While British manufacturing of automobiles has waxed and waned over the years, with several companies folding, others rising to take their place, and still others now owned by foreign corporations (I’m looking at you, Herr Mini Cooper), the British auto industry has been responsible for some beautiful and unique cars over the years. While some are no longer made, their owners cherish them like their own children and have formed clubs dedicated to their preservation. There are the instantly recognizable and the almost-forgotten, but no matter what, they’re as British as a good cup of tea.
1. Reliant Robin
Produced from 1973 to 1981, it replaced the Regal as Reliant’s primary three-wheeled car. Often the butt of many jokes, the Robin isn’t the easiest car to drive, as Jeremy Clarkson discovered on Top Gear when he flipped it seven times (though, to be fair, they were clearly staged attempts). He also met with a group of proud Robin owners, who enjoyed personalizing their cars. In a previous episode, hosts James May and Richard Hammond worked with an engineering team to transform one into a space shuttle (with mixed results). The Robin’s notorious history of tumbling was even poked fun at with the character of Tomber in Cars 2 (though a Reliant Regal, which suffered from the same problem). In the end, love it or hate it, the Reliant Robin has cemented its place in British culture.
A sports car produced by MG from 1962 – 1980, the convertibles have become very popular amongst collectors and classic car enthusiasts. A successor to the MGA, the MGB was seen as innovative for its time, a lightweight vehicle that could go form 0 – 60 in 11 seconds. Though exportation to the United States stopped in 1974, a MG collectors club established a small, but firm, membership in America. Many of the collectors both in the States and in Britain have modified and personalized their vehicles to transform them into weekend getaway cars, their interiors redone with chrome and wood paneling. Even today, a huge market can be found for used MGBs on eBay and car websites.
3. Bentley Continental
Long the hallmark of luxury, Bentley is the car manufacturer for the uber-wealthy, who want to be seen in a car that shows off their money. After World War II, Bentley began to manufacturer cars for consumers and created the Continental in 1952. For a time, the Rolls-Royce Corniche was advertised as the Bentley Continental beginning in 1984, a marriage of two luxury car makers that produced one of the most sought-after expensive cars in the United Kingdom. With the revival of the Continental in 2003, Bentley went back to their roots of offering a luxury vehicle with serious power and speed as at home on a stately manor as it is on a racing track. While a Rolls may still be more desirable as a chauffeur car, since the 1990s, Rolls has been owned first by Volkswagen and now BMW.
4. Aston Martin
Founded in 1913, Aston Martin is Britain’s premiere sports car manufacturer. Its most famous model, the DB5, became synonymous with the man who drove it—James Bond. Only produced from 1963 – 1965, its legacy has led to the creation of other big names such as the Vantage, the Volante, and the DB9, amongst others. Many of Bond’s cars over the fifty year film franchise have been Aston Martins, such as the V8 Vantage in “The Living Daylights”, the Vanquish in “Die Another Day”, and the DBS in “Casino Royale”. As uniquely British as 007, the DB5 made a reappearance in last year’s “Skyfall”, a Bond film that seamlessly blended in as many nods to Bond’s film legacy as it could.
5. Land Rover
The original Land Rovers can claim inspiration from the Jeep, an American military vehicle that found its way to consumers following World War II. The British military quickly adapted them for their own use. The look of the Land Rover changed very little from Series I to Series III, maintaining the same boxy look until the Range Rover Classic gained some slight curves in the 1970s and 1980s. In the present, the Land Rover Defender continues the originals look and legacy, while its sibling, the Range Rover, has become the favorite sports SUV of footballers and the wealthy (so much so that Top Gear insultingly refers to them as “Range Rooneys”). However, while Land Rover was a uniquely British SUV for decades, from 1994-onward, the company was owned by BMW, then Ford, and finally Indian company Tata Motors (along with Jaguar). Despite being owned by a foreign corporation, Land Rovers and Range Rovers are still made in Britain, maintaining their unique identity.
What’s your favorite British Car? Let us know in the comments!