American car enthusiasts know the Mini for its 21st-century modern iteration by BMW after the German brand bought Rover in the 90’s. But the story of the Mini dates to 1959. Many car fans and historian consider the original Mini, which they introduced in 1959 and sold until 2000 as the most important British car. It is also one of the most important cars of the 20th century.
Although the British car industry is full of expensive and limited production models, the Mini proved to be their most influential, timeless car. The reason for such praise lies in fact that the Mini is a technological marvel and immensely capable little car. It has motorized Great Britain and influenced every car maker since.
When they first introduced the Mini in the late 50’s, it featured the unusual concept of a transversely mounted engine with front-wheel drive. This was something nobody had in those days. Fast forward 60 years and all front-wheel-drive compact cars in the world have the same layout as the Mini. The Mini was also the champion of usability since it looked tiny from the outside but could sit five people on the inside.
Even though it had delivered 34 HP from the factory, this little car won some of the world’s most prestigious races like the Rally Monte Carlo. This was due to its small weight, front wheel drive agility and precise handling.
The last car on this list is probably the most famous British sports car of all times. It is a design and engineering icon that has graced the roads since 1961 yet it still looks attractive as ever. It is a sharp handling, straight six roaring, two-seater coupe or roadster with a long nose and curved rear end. Simply, it is the E-Type.
Jaguar introduced the E-Type in 1961 and it created a sensation on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Thanks to Jaguar’s long-lasting tradition of building fine sports cars, the E-Type was years ahead of its time. It came with a superb design, four-wheel disk brakes, independent rear suspension and powerful straight six engines. Jaguar derived it from the Le Mans-winning C and D Type racers. The E-Type was as fast as any Ferrari or Maserati at that time.
But the best thing was the price. The E Type had the looks, power and performance of those high-priced Italian exotics, but it cost just a fraction of the price. It stayed in production for 15 years until 1976 selling 74,000 of them in the U.S. Today, Jaguar offers the F-Type sports coupe, a modern-day interpretation of the classic E Type design form. It is a modern car that captures the essence of this legendary brand.
You have probably heard about the Shelby Cobra 289, but have you ever heard about the AC Ace? If it wasn’t for this cool-looking British roadster, the Shelby Cobra would have never existed in the first place.
They introduced the Ace in 1953 and produced it until 1962. The AC Ace was a modern power roadster with a sleek design and a powerful 2.8-liter six cylinder. Although MG and Triumph dominated the roadster market in the ’50s, the AC Ace was a better, more powerful car that helped establish the legend of the Shelby Cobra.
Bentley Continental GT
Bentley was on its knees when Volkswagen bought it in the late ’90s. Despite the legend, Bentleys were outdated cars for outdated customers. But when the company introduced the Continental GT in 2003, the automotive world was stunned.
It had the winning combination of gorgeous looks, fantastic power and an AWD drivetrain. And the retro-futuristic design and uncompromised luxury and prestige was unique to the market. The Continental GT marked the return of British luxury in a big way. It also proved to be a sales hit and the ultimate GT coupe, too.
Jaguar XK 120
After the War, the British car industry was in ruins and in desperate need of a good export product. Jaguar as a luxury car company was particularly affected and needed to sell in the U.S. So, what better way to do it than to make a fantastic sports car to gain the attention of American customers? Jaguar called their new offering the XK 120.
As a quintessential sports car, it one of the fastest models of the decade. Jaguar introduced it in 1948 with a powerful straight six engine and sleek streamlined body. They got the name because the XK 120 could top speeds of 120 mph. The rest is automotive history. Not only did this Jaguar sell well, it also inspired the production of the E Type.
As one of James Bond`s favorite cars, the Lotus Esprit has a special spot in most car enthusiast’s hearts. Lotus introduced it in the early ’70s and sold the Esprit until the mid-90s. The Lotus Esprit was a competent sports car although it had a smaller engine. However, it weighed less compared to the rest of their models.
With Giugiaro styling, a wedge shape and compact dimensions, the Esprit was a fast, nimble car. However, car critics attacked it for build quality and its tiny interior. But car buyers loved it for its handling and performance. The prices are still somewhat affordable, so hurry and snatch this piece or British motor heritage before the prices go north.
Ford Escort Mk1
Although the British car industry is famous for its luxury and sports cars, the truth is, their economy models are interesting and unique. And this is the case with the Escort Mk1. It’s a mass-produced economy car that became one of Ford’s global bestsellers. But it was also a fantastically successful motorsport legend. Ford introduced the Escort Mk1 in 1968.
It was a compact, rear-wheel drive saloon aimed at family buyers. The basic version used those forgettable 1.1 and 1.3-liter engines. But for those who wanted more, Ford offered the hot 1600 RS and RS 2000 models. Those cars had special suspensions and engines, delivering a lot of power. Also, the small weight made them capable of defeating those more expensive cars and racing monsters.
Lotus started as a kit car company operating from a shed. They used components from mass-produced cars. However, they covered them with unique bodies to create special cars that appealed to wide audiences. But everything started with the legendary Lotus 7, which they first presented it in 1957.
The Lotus 7 was a bare bones sports car with a small four-cylinder engine in the front, two seats and nothing more. But it was the purest form of driving legally possible. Over the years, the technology advanced and the cars got faster and more powerful. However, the basic idea stayed the same.
Triumph presented the Stag in 1970 and produced it until 1978. The market was impressed by the new model with its cool styling and open top driving. Yet it was still enough room for four adults and their luggage. The Stag came with a 3.0-liter V8 engine delivering 145 HP, which was enough for a decent performance.
With its muscular appearance and V8 rumble, the Stag looked like a luxury muscle car, attracting some buyers. Unfortunately, owners soon experienced the Stag`s notorious unreliability, along with its higher price tag. This sealed its chances on the American and global market. When they ceased production in 1978, they only built 25,000 of them.
Ford Sierra Cosworth
One of the most legendary British muscle cars is the fantastic Sierra Cosworth, which Ford introduced in 1985. The Ford Sierra was an ordinary family sedan they produced in numerous versions. The car featured rear-wheel drive and an independent rear suspension.
But when Ford decided to contract the Cosworth tuning house for a performance model, a legend was born. Cosworth took a three-door body and added a special body kit with spoilers.
Then they added unique wheels and colors. Under the hood was a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine that produced 225 HP. And it propelled the car to 60 mph in just 6.5 seconds. For 1985, those were fantastic numbers. The Sierra Cosworth became one of the hottest British cars on the road. Also, it was successful on the tracks, winning many races.
Triumph GT 6
The GT6 project started in mid-60s when Triumph realized they needed a coupe version of their popular roadster. However, just putting the roof on the Spitfire wouldn’t do the trick. They needed to extensively reengineer the car. Also, they needed a more powerful engine in for the chassis to cope with the added weight of the coupe body style.
So, the Triumph engineers installed a 2.0-liter six-cylinder engine with 106 HP. That provided the GT6 with more power and performance than the similar Spitfire. They officially presented the GT6 in 1966 and discontinued it in 1973 after they built around 45,000 of them. The GT6 was never as popular as the Spitfire, but it was a cool-looking alternative to the other sport coupes on the market.
Designed in UK, the Capri was like a European Ford Mustang in every way. Using the long hood-short-deck formula and semi-fastback styling gave the Capri a fantastic stance. Despite being based on the standard Cortina floorplan with the same engines, the Capri looked like a thoroughbred sports or muscle car.
In fact, people often confused it with the U.S.-built Ford. This affordable coupe was almost as successful as the Mustang. It sold in millions throughout its 16-year lifespan. They imported the Capri to the U.S. as the Mercury Capri in the mid-70s.
Rolls Royce Silver Shadow
The ultimate British car is, without a doubt, the Rolls Royce. Over the years this company produced some of the best luxury cars the world has ever seen. After the war, Rolls introduced the Silver Cloud, but the market needed something more modern and advanced. So, in 1966, they presented the Silver Shadow.
With the new V8 engine, hydro-pneumatic suspension, modern design and improved road manners, the Silver Shadow was a prestigious four-door sedan. The market was impressed and suddenly the waiting list was over a year long. Rolls also produced an elegant coupe and gorgeous convertible they named the Corniche.
These iconic machines helped form this beginner’s guide to the British car industry. Have you chosen your favorite? Hopefully, you’ll be able to find it on U.S. shores, but if not, you’ll need to cross the pond to Great Britain.