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Union Jacks: 20 All-Time British Performance Machines

Vukasin HerbezMay 10, 2019

The United Kingdom is an immensely important country in the car industry. And that’s true even today when British carmakers almost all belong to foreign companies. For the better part of the 20th century, the UK was one of the leading nations in automotive technology and development. Also, they are one of the biggest exporters of cars in the world.

So, it is natural that such a force in the car industry has produced many influential models over the years. Regardless of what are your favorite car or car class, you probably love at least one British model. They range from luxury cars and hot hatches to charming roadsters and sports cars. Here are 20 legendary British performance machines. So read on to decide which one you like the most.

  1. Triumph Spitfire

The Spitfire was the definitive British sports roadster from the ’60s. Despite having similar mechanics, similar modest power and performance, Spitfire got its name from World War Two fighter plane and boosted much aggressive and sportier design with lower sides and sharper front end.

This legendary roadster debuted in 1962 and came with a diminutive 1.1-liter four-cylinder engine with just 63 HP. Over the years, the power grew to the 1.5-liter engine with 71 HP and more torque, which improved the driving dynamics. But like all British roadsters, the biggest market was the U.S. So from 314,000 they made, most of them ended up in the states.

  1. Sunbeam Tiger

The Sunbeam is a classic English brand, long gone from the market and remembered by only a handful of enthusiasts. But the Alpine is a nice looking car with dependable and conventional mechanicals. Also, it comes with a small 1.5 or 1.7-liter four-cylinder motor. Over the years, Sunbeam built over 60,000 Alpine roadsters, so finding one is easy. For under $20,000, you can find a nice example of this interesting car.

However, if you are looking for a more serious machine, you might want to look for the Sunbeam Tiger. This model looks identical to the Alpine, but packs a 260 or 289 Ford V8 engine under the hood. And that gives it a much better performance and soundtrack. But best of all, the legendary Carroll Shelby designed this model before he worked for Ford.

  1. Triumph TR6

If the Spitfire was Triumph’s roadster for the masses, the TR6 was a car for serious lovers of open-air driving and speed. And while the Spitfire was underpowered despite it weighed only 1,500 lbs, the TR6 had decent power and convincing performance numbers straight out of the box. The TR6 was a successor to the TR5 and U.S.-market only TR250, which shared basic construction, dimensions, and design.

The TR6 debuted in 1968 featuring disc brakes all around and an independent suspension. Also, it has a 2.5-liter straight six engine that produces 145 HP. Thanks to the weight of just under 2,200 lbs, the TR6 is agile. In fact, it was among the fastest power roadsters on the market in the late ’60s.

Production ended in 1976 after they made more than 90,000. So today, the TR6 is a popular choice for classic roadster fans that want old school looks and feel with decent performance numbers.

  1. TVR Cerbera

The Cerbera was one of the best affordable sports/muscle cars on the British market in 1996. Designed as a two-seater coupe with a V8 engine up front, it was a cross between a classic coupe and a muscle car. The design was retro-futuristic with a long hood and aggressive silhouette.

Today, even at 22 years, this car still looks great. But the best engine option was TVR’s own 4.7-liter V6 engine with the interesting “Red Rose” performance pack. It delivered 440 HP and an exhilarating performance.

  1. Ariel Atom V8

The ingenuity of those British engineers is seen not only on classic cars but also on some current projects, as well. This is maybe the craziest car for sale today you can put license plates on. The Ariel Atom 500 V8 weighs 1,200 pounds and get 500 HP from a V8 engine, which they mounted directly behind the driver.

The car is basically a go-kart with a spoiler, with room for two people. Also, it has no trunk, no body panels, and no fenders. It’s just a naked chassis with a screaming V8 behind you. And it has 500 angry horses that want to run free in full power and a seven-speed sequential gearbox.

  1. Jensen Interceptor FF

One of the best British Gran Turismo cars they ever built was the Jensen Interceptor. The car has Italian styling by Vignale and is massive in size for great comfort. Also, they installed a powerful Chrysler 383 or 440 V8 engine in the front. So, this four-seater coupe was one of the fastest, most comfortable cars for crossing continents in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

All Interceptors featured Chrysler engines, but the best influential version was the Interceptor FF. The latter part of the name comes from Ferguson Formula and meant they equipped this model with all-wheel drive and an early form of ABS brakes. And in 1966, this was space age technology. They sourced the power from a 383 V8 although there were some coupe prototypes with the 426 Hemi.

The Interceptor FF was too expensive, so Jensen only managed to sell 320 of them. However, regular Interceptors in coupe and convertible form were much more successful. As a result, they built over 6,400 until 1976, selling many of them in America.

  1. McLaren F1

There is a lot of information about the F1, like the way they designed and produced it. And also, the way it changed the world of supercars forever. But here’s a repeat of the basics. The F1 arrived in 1992 and stayed in production until 1998. During that period, McLaren produced 106 cars, including the GT-R, a highly successful racing model.

The F1 featured a bespoke 6.1-liter V12 engine from BMW Motorsport. It delivered 627 HP with a six-speed manual transmission. The road versions of the F1 had an interesting, three-seat configuration.

The driver’s seat is in the middle of the cabin and the steering wheel is in the center of the dash. The initial testing, racing success and overall excellence declared the F1 as one of the best supercars of all times.

  1. Aston Martin DB5

They released the DB5 in 1963 and interestingly, the famed Italian Carozzeria Touring company designed it. The heart of the car was a 4.0-liter straight six engine producing 282 to 315 HP depending on the trim and model.

They offered the DB5 as a coupe or gorgeous convertible. But despite being powerful by the standards of the day, the DB5 was more of a luxury cruiser than a sports car. In fact, it came with acceleration figures of around eight seconds to go from 0 to 60 mph.

The DB5 proved quite popular, so Aston made over 1,000 of them until 1965. And that was considered a big success for a small boutique manufacturer. But this car is most famous for being James Bond’s car of choice, appearing in quite a few Bond movies. Some say this is an early case of product placement, but most fans say it is a match made in heaven.

  1. Jaguar E-Type

Debuting in 1961, the Jaguar E-Type was a sensation on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Despite the 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 and four-wheel disc brakes.

But better yet, that added an independent rear suspension and a powerful straight-six engine. In fact, Jaguar derived the E-type from the Le Mans-winning C and D Type racers. As a result, the E-Type was as fast as any Ferrari or Maserati at the time. But the best thing was the price.

Although the E-Type had the looks, power, and performance of high-priced Italian exotics, it cost just a fraction of the price. The E-Type stayed in production for 15 years until 1976. During that time, they sold over 74,000, most of them in the USA.

  1. Lotus Elise

When they presented the Lotus Elise in 1996, it caught the automotive world by storm. It was such a compact, yet beautiful roadster. It came with a lightweight body and precise handling that was unique on the market.

In fact, it influenced many big manufacturers to produce similar models. The Lotus perfectly captured the essence of sports car dynamics in a sleek, balanced package.

  1. Ford Capri RS 3100

The success of the Mustang was influential. It inspired most American brands to offer a pony car model of their own. Even in Europe, the Mustang was popular and common. However, Ford wanted to explore the market further with a smaller, European version. And that is how the Ford Capri came to be in 1969.

Designed in the UK, the Capri was a European Mustang in every way. Using the “long hood-short deck” formula and semi-fastback styling, the Capri looked great and had a fantastic stance. Even though they based it on a standard Cortina floorpan with the same engines, the Capri looked like a thoroughbred sport/muscle car.

In fact, people often confused the Capri RS 3100 for a U.S.-built Ford. However, most Capris came with a diminutive five or six-cylinder engine. Sadly, even the six-cylinder versions were not that powerful or fast. So, in 1971, Ford UK introduced a limited-edition Capri they called the RS 3100.

It had a 3.1-liter straight-six engine delivering 145 HP. And it could sprint up to 60 mph in just 7.6 seconds. Along with a rear spoiler, unique wheels and graphics, the RS 3100 was a real looker. And to this day, it is a highly sought after British muscle car.

  1. Morgan Plus 8

Everybody knows about Morgan, the legendary British company. They have built models that haven’t changed in appearance and technology since the ’30s. Despite the archaic style and look, the Morgan is popular with waiting lists several years long.

In 1968, Morgan introduced the Plus 8 model featuring their signature design and thumping V8 engine. And that brought some real performance to Morgan’s range. The model proved popular and remained in production until 2004. Since then, they have introduced the new Morgan Plus 8 with unchanged looks, yet modern safety features and brakes.

  1. Noble M600

The expansion of supercars in the 2000s brought many interesting, powerful machines. Most models in recent years are well known, selling in the U.S. However, a few models have flown under the radar. In fact, they never reached our shores, despite being fast. And one of those cars is the Noble M600.

Noble managed to produce 550 or 650 HP using a 4.4-liter V8 from Volvo and bolting two turbochargers to it. Also, it had a lightweight, sleek body that enhanced its performance. The idea behind the M600 was to produce a pure supercar without any unnecessary electronic aids.

Incredibly by producing 650 HP, the M600 is capable of getting to 60 mph in just 3.0 seconds, going over 220 mph. This made the M600 a little scary to drive, but also an immensely fun and unforgettable experience.

  1. TVR Sagaris

When TVR presented the Sagaris in the early 2000s, it had an exciting, innovative design. And better yet, it came from a company famous for brutally fast, sleek sports cars. Propelled by TVR’s own 4.0-liter high revving six-cylinder engine producing 406 HP, the Sagaris was lightning quick.

It could achieve a 3.7 second 0 to 60 mph acceleration time and a185 mph top speed. But the coolest thing about this crazy sports car was its design. They named it after a battle ax from Greek mythology, but the Sagaris was hard to describe. There are few cars that have such an aggressive design but still manage to look elegant and fast, even when standing still.

However, TVR’s management was under scrutiny for not equipping the car with standard safety features like ABS, stability control or even airbags. And that caused problems with buyers in several European markets.

  1. Jaguar XK120

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 America. But what better way to do it than to make a fantastic sports car that would draw the attention of their U.S. customers?

They named it the XK 120, and it was one of Jaguar’s quintessential sports cars as well as one of the fastest models of the decade. They introduced it in 1948 with powerful straight-six engines, a sleek streamlined body and a top speed of 120 mph; hence, the name. The rest was history since not only did the Jaguar sell well, but it also inspired the production of the E Type.

  1. Caterham/Lotus Super 7

Unbelievably, Lotus started as a kit car company operating from a shed. They used components from mass-produced cars and covered them in unique bodies. Lotus had the goal to create special cars that appealed to a wide audience. But everything started with the legendary Lotus 7.

When 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. In fact, it was the purest form of driving legally possible. Over the years, technology advanced and cars got faster and more powerful. However, the basic idea still stayed the same.

  1. Lotus Espirit

As one of James Bond’s favorite cars, the Lotus Esprit has a special spot in most driving enthusiast’s hearts. They presented it in the early ’70s and sold it until the mid-90s. But although the Lotus Esprit was always a competent sports car, it had a smaller engine with less weight compared to the rest of the field.

With Giugiaro styling, a wedge shape, and compact dimensions, the Esprit was a fast and nimble car. And although the critics attacked it for build quality and a tiny interior, the buyers loved it for its handling and performance.

  1. AC Ace

You have probably heard about the Shelby Cobra 289, but have you ever heard about the AC Ace? Well, if it wasn’t for this cool-looking British roadster, the Shelby Cobra would have never existed in the first place. They presented the AC Ace in 1953 and produced it right up until 1962.

The AC Ace was a modern power roadster with a sleek design and powerful 2.8-liter six-cylinder. But despite the fact MG and Triumph dominated the roadster market in the ’50s, the AC Ace was a better, more powerful car. But most of all, it helped establish the legend of the Shelby Cobra.

  1. Jaguar XJ220

When they first released it, the XJ220 was the world’s fastest road-going model with an enormous price tag. Under the hood was new 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 unit delivering 542 HP. The design of the car was fantastic, too. Best of all, the flowing lines along with the wide stance visually emphasized its performance and speed.

  1. Ford Escort RS Cosworth

From 1992 to 1996, the Ford Escort RS Cosworth was one of the best British muscle cars of the ’90s. Ford built it using Sierra RS Cosworth bits, but this Escort was smaller. And better still, it featured the improved 2.0-liter turbocharged engine producing 227 HP. The exterior meant pure business with flared wheel arches, a hood with cooling vents and a massive easily adjustable rear wing.

However, one of the main features was the rally proven all-wheel-drive system. In fact, it was necessary since the car developed over 230 lb-ft of torque. So, the Escort RS Cosworth was fast for the day. And with a 5.8 second 0 to 60 mph acceleration time, it could beat most sports cars of the day.

These are the Union Jack sports cars and the 20 most legendary British performance machines of today. Which was your favorite?

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