U.K. Auto Executives Pick The Top British Cars of All Time

Variety of vehicles highlights the vast history of the country's car production

There’s no doubt that Britain has had a long and storied history of building cars; some of the most iconic and even beautiful vehicles have come from garages and factories in such places as Coventry, Solihull, Crewe and Goodwood, among others. You may even have a favourite yourself; but which one is the all-time best British car?

To find out, the weekly automotive magazine Auto Express asked 10 automotive executives from the U.K. to rate their top 50 favourite English cars. As an indication of the prolific production from the island, there’s a good mix of sports cars, economy vehicles, off-roaders and even family sedans (or, as the Brits like to say, saloons) on this list. From the minds of people such as Gary Palmer, CEO of Aston Martin, and Mike Flewitt, CEO of McLaren – among others – here are ol’ Blighty’s best cars – whittled down to the top 10 – ever produced.

10. Lotus Elise, 1996–2001

The Elise carries the mantra that Colin Chapman originally infused with the Lotus F1 team – “add lightness.” Because the car is tiny and weighed less than 1,000 kilograms with an aluminum chassis, its 1.8L inline four-cylinder was more than enough to make this an exciting performer on the track.

9. Ford Escort Mk1, 1967–1975

The Escort was originally a sensible, rear-drive family car in two-door, four-door and wagon variants, replacing the Ford Anglia. But the car is best remembered as becoming one of the most successful rally race cars of all time, culminating with the legendary RS1800 – raced by the equally legendary Ari Vatanen – to the final RS2000.

8. Caterham/Lotus Seven, 1957–present

The Lotus Seven debuted in 1957, and the Caterham – still being built today – is largely unchanged from that first design 60 years ago. And no wonder; this light, open-cockpit roadster can still run rings around modern cars on a racetrack. At least in this case, they sure don’t build ’em like they used to.

7. Ford GT40, 1964–1969

A little cheating here; yes, the Le Mans–winning, Ferrari-beating GT40 was originally designed and built in the U.K. But it never achieved a hint of success until it was breathed upon (i.e. considerably changed) by the great racer and car builder, Caroll Shelby – an American.

6. Range Rover Mk1, 1970–1996

An incredibly influential design, the original Range Rover is the granddaddy to all the luxury SUVs you see on the roads today. Completely capable off-road while adding a hint of luxury, the Rover has been a staple of the English countryside for 47 years – and counting.

5. McLaren F1, 1992–1998

Even to this day, the F1 is considered one of the greatest supercars ever produced. From the pen of former Formula One designer Gordon Murray, the three-seat F1 immediately dominated the likes of Ferrari and Porsche when it was introduced. The only sad part is that just 106 were ever made.

4. Aston Martin DB5, 1963–1965

A design just about everyone recognizes; you can thank the many James Bond films that featured this gem. In fact, the company was hesitant to give its DB5s to the producers of Goldfinger, but in the end it couldn’t have been better advertising for the small sports car firm. The 310-hp Vantage version was one of the most powerful cars on the road at the time.

3. Land Rover Defender, 1948–2016

In an homage to just how timeless and iconic the Defender has been, production only ended on this rugged off-roader last year – good for a 68-year run with little real change. In his recent book, Land Rover: The Story of the Car That Conquered the World, author Ben Fogle sums up the popularity of the Defender: “It is said that for more than half the world’s population, it’s the first car they ever saw.”

2. Jaguar E-Type, 1961–1975

If you thought the E-Type would top this list, you could be forgiven; one of the most beautiful cars ever built (even Enzo Ferrari said so), the E-Type is the most legendary of all the legendary Jaguar cars in the company’s 83-year history. Long, lean and fast, with either an inline-six or V12 for power, the E-Type was equally at home on the driveway of an English manor house as it was on a racetrack. It was also one of the first cars with standard disc brakes.

1. Mini, 1959–2000

When you think about it, this makes perfect sense. No car in the entire world screams “England” like the original Mini. Equally appealing to both the general public as well as celebrities and royalty, the Mini was a brilliant design; small on the outside but roomy on the inside, and its tiny size made cornering a blast – part of why it also became a rallying superstar. When it was replaced in 2000, more than five million cars had been produced.


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