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A Brief History of British Cars

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The UK has a rich automotive heritage with many marques from all over the world being represented on the country’s roads. The UK has produced some of the most iconic cars in history, including the Mini and Land Rover. The latter, which was discontinued in 2016 before being replaced four years later, has been the backbone of countless off-road expeditions and is widely considered to be one of the most iconic cars ever made.

British car production peaked in the 1970s, although inefficient manufacturing, labour disputes and poor quality issues saw many companies struggle to modernise or compete on overseas markets. The loss of the MG and Triumph sports cars in this period also left a large hole in the market for a premium alternative. By the early 1980s, even the once-mighty BLMC had lost its position as the leading UK car manufacturer to German rivals such as Volkswagen, Peugeot-Talbot and Chrysler Europe (as well as Ford in the mass market).

The 1980s also saw a growth in demand for practical people carriers such as the Volkswagen Golf Wagon and Renault Espace. This trend continued into the 1990s, with the launch of several new purpose-built models from the UK. However, a rise in the popularity of hatchback cars meant that sports models such as the MG Z3 and Triumph Sprite suffered a decline in sales.

A few small specialist manufacturers were still going strong, with the Norfolk-based Lotus brand producing a string of stunning, if fragile, sports cars. The maverick engineer Colin Chapman’s motto was to “simplify and add lightness” and the company has stayed true to its roots with its current Elise sportscar. The svelte, electric Geely-funded Eletre and opulent Bentley Bentayga are amongst the other latest creations from Woking.

The most famous of all british cars, though, must be the Jaguar. Now owned by Indian conglomerate Tata, the marque continues to produce brilliant luxury vehicles renowned for their sublime driving experience. The racy F-type coupe and Coupé, stylish executive saloon Jaguar XE, the range-topping Bentley Continental GT and Mulsanne are all superb examples.

Other famous British cars include the legendary McLaren Formula One team – with a no-compromise approach to design and engineering, its carbon fibre tubbed supercars have proved to be amongst the fastest in history. In the same vein, Gordon Murray’s no-compromise designs have been the hallmark of his no-holds-barred sportscar maker, MG. There are also a few boutique British luxury carmakers that continue to produce truly exceptional models. Bristol, for instance, produces a handful of high-end cars that embody English hand built quality and understated exclusivity. The eccentric Bristol Blenheim, though, is a car that will make motoring journalists reach for the apoplexy button. The Bristol’s insufferable build quality and questionable reliability are, of course, offset by its rare status and connection with the city of Bristol – which is likely enough to convince a few wealthy owners that it’s worth the risk.

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