Classic Cars: Best of the British
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Britain has a fine history of making iconic vehicles, but which one should be named the best British car of all time?
Weekly automotive magazine Auto Express decided it was time to put an end to the debate.
It roped in 10 industry bosses, including representatives from Aston Martin, BMW and Jaguar Land Rover, to create a definitive list of the most influential models made in the UK.
So which car came out on top?
The judging panel was provided with a shortlist of 75 vehicles that rolled off UK production lines at one time or another, with each member asked to pick the top 10 based on sales, groundbreaking design and unbeatable performance.
The magazine said the results “highlighted the sheer diversity on offer from Brit-built models” with the top 10 including low-cost runarounds, all-terrain tackling off-roaders, two-seater sports cars, record-breaking exotica, and even a humble family saloon.
Auto Express editor-in-chief Steve Fowler said the findings paid tribute to some of the most iconic cars built in Britain.
He said: “This survey is a reminder of how many iconic cars Britain has produced over the years.
“So many of our Top 50 cars redefined segments and pushed the boundaries of what was possible.”
And he added: “The British automotive industry should be proud of its achievements and confident of the future.”
Here's a run-down of the cars that secured the top 10 places on the list:
10. Lotus Elise, 1996-2001
Cars like the Elan and Esprit established Lotus, but the Elise defined the brand as a forward thinker and established the name for years to come.
It was extremely lightweight, thanks to the aluminium chassis that was glued together instead of welded — some superminis weigh more. The Elise model remains on sale today, using a formula the first generation car created.
9. Ford Escort Mk1, 1967-1975
Ford needed a replacement for the ageing Anglia in the late 60s, and this was it.
The Escort offered low-cost family motoring with a rear-wheel drive layout and a four-cylinder engine up front. But it's also fondly remembered for being one of the original Fast Fords, with cars such as the RS2000 arriving on the back of rallying success.
8. Caterham/Lotus Seven, 1957-present
It's testament to how good a car is when you see that it's been on the market for 60 years.
The Seven originally arrived as a kit car, with Lotus founder and F1 genius Colin Chapman creating it as part of his pursuit to prove that lightweight was a key element to being fast.
Caterham bought the rights to the Seven in 1973 and has been making them since.
7. Ford GT40, 1964-1969
The GT40 became an icon of racing after it ended Ferrari's Le Mans dominance by winning four of the 24-hour races on the bounce in the late 60s.
But this iconic American racer wasn't an American-built car. The endurance machine, packing a 4.7-litre V8, was originally created by a crack team of British engineers, though success only came when famous tuner Carroll Shelby got his hands on the failing design.
6. Range Rover Mk1, 1970-1996
The first Range Rover is still being celebrated today — Land Rover recently decided to refurbish a bunch of the original cars to sell for $NZ251,000, which is $247,000 more than they cost some 47 years ago.
The Mk1 combined a V8 engine, four-wheel drive and coil sprints — a blend that made it supremely capable off-road and equally usable on the road day-to-day. Since its incarnation, the model has had royal connections and continues to do so to this day.
5. McLaren F1, 1992-1998
From an all-purpose 4X4 to an all-conquering hypercar. The McLaren F1 set standards previously unseen when it arrived in 1992 — no surprise when you consider it resulted from a project using the talented mind of car designer Gordon Murray and the performance know-how of Ron Dennis' F1 team.
Powered by a 6.1-litre V12, the F1 weighed only 1138kg and offered formidable performance. A top speed of 386km/h shattered previous records, as did the £500,000-plus asking price. Just 106 were made.
4. Aston Martin DB5, 1963-1965
Would the DB5 be so highly acclaimed if it were not for James Bond? We'll never know. But there's no arguing that it is one of the most achingly good-looking cars to be created, and not just in the UK.
Powered by a 4.0-litre straight-six producing 282bhp (210kW) — or 315bhp (234kW) in the Vantage — 007 clearly made a wise choice. It was produced in low numbers, though — just 1059 were made over two years — which goes a long way to explain why they sell now for astonishing fees.
3. Land Rover Series/Defender, 1948-2016
Last year's final run of Defenders was a momentous occasion, pulling down the curtain on 68 years of production.
Created after World War II and modelled on military jeeps, the Defender received few additions over the years.
Although it evolved into something a little more refined by the turn of the century, even the cars produced last year remained fairly simple and basic. It was once the ultimate utilitarian vehicle. Now it's extremely collectible.
2. Jaguar E-Type, 1961-1975
Enzo Ferrari said the E-Type was the most beautiful car he'd seen when it first arrived in 1961.
With sophisticated independent suspension, a monocoque body and a full serving of disc brakes, the chassis could cope with the 265bhp (272kW) being fed to the rear wheels by a 3.8-litre motor.
It was around half the price of a Ferrari or Aston Martin and went on to become a successful racer. Get one today and it's destined to be worth a small fortune.
1. Mini, 1959-2000
The Mini is the deserving winner. It was more than a vehicle, it was a life-changer, bringing affordable motoring to the masses from the late 50s and became a model that touched multiple generations.
Not only did it show that a small car could be big on the inside, maximising the interior space to make it a viable family motor, but it also dominated race series on and off tarmac during a marathon 41-year production run.e
Auto Express said: ‘By the time the Mini was replaced, 5.3 million had been built. It had become a convertible, estate, van and pick-up. Minis were once as common as lamp posts on UK roads.
“Now the originals are cherished classics and still dominate classic motorsport, too. No wonder our experts said the mighty Mini is the mightiest British car of all time.”
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