That's right, we are going to look at some of the best cars the Brits have given the world over the years. They have been at it just as long as everyone else, so they have produced some pretty good ones. The UK’s auto industry got its start at the end of the 19th century with its first auto manufacturer, Daimler. Over the years the UK has become known for its luxury and performance cars from automakers like Rolls Royce, Aston Martin, Bentley, and Jaguar to name a few. Coventry was Britain’s motor city like Detroit was ours and they have suffered similar fates. Detroit wasn’t bombed by the Nazis during World War II though so there was a rebuilding process afterward that pushed many of the manufacturers away from the city. The 1970s brought on the Union crisis and the rest is history for Britain's Detroit. Either way, there have been some true classics and some great modern cars to come out of the area. Let’s take a look at a few that are special to us.
One of the most iconic British cars and one that many consider a work of art (They are put in art galleries for crying out loud) is the beautiful Jaguar E-Type. The E-Type was built over the course of 15 years with 3 different series offered. The Series 1 ran from 1961 to 1968, the series 2 from 1968 to 1970, and series 3 ran from 1970 to 1975. It’s one of the most iconic cars ever made and gained accolades from drivers and celebrities for decades. Even Enzo Ferrari was quoted as calling it “The most beautiful car he had ever seen”. Designed by Malcolm Sayer, The E-Type was envisioned to be as aerodynamic as possible, and Malcolm did a great job as one should being a retired aircraft engineer. With its potent 3.8L, and later, 4.2L straight-six engine the E-type was a performer as well! Zero to sixty times were in the 7-second neighborhood and top speed was around 150 mph which were very respectable for the time! The E-type was a relatively affordable sports car as well competing with slower, less attractive cars from the UK and around the world. Today the E-Type is a sought-after collectible with average prices between 70 and 100k for examples in good condition. Pristine show car quality examples are in the 125k and up category. Considering the car's historical background and the fact that it truly is one of the most beautiful cars ever made I don’t think that’s too big a price to pay for something you don’t see every day.
The Aston Martin DB5 has long been considered one of Britain's finest automobiles and James Bond concurs. Its predecessor, the DB4 was a very successful sports car and the DB5 filled its shoes well. With an updated 4.0L inline six-cylinder good for 282hp and 288 ft-lbs. of torque, the DB5 was a potent performer for its time. It was offered with a ZF 5-speed manual or a Borg Warner 3-speed automatic transmission. The real star for us power lovers is the vantage package that was introduced for the DB5. The inline six was messaged with hotter cams and upgraded carburetors. The result was a healthy 325hp and very few were produced, only 65 between 1963 and 1965. The standard car ran to sixty in eight seconds or so and the Vantage brought that number down to 6.5 seconds. There were also a few convertible DB5s built as well, 123 units, making them very desirable and even more collectible. Only seven of those convertibles were equipped with the Vantage package. Not that the DB5 wasn't a great, beautiful sports car its claim to fame was obviously its debut as Sean Connery’s ride as he played James Bond in the movie Goldfinger. Of course, in typical 007 fashion, the DB5 was no standard affair. Outfitted with super spy options like a revolving license plate, tire slashers, smoke screen, oil slick, a rear bulletproof shield that pops up from the trunk, and machine guns behind the headlights!
Once recognized as the most British car ever made, the Mini Cooper must be on the list. The year was 1957 and fuel prices were soaring in England due to the Suez crisis. The guys over at the Morris company saw this as an opportunity. They designed and built a small efficient car that could fit four reasonably sized people and make it affordable for anyone to buy. The Mini was officially launched in 1959 and the public wasn't too sure about it. While the classic Mini came in many variations such as the Countryman, Traveler, and even a pickup truck, the classic was the most popular. By 1999 (40 years after the start of production) over 5 million of them were produced and voted as the European car of the century. The Mini is recognizable no matter where you are, even in a country where it wasn't sold like here in the U.S. The original car had about 55 bhp but what it lacked in power it made up for in lightweight playfulness which made it fun to drive and surprisingly good in motorsport. I remember watching a show years ago about rally teams rolling the cars onto their sides to work on them if need be. Right about the time the original Mini’s production ended, the next generation Mini was unveiled under the BMW umbrella where it still lives today.
Today the Brits are still churning out some of the finest cars on the planet and a more modern example is the Bentley Flying Spur. I thought I’d showcase this one as I saw one on my home from the airport last week and it piqued my interest as I couldn't tell what it was at first. I couldn’t tell you what version of the Flying Spur I saw but let’s look at the model Bentley simply calls “Speed”. The Flying Spur Speed is a definite contender for the world’s fastest production sedan with a claimed 207mph top speed. With 626 hp, 636 ft-lbs. of twist produced from its 6.0L W12 engine, and some of the best aerodynamics in the industry the big sedan can move. 60mph from a standstill is also impressive at 3.7 seconds and this is helped by the all-wheel-drive system. All-wheel-steering and electronic dynamic ant-roll systems help the big car handle well but that’s not what the Speed is about. The big Bentley is all about eating those miles up on the open highway when you don’t want to charter an aircraft. While I’m sure the Flying Spur is a blast to drive it's built to be chauffeured in. With a 16-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system, 1 of 11 hide colors for the interior, remotely deployed picnic tables, or a touchscreen remote control for the backseat, the Flying Spur Speed can easily be enjoyed from the second row as well proving Bentley is still building some of the finest coaches around, straight from Britain.
One of the highest performing car marks in the world comes from Britain and I'm sure you’ve heard of them. McLaren has been a heavy hitter in the supercar market for years and built my all-time favorite, the F-1. The P1, while not in production anymore, has been my favorite McLaren since the F-1 with mega performance to back it up. The car was introduced in 2014 and just 375 examples were made for the public. With such exclusivity comes a price if you were first in line that is. The car was sold out before production began, even with a 1.1 million dollar plus price tag. Today the cars have gone for 2 million on the secondhand market but what does all that money buy you other than exclusivity? McLaren designed the P-1 to give as close to Formula One performance as they could in a road car. Since it is a road car there are driving modes such as normal, sport, and race and it’s in the race mode where things get interesting. The car is fitted with a hydro-pneumatic suspension which lowers the car 50mm, the rear wing raises what looks to be a foot higher, and everything tightens up. The car crates so much downforce that McLaren worked with tire manufacturer Pirelli to help make sure the tires fitted to the car could handle the additional weight created while driving the car hard in race mode. One can drive the P-1 hard with a combined 903 hp from its hybrid powertrain. A twin-turbo 3.8L V-8 good for 727hp combined with a 177hp electric motor with helps “torque fill” when needed allows the car to accelerate from 0-125mph in just 6.8 seconds and 186 mph in just 16.5 seconds. The P-1 is a testament to the world of hyperarcs that the Brits can build them too!
This short list contains only a few of the great cars and manufacturers that Britain has to offer. There are many more recognizable brands such as TVR, Lotus, Rolls Royce, Land Rover, and Aston Martin to name a few. Their luxury marks like Rolls Royce and Bentley are the top of their class and nobody does it better. From all of us here at Gearbox have fun, be safe, and keep the shiny side up!