Best british sports cars: Top 10
From Jaguar E-type and AC Ace to TVR Griffith and Lotus Elan, we take a look at the best ever sports cars to emerge from the UK. During the post-war boom years the UK produced some of the greatest sportscars ever seen,
a fine tradition that continues to this day. The British sports car industry might still be thriving, with Lotus, Caterham and Morgan (among many others) still producing some great cars, and with the imminent return of TVR on the cards there’s a lot to be excited about.
For many the E-type represents the archetypal British sportscar. The long and curvaceous bonnet houses a lusty engine, capable of pushing this Brit to a claimed top speed of 150mph. Impressive stuff for 1961. Not only was it fast, the E-type’s handsome looks have made it a lasting icon of the automotive world, often winning praise as one of the most beautiful cars ever produced. Is it the greatest British sports car of all time though? There’s a lot of stiff competition…
TVR was famous for providing its drivers with as much excitement as the Blackpool Pleasure Beach. Heading into the 1990s, gone were the angular 1980s wedges and in came this gorgeous, compact and potent roadster – arguably the company’s best-ever car. Going on sale in 1991, the TVR Griffith moved the marque into the big leagues, with its timeless design and weaponised Rover V8 engine. Following a one-year hiatus in 1992, production resumed with new more powerful engine and title: the 340bhp 5-litre V8 Griffith 500. Still loved by many and in huge demand, the best examples of the iconic Griff are changing hands for upwards of £40,000 today.
The original Elan was released in 1962, and through its various guises and forms has become one of the great icons of the British Sports car industry. The pick of the range is of course the Elan DHC, the car that ensured the words ‘Lotus’ and ‘handling’ always went hand-in-hand. The Sprint came about in 1971 with a much-improved twin-cam engine and often finished in the iconic Gold Leaf-colour scheme. Today it’s most coveted, with one in mint condition commanding up to £45,000. The final Elan, the front-wheel drive M100, hit the showrooms in 1989, and although it was the first (and only) front-wheel drive Lotus, is also a fantastic and much more affordable drive.
Over its 18-year production history, the MGB took on five separate forms – however it’s the early chrome-bumpered ‘pull-handle’ Roadster that has gone down as the one to have. For many years it was the world’s best selling sports car, partly due to its appearance, but more because of the simple-yet-effective principles it was built on. A 1.8-litre B-series engine, four-speed gearbox, rack-and-pinion steering, independent front suspension and disc brakes were at the time considered luxuries, however came as standard on the MGB Roadster. Even so, one of the best early Roadsters will now cost upwards of £15,000, although more common later cars can be picked up for less than £5000.
While the original AC Ace is often cited as one of the vital ingredients in recipe for the hugely successful Cobra, the humble Ace is a great sports car in its own right. This little-known British carmaker wanted be seen and heard following the war, and it produced the fantastic aluminium-bodied Ace. I’s a great looking car, but thanks to the ageing pre-war engine it struggled to keep pace with the competition. Thankfully in 1956, the option of a 2.0-litre Bristol engine boosting performance considerably. It’s influence cannot be disputed though, and neither can it’s modern day value of just under £200,000.
Morgan Plus 8
Rover’s V8 engine was one of the stars of the British Sport car industry in the second half of the 21st century, particularly in the Morgan Plus 8. Put simply, the mix of extremely light body, rear-wheel drive and a shire-horse of an engine made the Plus 8 fun to drive. Its price of £35,000 today sustains that point, as does Morgan’s continued use of a light-body-big-engine mentality ever since the Plus 8 arrived in 1968.
The ‘Big Healey’ 3000 was Austin-Healey’s most iconic car and remains today as one of the true British motoring icons. The first of its kind arrived in 1959, with updated suspension, a new three-litre engine and a better gearbox helping sales skyrocket. The MkII was released two years later with a curved windscreen and 2+2 seating as standard, although the styling remained ver similar despite a more user-friendly hood. A 3000 in pristine condition can be found for around the £60,000 mark.
Caterham 7A by-product of legendary F1 designer Colin Chapman, the Caterham 7 is still a car that remains towards the top of the performance charts, 41 years on from its inception. Sold by Chapman to Caterham Cars in the early 1970s, the chassis has evolved over the years, with power and performance skyrocketing in the process. The kit car nature of the Seven means that it has remained a fun-filled favourite of DIY enthusiasts, and it’s also a great choice for track day beginners. After so many years, the basic and unmistakable look of the car remains largely the same. The original Seven did 0-60mph in 7.7 seconds with a Ford 1.6 litre bolted in the front, and weighed just 518kg. Cheap and effective, the Seven remains true to that ethos today, with an excellent one commanding just £15,000.
Designed, engineered and built in Japan, you might be asking why the Mazda MX-5 is in a list of British sports cars. Well, the MX-5 is the car that re-invented the affordable sports car, after the breed had been well and truly wiped out by the invasion of the hot hatches in the 1970s and ’80s. It was also benchmarked against the original Lotus Elan, and Mazda went to great lengths to make the MX-5 sound and feel the same as the British classic. It was a big success, and combined the fantastic heart of a British sports car with typical Japanese build quality. Impeccable reliability and a more-than reasonable price remain the MX5’s party-piece, even in its latest guise. A handy Mk1 can be found for just £3000, making it nothing short of a bargain.