By on September 19, 2017

Jaguar E-Type, Image: Steph Willems

Just imagine for a second that Britain’s best-known automotive nameplates aren’t owned by the Germans and Indians. Once upon a time, the Union Jack fluttered proudly over a vast empire of brands. The sun never set on the nation’s impressive array of automobiles, and enthusiasts the world over lusted over the scorching, sexy offerings emerging from a country best known for fog, breakfast fishes and military might.

When Britain decided to let its hair down, oh boy. Any red-blooded driver would gladly put up with weird electrical issues or leaks for a chance to sit behind the wheel of a curvacious, inline-six-powered dream machine that oozed sex (and perhaps oil) every mile of its life. Though the dream eventually collapsed, foreign ownership brought it partway back. (I’m poking fun just a bit, but the stinking nationalized mess that was British-Leyland is a comedy mine that never runs out.)

But we’re not here to rehash the dismal 1970s. This is a celebration — a brimming glass of scotch, gin, sherry, or port raised in honour of a quirky industry with a diverse heritage. Detroit may have cranked out the wheels that moved America, but Britain — at least for a while — cranked out cheap exports for people who couldn’t afford a Dodge. North of the border especially, postwar British cars with alarmingly low horsepower figures stoically braved weather they weren’t designed for.

Sure, my parents’ childhoods contained Fords, Chevrolets, Studebakers and Plymouths, but they also contained an Austin A30, Morris Minor 1000, Morris Oxford, two Vauxhall Victors, and a grandparent’s Triumph Mayflower (0-50 mph in 26.6 seconds). Dad still raves about the Vauxhall Firenza (“half of a V8!”) he bought in the ’70s. Maybe it’s a Commonwealth thing.

It was with these tales in mind that I travelled to tony Stowe, Vermont last weekend for the British Invasion, the Northeast’s annual celebration of UK rolling stock. Let’s take a look at some oddities and bonafide classics, shall we?

Wolseley Hornet, Image: Steph Willems

Wolseley is storied luxury brand that got off to a fascinating start in 1901. While too long to relay here, its origins involve machine gun inventors, sheep shearing, and airships. Sadly, Wolseley was destined to become a somewhat upscale maker of badge-engineered Morris knock-offs after its 1935 purchase by that company. Through a series of mergers, Wolseley found itself a part of British Motor Corporation, and later British Leyland, which promptly killed off the nameplate.

The vehicle you see above is a Wolseley Hornet, produced from 1961 through 1969. It doesn’t take much imagination to guess where this model sources its DNA from.

Riley One-Point-Five, Image: Steph Willems

On the left, a 1936 Riley Adelphi Saloon; on the right, a 1959 Riley One-Point-Five Saloon, or “sedan” to you Yanks. Like Wolseley, Riley got its start with a non-automotive venture (bicycles) before entering the motorcar business at the dawn of the 20th century. The high-end cars produced by the Coventry factory saw many technological advancements, including the adoption of hemispherical combustion chambers and overhead valves in the late 1920s.

Later swallowed by BMC and killed immediately after its inclusion in British Leyland, Riley is truly a British golden age brand. This One-Point-Five uses a Morris Minor floorpan and suspension setup mated to a (68-horsepower) powertrain sourced from MG.

1946 Standard 8, Image: Steph Willems

Just because your country is crippled by wartime debt and damage from German bombers doesn’t mean your citizenry doesn’t deserve a jaunty little convertible. The Standard Motor Company, founded in 1903, was well known for its early luxury saloons and later products like the Vanguard, but the entry-level Eight (later, just the “8”) sold in big numbers before and after World War Two. Production resumed 10 days after VE Day.

Seen here is a 1946 Standard 8 Tourer, equipped with a 28-horsepower 1.0-liter inline-four and the cutest wheels ever. Sadly, Standard, which spawned the Triumph brand, had the misfortune of being bought by Leland Motors, and was put out to pasture after its transformation into British Leyland in 1968.

Bentley 3/4.5, Image: Steph Willems

Leather hood straps never go out of style. Is there a car that screams “English gentleman” more than a mid-1920s Bentley 3/4.5 Litre Tourer? A perfect vehicle for the Green Mountains of Vermont.

1969 Jaguar E-Type, Image: Steph Willems

No, stop. Don’t do it. Too sexy. There’s kids around. Arguably the steamiest car ever to roll off an assembly line (Enzo Ferrari called it “the most beautiful car ever made”), this 1969 Jaguar E-Type Series II deserves to take a bow. After all, does any other model have the distinction of serving as Austin Powers’ “Shaguar”?

Jaguar E-Type straight-six engine, Image: Steph Willems

Because this sultry E-Type was good enough to lift its bonnet for us, let’s sneak a peek at the legendary 4.2-liter straight-six that lies beneath.

1965 Jaguar Mark X, Image: Steph Willems

Speaking of Jags, how about a girthy 1965 Mark X? So much….body. The model ran from 1961 to 1970, and wasn’t well suited to the narrow spaces of Great Britain’s major urban centers. Jaguar hoped to market the model to political and entertainment bigwigs, but sales never took off the way the company desired. Featuring unibody construction and an independent rear suspension, this 3.8-liter straight-six-powered luxo-barge didn’t skimp on premium content or innovation.

1972 Triumph Stag, Image: Steph Willems

Uh oh — we’re in the ’70s. The Triumph Stag looked great, but owners soon found themselves facing a myriad of problems, from valvetrain, cylinder head, and cooling issues to corrosion problems. Not surprisingly, there’s a scene in Straw Dogs where the emasculated Dustin Hoffman character’s new Stag won’t start. This ’72 model, fitted with its factory removable hardtop, sports a 3.0-liter V8.

1972 Triumph Stag interior, Image: Steph Willems

One oddity I noticed with the Stag: check out the clock. Nope, it’s not in the dash. It’s located on the passenger side of the shift lever.

Land Rover 110 Defender, Image: Steph Willems

This is what camping should be like. Safely removed from marauding predators of the four- and two-legged variety, the rooftop tent on this vintage Land Rover 110 Defender also makes for a good hunting blind.

1958 Morris Minor Traveller, Image: Steph Willems

The American surf scene wasn’t the only place you’d find woody wagons in the Baby Boom era. Tasteful (structural) wood adorns the rear of this cute 1958 Morris Minor Traveller, and owners access their picnic supplies via a properly British clamshell rear door design. Available in every bodystyle, including panel van and pickup, the Minor was the first British car to sell 1 million units. Somewhere under that hood lies a side-valve four-cylinder of either 948 or 1098 cc displacement.

The Traveller’s lack of blinker lights means there’s a direction-signalling “trafficator” that pops out of the B-pillar.

Lotus Elite Type 14, Image: Steph Willems

Check out this photobomb! While most eyes are on the unrestored Lotus Elite Type 14 (1957-1963) in the foreground, there’s a DeLorean DMC-12 in the back just begging for our attention. Of course, the DMC-12 was built in a suburb of Belfast, Northern Ireland, so it’s okay to claim a UK pedigree.

Lotus Elite, Image: Steph Willems

The Elite earns top marks in the “tiny bonnet opening” category.

Rover P5, Image: Steph Willems

Jaguars, Rolls-Royces, and Bentleys weren’t the only large British four-doors built for ferrying around the well-heeled in the 1960s. British Prime Ministers and cabinet ministers used the Rover P5 (1958-1973) for official transportation well into the 1980s. This one’s a 1965 Mk III variant, sporting a 3.0-liter inline-six. Later models arrived with Buick-designed 3.5-liter V8s under the bonnet, providing dignified power for a respectable saloon.

1968 Land Rover Series IIA, Image: Steph Willems

The Land Rover Series IIA “Pink Panther” was a customized off-roader used by Britain’s SAS for reconnaissance and special operations in dangerous, faraway locales. While the open-top design didn’t afford much protection from small arms fire, occupants could put down a steady stream of their own with two pintle-mounted general purpose .30-caliber machine guns. An external holster just ahead of the driver keeps the serviceman’s Lee-Enfield or FN FAL within easy reach.

This particular 1968 example served from 1970 until its retirement in 1985.

Alvis Saracen military armored car, Image: Steph Willems

For hotter sectors of the military theater, this Alvis Saracen is a better choice. Starting production in 1952, the Saracen’s six-wheel-drive capability, 16-millimeter armor, and .30-caliber turret served the British Army well for decades.

Morgan three-wheeler, Image: Steph Willems

From the largest to the smallest. No British car show is complete without a Morgan three-wheeler, and this Super Sports variant is surely the most desired of the model’s lineage. Powered by a liquid-cooled V-twin, the Super Sports debuted in 1927. The three-wheeler line, which began in 1911 and didn’t wrap up until the early 1950s, was designed to circumvent restrictive British tax laws, allowing the holder of a motorcycle license to own this diminutive car.

Morgan three-wheeler, Image: Steph Willems

Just don’t burn yourself on that exhaust. Here’s a closer, head-on look at the Morgan’s dangerously exposed engine and suspension.

Lotus Europa, Image: Steph Willems

Oh man, the Lotus Europa. Polarizing styling. There’s certainly some awkward lines here (take a gander at the upper window frame), but the Europa’s ingenuity wins over those put off by the tall rear deck and contrasting angles. Built from 1966 to 1975, the Europe brought mid-engine driving to the masses via clever parts sourcing and a fiberglass body. This is a 1972 example, featuring a 126-horsepower “Big Valve” twin-cam 1.6-liter jointly developed by Lotus and Ford. The transmission comes from Renault.

Lotus Europa engine, Image: Steph Willems

Below that rear decklid lies a limited amount of luggage space and the aforementioned “Big Valve” motor. This owner appears prepared for any eventuality, including hunger.

1964 Jaguar Mk II, Image: Steph Willems

No British car show is complete without at least one pristine Jaguar Mk II (or Mark 2 or Mark II, depending on locale and preference). Truly a sculpted work of art, the Mk II just doesn’t know when to quit. Take a look at those fendertop turn signals. So graceful. Though dignified and luxurious, the Mk II, produced from 1959 through 1967, was quite a performer, holding its own on the track. It was also a popular getaway vehicle.

Jaguar hood ornament, Image: Steph Willems

Few hood ornaments contain this much class. The engine lineup in this crouched cat of a car topped out at a twin-cam 3.8-liter inline-six, good for 220 horsepower, making this a very appropriate hood-topper.

MG T-series, Image: Steph Willems

MG traffic jams were common in the vicinity of Stowe last weekend.


Who doesn’t feel like Patrick McGoohan in The Prisoner from time to time? The short-lived libertarian-themed TV show famously featured the protagonist driving his Lotus Seven (1957-1973) to and from an epic job resignation. Of course, you can still get one in the form of the Caterham 7.

Lotus Seven

Let’s pause for a moment to imagine how our lives would change if we owned one of these (as well as admire the Seven’s double wishbone suspension). That must have been some trip up from Massachusetts.

There you have it, folks. British cars appropriately situated in New England.

God save the Queen, and the manuals.

[Images: © Steph Willems]

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26 Comments on “The Empire Strikes Back: Anglo Quirkiness at the British Invasion of Stowe...”

  • avatar

    Do they need to apply for EPA superfund money to clean up all the leaked oil and coolant deposited by these British classics?

  • avatar

    Thanks for the great pics! I admit a fondness for British cars – especially Jaguar and Mini Coopers. I’ve never had the resolve (money? insanity?) to own any of the classic UK cars. Instead I deal with their German progeny, a trio of BMW-MINI Coopers (though the Countryman was apparently assembled in Austria).

  • avatar

    Now THIS is a “car show” worth traveling to, putting freak shows like the over-hyped, over-crowded, over-commercialized, trashy, ridiculous ‘Woodward Dream Cruise (ugggg) to shame.

    And yes, I’m absolutely, completely serious.

    • 0 avatar

      You’re comparing apples to oranges, or more accurately, a cruise event to an organized car show.

      Michigan has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to car shows, even if you ignore the Dream Cruise. Heck, that same weekend there’s is the huge Mustang Memories show at FoMoCo HQ and a big AMC Owner’s meet in Livonia. There are two concours level events here, the Concours of America (formerly Meadow Brook), which I’ve been told by people who show and judge at Amelia Island and Pebble Beach is those shows’ equal, and the Eyes On Design show, put on by the car design community. Greenfield Village has two huge shows, the Motor Muster and the Old Car Festival.

      If you want to, you can go to quality car shows every weekend in Michigan, from May to October.

      As far as Brit cars are concerned, the Mad Dogs & Englishman show every year at the Gilmore Museum north of Kalamazoo is very good. The Gilmore has a number of marque specific shows every year as well.

      I was at the 20th edition of the Orphan Car Show in Ypsilanti (a must see event if you like cars) yesterday and I’ll be writing about it later this week.

  • avatar

    You have a pic of a Elva Courier yet you want to talk about the stupid Delorean. The Courier was interesting because it was made by a race car company for the American market and had little fins in the rear. I love how European’s adapted the fin to their cars. btw way that could be a picture of me in my Courier, if the car was school bus yellow and the driver more scruffy.

  • avatar

    The Eastern Canadian equivalent of this happened this weekend in Burlington ON, 1000+ cars show up every year. Never thought I’d see 12 Deloreans or 4 Jensen Interceptors in one place.

    • 0 avatar

      No, one Eastern Canadian British Sports Car Show was held in Bedford NS the weekend before last. The British Motoring Festival itself was held in Windsor NS in July – great website. You see Ontario isn’t Eastern Canada, except to Westerners with Map Deficit Disorder. Ontario is inland somewhere 1,000 miles west of here!

  • avatar

    Some beautiful cars. Thanks for the pics!

    My pick is the Morgan 3 wheeler. Runner up is a tie between the Rover P5 and the Defender 110.

    P.s. was British Leland’s goal to destroy as many car brands as possible? If so, they did an excellent job. I don’t get the point of buying competitors and then shutting them down. Wouldn’t that money be better spent on developing products that would best those competitors in the market place? Durant didn’t buy Oldsmobile and Buick and so on just to put them out of business. That came, for some, many decades-of-mismanagement later.

  • avatar

    The clock on the Stag has been moved there by the owner, probably for a temp guage or something. Stags are fine now that aftermarket specialists have solved all the problems with them.

  • avatar

    Mr Willems, that Morris Minor never had a sidevalve engine in it. It is the Mark II or newer, distinguishable by the headlights in the fenders. Only the original 1948 ugly mug with lights in the grille had a sidevalve. Once Austin-Morris was formed they stuck an ohv A Series in the Minor at once. Same engine family used right through to the 1980s, and in millions of Minis, Spridgets, 1100s, Marinas (UK only) and so on.

    • 0 avatar
      Guitar man

      Probably a Minor 1000, since it has a single piece windscreen (earlier had a split windscreen).

      The lowlight couldn’t be sold in Canada (light regulations) which is probably where this was made.

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    The Jab E type evokes fond memories of my college days. In 1969 at the tender age of 17, I left home and started my college days at Penn State. I remember the profound sense of home sickness as I watched my family tool away from my dorm after dropping me off. That lasted about 15 minutes when I connected with all the other freshman on my floor. The next morning I woke up and pinched myself to verify that I had not died and gone to heaven.
    Fast forward a year when I left campus housing to live with three other lunatics, one of which was a 23 year old Vietnam vet who had purchased a new baby blue 1969 Jaguar E type with his army money since he never spent a cent while in Nam. I got to drive it a few times and must say that it was the most thrilling vehicle I had the opportunity to pilot.
    After graduating in 1973, my friend offered to sell me the Jag for $5000 which I didn’t have and passed on the deal. $5k He wanted to buy a MB 450SL.

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    The Jag E type evokes fond memories of my college days. In 1969 at the tender age of 17, I left home and started my college days at Penn State. I remember the profound sense of home sickness as I watched my family tool away from my dorm after dropping me off. That lasted about 15 minutes when I connected with all the other freshman on my floor. The next morning I woke up and pinched myself to verify that I had not died and gone to heaven.
    Fast forward a year when I left campus housing to live with three other lunatics, one of which was a 23 year old Vietnam vet who had purchased a new baby blue 1969 Jaguar E type with his army money since he never spent a cent while in Nam. I got to drive it a few times and must say that it was the most thrilling vehicle I had the opportunity to pilot.
    After graduating in 1973, my friend offered to sell me the Jag for $5000 . He wanted to buy a jeep. Oh the horrors!. $5k was big money for a new grad without a permenant job so I had to pass on the deal.
    I would be more than happy to buy that car back at whatever the inflation adjusted price would be now if it were frozen in time with 30K miles on it. But, more importantly than possession of the metal are the memories.

  • avatar

    I’ve been to this show several times over the years in my Triumph Spitfire. It’s a fun drive through the mountains from Portland Maine. Great show, but it got a tad spendy to enter a long time ago, and if you need a hotel room hold on to your wallet. Luckily I have a college pal who lives in Stowe.

  • avatar

    Hey, leave the Triumph Mayflower alone! My Grandpa had one that was ancient. We used to change the spark plugs every Saturday (they carboned up) and I got to use the wire brush. That’s where I learned to love cars. And, yes, truthfully, it was a crap box. But, we loved it.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Lots of Brit metal in our families history.

    The Old Man bought one of the first Mini’s from the dealership attached to the Rootes assembly plant in Scarborough. One of his brothers also bought one a few months later. Unfortunately neither were durable or reliable and both were traded for VW Beetles. Decades later that uncle went on to lease a Jaguar sedan which did not prove any more reliable.

    Another uncle had in order an MG TD, then an MGA, then a Jaguar Mark II. He eventually left the Mark II in his carport for over a decade before someone kindly ‘salvaged’ it.

    One of my business partners purchased a new TR7. While making a turn from a mall onto a major road, the driver’s side door actually fell off. It was a blast to drive though, when it ran.

    Personally my choices would be an Alvis or a Jensen.

  • avatar

    Trivia for today: that beautifully sculpted Jaguar hood ornament is called the Leaper.

    (I’m not too keen on those big white sidewalls on the Mk 2 car shown, and that metallic color is surely not original. Looks great and suits the car though.)

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Thanks for the photos and write-up. I’m sure there must have been a lot of Triumphs, MG As and Bs, and Healy 3000s there, but you wisely chose to feature the more unusual cars. I think the engine in the 1969 E-type was a 3.8 liter. The displacement was increased to compensate for the power loss created by early emissions requirements a year or two later.

  • avatar

    As a young lad I always wanted – and was fascinated by – either an XKE or a Europa. They were the coolest cars from across the pond for me at the time.

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    “….emerging from a country best known for fog, breakfast fishes and military might.”

    And music.
    From the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, to Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Yes, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Elton John, and so many others.

    That was the real “British Invasion”.

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