England is total exoticism a few kilometers from France. For example, we live to the rhythm of a royal family since the death of Mrs Windsor, an extraordinarily media phenomenon which had unexpected repercussions in France. This gives us the opportunity to take an interest in another aspect of the exoticism of the Perfidious Albion: its automobile production. Or more precisely, certain models with a strange taste, from elsewhere, and therefore particularly attractive.
Let’s start in 1947, with the foundation of a brand that will be talked about a lot: TVR, taking up the consonants of the first name of its creator, Trevor Wilkinson. It produced small light sports cars, including the Jomar, launched in 1956. Renewed in 1959, it sported a design that would last, largely modified, until the 1980s. In the 1990s, TVR revealed more ambitious models, such as the Griffith, superbly designed and powered by a V8 Rover. But the manufacturer will make the fatal error by designing its own engines, mounted on the Cerbera, Tuscan and Sagaris in particular, but with limited means. Result, unreliable, these blocks will lead to the fall of TVR in 2006. Since then, we keep announcing the return of the brand, with little result.
A more enviable destiny for Ginetta which, founded in 1958, is dedicated to racing and light sports cars, in kit form. Gradually, the offer will expand with small GTs, such as the 1969 G15, then the G26 in 1984. In 2010, a step was taken with the G60, a super sports car with a central Ford V6 of 3.7 l and 314 hp, followed by the Akula in 2019, with a 610 hp V8. Ginetta is regularly entered in competition, notably in LMP1. The brand still exists, producing the G56 GTA, Supercup and G40 Junior.
Revealed a year after Ginetta, in 1959, on the eve of the prolific swinging sixties, Marcos was founded by Jem Marsh and Franck Costin (hence the name). Quickly, the brand will be distinguished by its formidable Mini with lowered bodywork in fiberglass, more aerodynamic and lighter than that of the production model. We still see them sow terror at Le Mans Classic. Another creation, the GT, a coupé with a long bonnet which would become the Mantis and then the Mantula. In 2006, the brand will even release a sports car rivaling the TVRs, the 420 hp V8 Chevrolet TSO. Unfortunately, the company not being managed properly, it closed its doors in 2007.
More upmarket, how not to capsize in front of the superb Jensen Interceptor of 1966, a great GT rival of Aston Martin and Maserati? It consists of an improbable assembly between US mechanics (Chrysler) and Italian bodywork, all being built in Great Britain. Powerful, fast, beautiful and luxurious, it nevertheless lacks this pedigree which is the strength of its rivals. Too bad for her but so much the better for buyers, because she currently offers comparable services for a fraction of the price (around €50,000). It was even declined in FF, which was the first production car to offer not only all-wheel drive for strictly use but also, and above all, anti-lock brakes! If Jensen died in 1976, the much-loved Interceptor would have many subsequent lives with other manufacturers, well into the 2000s.
Still in exclusivity, let’s dwell on Bristol, an aircraft manufacturer that came to the automobile in 1945, taking advantage of the war damage levied on Germany. Thus was born the 400, in 1947, with a BMW 328 engine. Until the 406 (yes, like the Peugeot) of 1958, the English brand would use this 6-cylinder by making it evolve. Then will use a V8 Chrysler on the 407 of 1961. In 1976, two new models, of a luxury worthy of Rolls-Royce, are launched, the 603 and the 412, this one being dressed by Zagato. These cars will last a long time, a little too long, but the 2004 Viper-powered Fighter will try to raise the bar. Not enough since unfortunately, Bristol Cars is closing its doors in 2020.
Then comes to mind another composition with a particular taste, the Reliant Scimitar GTE. This sport may well belong to a category lower than that of the Jensen, it is no less original. Indeed, just before the Volvo P1800, in 1968, it sports a fiberglass “shooting station wagon” body, the lines of which were drawn at Ogle by Tom Karen. Reliant going to the end of its idea, the opening rear window overlooks two independent and folding seats, very practical. Under its bonnet officiates a Ford Essex 3.0 l V6 of 138 hp which takes it to more than 190 km / h, making this offbeat English a practical sports car. Rare, the Scimitar is however not expensive, £10,000 sufficient to afford a fine copy. There are even a few in France.
At the same time, the venerable Rover brand was for once thinking outside the box. His P5 saloon in 1958 is nicely designed and plush (thick leather, woodwork), so he had a good start to his career, but that’s not why he made an impression. It is rather for the bodywork that it will sport from 1962, that of a four-door coupé. Forty years before the Mercedes CLS! Supremely elegant, the P5 Coupé reinforced its appeal in 1968, when it received a 3.5-litre V8, original from Buick and reworked by Rover, which propelled it to more than 180 km/h. Efficient, beautiful, luxurious and reliable, the P5b Coupé is currently a very tempting classic, which can be found at €20,000 in good condition.
And Panther? You remember ? Created by Robert Jankel in 1972, this brand has distinguished itself by productions that are both very offbeat and demanding. The first surfed the retro wave, powerful in the 70s: we think of the J72, inspired by the Jaguar SS100, which was equipped with Jaguar mechanics, just like the De Ville, an evocation of the Bugatti Royale. Let’s not forget the 6-wheeler with… 6 wheels! Better known, the Lima, a sort of rehash of the Bugatti 55, was marketed in France, before becoming Kallista. Unfortunately, the brand disappeared in the 90s, after being bought by… Ssangyong.
Let’s talk about a brand emblematic of a certain English spirit, at once conservative, pragmatic and long-lasting. Morgan! Specializing in low-tax three-wheelers since its birth in 1910, the Malvern Link brand launched its first real car in 1936: the 4/4. Big success. In 1954, it adopted a domed grille which allowed it to last until… 2019! Obviously throughout its career, it will systematically receive modern engines for their time, badged Coventry-Climax, Ford and even Fiat. From the 4/4 will derive the sportier Plus 4 and Plus 8, then at the dawn of the 2000s, Morgan will switch to ultramodern aluminum manufacturing on the Aero8, without giving up a 1930s look. Now driven by blocks BMW, the Morgan become efficient and extraordinary sports cars. Currently, the Plus 4 and Plus 6 use the same principle but with the 1954 bodywork.
We cannot talk about English automobiles without taking a detour through the craftsmen. There are so many of them across the Channel. Among them, ADD has been quite uncommonly successful. Appeared in 1971, he marketed an idea that will be taken up again: to put on a VW Beetle chassis a body inspired by the world of supercars. All of this, to be assembled at home for a reasonable price: the Nova. Spectacular with its opening dome, the Nova will also be sold in the United States, but also in Australia, Austria, South Africa, Italy and… in France, by the Defi company, in 110 units. If the English creators, lacking experience, threw in the towel in 1978, the Americans, who sold the car under the Sterling brand, kept it alive until 1996.