Reliant Scimitar

The eco activists are right – crossovers ARE going to go out of fashion

IT’S not often someone who owns a 1970s dinosaur of a car, powered by a three-litre V6 knocking back a gallon of unleaded every 23 miles, agrees with a group researching ways to make Britain a leaner, greener, zero carbon emissions country.

Yet, for once, I’m completely in agreement with the scientists at the UK Energy Research Centre – we really do, as a nation, have to go easy on the Range Rover Evoques and the Audi Q3s. Lay off the new Nissan Juke and the second-gen Ford Kuga a bit. Oh, and definitely have a gentle chat with anyone thinking of chucking more than £44,000 on a BMW X4.

You’ll have noticed something all of the aforementioned beasts of burden have in common; they’re all SUVs, off-roaders, crossovers, or whatever lifestyle-orientated name they’ve been given this week. The UK Energy Research Centre’s argument is that because they now account for just a fifth of the nation’s new car sales – as opposed to 13.5 per cent just three years ago – hauling around all that extra weight is completely undermining the do-gooders currently buying 44,000 zero emissions motors a year.

Professor Jillian Anable, the group’s co-director, said: “The rapid uptake of unnecessarily large and energy consuming vehicles just in the past few years makes a mockery of UK policy efforts towards the ‘Road to Zero’”, the last bit referring to the Government’s aim of making Britain net carbon neutral by 2050.

My beef with these cars – and I choose my words carefully, as I dearly hope the UKERC doesn’t have the same wrath towards the 1977 Reliant Scimitar GTE – is that almost all of these SUVs are nothing of the sort. They’re front-wheel-drive, aren’t designed to venture up muddy tracks and don’t do anything a Vauxhall Astra can’t do. If you need more space, get a Combo Life. Only you won’t, because it looks like a van with windows rather than a trendy off-roader.

Virtually every new car I borrow is a bloated, high-riding relation of a much better hatchback that’s been cruelly forgotten by the wider market. I’ve no problem with proper 4x4s that actually go off-road – I grew up in a family that lives and breathes old Land Rovers – but ones pretending otherwise and wasting fuel and resources in the process aren’t doing us any favours.

For ages, I’ve been resigned to it being a relentless march up the new car sales chart that wipes out lesser spotted species in the process (see the critically endangered small coupé, and the extinct-in-the-wild large MPV), but I reckon in a few years crossovers will start to look desperately unfashionable, and it’ll be Greta Thunberg and the march of the green movement behind it. It’s hard enough to justify something like, say, a BMW 3-Series in a world where single use plastic bags are taboo, so turning the same car into a thirstier, higher-riding crossover just seems to be prime ammo for the anti-car lobby.

So don’t make your next buy a Skoda Karoq – make it an Octavia instead, which looks much nicer, will drive far better and be just as practical.

Just don’t follow my example and make it a three-litre 1970s sports car. Otherwise, we’re all stuffed…

What the Reliant Scimitar taught me about MoT exemption

A VALIANT quest I set out on last November is nowhere near journey’s end. Over the past few months I’ve been on what feels like an epic voyage through the classified ads – and I still haven’t found the right Reliant Scimitar.

It’s not even casual browsing this time; it’s the serious, hardcore end of the car buying spectrum. I’ve sat for hours on end in front of computers, poring over the tiniest details in online ads. I have gone out and been on test drives. I’ve even, and this is a genuine top tip for anyone thinking of buying an old car, pre-emptively joined the owners’ club to get their help. It’s been three months, and yet I still haven’t found the right one.

I reckon having the patience of a saint and the persistence of a right pain in the proverbials will eventually get me there, of course – but it’s got be the right one. It has to an SE5 or SE5A-series GTE in any colour other than red or black, and it’s crucial that it’s one that’s been cared for.

Nor can it be the one I gave a miss the other day, which proved that changes to the MoT test last summer are a bit of a double-edged sword. Browse the ads for old cars at the moment and there are plenty being advertised as being not only tax-free, but exempt from the annual visit to the garage too. The idea is that it’s a good way of saving money on a car that you might only take out on a couple of sunny Sunday afternoons a year, and no MoT is one less thing to faff with.

So it sounds like it’s a bit of a sales pitch – but it’s also the reason why I gave one Scimitar a swerve entirely. These days you can pop virtually any car registration number into a Government-run website and it’ll tell you all of its mechanical misdemeanours, going back years at a time. It’ll tell you, for instance, that my MX-5 picked up two advisories when it was tested last month and that my Toyota Avensis needed its brakes tweaking, but for the car I checked out there was nothing. Not only no records of previous faults, but no records of it being tested at all. Anywhere. Ever. This, on records going back 15 years.

Don’t get me wrong – it could be a bit of a hidden gem with impeccable underpinnings (in which case, it should have no problem earning an annual ticket anyway). But, given the choice between one old car that’s been looked at on a ramp and has a record of all its little foibles, or one that doesn’t, which would you go for? I didn’t think rolling MoT exemption was a great idea when it was first announced 18 months ago because of all the safety implications, but on this occasion it’s about appealing to my wallet, rather than my conscience. An old car with an MoT, to my mind at least, is better value than one without.

So I’ll continue with my adventures through the car ads for now, thanks. Speaking of which, anyone thinking of flogging a Reliant Scimitar?