Britain has a rich automotive history, producing some of the world’s greatest cars in the past. However, the country has seen a decline in its car production over the last few decades. The main reason is that the UK’s car manufacturers have struggled to compete with foreign producers using lower labor costs and modern manufacturing techniques.
British companies had a reputation for producing prestigious and expensive cars in the 1950s and 1960s, including Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Jaguar, MG, Triumph and Austin Healey. However, by the 1980s they had lost market share to cheaper European competitors like Renault, Peugeot, Citroen (France), Volvo and Volkswagen West Germany and Italy’s Fiat.
A few smaller British companies made a go of it, however. BMC’s Mini, designed by Alec Issigonis, revolutionized the small car sector and dominated it for decades. The company’s successor, British Leyland, launched the more upmarket Austin Metro in 1980 with more modern styling and a hatchback body style. The company’s roots in the commercial vehicle industry meant it was well placed to compete against Ford’s and General Motors’ dwindling range of superminis, but poor engineering, shoddy production, industrial disputes and a reluctance to replace existing models combined to thwart its plans.
Several smaller companies also managed to make a go of it during the decade, such as TVR, which bucked the trend for blander safer cars and turned out outrageously styled roadsters powered by meaty V8s. The firm had a cult following amongst drivers, but was eventually unable to match the sales success of its bigger rivals.
Jaguar’s F-Type, a new model that launched in 1948, was another high-profile winner. It took a classic E-Type body and fitted it to a modern chassis, resulting in a car that looked great and drove even better.
However, the decline of the traditional British sports car continued, mainly as a result of changing legislation and consumer attitudes. In the early nineties, British manufacturers could no longer rely on large volumes to keep their plants profitable and had to concentrate on developing models for niche markets.
One company that did manage to thrive during this period was Noble, a small, specialist manufacturer based in Leicestershire. The company makes a range of fast, rear-wheel drive, track-focused sports cars. Their philosophy is that while other supercar manufacturers rely on technology to help the driver, Noble cars are all about grunt and raw power. These are the sort of cars that you’d expect to see driven by members of the royal family and movie stars. The company is still making these cars, although they don’t make many public appearances. In fact, the company only produces a limited number each year. As a result, they often have waiting lists of up to 10 years. This is a shame, because the cars are worth the wait. They are a true testament to the ingenuity and skill of the people that work at the factory. Hopefully, Noble can continue to prosper and produce more of these amazing cars in the future.