The British Invasion: Tribute to the top 5 in Super Sport and Grand Touring Cars from the UK
Today we’re going to enlighten you about some of our favorite European automakers. While they may not be the first on your list when you rattle off the names of exotic high performance super cars, and it may not be the first country you think of either… Italy’s Ferrari, Lamborghini and Maserati tend to cloud our minds. Followed by France’s Bugatti, and Germany’s Porsche. In fact, its possible you’ve never even seen most of these cars we’re going to talk about today in person… their hefty price tags and overbearing luxury tend to keep most of these automakers assigned to the wealthy, but Britain’s handle on both sports performance and grand touring cars is unparalleled. Not to mention, they are probably, in our opinion some of the most gorgeously designed cars in the world. Today we’re going to grab a cup of tea and give you a brief history on the top 5 high end automakers the United Kingdom has to offer.
McLaren Automotive: McLaren Automotive, commonly referred to as McLaren, is a British automotive manufacturer of high-performance vehicles. The company was established as McLaren Cars in 1989 as a producer of road cars based on Formula One technology and its the top manufacture out of Britain that can clearly hold a candle to Italy’s super cars.
Originally known as Bruce McLaren Motor Racing, McLaren was founded by New Zealand F1 driver Bruce McLaren in 1963, making their grand prix debut at the 1966 Monaco Grand Prix. They were the first team to construct a car around a carbon fibre monacoque, a process now commonplace in most forms of motorsport. They have gone on to become one of the most successful teams in F1, recording eight constructors’ titles, 12 drivers’ championships and over 160 grand prix victories. While McLaren himself, unfortunately died in an auto testing accident, it did not stop his team from moving the brand forward and developing some of the best performance cars to date.
One of McLaren’s most recognizable work in the USA is it’s pairing with Mercedes to produce the grand tourer Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren which was sold from 2003 to 2010. At this time Mercedes owned 40% of the McLaren Group.
Aston Martin: Aston Martin Lagonda Limited is a British manufacturer of luxury sports cars and grand tourers. It was founded in 1913 by Lionel Martin and Robert Bamford. The two had joined forces as Bamford & Martin the previous year to sell cars made by Singer from premises in Callow Street, London where they also serviced GWK and Calthorpe vehicles. Martin raced specials at Aston Hill near Aston Clinton, and the pair decided to make their own vehicles, hence the name Aston Martin. Initially, the business operated in a small West London workshop on Abingdon Road in Kensington. The very first Aston Martin, named Coal Scuttle, hit the road in 1915 and had an incredible top speed of… 70 mph.
Aston Martin is the sports luxury and grand touring car of choice, and definitely made popular by secret agent 007, having appeared throughout the years in almost every James Bond movie. Popular models include the Vantage, V8, DB, Vanquish, Volante, and Rapide, however, unlike other car makers, Aston Martin developed a habit of taking its time to release new models. There was a 20-year gap between the V8 range and the arrival of the DB7.
For a period of about 10 years Ford was in control of this timeless automobile company but after losing more than 12 billion in 2006, Aston Martin returned back where it belonged… in British hands.
Aston Martin's products might not always qualify as supercars as much as they are luxury grand tourers, but some of its vehicles have made the jump into proper supercar territory. The previous Vanquish put a smack down to the Ferrari 550 and the new one is justifiably talking trash to the F12. The V12 Zagato is as exotic as they come, and the latest V12 Vantage S propels the company's smallest model into the 200-mph club. But even those were eclipsed by the one million-dollar hypercar Aston has ever made: the One-77. With a 750-horsepower V12 fitted into a carbon monocoque chassis, the One-77 pushed Aston into Bugatti territory with a top speed reaching a magnificent 220.007 MPH
Lotus: Lotus is a British manufacturer of sports and racing cars, famous for its Esprit, Elan, Europa and Elise sports cars and for the highly successful Team Lotus in Formula 1. Lotus has never been a big car company, as measured by the size of its cars or the scope of its sales. However, like Enzo Ferrari, Lotus founder Colin Chapman started building road cars primarily as a means of feeding a racing habit, and for many years, Lotus was one of Ferrari’s and McLaren’s biggest rivals on the racetrack.
In 1957 Chapman developed his first dedicated production car, the Elite, which featured a lightweight fiberglass body and structure. Powered by a single-overhead-cam Coventry Climax 1.2-liter engine making 102 hp, the fiberglass Elite weighed in at 1705 pounds. It went from 0-to-60 in a mind blowing 8.2 seconds and a top speed of 123 mph. Go speed racer, go. A base price of $5700 in the 1960’s works out to about $40,000 today.
1986 GM bought a controlling interest in Lotus and then sold in 1993 to Romano Artioli, owner of Bugatti at that time. It was sold again shortly after to Proton, a Malaysian carmaker. Lotus became focused on more attainable performance machines now like the Exige and Evora, but there was a time when the Esprit was a genuine competitor to Ferrari. Over the course of nearly 30 years of production, the Esprit went from a 2.0-liter four with just 140 horsepower to a 3.5-liter twin-turbo V8 with 350 hp. Not too shabby England.
Bently Motors: The Bentley Motor Company was founded in 1918 by two brothers; Walter and H Bentley. The first Flying B insignia appeared on the 1920 Bentley 3 1/2 Liter test car, which was built near Baker Street in London, and the first production car, another 3 1/2 Liter, was delivered to Bentley’s first customer in 1921.
The stock market crash greatly affected Bentley as they were bought out by Rolls-Royce in 1930. They allowed Walter to stay on but most likely to keep him from starting a new company. Rolls-Royce changed the face of the company, and not necessarily for the better. They began cloning Rolls-Royces and their parts and slapping Bentley logos on them. The MkVI of 1946 was the first Bentley to be built using Rolls components, and the 1952 R-Type Continental was the last Bentley built without a Rolls equivalent. Bentleys and Rolls-Royces were built side-by-side at the Crewe facility, with a Bentley-badged clone for every Rolls that rolled off the assembly line.
Volkswagen bought Rolls-Royce in 1998, including Bentley. BMW then bought the rights to the Rolls-Royce name and announced that as of December 31, 2002, Rolls and Bentley would be two separate companies after 67 years. VW would go on to invest close to a billion to revive Bentley back to the automobile manufacturer once was.
In 2003 Bentley released one of it’s most famous sedans to wear the flying B.. the Continental. The line became so popular it expanded into 7 separate versions of sedans and convertibles and is still their best selling car, still available today.
Rolls-Royce: Rolls and Royce were in fact people before the history of Rolls-Royce as a company every began. Frederick Royce was a British electrical equipment manufacturer who built the first Royce cars in 1904. The three two-cylinder, 10-hp cars he built attracted the attention of Charles Rolls, a longtime car enthusiast from way back in 1894 and son of a baron. He owned a dealership in London, where he first encountered a Royce. He was so taken with the engineering that he partnered with the car's creator. Royce would built the cars, and Rolls would sell them.
Like many manufacturers of the day, Rolls entered the first Rolls-Royces in races in order to promote them. These cars were similar to the first one built by Royce. Real fame came with the 1907 introduction of a 6-cylinder engine inside a silver-painted four-passenger chassis dubbed "The Silver Ghost." This car was driven 15,000 continuous miles with little wear, cementing the R-R reputation for reliability.
Unfortunately a biplane accident killed Rolls in 1910. A decade later the Silver Ghost went to war as a combat car. During WWII the company began building airplane engines rather than cars. Shortly after Rolls-Royce acquired Bentley Motors in a partnership that was loathed by Bentley fans for cloning cars under both labels. The 6 decades of ownership of Bentley Motors were referred as “the blackest of all.”
The 1950s proved a prosperous time for Rolls-Royce, including the launch of the highly exclusive Phantom IV and the beginning of a long association with the Royal Family. It proved to be the most exclusive Rolls-Royce ever, with only 18 Phantom IVs being produced and all going to royalty and heads of state.
Rolls-Royce Motors was then bought in 1980 by Vickers plc. The Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit was developed in 1981, followed by the Silver Spur. Both were mammoth, ultra-lavish cars that screamed money in the brash 1980s ‘yuppie’ era.
In the 1990’s Volkswagen outbid BMW for Rolls-Royce, but secretly it was Bentley they really wanted. So VW came to a deal with BMW and sold the brand and logo to BMW who began producing Rolls-Royces and Volkswagen revived Bentley's legacy.