With inheritance check in hand, I made a list of my favorite 20 British sports cars. It took only 20 minutes.
What a coincidence. I've just been left a great deal of money and been informed I must pick the top 20 British cars I've admired in my years at SCM. It took me less than 20 minutes to make a list. I started with the easiest to find and then threw in place-holders to tide me over until I find the cars I really want.
1. 1966-67 MG B Roadster Mk I
Price range: $15,000-$25,000
Number made: 387,675
The MG B is the most popular British sports car ever made. Good examples are easy to find, and I can drive it to check out the other cars I want. A good MG B costs the same as the cheapest new car on the road. I'd look for a "Mk I" with the pull handles and the five-main-bearing engine.
2. 1953-55 Sunbeam Alpine
Price range: $11,000-$20,000
Number made: 2,000
Every collection needs an
upright and unusual model like the 1950s Sunbeam Alpines popularized in rallies by Stirling Moss and on screen by Grace Kelly. These offer distinctive looks and reasonable performance, but with so few made, it will take a while to find one. In the meantime, I'll take a '52-'53 Sunbeam-Talbot four-seat convertible, which was the basis for the first Alpines.
3. 1958-61 Austin-Healey Bugeye Sprite
Price range: $12,000-$25,000
Number made: 48,987
Only a few British cars are immediately recognizable to people who can't tell a Healey from an MG A, and the Bugeye is right at the top of the list. I might opt for one of the two remaining examples of the four Sprites that ran at Sebring in 1959, at about $150,000, or one of the "Sebring Sprites" that were equipped with 1960 Sebring dealer upgrades.
4. 1956-57 Triumph TR3/3A/3B
Price range: $21,000-$35,000
Number made: 75,000
While not as sleek or in as great demand as Austin-Healeys, Triumphs sold in greater numbers, and the TR3s, with their low-cut doors, are the most distinctive of the line. The "wide-mouth" 3As, or even better, the 3B with the engine later used in the TR4, would be my pick. All are capable of modern highway speeds and could even be a daily driver-at least on sunny days.
5. 1960-67 Jaguar Mk II 3.8
Price range: $28,000-$45,000
Number made: 30,140
The Mk II saloon was the original "high-performance sports sedan" years before BMW appropriated the idea. With 205 horsepower, it was the fastest sedan on the market, and its interior and exterior elegance make it a great two-couple car for evenings on the town.
6. 1945-53 "Flat-Rad" Morgan
Price range: $30,000-$40,000
Number made: 750
How can anyone resist a roadster from the last independent British auto maker? The rarer '60-'69 SS model might be a better collector's car, with its high-performance engine in a lightweight body and the later curved radiator, but it would cost twice as much. I really like the chunky, no-nonsense look of the flat-radiator model.
7. 1945-49 MG TC
Price range: $30,000-$45,000
Number made: 10,000
Few British cars were
exported to America before WWII, but a good collection should have at least one example of the "square-rigged" look that typified prewar British sports cars, with vertical radiator, separate headlamps, and cycle fenders. The TC design dates to the early 1930s, and it's as much fun to drive as it is to look at.
8. 1958-63 Lotus Elite S1 & S2
Price range: $35,000-$50,000
Number made: 1,076
As the most creative competition designer in British automotive history, Colin Chapman deserves at least one slot, and his Elite, built to help fund his racing, is ideal. To my eye, it is one of the most beautiful minimalist designs. The fact that it's just a fiberglass shell with drivetrain and suspension bolted to it means you shouldn't buy anything but an excellent, restored example.
9. 1964-66 Austin/Morris Mini Cooper S
Price range: $18,000-$30,000
Number made: 13,922
The Austin/Morris Mini is ranked as one of the two or three most significant automobiles of all time, with its small size and sideways-mounted front-wheel-drive engine. What better choice than one of John Cooper's rally-winning models from the mid-1960s? A true "Works rally car" would be tempting, but they are expensive and Spartan, so I'll take an original street version instead.
10. 1922-39 Austin 7 Special
Price range: $20,000-$50,000
Number made: 290,000 (all models)
The Austin 7 put the British middle class on wheels just like the Ford Model T in the U.S. Rare "Ulster" and "Nippy" roadsters were usefully quick, and there were a huge number of handmade club racers. Since I'd like a few race-ready cars, and these are accepted at all historic races, I'd look for a competitive, race-ready Special.
11. 1955-56 Austin-Healey 100M
Price range: $60,000-$85,000
Number made: 640
Mention British sports cars and the Austin-Healey is what everyone pictures. Though these cars have recently gotten pricey, I must have at least one Big Healey, and what better than the desirable, factory-built 100M, of course with numbers-matching engine, body panels, and Le Mans modifications.
12. 1934-35 Aston Martin Ulster
Price range: $80,000-$150,000
Number made: 21
If you're looking for iconic, prewar, and race-ready, the best choice is the Aston Martin Ulster. It has good power and handling, is streetable (for the hardy), and easy to convert to race trim for historic events. The insignia of the exclusive British Racing Drivers Club identifies this car as typifying British racing. Any prewar Aston, Singer Le Mans, or Riley roadster could fill the bill until an Ulster comes along.
13. 1949-50 Jaguar XK 120 Alloy Roadster
Price range: $175,000-$275,000
Number made: 240
I'd argue that the Jaguar XK 120 was the first serial-production sports car when it was introduced in 1949. Every enthusiast owes a debt to Sir William Lyons for the concept. Long, swooping fenders, tight hindquarters, excellent power, and nimble handling in an affordable package-it was all there. I'd go for the rare alloy-bodied preproduction versions. Until a good one shows up, any XK 120 or XK 140 roadster will do.
14. 1962 AC Ace (Zephyr engine)
Price range: $190,000-$260,000
Number made: 19
I'll pass on an AC Cobra with bulging fenders and that monstrous Ford engine; it's too loud, too impractical, and too American to make my list. But I want an AC-bodied sports car in the collection, so I'm opting for one of the rare examples with the 3-liter English Ford Zephyr engine that replaced the Bristol motor just before AC became a body supplier to Shelby.
15. 1955 Austin-Healey 100S
Price range: $225,000-$300,000
Number made: 50
This practical and desirable racer could easily be used for exclusive tours and even more exclusive vintage racing events, and I could maintain it myself without hiring a live-in mechanic. The 100S has looks, heritage, excitement, and practicality in one car.
16. 1952-55 Bentley R-type Continental
Price range: $350,000-$500,000
Number made: 208
With sleek good looks, luxurious interior, exceptional performance, and light weight, the Mulliner-bodied Bentley Continentals were designed for fast, comfortable trips from London to the French Riviera. The R-type tops my A-list, but until the right one turns up, I'll settle for a 1955-59 S-type. It looks similar but lacks the lightweight body.
17. 1927-31 Bentley
Price range: $200,000-$4.5 million
Number made: 2,000 approx.
One can dream of a numbers-matching Le Mans-style 4½-liter "Blower Bentley," but frankly, any Bentley built between '27 and '31 would put me among the Bentley Boys. My only caveat: The car must still have its original body and numbers-matching components. I simply can't abide the plethora of Bentleys that have been turned into Le Mans replicas over the years.
18. 1960-63 Aston Martin DB4GT Zagato
Price range: $2.5 million-$4 million
Number made: 19
No self-respecting British car collection needs a "James Bond" Aston Martin, as the DB5 has become known. Since I'm rich, I'll take a DB4GT Zagato, the most sublime body ever wrapped around a high-performance drivetrain.
19. 1961-62 Jaguar XKE Lightweight
Price range: $1.3 million-$1.7 million
Number made: 6
For an E-type, I'll take the most desirable lightweight version, which is race-ready, gorgeous, and easy to drive. Since it may take a while to find an owner who's ready to sell, I'll take any Series I E-type convertible, with a preference for the early flat-floor version.
20. 1950-1953 Jaguar XKC-type
Price range: $1.8 million-$2.5 million
Number made: 54
At number one on my list, there's only one choice-the car that put Jaguar on the map by winning Le Mans. The C-type is fast, fun, practical for touring, and offers as much cachet as any British car ever made. While I'm waiting for a real one, I wouldn't mind having a reproduction, but I promise not to put a Jaguar logo on it.