Reliant

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?

The Reliant Robin isn’t technically a proper car – but I still love it

I’VE JUST got back from three days of exploring the national classic car show – where one question seemed to be asked more than any other. What’s it like driving a Reliant Robin?

Regular readers might remember earlier this year I snapped one up for £600, and promptly discovered that virtually all of it was broken. It’s taken several months of frustrating repairs to get the little three-wheeler up and running again, but now that it’s through the MoT I can finally reveal the answer.

Or rather, I was about to, but then the radiator decided to drop all of its coolant across a busy dual carriageway, prompting a tail-between-legs phone call to the fourth emergency service and a lengthy roadside repair. Then it needed a boxful of bits and a morning with a timing gun because it was richer than Donald Trump and coughing like Theresa May at a political party conference. So you probably get already that the Reliant Robin is a proper classic car – the sort that people enjoy tinkering with on a Sunday morning. Or in a layby at rush hour.

But then I – by which I mean the talented folk at the Reliant Owners’ Club – finally got my £600 three-wheeler to behave like a car and I could finally go for a proper drive. I’m now happy to report that it’s addictively good fun to buzz around in.

Anyone who’s seen a certain episode of Top Gear would be forgiven for thinking that every corner is a rollover-in-waiting but it just isn’t true. A Robin that’s set up properly will happily flick through roundabouts or through even quite tight bends perfectly happy, and is only going to throw you into a hedge if you really muck about it.

In fact, the bigger problem is Britain’s proliferation of potholes. You end up hitting them a third more of them than you would in a normal car, and if it’s the front wheel that hits one the ride’s particularly unpleasant. So you end up driving it constantly thinking about where the middle of the car is, which is strangely rewarding because it encourages you to really think about your driving to get the best out of it.

But it’s worth it because the steering – which only has the one wheel to control, of course – is light and nimble, the gearchange is wonderfully direct and the engine loves to rev. In fact, it’ll comfortably overtake things on a motorway at seventy, even if the 850cc lump next to your left knee is doing about a million RPM.

It might be noisy and have a habit of breaking down, but it’s a car that’s overflowing with character. Which makes it more than alright in my book.