I remember when British cars had spirit, now they just sell…


Author: Russell CampbellPublished:

It is great to wake up to news that Land-Rover’s Halewood site is busier than ever before, really it is. But as a born pessimist I’m not convinced it’s as good as all that.

We’ll forego the usual it’s-no-longer-British argument – it’s owned by Tata, we know this – and move straight to the contentious issue of products.

L-R’s doing well for a number of reasons, but chief among them is the new Evoque. Yes, the model lambasted for not being a proper Range Rover (it’s a re-bodied Freelander) could turn out to be the company’s life jacket.

I’ll raise my head above the parapet and say it is a good car, but where does it leave proper car people, the ones that value character and spirit? Floating in a sea of perceived qualities, pretend values and slick marketing spiel? Yes, I think so.

Let’s have a look at another great ‘British’ marque – Aston Martin. As with Land-Rover I’m delighted it’s doing well, but at what cost?

When I was a boy, and this wasn’t long ago (yes it was: Ed), AMs were like hens’ teeth, especially in my native Glasgow (would you park one there?). So, on the rare occasion that Newport Pagnell’s finest did turn the corner it made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck.

The particular car I’m talking about is the V8 Vantage of the ’90s (in the main pic). It blipped on to my radar when that year’s Top Gear video was deposited as my traditional stocking filler (I still get it to this day).

It was a festive custom in my household – and not one my parents savoured – that an audio-visual extravaganza starring Clarkson and Co would closely follow the initial frenzy of presents, fighting and eating.

And the new AM’s engine was the most exciting bit for me. There were no look-at-me red highlights, no proclamations of TURBOS and MULTI VALVES. Instead there was beautiful, handcrafted piping, a name plaque on a huge lump with two equally impressive superchargers squeezed in on either side of it. The be-permed one felt moved to declare them ‘big enough to go on holiday in’ and to this day I’d give it a shot.

It wouldn’t be until the following Christmas – and some more Clarkson video magic – that my love for the big AM would be signed, sealed and delivered.

This time the ‘Rolls-Royce with attitude’ (that’s what he called it) found itself lined up on a runway against the competition – the Esprit, a 911 Turbo, an R500 and others I forget. Did it win? Of course not, but it sounded better than all of them. I’m not sure that sound will be replicated ever again.

Cut back to the present day and we’re falling over the tarted-up Jaguars that make up AM’s range; turn one on (via some horribly contrived crystal key) and the words ‘power, beauty, soul’ flash up. Do we really need to be told this?

And that, in a round about way, is my argument. I’m glad British jobs are safe, that we’re making some of the best products in their respective markets, hell I’m even glad we appear (in some cases) to have mastered how to nail them together properly. But in doing all this, in creating things such as the Evoque, AM’s new V8 and the god-awful new Mini Countryman, we’ve lost some of the magic that made British cars special in the first place.

But proper petrolheads shouldn’t care about this, you want to know what won the race up that runway. Well, I’ve good news, it was wholly British, it unceremoniously thumped everything that day including Porsche’s Turbo, it was made by a company that would laugh in the face of focus groups while garnering styling tips from a dog. Annoyingly, for the purposes of my argument, it was the TVR Cerbera…


Chris Martin

"I remember when British cars had spirit, now they just sell…" Blimey Russell, you must be a lot older than you look, care to share the secrets of eternal youth?
Chris M.


Russell Campbell

How nice of you to say, Chris. All I can say is I live an extremely healthy lifestyle.

I think the cars that mean the most to people are the ones that they saw in their childhood. The ones they dreamed about. So for me it's car like the above Aston, the TVR Cebera and McLaren F1.

When would you say was the turning point?

Chris Martin

Well ok, the McLaren always would be special, in any decade, the other two, just barely hanging on by the skin of their dodgy reputations, and otherwise I would have to say the last time the British industry had any pride in it's 'cojones' was about the time of the TR6, RS3100 Capri and the Jensen Interceptor, even the Lotus Elan was still almost current; say around 1973ish.
Early XJ6 and XJ-S Jaguars, RS2000 Escorts, even Mk1 Granada Ghias, never mind the Vauxhall Ventora (ask Martin Buckley), Morgan Plus 8, and as a final hurrah the Rolls Royce Camargue all clearly flag the end of the home grown car makers between '70 and '75..
It was downhill all the way after that, what you appear to remember was the last dregs of the cottage industry that remained of how us quaint Brits could still knock out a handmade, overpriced but 'bespoke' sports car.
Oh, does that sound like the old country has become another Italy?
Well so be it.
Now, get out your Ladybird books and go look up;
AC, Austin, Bentley, Cortina, DeLorean, Escort, Hillman, Humber, Lagonda, MG, Morris, Riley, Singer, Standard, Sunbeam, Triumph (before they were rubbish - see earlier thread on forum) , and if you could catch it before it blew away in a cloud of red dust, Vauxhall. These, from the sixties and seventies, and many more before all had their own market both at home and abroad.
All history now though.

Chris M.


Pre 80s TVR

That's why TVR used the slogan "The Spirit of Driving" (before the Russian clown changed it to "Orgasmic Living").

Anyway stop dreaming, you can't afford any of the above mentioned with your £2500 budget. Well, possibly a very well used Cerbera but I certainly wouldn't recommend it!


TVR Car Club Pre80s Editor

Old Number One

A dire trend that plagues contemporary British car design is the abundance of styling details without function. These unnecessary details are introduced in an attempt to make the cars charismatic. The latest example of this are the "vents" on the doors of the new Range Rover. Just terrible!


Have you seen the Aston Martin Cygnet? It's basically a rebadged Toyota iQ (Scion iQ in the North American market). That, along with the Countryman and Evoque, sum up everything that's gone wrong about the British car industry.

Although it's based on a Chinese car made by Roewe, the new MG6 is built at Longbridge and is a much more appealing British car, however, the poor fuel consumption means that it hasn't been competitive over here in the UK. The introduction of a diesel engine soon will hopefully improve sales, and on top of that, MG Motor plans to build more models in the future with potential to expand at their Longbridge site.

Nissan and Honda are both Japanese carmakers, but we owe a lot to them for producing some of their cars over here. Nissan's plant in Sunderland produces the Juke, Qashqai, Qashqai+2, Pixo, and the soon-to-be-on-sale Invitation. I think they make the Micra here as well. Meanwhile, over in Swindon, Honda makes the Civic and CR-V, as well as perhaps some other models.


Nissan's plant in Sunderland currently makes the Qashqai, Qashqai+2, the Juke and the Note. It is going to be making the new Invitation and the electric Leaf, with the batteries for this car also being made here. The Micra is no longer made in Sunderland. Honda's Swindon plant currently makes the 5-door Civic, the Jazz and the CR-V.

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