The recent sad passing of the 99-year old Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, brought to mind one of his strongest but perhaps little-known automotive connections.…
Reliant Motor Company’s Scimitar GT coupé of the late ‘50s/early ‘60s was only just a two-plus-two with minimal space behind the front seats. This was the major criticism from motoring journalists of that era. In 1964, Pilkington Glass’ automotive safety glass subsidiary, Triplex Safety Glass, was looking for ways to promote some of its new glass technology, especially, laminated windscreens, the new sundym tinted glass, and heated backlights, with another first, some glasses bonded to the body, thereby eliminating sealing rubbers. Its marketing director, the bearded Anthony Pilkington, commissioned Ogle Design to use the Scimitar GT coupé as the basis of a new vehicle concept – a sports estate car.
The result was the Ogle Scimitar GTS – the glazing test special. This car, with an illegally spaced number plate 66 0GLE, was exhibited on the Ogle Design stand at the London Motor Show in Earls Court in October 1965 before being driven to Turin in Italy by two British journalists, Basil Cardew of the Daily Express and Tom Wisdom of the Daily Mirror. At the motor show there it was voted the showpiece of the exhibition. On the car’s return to the UK it was acquired by His Royal Highness Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, and became his personal transport for two years.
Reliant’s managing director, Ray Wiggin, quickly saw the GTS as offering an opportunity for his company to create a new niche of sports cars, the sports estate car that Ogle had identified, but with a more sporting look. Tom Karen introduced a rising glass line towards the rear and a slight kick-up at the end of the roof line, the former to be copied by almost every car manufacturer in the world. Along with the Ford Essex V6 3-litre engine and two near full-size rear seats, these two features set the Scimitar GTE apart from its competitors. The GTE was also a trend-setter. It was the world’s first sports hatchback-estate; it had the first ever (very essential) rear wiper; and it was the first British car to have rear seat belts fitted as standard well before legislation demanded such. As the original sports estate car, the GTE was later to be flattered by pastiche versions of the concept, originally in the form of the Volvo P1800ES, followed by the Lotus Elite, Jensen GT, Honda Accord Aerodeck and Lancia HPE.
The Duke of Edinburgh’s use of the Ogle Scimitar GTS in 1965 and 1966 did not go unnoticed by his and Queen Elizabeth’s only daughter, Princess Anne. So impressed was she by the one off Triplex Glass sponsored special he used, in 1970, as her twentieth birthday approached, when her parents asked if she would like a car as a combined Christmas/birthday gift, she requested a Scimitar GTE, having first been loaned one by the Kenning Motor Group, a Scimitar dealer.
The first GTE of what were to become a consecutive eight in total was a regular SE5a with a body painted a blue similar to that of the air force uniform colour, finished throughout its interior in a special grey trim and delivered to Buckingham Palace in early 1971. It was registered 1420 H in recognition of her position as Colonel in Chief of the Royal 14/20th Hussars and sported a chrome-plated galloping horse mascot, factory-fitted to its bonnet. That cherished registration was purchased by the regiment from a milk float in Bermondsey, London, and presented to her as a birthday present, coincidental with the placing of the order for her first car.
Princess Anne was to become Reliant’s greatest champion. Apart from regularly hitting the newspaper, radio and TV headlines by receiving too many speeding tickets driving her GTE, she ordered a Robin for use originally around the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst and later around the estate at Gatcombe Park in Gloucestershire she occupied following her marriage to Captain Mark Phillips in November 1973. Subsequent to the announcement of the Kitten, she was to swap her Robin for a blue estate version of the four wheeler, the first of two she and her staff at Gatcombe Park were to use.
In 1973, she ordered a replacement for her first GTE to exactly the same specification. Then a year later, she ordered her third. However, wishing to fulfil a desire to increase the legroom in the rear seating area, Ray Wiggin used this opportunity to increase the car’s wheelbase by four inches, whilst adding two and a half inches length into the doors to ease entrance to the rear. Her Royal Highness’s new car was built to this unique specification and led to the development of the SE6 derivative of the GTE. That was the third of the eight GTEs owned by the Queen’s daughter, the last of which (built by Middlebridge Scimitar) is reported to remain in her possession at the time of writing.
Inspired by her father’s choice of the Ogle GTS, she went on to set a royal precedent as her youngest brother Prince Edward would also favour the marque, choosing the Triumph Stag-like Scimitar GTC that was to follow in 1980.
Barrie has enjoyed a long and illustrious career in the Motor Industry in the UK and all over the world and latterly has become a successful author – you can find out more about his times and shenanigans in his rather splendid tomes by clicking HERE