Which British Cars Are the Best?
From the Mini to the F-Type, Britain has produced some hugely impressive cars over the years. But which one is the best?
The 1960s saw some major changes to the UK car scene. BMC’s Alec Issigonis-designed Mini revolutionized the small car market when it was launched in 1959 and remained one of Britain’s best-selling cars for decades. The Morris Minor, designed in 1948 and heavily updated in 1956, was another top seller, remaining popular right up to the final model rolled off the production line in 1961. Several other British marques were also thriving in the mid-to-late 1960s, including Ford’s Anglia and the Austin/Morris 1800 and Hillman Imp from the Rootes Group.
By the end of the 1970s, though, all of Britain’s big three manufacturers were in financial trouble. The loss of sales to imports, internal rivalries within BLMC, the retention of legacy marques and models, labour disputes and quality problems were all taking their toll. As a result, by the early 1980s BLMC was reduced to the production of only a handful of mass-market family cars (the Metro, Maestro and Montego) and the iconic Mini. Despite these efforts, BLMC was losing ground to foreign competitors who were benefiting from economies of scale and the introduction of modern technology and styling.
Founded by maverick engineer Colin Chapman, whose Formula 1 cars won multiple world championships, Norfolk-based Lotus produced some of Britain’s greatest – if often fragile – sports cars. The current Elise continues in Chapman’s vein, with its svelte bodywork and sporty driving dynamics. Meanwhile, Chinese owners Geely are funding the brand’s future with the svelte Evija electric SUV and the extraordinary EV100 supercar.
Other notable British brands that are still around include Jaguar, which has a fine tradition of producing fast two-seater sports cars, from the diminutive Mk3 XJR-13 to the V12-powered F-Type. Today’s Jaguar XF saloon and convertible look to be worthy successors to the original models, and the company’s smaller XE saloon is a great-looking, efficient and comfortable executive car.
Bristol is another venerable British marque that has continued to produce a range of small, lightweight vehicles that are legal to drive on a standard CBT motorcycle licence. The latest Bristol Blenheim is a well-appointed, four-seater that’s a fine choice for those who prefer an understated aura of English hand built quality. It’s not often seen on the road, though, as the maker actively discourages motoring journalists from test driving its cars.