The British car industry has produced thousands of vehicles over the years, many of which have secured their place in history as true classics.
British car manufacturers have been responsible for many great marques, such as Bentley, Aston Martin, Jaguar, MG, Rolls-Royce, Vauxhall, Mini, McLaren and others. Even the famous James Bond Car, the DB5, was made in Britain.
The first four-wheeled petrol motor car manufactured in the UK was built by Fredrick William Bremer, a gas fitter and plumber by trade, of Stepney, London. He started making his motor car in 1892, when he was 20. The car drove on a public highway for the first time in December 1894.
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Which cars vanished without trace?
Today, there are an estimated 32.8 million cars on UK roads. Some motor car marques have disappeared without a trace, while others are more popular now than when they were first built.
Classic British car enthusiasts will remember some flawed historic designs with horror! Even the luxury manufacturer Daimler got it wrong on one occasion, when it produced the Daimler DK400 in 1954.
Replacing the imposing straight-eight models, which were discontinued in 1953, the DK400 was an elongated version of the luxurious Daimler Regency, except with an extended rear track to permit three-abreast seating.
Sadly, its performance was woefully inadequate, an issue that finally came to a head after the manufacturer delivered two DK400s to the royal family, following months of delays.
Petrol-heads described the model’s “feeble performance as a mobile throne room”, which led to Daimler’s royal warrant not being renewed. It was later described as a “severely underwhelming” car.
Fast-forward a few years to 1972, when the Jensen-Healey was produced. Although sweet when it ran, the model’s Lotus engine was prone to breaking down – a lot.
The twin-cam four-cylinder engine was too temperamental for a mass-produced vehicle. It was known for oil leaks, refusing to start and rapidly spreading rust. Sadly, Jensen ceased trading in 1976.
Best British cars
Luckily, despite the failed cars that come and go quite quickly, there are many more classic British cars that are still much-loved today.
We’ve compiled a list of Britain’s top 5 classic cars of all time, so read on to see if your much-loved ride is one of them…
5. Morris Minor
The Morris Minor once held the title of the quirkiest British car on the market. It was one of the first mass-produced British cars that emerged after the dark days of World War Two.
It was designed by the British-Greek designer Alec Issigonis and was an instant hit when launched in 1948. Its biggest rival at the time was the Volkswagen Beetle. Despite its no nonsense design, the Morris Minor was more polished than its competitor.
It came to symbolise the archetypal English motor car, hence its continued success. It was the first British-made vehicle to sell more than one million models. Produced in numerous different shapes and sizes, the most famous design was an estate version, with its easily recognisable wooden panels.
4. Land Rover Defender
The Land Rover Defender is a timeless classic that has survived for decades. As its name suggests, it was designed to rove the land in all terrains. The original model, known as the Series I, was launched at the Amsterdam Motor Show on 30th April 1948.
The Rover Company board had approved the “all-purpose vehicle” the previous year. It was designed along the lines of a Willys-Overland post-war Jeep and sold for £450.
In 1949, production was booming, with 8,000 models made. The British Army ordered its first batch the same year. This was the predecessor of the modern Land Rover Defender range, launched in 1990. It is still known as a reliable utility vehicle that can travel over many different terrains.
3. Original Mini
The original Mini Cooper is perhaps the vehicle most closely linked with people’s idea of a British classic car. The second car in our top five to be designed by Alec Issigonis, it wasn’t made with any ambitions of celebrity status or longevity.
Launched in 1961, the Mini Cooper was designed to be small and economical, but its quirky design turned it into an icon almost right away. It was much loved in the Swinging Sixties, when Britain was a fashion hotspot.
After it featured in the classic British crime movie, The Italian Job, with the three Mini Coopers racing through the streets of Turin in Italy, this helped secure its legendary status.
2. Aston Martin DB5
When it comes to a classic British sports car, the James Bond Aston Martin is the name most people remember. The iconic marque is forever linked to the superspy 007 – but it could have been a different story had Aston Martin had their way.
When the third Bond film, Goldfinger, began filming in 1964, the producers were considering which British classic cars could be kitted out with the many gadgets that were a staple of the franchise. Bond had driven the Aston Martin DB5 in one of Ian Fleming’s novels.
However, Aston Martin didn’t particularly want their 1963 sports car associated with the films. They agreed eventually – and after the Goldfinger’s premiere, sales of the car nicknamed the James Bond DB5 rose rapidly.
Today, many collectors still clamour to drive the DB5, which has enjoyed a long history with the Bond franchise following its debut 60 years ago.
1. Jaguar E-Type
When it comes to classic cars, UK collectors often choose the Jaguar E-Type as their favourite all-time iconic model. Launched in 1961, it has become one of the most desirable and beautiful classic cars in history.
The Jaguar E-type was like a futuristic car out of a science fiction film when it was first launched. It was designed by Malcolm Sayer, who had a background in aeronautics. This was apparent in its striking appearance, thanks to its sleek aerodynamic curves.
The E-Type Jag revolutionised car design and became a fashionable accessory that the coolest celebrities owned, such as iconic footballer and playboy George Best. It is one of only six cars that has a place in New York Museum of Modern Art, making it a worthy contender for the number one spot on our list of Britain’s top 5 classic cars of all time.