By on June 1, 2010

I was asked once (by a landlord who was skeptical of my job description, if I remember correctly) what country I thought built the coolest cars. It’s not the kind of question I think about too often, so the answer took me a moment’s reflection. Avoiding the only answer based a dogmatic interpretation of the term “cool” (Italy), I went with the UK. From Rolls-Royce to MINI, Old Blighty’s given us some of the world’s coolest cars, and most compelling automotive brands. And despite having lost its mainstream auto industry to industrial malaise, Britain’s classic brands and cottage car industry have remained surprisingly resilient. Food for thought, that. Anyway, here are a few examples of what I’m on about…

Jaguar hasn’t been British-owned for some time, but it’s as British as brands get. And when I spoke to Chief Designer Ian Callum last Winter, he exhibited little nostalgia for the days of Ford ownership. What Callum did talk about at great length, incurable car nut that he is, was his desire to design a mid-engine supercar. There’s no hint of that yet, but with Tata promising a billion pounds per year over the next five years for the Jaguar-Land Rover cause (Cheers, China!), an F-Type roadster appears to be “imminent” (to be followed by an XF Wagon, XF Coupe, and 3-series competitor, if you’re good). Keep in mind, this is not necessarily the F-Type concept that has been cruelly dangled in front of the Jaguar faithful since, oh, 1998, but a “driver-focused roadster” nonetheless. In fact, given the history here, we’d have to say that the odds of a faithful production version of the F-Type concept are about the same as a Cayman Turbo’s.

Speaking of which, not every sportscar company is so cynical as to deny a good car its best engine just because it might upset its cynical pricing politics. Lotus has apparently dropped the V6 from its Evora Cayman-fighter into an Elise-based Exige mule and has been throwing it around a track. With great results, doubtless. Where this maniacal little trackday racer might end up in Lotus’s lineup (if it’s built at all) is not at all clear, but remember, cool and financially sound rarely go hand-in-hand.

McLaren’s F1 recently celebrated its 20th anniversary, and assembled 21 F1s for the occasion. Sorry, not that kind of assembled. And the timing couldn’t be better, with McLaren just launching its first own-brand road car since the F1. After all, you can’t just make the largest-ever order of carbon monocoques for a production-series car and expect the press to line up at your door.

Especially when you’ve got to share the spotlight with the designer of the F1, who has gone coocoo for compacts. Make that subcompacts. Er, sub-subcompacts. OK, whatever segment a 1,500 lb 3-seater goes in. Specs for Gordon Murray’s 80-mile, 65 MPH EV T.27 at GreenCarCongress. We’ll wait for the inevitable club racer version. In Britain, it’s as inevitable as a 400-horsepower Impreza.

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14 Comments on “Drool, Britannia...”

  • avatar

    I thought the UK’s failure to respond to the Miata in 1989 was their industry’s death knell. The Lotus Elise proved me wrong. Here’s hoping for a 20-teens revival of British sports cars worthy of ancestors like the XKE, big Healeys, TR6, and so on as well as the more modest MGB-style cheap roadsters.

  • avatar

    Obviously I’m not informed as to what the Jag insiders think about Ford, but if it wasn’t for Ford’s billions of wasted dollars Jaguar would be no more. Ian Callum might want to think about that.

    Perhaps the British are good at building characterful cars, but since none of the major brands are British-owned, perhaps they are not so good at the ‘management’ part.

    • 0 avatar

      The last time the Brits were truly good at management was during the 18th century. Put Scottish enlisted men under British officers, and . . . . well, need I say much more than the 51st Highlanders (Black Watch), Frasier’s 79th Highland Regiment, etc.? A fighting machine truly terrible to behold (assuming you’re in French uniform on the other side of the field).

  • avatar

    Good answer! Indeed while Italy has given us formulaic insanity, and Germany has delivered Teutonic predictability, Japan one-upped the Germans, and America… well it gives us V-8s… but England has really had the best spectrum of automotive amazingness, a veritable Carnocopia of cool.

    Only France comes close really, but we don’t see enough of their stuff here in the USA.

  • avatar

    Brits forever! Even when they fail (which had been often) they’ve come up with such neat failures that I’d rather been seen driving them than a success from another country.

    • 0 avatar
      Unlimited Headroom

      I drive one of those ‘neat failures’ and wouldn’t trade it for anything…well maybe some other Lucas (fast) lorry. Where else could I street race where nobody else knows. Sorry, Chuck, you could get caught. The mechanics are somewhat simple and straight forward, the community is wonderful and, yes, they are different. Even the young kids point and wave as we drive by. They know what looks good even at a young age. Let’s hope that they grow up to be auto designers with a bit of backbone and show us something other than a jellybean on wheels.

  • avatar

    Coolest… hmmm… except for the Miata… definitely. And the Miata is cool only because it so perfectly mimics the British Formula… so that counts towards their total.

    I don’t see the Elise as an answer to the Miata… it’s more like a modern take on the Super Seven formula. In fact, nobody has a good answer for the Miata… MG tried, but failed. Then it died.

  • avatar

    The Berenstein Bears have been replaced with the Panda family.

    Though the Pandas are only mildly competent, they work for less than a tenth of the old guard, or, fairly compensated.

    And it shows.

    Shall we reference Jags (and the Indians are far more capable than the ChiComs?)

  • avatar

    Actually MG made the MGF and TF, both of which outsold the Miata in the UK every single year! MG just decided not to export it, presumably because they couldn’t physically make enough to satisfy the demand they already had.

    As for MG not existing, well they are doing well in China…. only a matter of time before the restart volume production at their UK car plant, with the MG 6 being prepared for launch.

  • avatar

    “From Rolls-Royce to MINI, Old Blighty’s given us some of the world’s coolest cars”

    I’m sure you meant to say Mini. BMW is has yet to answer how something that big can be called a MINI.

  • avatar
    Tricky Dicky

    You can only have cool cars if you’ve got crappy ones to compare them too. And I can proudly say, the UK has made it’s fair share of those too. The Austin Allegro, the pretentiously names Austin Princess, hey, anything from Austin Leyland really – the Ital for example. Then there ws the Vauxhall Viva…

    Anyway, do Aston Martin’s still count as a British Brand or are they Malaysian now? And is there any car company in the world with a business model and product like Bristol Motors? For track day eccentricity you can have a Caterham.

    The UK is a funny little island, but still has plenty of flavour.

    • 0 avatar
      Cammy Corrigan

      Aston Martin are British. They’re owned by Pro-Drive. I think you’re thinking of Lotus, who are owned by Proton, who are Malaysian.
      Also, the UK ISN’T AN ISLAND! Don’t forget Northern Ireland. Great Britain is an island, but that’s tenuous, at best. You’ve got the mainland, but what about the surrounding isles…?
      Welcome to the Truth About Geography…

  • avatar

    Who is the tasteless jackass who painted the F1 in the picture above with the yellow wheels and the PepBoys “R” on the side (also in yellow)?

    They need to be strung up by their toes and beaten with a wet noodle.

  • avatar

    British cars are not only cooler, they are environmentally friendly and better for your health. Think of all the medically beneficial walking one gets as the owner of an Austin-Smedley-Grand-Rapide Plus-or-Minus-Seven as it spends 20 weeks a year in the shop.

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