Home / Style / Autos / Ten quintessentially British cars
James Bond Aston Martin DB5 1965

Ten quintessentially British cars


The ambassadors

British automotive marques are extension of the nation’s class system and style. Whether conjuring the leather armchairs and wood panelling of a gentleman’s club or the naked mechanicals of a locomotive, they echo the singular, manic ambitions of the engineers who realised their dreams – however remote or eccentric these may have been. Rare is the British car built with the mass market in mind, and that tendency has had lasting effects; vehicles produced in high volumes in today’s UK all carry the names of foreign automakers.

But that singularity has left the world a trove of emphatically British cars that demand reverence. Here, then, alphabetically arranged, are 10 British cars well worth celebrating.

Aston Martin DB5 (1965) (Credit: Martyn Goddard)

Aston Martin DB5 (1965)

The DB5 is the definitive gran turismo: brawny yet sophisticated, sensuous yet square-jawed. James Bond drove one equipped with revolving number plates and an ejector seat; civilian versions used a hand-built in-line six-cylinder engine with 280 horsepower, matched to a manual gearbox and wrapped in an elegant, lightweight aluminium body. Some 47 years after its auspicious debut, the DB5 made a cameo appearance in last year’s Bond instalment, Skyfall, ascending to hero status all over again. (Martyn Goddard)

Austin Healey 3000 MKIII (1965) (Credit: Martyn Goddard)

Austin Healey 3000 MKIII (1965)

This Healey typifies the genre of affordable British post-World War II sports cars. Exported to the US in droves, these cars helped rescue the island’s motor manufacturers. (The first car sold for Mattel’s Barbie doll was, in fact, a pink Healey.) The 3000, designed by the famed racer and engineer Donald Healey and assembled by the giant British Motor Corporation, debuted to acclaim in 1959. By the time the more powerful MKIII version bowed in 1963, the roadster was fully developed and had authored a successful history in motorsport, and even a few production-car speed records. (Martyn Goddard)

Bentley Continental GT Speed (2013) (Credit: Bentley Motors)

Bentley Continental GT Speed (2013)

Fond of brutish, authoritative automotive statements, WO Bentley, the founder of the marque bearing his name, would likely have approved of the new Bentley Continental GT Speed. Under its hood lurks a 6-litre 12-cylinder engine producing 616 horsepower and 590 pound-feet of torque to all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission. A civilised grand tourer with racecar performance (zero to 60mph in 4 seconds flat and a top speed of 205mph), the GT Speed is equally in its element charging along at triple-digit speeds or wafting through Beverly Hills. (Bentley Motors)

BMC Mini (1959) (Credit: BMW Group)

BMC Mini (1959)

Born of the need for a fuel-efficient, mass-market auto in the late 1950s, the BMC Mini wore Sir Alec Issigonis’ then-radical box design, which rested via a unique rubber-cone suspension on tiny 10-inch wheels at each corner. Inside, the 10ft-by-4ft envelope provided lashings of space, and a novel transverse-mounted engine with a four-speed transmission in the sump drove the front wheels. The British – and the world – took to the cute newcomer and the car soon symbolised the Swinging ’60s. In 1999, a global group of automotive writers named the Mini the second most influential car of the 20th Century, behind the Ford Model T. A new Mini, developed with the marque’s current corporate parent, BMW, continues to evoke the spirit of the original. It is even assembled in the original cars’ production facility at Cowley, Oxford. (BMW Group)

Jaguar E-Type 3.8 (1960s) (Credit: Martyn Goddard)

Jaguar E-Type 3.8 (1960s)

Sir William Lyons had a history of producing automobiles with style and substance at relatively accessible price points. The E-Type, marketed in the US and other markets as the XKE, was no exception. The appeal of the E-Type – Enzo Ferrari deemed it “the most beautiful car ever made” – is undeniable, and on the road, its sporting charms have not diminished over time. Beneath the exceptionally aerodynamic skin, the Jaguar has a fine straight-six engine, modern disc brakes and a refined independent suspension that was derived from racing successes of the legendary D-Type. (Martyn Goddard)

Land Rover Defender 90 (1983) (Credit: Martyn Goddard)

Land Rover Defender 90 (1983)

Behold, Britain’s maximalist response to the pickup truck. Modifying the agricultural, post-World War II models for true drivability by introducing a more civilised coil-spring suspension and a range of new engines created the ultimate off-roader. The Defender, while still a workhorse for farmers, the military and utility companies, has become a fashion accessory for civilians, as well. It is as comfortable, and nearly as common, on the streets of London as it is on a pheasant shoot in the country. As the venerable Jeep did in America, the Land Rover Defender helped define a class of automobile that would become the sport-utility vehicle in coming years. (Martyn Goddard)

Lotus Seven (1957-73); Caterham Seven (1973-Present) (Credit: Caterham Cars)

Lotus Seven (1957-73); Caterham Seven (1973-Present)

The Seven is the embodiment of Lotus founder Colin Chapman’s oft-repeated mantra, “Simplify, then add lightness.” Debuting in 1957 with a 1172cc in-line four-cylinder engine from Ford, the Seven produced between 28hp and 40hp, depending on its state of tune, which may seem meagre until the Seven’s feathery, 1,100lb curb weight is considered. The car was quick, and over the years, it grew notably quicker. The ultimate testament to the Seven’s appeal is its longevity. After Lotus discontinued it in 1972, Chapman sold production rights to a former dealer, Graham Nearn, whose Caterham Cars has continued to build the Seven – in turnkey and kit form – to this day. (Caterham Cars)

McLaren P1 (2013) (Credit: Martyn Goddard)

McLaren P1 (2013)

The McLaren P1 is proof that singular, eccentric visions are alive and well in the UK car industry. The ultimate supercar from a small, hyper-obsessive manufacturer, the P1 is a race-bred rocket with a gasoline-electric hybrid powertrain. Its 727hp, 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 meets a 176hp electric motor; the system’s 903hp total output spins the rear wheels through a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. With production limited to 375 cars, priced at a cool £866,000 (roughly $1.3 million) apiece, the P1 promises to achieve the mythic status of its vaunted predecessor, the 1992-98 McLaren F1. (Martyn Goddard)

Morgan 3 Wheeler (2011) (Credit: Martyn Goddard)

Morgan 3 Wheeler (2011)

The Morgan Motorcar Company has been in the same family’s ownership since 1909, when Harry Morgan promoted his three-wheeled Cyclecar. And it is in that spirit that the founder’s grandson, Charles Morgan, delivers the company’s newest model: an open-air, seat-of-the-pants anachronism that blows wind up the skirts of bloated exotics. The 1,200lb 3 Wheeler makes use of an 80hp, 2-litre V-twin motorcycle engine. The sprint from zero to 60mph happens in about 4.5 seconds, and the trike will hustle all the way to 115mph before the laws of terminal velocity intrude. (Martyn Goddard)

Rolls-Royce Phantom VI Limousine by Park Ward (1968-90)

Rolls-Royce Phantom VI Limousine by Park Ward (1968-90)

You cannot get more quintessentially British than the Phantom VI, which debuted in 1968 and remained in the Rolls-Royce catalogue until 1990. Then as now, Rolls-Royce pursued nothing less than a rarified automotive ideal. The Phantom VI – silent, smooth, luxurious and exclusive – was all of that and more. The company produced only 374 of these grand giants, most of them clad in hand-crafted bodies from the London coachbuilder Mulliner Park Ward. Early examples employ a 6.2-litre V8; later models carried a 6.75-litre V8 producing upward of 250hp, but calculating horsepower was the buyer’s homework; disclosing exact engine output was beneath Rolls-Royce in those days. (Rolls-Royce Motor Cars)

Check Also

Three down – live: Latest news as mobile network completely stops working for UK customers

Three’s UK mobile network has been down for several hours, pushing users on to social …

120*600 120*600