as possible and looking smart. I do not like Cars to be so good that I worry about where I park them. This to me is a hobby, just for fun, boys and their toys. My thoughts are Old Cars are never owned, you are just looking after it for the next owner.
What lessons have I learnt? Apart from getting a good understanding of GTEs the attitudes of sellers have not surprised me. In my 50+ years on this planet and dealing with and buying Cars the sellers, most of the time, believe the Car they are selling is better than others. I supposes this is the same as a majority of people believing that their driving is above average. To me the GTE is an attractive Car with styling that defies its age, an engine with some grunt and the Car is different. It still surprises me how low the prices are. If someone wants an older Car that does not rust (Ignoring the Chassis) parts are easy to obtain (Excepting some bodywork and Trim) and are a realistic price, and look different the GTE fits. My thoughts are that the Scimitar in all its variants will not become any cheaper and could well increase slightly. Why ?. It is its own worst enemy, if it had been made of metal how many would be around today ?. Being fibreglass it is capable of having its bodywork ignored and so a high number seen on the road look scruffy and are not very appealing. For example, compare them to an MGB. For an MG to get to 30 year old it must have had some very careful owners or been restored and so will look shinny and bright, so when seen the thoughts will be, "That looks nice, Can I have one." There is also an unfortunate attitude of some who upon hearing the name "Reliant" think of Del Boy, Three Wheelers etc. This has happened to me, the boys at the Bar have had some great fun at my expense. Not a problem as I am old and ugly enough to take it, and although this is never done with any nastiness it proves the attitude of the name "Reliant" in the minds of some.