Though the British car industry has had its down points throughout the years, it’s equally — or perhaps moreso — had a huge number of glitzy highlights to make it a global powerhouse.
From the humble Mini to the all-conquering Land Rover Defender and the world-beating McLaren F1, British firms have proved to be amongst the best of them in all segments. We’ve picked out some of the highlights over the years…
When the return of TVR had been confirmed after initially going the way of the dodo, excitement was rife — and it’s not hard to see why. The Chimera is one of the Blackpool firm’s most memorable models. Its name came from a monster in Greek mythology, and the car itself was a bit of a brute too. It used the legendary Rover V8 for power, and had been designed to be a long-distance tourer – though it still had a reputation for being reasonably spikey to drive.
The Chimaera was arguably one of the prettiest cars to come from TVR as well, and they make for an excellent used buy too.
It’s hard to talk about British cars without mentioning the iconic Range Rover. Designed to offer go-anywhere performance alongside the utmost luxury, it’s easy to see why it’s gone on to become an incredibly popular model. All ages of this legend are excellent, though we’re particular fans of the early, boxy models. Later examples are almost equally impressive — as long as you stay clear of ex-Premier League footballer cars.
If there’s one thing British firms are particularly great at, it’s making fast, lightweight sports cars. The Lotus Elise is a classic example of this. It’s teeny-tiny small, and yet provides the sort of driving experience you’d expect from a supercar. Early models look brilliant nowadays too, and drive equally well.
The Elise has become larger and more powerful in recent years, but all models still retain that impressive sense of poise and balance – they’re the perfect accompaniment to the winding b-roads that we have here in the UK.
The Jaguar E-Type is one of those classic British cars that everyone knows about – it’s like a cup of tea, a red telephone box or the Queen. It’s a brilliant showcase of what Jaguar could do at their very best, combining exquisite styling with impressive mechanicals — it’s a proper bedroom wall poster car.
The driving experience may not quite be all that, but then just look at it. We’re pretty sure you’d never get tired of eyeballing this car, it’s as pretty as pretty can be.
Land Rover Defender
That boxy shape, with wheels placed on all four corners, is recognisable even from a distance – it’s the Land Rover Defender. Though no longer in production, the Defender’s tough, go-anywhere attitude was hard to ignore. Despite lacking any real room for your arm when driving, this 4×4 has legions of fans worldwide and gained critical acclaim for its ability to tackle pretty much any situation.
As a result of the cease in production of the original, even older, scrappy examples are trading for high prices. It just goes to show how popular they continue to be, even with the imminent arrival of an all-new version of the icon.
Ah, the Mini. The iconic little city car has won the hearts and minds of many a motorist, and it has a rightful place here amongst the best British cars ever made. Compact yet practical and efficient, the Mini was all things to all people – you could see one parked outside the Ritz, just as much as you would outside the local supermarket; in a word – classless.
Ford Escort MK1
Ford may be very much American at a corporate level today, but the cars built in Dagenham back in the day were quintessentially British. The square, iconic shape of the MK1 Escort is something so recognisable, so inherently right that it came to be one of the most popular cars the UK has seen. MK1 Escorts are highly sought after today, which is driving prices through the roof. You’d never have thought that these cars would have become future classics, but they have – and they seem to be in greater demand than ever before.
There are few cars as iconic as the Caterham Seven. It’s lightweight, very small and very fast too – it’s capable of giving most supercars a run for their money. Based on the original Lotus Seven, the Caterham is about as stripped-back as modern cars get. There are no driver aids, no radio and, in certain cases, no passenger seat. If you’re after a true connection to the road, then this is the car for you – the steering is pin-sharp, and you can almost drive it telepathically the controls are so intuitive.
The McLaren F1 was, for quite some time, the world’s fastest production car. It could hit 242mph and, despite setting that record in 1998, remained the king of speed until 2005. It had some seriously clever tech, this car, with F1-inspired lightweight techniques used throughout. It even had an engine bay lined in gold, acting as a heat shield for the exhaust. It was also, crucially, a British project, imagined and executed by legendary designer Gordon Murray. In terms of impacts upon the world, the McLaren F1 was right up there.
Rolls-Royce has been through all manner of different owners, with the latest being BMW. However, though the German manufacturer giant may own the company, Rolls-Royce has remained distinctly British. The first car to be produced under those new owners was this – the Phantom. It summarised everything great about Rolls-Royce; unparalleled luxury, elegant opulence and next-level exclusivity. It looked like a proper Roller and, as is important with this list, was assembled at the firm’s facility in Goodwood.