British cars have been a part of the American motoring scene almost since the beginning. However, it wasn’t until after World War II that they experienced a significant level of popularity over here. Picking just ten of anything is pretty tough, but I believe this list consists of cars that left their mark on automotive history, both here in the United States and around the world.
10. Land Rover Series II- Imagine David Attenborough narrating a nature program on the telly whilst driving across a Serengeti Plain teeming with exotic wildlife. Odds are, he was driving a Land Rover Series II. Introduced in 1948 as an answer to the US-made Willys Jeep from World War II, the Series I Land Rover proved to be a tough and easily serviced go-anywhere machine.
The Series II and IIA introduced some refinements that lead to this vehicle becoming Land Rover’s most hardy and popular vehicle ever constructed. This car’s spiritual ancestor soldiers on to this day in the form of the Land Rover Defender series.
9. Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud- When most people hear the name “Rolls-Royce,” this is the type of car they typically think of. These cars featured a beautifully sculpted body and a wood-and-leather interior sumptuous enough to rival that of a Stately Home.
Early examples equipped with a straight-six engine are reputed to be the smoothest runners, and in typical Rolls-Royce style, the horsepower will be adequate. Grey Poupon, anyone?
8. Lotus Elan- Introduced in 1962, the Elan was a technological groundbreaker with its use of a twin-cam engine, 4-wheel disc brakes, and independent suspension all around. What really set the car apart, though, was its fiberglass body.
Thanks to this innovation, the car tipped the scales at a lightweight 1500lbs. The Elan was made famous as the transportation of choice for Emma Peel on the television series The Avengers, and its design lives on as the inspiration for the early Mazda MX-5 Miata.
7. Austin-Healey 3000- Known as one of the “Big Healeys,” this notable car is the younger and more refined sibling to the Austin-Healey 100-6, which began its life as a very thinly disguised racing car capable of easily moving past the 100MPH mark on the speedo. The initial 3000 sported an uprated straight-six engine and more civilized interior than its predecessor, along with a 115MPH top speed.
Before the car’s production was ended in 1967, the car had gained a finely crafted wood-and-leather interior, a set of uncomfortable 2+2 rear seats, and an engine rated at 150bhp, which could move the car up to 115MPH and beyond.
6. Jaguar E-Type- Described as the most beautiful car ever made by none other than Enzo Ferrari, this car’s performance was as potent as that of its namesake kitty. The first series boasted 265bhp from a 3.8litre straight-six engine and claimed a top speed of 150MPH.
According to most sports car purists, later models lost a great deal of what made the early cars special, but this has not dampened their popularity. XK-E’s have appeared everywhere from Jan & Dean’s hit song “Dead Man’s Curve” to serving as the car of choice for Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery.
5. Triumph TR7/TR8- Billed as “The Shape Of Things To Come,” the TR7 was designed to usher British sports cars into the new millennium. Its wedge-shaped body, however, proved polarizing, and the car’s reputation took a beating due to negative reliability reports. Poor management/labor relations were identified as the cause of much of car’s woes, and assembly was moved to a different plant.
However, the cancer had already taken hold and sales suffered. The TR8 was brought to market as a high-powered improvement, equipped with the venerable but potent Buick 3.5 litre V8. This came too late to save the car, and production ceased in 1981. The parent company then pulled the plug on all production of cheap, fun British sports cars, ending an era of motoring history.
4. Morris Minor- Introduced in 1948 under the design leadership of Sir Alec Issigonis, the Minor was meant to serve as a nice but affordable small car for the common man. The car boasted a roomy, refined interior and smooth, well-balanced road manners.
As time went by, the car was given engine upgrades that boosted its performance and appeal with the motoring public. It is a testament to the Moggie’s popularity that over 1 million of these vehicles were built until production ceased in 1972.
3. Morris Mini Minor/Austin Mini Seven- In 1956, Britain was in the grip of a fuel shortage, and the British Motor Corporation was caught without an economical small car. Sir Alec Issigonis was ordered to bring a “proper miniature car” to market as quickly as possible. The resulting car was considered revolutionary in that it provided front-wheel-drive from a transversely mounted engine, used stiff rubber cones for its suspension, and had its wheels moved out to the corners of its body to create more interior room.
The car’s styling, roomy interior, and go-kart-like road manners quickly made it a hit. The Mini soon came to be an iconic representation of Great Britain and put the Swing into Swinging London thanks to its popularity with celebrities. Over 5.3 million Minis were made until BMW bought the brand in 2000 and pulled the plug, bringing their own MINI to life the following year.
2. MG-TC- It seems hard to believe that a car that featured pre-War engineering, a cramped cockpit, and a top speed of around 60 MPH would capture the fancy of the American public, yet this is what happened when the MG Car Company released the TC in 1946. American servicemen still stationed in Great Britain after World War II were smitten by the car that seemed so different than anything made back home, and after buying them to drive around Britain’s countryside, they shipped the little roadsters home courtesy of their Uncle Sam.
Eventually, an official means of importing these cars was established, and the infusion of foreign cash proved beneficial to the manufacturer. This little gem created the demand for small, sporty British cars in America, laying the groundwork for a friendly British Invasion.
1. MGB- As the proud owner of a chrome-bumper 1974 MGB, the author admits to some personal bias in placing this car in the top spot. However, it’s fair to say that out of all the British sports cars that came into existence, the MGB is the most well-known and beloved. Introduced in 1962, the MGB was a much more refined car than its older siblings. It featured a then-revolutionary monocoque body, which provided structural strength in a lightweight package.
The interior was designed for legroom and a higher level of comfort than previous models. Some people found the notion of a comfortable sports car with an easy-to-operate top and wind-up windows to be heretical, but the marketplace spoke and made the car a sales success. Ever-increasing American safety and emissions standards eventually strangled the car’s performance and added large rubber crash-resistant bumpers that cluttered its once clean appearance. Over 500,000 MGB’s rolled off the line until British Leyland closed the factory at Abingdon-on-Thames in October of 1980.