Finding a car to buy

Models

There were actually three different models of the later Scimitar convertibles - SS1, SST and Sabre. Ok, they may have been similar under the skin, but they didn't look the same. This isn't a comprehensive history - see elsewhere on the internet or a bookshop for that - but just a quick (biased) summary:

SS1

SS1

These are the ones that most people know. 'SS' stands for 'small sports' I think. Definitely not the best name to choose for a car you want to export to Europe, anyway. Available with Ford 1.3, XR3 1.6 or Nissan 1.8 turbo engine. Bodywork made from an assortment of different plastics from different manufacturers, so panel fit was never going to be brilliant. Early cars have non-galvanised chassis. 1.3 engine a bit of a joke, and it would be difficult to drive the XR3-engined version knowing there's a 1.8 turbo out there. Not the best looking car in the world. I think I remember reading that Michelotti died shortly after designing the SS1. Are they sure it wasn't during? At least that would explain the wheel arches.

Lots around, and some real bargains. Hell, you don't see the outside when you're driving anyway. Later 1.8 turbos would be fantastic track day cars for minimum money. Not a bad road car, for that matter.

SST

SST

With all the problems getting the different bits of the SS1 from different manufacturers, and the fact it had been beaten repeatedly with the ugly stick, the manufacturers decided to do something about the SS1. This time the bodywork would be all fibreglass, designed by William Towns - hence the 'T' in the name. Was it an improvement to look at? Er, not really. At least the SS1 had a character all its own, whereas the SST was (and is) a bit bland. It didn't help that most of them had the front and rear bumper sections in black, making the car looking like it was sagging at both ends. At some point around here the base model went up to a Ford 1.4 and the XR3 engine was dropped. Not many made.

Sabre

Sabre

Another change of base engine, this time to a Rover 1.4 - a good engine, if my old 214 SLi company car is anything to go by. Bodywork-wise the (new) manufacturers just fitted a body kit onto the SST. That's a bit dismissive, because the new bumpers, arches and skirts don't look too bad. In a way. If you like that sort of thing. Too little too late, though, and not many made before the manufacturers went bust for the last time.

My choice

I've always preferred the SST:

Searching

So where do you look for a low-volume model like the SST? These are the places I went:

  1. The obvious place to start is the owner's club - Reliant Sabre & Scimitar Owners Club - magazine. There is another club, the Scimitar Drivers Club, but I've never joined so have no idea what it's like. Anyway, the RSSOC publishes a magazine every two months with a separate for sale section. It's also available on the internet, a while later, at www.scimitarweb.com (it's not the easiest in the world to navigate though).

  2. Auto Trader. I hate Auto Trader. I also love Auto Trader. Probably depends where and when you grew up, but for me the Thames Valley Auto Trader - in the days before internet - was the only place to look. So we'd all buy one on a Thursday morning, read it at lunchtime and then compare what we'd found in the pub that night. A dangerous state of affairs when you're young and stupid. As opposed to now, of course, when there's no danger in reading it whatsoever ...

  3. FindIt - Classic and Collectors section usually the best bet, though it can be a bit difficult to tell - and Preloved sometimes come up with some surprises, as can Freeads. And eBay is always good for a laugh, but I'd never buy anything from it. My loss? Maybe - some see swimming opportunities and some see sharks.

  4. Classic Car Weekly and Classic Car Mart. The first of these has kind of replaced the Thames Valley Auto Trader as a weekly fix. Sad, I know, but there you go. The latter is a monthly treat, along with a few other classic car mags (which tend to concentrate on cars way beyond my means).

Finding

So where did I find one? Well, at none of the above. There are a couple of Scimitar garages and parts places who have cars for sale - Graham Walker Ltd and Queensberry Road Garage - and the latter had an SST for £1200. Cheap, so I dragged my brother along and went for a look.

SST at QRG front

It was scruffy, as expected, and the garage explained that it would need a new turbo - hence the blue smokescreen from the back - and a new steering rack. Some electrics not working either.

SST at QRG interior

Horrible dashboard and switches, as original and from a Metro I think. Hood knackered and door trims not attached.

SST at QRG back

On the plus side, it was the right model in the right colour (red) with the right trim (black leather). And it still had an MOT for a few months, so I could tax, insure and drive it legally with no need to hire a trailer to move it around. And they'd park it round the back for me whilst I moved house. Sold, for £1000. Invoice marked 'Sold as Restoration Project'. Ok then.

Justifying

Why buy one needing work rather than a car that is already up together? Well, most of the ones in decent condition seem to be for sale for £3-5000. There's no real guarantee, however, what you're getting. There could be big bills around the corner, especially as they're all getting towards the ten-year-old mark. In a way it's a safer bet to buy one and start from scratch. And I liked it. And I didn't want to see it broken for the galvanised chassis and other bits.

Same story as the SE4 Coupe all those years ago, really - no rational way of justifying the purchase at all. If you've got leaded 4-Star in the veins it doesn't matter. Who needs an excuse anyway?

Delivering

I was originally toying with idea of letting the garage I bought it from - Queensbury Road Garage - put it back on the road. Better the devil you know, though, and my SE4 Coupe had been restored and repaired for years by Chris and Danny at Scimitar Services. I knew I could trust them to do a good job, and owed them some work (with payment on time, this time) for so many favours over the years. Then a bolt from the blue, when Danny returned my call to say that Chris had died.

[ I didn't know Chris that well, but enough to know that he was one of life's good guys. He knew I didn't have much money when the SE4 was restored so he cheated and raided his stock of old bits to get it back on the road. Rescued me a few times when it arrived outside the unit, unexpected, on the back of a Green Flag or AA transporter. Did everything with a sense of humour (well, took the piss a lot anyway). He's missed. ]

I had a chat with Danny, and we decided that once things were sorted out I'd deliver the SST to his new business. The house move took longer than expected so it wasn't til a few months later I went to collect it from QRG. Air in the tyres and plenty of oil in the engine. Off we go, with my brother and nephew following. Take it easy on the journey - from Kettering to the outskirts of Tamworth - as I'm already in the bad books with the AA. Can you get barred from rescue services? Green Flag (as was) certainly never shed any tears when I left. Mind you, if they'd put the premiums up any more I'd have wanted a rescue truck with my name on it, Eddie Stobart-style.

Even with a knackered turbo this thing is quick. The interior reminds me of my old Reliant Kitten, with the a similar array of scaled-down plastic controls from a real car. I can see why it would never have sold to 'sophisticated' buyers in its day. Unlike a Kitten, it feels like you could steer it around just using the throttle to control the direction. This one is also very scary to drive as the steering feels like it's connected with a few elastic bands. Old ones. Ones that might break soon.

Boot the throttle at one point and the engine cuts out completely. Hazards on, and by the side of the road we reconnect the air intake pipes for the turbo - looks like they weren't connected at all before we set off. A bit further on and I fold the roof down. Ah, that's better, even when sitting in roadworks on the A5. My brother's following and he flashes his lights so I pull over. Nephew wants to travel in the SST. A few miles later and he says: "Slow down, Uncle Jon". Car delivered successfully, but I do need to have a chat to my brother about his son ...

SST - Restoring

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