SE4 Coupe

SE4 front view

And in the fun house, the fun starts. As I've got the memory of a goldfish I've had to piece together the story from the 'history file' - a grand title for a pile of bills. Since these bills stretch back almost ten years I don't think the exact amounts matter, so I won't mention them. Before looking at the bills I thought I'd spent a fortune, but it's really not that much. Especially when compared to the money I've thrown away elsewhere (see Other Cars).

Why a Coupe?

I've always liked, and owned, Scimitars (SE5-type) because they're British, fibreglass and handle well. And they're affordable, of course. But I never really liked the Essex V6 engine - it always seemed unwilling to rev properly and never sounded the part. Still, you accept these things for the rest of the package. I know the styling also appeals to some, and it was certainly ground-breaking, but to me it never did a lot. The 'semi-estate' idea may seem great but, in practice, unless you've got kids the space at the back is pretty much wasted.

Then I joined the owners club and saw pictures of the Coupe. Now that, to my eyes, looked (and still looks) like a true 60's GT car. I don't mind being shot down for this, but to my eyes it comes from the same school of thought that created the mid-60's Ferraris and Lamborghinis. Don't believe me? Compare a Ferrari 330 GT or Lamborghini 400 GT. Ok, I'm not completely blind, but you can see what I mean.

Mind you, I also like the Jensen CV8 and Daimler SP250 Dart from the same era. Maybe it's time to shut up about car styling.

Better still, the earlier Coupes came with a 2.6 straight-six Ford Zephyr engine. And with a triple-carb set-up. Now that's not exotic, but it is a bit nice. Trouble is they only made a few hundred before going to the V6 engine and then on to the SE5. All this thinking, such as it was, occurred years before the inevitable ...

For sale

SE4 advert

From the Bristol Trade-It some time in 1995. Well it had to be worth a look, didn't it? There's no harm in that anyway. And, if there's time later, that Sinclair C5 sounds a bit interesting.

Character selling it was a real character. Portishead is a coastal town to the west of Bristol. These days (how old am I?) its been redeveloped and remarketed and they've built a lot of new housing for the not-quite-so wealthy-but-aspirational Bristol overspill. Even back then it was changing, but the bloke selling the car was not of the new era. I think he was straight out of the 60's or 70's, or probably even earlier, when people in Portishead had proper West Country accents and a distrust of outsiders. But a nice honest bloke.

He pointed out the faults on the car and swore about the scavengers who'd come looking at it only to rip out the ZF gearbox. It didn't have one, which is probably as well because if it had I think he would've clubbed them to death with it. The colour of the car had changed from white to red years earlier because the mate he'd bought it from had worked for the GPO and could get the paint easily. It wasn't the prettiest-looking car ever but it had been on the road until only a few years earlier so shouldn't need a busting lot of work. He sold it to me cheap, I think because he could see how keen I was.

What have you bought?

Good question. Oddly enough the only close-up photo I have of the car prior to its refurbishment is of the inside. As you can see, a bit shabby but basically all there.

SE4 interior

Having got the car home - and I can't remember how to save my life, because it didn't run - the next question of course is what to do with it. There's no way my limited technical skills (can of Easy Start and prayer) are going to get it back on the road. With the paperwork for the car was an old article from Classic & Sportscar all about the Coupes and with a short piece about this chap.

Chris Lloyd

Well, if he's the 'guru' then he's the man for the job methinks. I've mentioned Chris elsewhere (SST - Finding), suffice to say he referred to the photo as 'Gnome on a trolley jack'. We had a chat and arranged for Danny - who worked with him - to pick the car up on one of his visits to the West Country and see what could be done with it.

SE4 & pickup

Now that's what I call a tow car - it's the ex-Don Pither pickup, converted (I think) from a rolled SE5. Very nice. So, off the Coupe goes to be assessed.

Restoration

I was lucky, no two ways about it - the chassis was basically sound. It did need some straightening and new metal at the front nearside, probably as the result of an earlier accident not being repaired properly. The outriggers needed replacing (common Scimitar problem) and there were also repairs to the rear of the chassis under the fuel tank. But this is nothing compared to what the chassis could have been like. Equally good news was that the engine was sound.

I think Chris must have realised that I was on a bit of a tight budget because he raided his stock of old bits for all kinds of stuff (like wheels of the same size and with the same number of spokes) to get the car back on the road, without ever charging me anything like what he should have. They also fitted the work to mine around their other work, which kept the cost down. It would have cost me a fortune if I'd had it restored elsewhere, of that I'm certain. There were fun and games at the paint shop, though, when the wrong colour went on. Apparently it came out pink. Needless to say I'm quite glad I never saw it like that. In fact, paintwork has always been this car's Achilles heel, as detailed below. If that's its weak point then I'm quite happy - it could be a lot worse.

Driving

SE4 front ¾

Well that (to my eyes, anyway) is one fine looking car. I hadn't driven it up to this point, so what's it like? A bit intimidating, at first. Gear change and clutch are quite heavy and you sit very low, on the floor near as makes no difference. It goes, though. Chris and Danny reckon the engine is one the smoothest straight-sixes they can remember, but to me it sounds damn loud. It feels at first almost more a 50's-type drive than the later Scimitars, especially with the fly-off handbrake. You have to pay attention to what you're doing, which isn't difficult as it's noisy, draughty and smells of oil when you work it hard. No time to relax there then, and just what the doctor ordered. Great fun, and I love the handling.

The original intention had been to use the car, as I had my previous ones, for traveling around the country on business. Changes at work, however, mean that I'll either be office-based or in a company car. Not good. Worse follows when my then-girlfriend's ex-husband tries to set fire to it. His rag out of the petrol filler doesn't, fortunately, take hold. The car goes back to Scimitar Services for repair to the scorched bodywork and a locking petrol cap.

Refurbishment

A few years down the line (1998) and the Coupe is suffering a bit - poor starting and it doesn't run that smoothly any more. I decide to try a different garage, a bit more local than Scimitar Services, so off it goes to a car restoration specialist just outside Bath.

I can't fault the work they did. New stainless steel fuel tank and Lumenition ignition system sort the poor running and starting. I was a bit sceptical about the latter, but it's been excellent. They also replace the engine mounts, making it rumble a bit less. The bill, though, is a bit of an eye-opener.

Further refurbishment

More time passes (2002) and the Coupe is once again not as healthy as it could be. It's always lived outside and, to be honest, has been neglected a bit. This time I take a friend's recommendation and it goes to a garage in Bristol to be put back on the road. The garage are quite happy to the do the work as long as I'll source the hard-to-find parts. This gives me an interesting week chasing round the country trying to get enough bits to build an exhaust system. It also needed another steering rack, which could be a consequence of the manoeuvring needed when I was parking it outside my house. Four new tyres and gearbox mountings complete the major work needed. The work takes a bit longer than expected but, to be fair, the bill is quite reasonable.

On collecting it I decide to go for a bit of a blast (as you do). Having refueled I'm pulling away from the garage and accelerating quite hard up a dual-carriageway in the outside lane. The steering starts to wobble quite violently, there's a terrible shredding noise and the offside front of the car hits the road. The bit that used to hold it up - the wheel - has gone AWOL. Realising what's up by now I navigate the three-wheeled sled into the grass centre of the dual-carriageway. Just as we're coming to a rest I see the wheel, free from the bodywork at last, heading off over the other side of the road. Somehow it doesn't collide with a car, but then hits a wall at the perfect angle to come bounding back across the same side of the carriageway again. By this time I've bailed-out of the car and, with some dramatic semaphore, manage to alert the traffic on the side that they'd better stop whilst I'm reunited with my wheel, which takes a bit of stopping.

That doesn't happen every day and I'm back near the car, with errant wheel and trying to get my breath back, when a workman from the roadworks outside the garage runs up. "I think this is yours", he says in a strong Irish accent, handing me the spinner that used to hold the offside wire-wheel in place. I managed a thanks before he turned round and went back to work.

The garage had reassembled the front of the car with the hubs on the wrong side, which meant that as I was driving the spinner was undoing rather than tightening. They were, of course, very apologetic. They had a fair bit of work to do on the bodywork where the wheel had smashed around before its exit. Not at my expense, obviously. Then more fun when they came to paint it. As mentioned earlier the car was white, then GPO-red, then pink, then red, and had faded into a sort of dark orange colour. Having lived outside, though, always parked facing the same way and in the sun most of the day, it had faded to orange more on one side than the other. An impossible job, then, to respray around the front and make it match.

SE4 rear ¾

I suppose I could have made a fuss, but why bother? The car has always looked different colours from different angles anyway, as the picture above from my primitive digital camera shows. The quality of the repair and respray was excellent - it cost the garage as much as I'd paid them for all the work they'd done. And the other mechanical work they did on the car was first class.

Updates since

SE4 top

The roads around where I live now - on the Lancashire / Yorkshire border - offer a lot more driving opportunities than I ever had in Bristol. And an excellent local garage has helped matters. They diagnosed poor starting to a rotor arm that must have been ¼ inch too short. How it ever used to start I have no idea. And I've rented a garage to keep the Coupe in, for the first time since I've owned it and maybe the first time ever (hope it doesn't spoil it). It's a great - and seemingly fast-disappearing - luxury to be able to fire your car up and head for the hills or the lanes, and I intend making the most of it.


On a recent run the thermostat refused to open, causing the car to overheat. Which I can understand. What I can't (yet) understand is that it got hotter, while I was looking for a safe place to park up, the brakes came on. Christine, anyone? By the time the car came to a shuddering halt down a side road, in a cloud of steam and the smell of cooking brakes, I was quite relieved - having an overhot engine fighting against the brakes is not good for car or owner. The brake pedal by the time I switched off was rock solid, in the 'up' position.

I left it for a walk to the nearest open shop for some water. When I came back an hour later the brake pedal was back to normal and, with some Volvic in it and having proved its point, the cooling system thermostat decided to open as it should. The drive home was uneventful.

That's a new one on me. I thought I'd try the Yahoo ReliantScimitar Group (see 'Links') for some advice. Fair to say I was amazed by the response, not the volume but the quality. I now have an action plan to fix it, and a whole lot more understanding of what the group is all about. I'll update this page with the outcome.


Following the advice from the Yahoo group, the problem was traced to the brake servo. It had brake fluid in the places it shouldn't, causing the brakes to apply when hot. A rebuilt servo later and the problem has gone. Thankfully.

Another problem surfaced afterwards, with the brake pedal being a bit odd - when you apply the brakes you're not quite sure where on the pedal travel they'll bite. This problem was traced to the front wheel bearings, and adjusting them has solved it.

I now have a very different car to drive. Before this work the brakes were 'wooden', and I wouldn't take too many chances with them. I now have progressive, controllable, brakes. I like it.


Update: May 2005 and the SE4 had to be sold to finance more traveling in the US. I won't pretend it was easy to see it go after 10 years, but I know it's going to a good home and will get the attention (like a new set of wire wheels) that it really needs.

Up