1964 Jaguar E-type S1 3.8 Roadster vs. 1967 Triumph TR4A, 1969 Morris Minor Traveller, 1987 Ford Sierra RS Cosworth, 1968 Rover P5B Coupé, 1988 Lotus Esprit Turbo and 2003 Aston Martin Vanquish

2019 Jonathan Fleetwood and Drive-My EN/UK

Representing the best aspects of British car design, these seven landmark classics are behind the market – now’s the time to buy. Words Sam Dowson. Photography Jonathan Fleetwood.


Great £3.5k-125k buys to beat the market l PLUS Patrick Le Quément on UK design. Pick a market-beater that flies the flag for Britain, from saloons to supercars

‘You may well be looking at the performance-car bargain of the decade’

Best of British Home-grown classics are great value right now – track down a Jaguar E-type 3.8 roadster, Triumph TR4A, Morris Minor Traveller, Ford Sierra RS Cosworth, Rover P5B Coupé, Lotus Esprit Turbo or Aston Martin Vanquish before everyone else notices. PLUS Ford and Renault design legend Patrick le Quément evaluates British car design

The classic British trait of self-deprecation often crosses the boundary into self-loathing, which goes some way to explaining why British roads are full of cars built almost everywhere except the UK. Ask us to cite fine engineering and we’ll say German. Great style is naturally Italian. Technical innovation? Inherently Japanese.

1964 Jaguar E-type S1 3.8 Roadster vs. 1967 Triumph TR4A, 1969 Morris Minor Traveller, 1987 Ford Sierra RS Cosworth, 1968 Rover P5B Coupé, 1988 Lotus Esprit Turbo and 2003 Aston Martin Vanquish

1964 Jaguar E-type S1 3.8 Roadster vs. 1967 Triumph TR4A, 1969 Morris Minor Traveller, 1987 Ford Sierra RS Cosworth, 1968 Rover P5B Coupé, 1988 Lotus Esprit Turbo and 2003 Aston Martin Vanquish

1964 Jaguar E-type S1 3.8 Roadster vs. 1967 Triumph TR4A, 1969 Morris Minor Traveller, 1987 Ford Sierra RS Cosworth, 1968 Rover P5B Coupé, 1988 Lotus Esprit Turbo and 2003 Aston Martin Vanquish
1964 Jaguar E-type S1 3.8 Roadster vs. 1967 Triumph TR4A, 1969 Morris Minor Traveller, 1987 Ford Sierra RS Cosworth, 1968 Rover P5B Coupé, 1988 Lotus Esprit Turbo and 2003 Aston Martin Vanquish

But as the Jaguar E-type, Triumph TR4A, Morris Minor Traveller, Ford Sierra Cosworth, Rover P5B Coupé, Lotus Esprit Turbo and Aston Martin Vanquish all demonstrate, there are uniquely British ways of approaching the challenges of car design. And possibly thanks to self-deprecation, they haven’t been overly-hyped either. Want to own an icon of British automotive design and engineering to go with your Ozwald Boateng suits, Conran furniture and Linn hi-fi? Read on.

1964 Jaguar E-type S1 3.8 Roadster vs. 1967 Triumph TR4A, 1969 Morris Minor Traveller, 1987 Ford Sierra RS Cosworth, 1968 Rover P5B Coupé, 1988 Lotus Esprit Turbo and 2003 Aston Martin Vanquish

1964 Jaguar E-type S1 3.8 Roadster vs. 1967 Triumph TR4A, 1969 Morris Minor Traveller, 1987 Ford Sierra RS Cosworth, 1968 Rover P5B Coupé, 1988 Lotus Esprit Turbo and 2003 Aston Martin Vanquish


1964 Jaguar E-type S1 3.8 Roadster

It’s hard to imagine something with the Jaguar E-type Series I’s proportions – with its long overhangs in every direction emphasising how tiny the cockpit seems – being summed up with the word ‘delicate’, but it can be. It’s in the details; thin smears of chrome around the covered headlights, the fingernail-extension seatbacks, elegant quarter-bumpers front and rear, and the sparing use of metal to lift the otherwise-gloomy and MG-basic cockpit. But it’s also in the way it drives.

The bonnet is vast, yes, but swing it skyward and you’ll see the XK engine far back in the chassis, close to the car’s centre of gravity. As you close it again you realise it’s more like an aerodynamic device than merely something to cover the engine, the car engineered more like a giant, well-appointed Lotus Eleven than anything related to a luxury saloon.

The cockpit is cramped, especially for the long-legged – a curiously common complaint across many of the cars here – but even today, despite all that’s been written about the car many consider to be Britain’s if not the world’s most beautiful, the E-type is still capable of defying its critics and springing a surprise. Because it’s a proper sports car.

1964 Jaguar E-type S1 3.8 Roadster

1964 Jaguar E-type S1 3.8 Roadster

Especially in roadster form. Forget the accusations that it’s a GT first and foremost. Yes, in keeping with its delicate nature it’s a car you pilot with fingertips and toes rather than wrestle with white knuckles and heavy feet, but that means you can feel the nuanced chassis, engineering-bred via a generation of cars that dominated long-distance endurance racing, working beneath its steel skin.

The sense of balance as you set up racing lines through tight country-lane corners is exquisite, capable of handling millimetric mid-bend adjustments via wheel, throttle or pin-sharp disc brakes, making you feel like a Le Mans challenger of Mike Hawthorn’s era, especially given the low-cut windscreen that almost mandates a flying cap and goggles for the tall.

Despite its six purring cylinders you can make entirely valid comparisons between the 3.8-litre E-type roadster – thought of as a roadgoing evolution of the D-type – and the likes of the Ferrari 250GT California Spider. But thanks to mass production, and notwithstanding the 50th-anniversary price spike of 2011, prices have settled. All the collector attention is focused on the various details of the early handbuilt pre-production prototypes with their combinations of external bonnet locks and flat floors making them even more cramped and less usable. This has taken the heat off the rest of the pure, delicate, 3.8 run, leaving decent older restorations to be found for £75k-£115k, with the best bargains to be found hidden in the small ads and in mainland Europe. We found an unrestored, albeit resprayed Primrose Yellow US-market car for sale privately in northern France for £85,500.

Don’t be put off by left-hand drive either – it can be a bonus when looking for a bargain E-type. Thanks to our climate, right-hand-drive UK cars at anything lower than £75k can often hide rust, whereas left-hand-drive E-types from southern Europe and dry American states – the car’s biggest market – can make more sense simply because the cost of a right-hand drive conversion, although pricey at £7k, is nowhere near that of a full £200k restoration. If you fancy some foreign touring jaunts, you may prefer to keep it left-hand drive anyway.

One modification that doesn’t detract from the value of a late 3.8 like this one is a Jaguar-designed, synchromeshed gearbox from a 4.2. Although those searching for the purest of the pure along with their bonnet catches and cramped footwells will always want the ponderous original Moss gearbox, the slick-shifting, Ford-like drivability of the 4.2 ’box as fitted to this car simply makes enjoying it a whole lot easier, as well as broadening its market appeal when you come to sell it. It won’t necessarily add value, but it certainly doesn’t take it away.

1964 Jaguar E-type S1 3.8 Roadster

1964 Jaguar E-type S1 3.8 Roadster  / Cramped cockpit, but sublime steering feedback 3.8-litre XK engine is a Le Mans-winning thoroughbred. Delicate cornering poise belies the E-type’s size.

Owning a Jaguar E-type S1 3.8 roadster

‘I already had a Daimler SP250 and wanted another classic,’ says E-type owner Steven Brown. ‘I looked at XK120s and Dinos but they were unaffordable. E-types seemed just as classic, just as desirable, but more usable. Parts might be expensive now, but at least everything’s available and there are plenty of specialists.

‘While driving the Daimler an E-type appeared in my rear-view mirror and I found myself staring at it – they’re so beguiling. Immediately I started studying prices, found several for sale, and asked Angus Moss at Moss Jaguar (mossjaguar.com) to inspect them. We found lots wrong – rust, suspicious changes of engine number and so on. So I decided to commission a restoration instead. Angus had a largely rust-free white Californian car that had been off the road ten years, in lieu of payment for a big bill, and I had it built to the same specifications as Angus’ personal car.’

1964 Jaguar E-type S1 3.8 Roadster

Engine 3781cc straight six, dohc, three SU HD8 carburettors

Max Power 265bhp @ 5500rpm

Max Torque 260lb ft @ 4000rpm

Transmission Four-speed manual, rear-wheel drive

Steering Rack and pinion


Front: independent, unequal-length double wishbones, torsion bars, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar

Rear: independent, wishbones and driveshaft, radius arms, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar

Brakes Servo-assisted discs front and rear

Weight 1118kg


Top speed: 150mph

0-60mph: 6.9sec

Price new £2097

Classic Cars Price Guide £75,000-£115,000

{module Jaguar E-Type}


1967 Triumph TR4A

The Triumph TR4A is the only one of our British septet to have been styled outside of the UK. However, sometimes it takes an outsider’s perspective to truly see ourselves for who we are, and Giovanni Michelotti understood what makes a traditional mass-produced British sports car like few others. This Triumph may have originated on a page of draught paper in Turin, but there’s a studied brutal heaviness about its lines that makes it look like it’s about to deliver a devastating right-hook to an elfin Fiat or Alfa. Its low-slung, high-sided profile makes the car look burly as it squats on its chunky wheels. There are hints of rocket-era about its chrome details, especially the front indicator-light housings, defiantly un-Italian, yet restrained back from American excesses into an early-Sixties Britain of Dan Dare and the Blue Streak missile project.

Any slight sense of Italian parentage vanishes as soon as you’re on board the TR4A. My legs are thrust straight out, arms bent to manhandle a steering wheel I know is going to be heavy before I’ve even pulled away, and the action of the gearchange is so satisfying with its snickety, weighty sense of shifting well-oiled precision-engineered components around that it should form the basis of a gym exercise routine for the wrist.

 1967 Triumph TR4A

1967 Triumph TR4A

And then the engine fires, and I’m greeted with a uniquely British sound that links everything from a Le Mans Bentley of the Twenties to a Lotus Esprit Turbo – a big, blustery four-cylinder engine, thundering its torque-over-revs intent through a pair of shotgun-barrel exhausts. Americans have big rumbly V8s, Italians have operatic V12s, the Japanese have screaming high-revs motorcycle-technology, but there’s something very British about the deep beat of a big gutsy four. It’s a combination of the legacy of old horsepower tax favouring longstroke engines, and a road network that prioritises handling fluency over outright power, meaning a compact engine is easier to balance a chassis with than some extravagantly long and heavy powerplant.

‘I’m greeted by a uniquely British sound – a blustery four thundering its intent through shotgun-barrel exhausts’

It doesn’t take long driving a TR4A to realise that it exemplifies this. There’s an almost nervous precision to its helm, and yet thanks at least in part to its independent rear suspension there’s a lovely neutrality to the way it behaves in corners. It’s an agile car, and the immediate thump of torque available under the right foot means it dispatches B-roads with a brutal ease, powering firmly and assertively out of bends. It brakes almost as confidently as the E-type too, and accommodates tall people more comfortably.

The TR4A sits in a sweet spot so far as classic TRs are concerned. That ‘A’ means it gets the trailing-arm independent rear suspension rather than the live-axle of the agricultural-feeling TR4, but thanks to retaining the Standard-based four-cylinder rather than the more glamorous Triumph straight-six, it exists in the shadow of the identical-looking TR5, yet can be had for a whopping £12k less across all conditions. You can find a very good TR4A for less than £20k – we found an older restoration in Norfolk for £17,900 and a low-mileage ex-police motorway patrol car in Essex for just £15k. Dealers will price nicely restored examples in gleaming dark colours at more like £28k-£33k, but it’s nothing compared to TR5s, which are rapidly heading for £50k. Buy a TR4A now and with any luck it’ll ride on the ’5’s coat-tails.

Mechanically, they’re very tough. Very early TR4As could suffer from cracks in their engine-block castings and have needed chain-stitching back together, but this was solved after just one model year. Elsewhere, originality is actually key to reliability – although on the surface everything is available to repair a TR4A, reproduction parts simply aren’t made to the quality and precision of Triumph’s originals, so refurbished old stock is more highly prized than reproductions and prices reflect this. For example, the original hub bearings have been known to last 100,000 miles, whereas reproductions have been seen suffering after just 10,000. The measure of a good TR4A is to be found by crawling underneath it or getting it up on a specialist’s ramps to inspect the box-section chassis. Rust can spread extensively, unseen, until a £10,000 replacement job is needed. Make sure drain holes haven’t been blocked or you’ll be dealing with rusty floors too.

‘I’m greeted by a uniquely British sound – a blustery four thundering its intent through shotgun-barrel exhausts’

1967 Triumph TR4A / Punchy and noisy, but TR4A’s drive is nimble and precise. Cockpit is comfy for the longlegged. Four cylinders of humble origin help keep TR4A prices down.

Owning a Triumph TR4A

‘Always try and refurbish – never chuck anything out,’ says Tim Bartholomew of his very hands-on approach to Triumph TR4A ownership. ‘But so long as you find a good one, keep the drain holes clear and look after it, they’re actually very robust cars.

‘Well, later ones are. In addition to engine blocks cracking, early cars’ front suspension wishbones were attached to the chassis by just one bolt, creating a weak point especially once it starts to corrode. Similarly the rear trailing arms – the early ones were prone to stress cracking.

‘Try and find one with overdrive fitted – it’s invaluable for motorways, otherwise they can feel under-geared. This car came rust-free via the South African classic-car Mecca of Knysna. I’ve rebuilt the suspension and fitted a new radiator with a custom shroud and K&N air filters. It’s taken me to the Atlantic coast of South West Ireland with no problems at all.’

1967 Triumph TR4A

Engine 2138cc inline four-cylinder, ohv, two SU H6 carburettors

Max Power 100bhp @ 4600rpm

Max Torque 126lb ft @ 3350rpm

Transmission Four-speed manual, overdrive on second, third and fourth ratios, rear-wheel drive

Steering Rack and pinion


Front: independent, double wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers.

Rear: independent, semi-trailing wishbones, coil springs, lever-arm dampers

Brakes Servo-assisted discs front, drums rear

Weight 1003kg (2211lb)


Top speed: 109mph

0-60mph: 10.9sec

Price new £968

Classic Cars Price Guide £12,000-£35,000


1969 Morris Minor Traveller

The Morris Minor Traveler is one of those British institutions that bounds us together as a people, like a soggy bank holiday or a rapidly cooling Christmas dinner. It’ll never win any awards for performance, handling dynamics or groundbreaking contributions to styling. And yet you’ll be hard-pressed to find a British person who hasn’t got at least one connection to one, even if they never owned one themselves. Me? A Grandad had one identical to this, and an eccentric maths teacher at my secondary school commuted in a black one even though it was easily 30 years old at the time.

Connections like these make owning a Minor like the mobile version of a friendly chat over the garden fence while doing the gardening on a Sunday afternoon. Just as well, really, because with its wrought-iron hinges and rear double-doors, the Traveller looks like a potting shed from the garden of a Fifties suburban semi. Surely no car is more sociable, no owners’ club more friendly.

On Chobham’s high-speed outer circuit, its 1098cc BMC A-series engine soon reveals itself to be most comfortable cruising at 50mph and no faster – push it any harder and its pleasant background chunter starts to sound pained. But this is just as well, because to put it bluntly, the brakes are terrible and require thinking distance that can be measured in miles.

But none of this matters, because the Minor is such a charming companion. It’s a time-portal into a bygone age – its dashboard looks like a Forties mantelpiece complete with streamlined art-deco radiogram, there’s a conservatory to the rear, the seats are deeply-sprung and bouncy, and there’s no obligation to drive it particularly hard or expect too much sophistication of it.

And all these factors, taken together, make it one of the most relaxing driving experiences around. It must be the most overtly homely car ever made. The engine sounds like a Fifties council lawnmower, and the performance is suited to a world of B-roads and John Betjeman-penned Shell Guides. If ever there was a car for exploring forgotten, off-beat Britain at a sedate pace with your friends and family in tow, it’s this.

If you want a slice of old England like this one, you’ll have to act fast. Once it would have been unthinkable, but early Travellers, even with their plodding 803cc engines and top speeds of just 63mph, are making up to £20,000 in nicely restored condition – and easy parts availability and familiarity of restoration means it’s viable to do this too. However, look for a 1098cc Minor 1000 Traveller like this one and the going rate is more like £5000-£7000, with dealers asking £12,000 for mint examples. We found a lovely 1968 example in Cambridgeshire with just 38,000 miles for £7150, and a near-mint 98,000-miler in Croydon for £6500.

Of all the cars here today, it’s easily the most numerous, and must be one of the few classics on the road where numbers are actually going up, because of their popularity as first-time restoration projects and ease of refurbishment after lay-up. Condition of the structural wood is crucial to finding a good Traveller, given that rebuilding that alone on the complex back end costs £3000, not every restorer knows how to repair it, and if the wood’s gone the adjacent metal will be suffering too. The other places a Minor suffers are the obvious ones – chassis, inner and outer wings, door bottoms – and any restorer will be able to patch it up cheaply. Thankfully, interior trim is easy and cheap to come by via Newton Commercials, and engine and gearbox parts are easily available at modest cost.

There’s also scope to address its shortcomings too. Thanks to the sociability of the Morris Minor ownership scene, noses aren’t usually turned up at upgraded brakes, tuned or even swapped engines and useful safety improvements like stronger headlights. Values are immune to such modifications.

The Traveller is the very epitome of the inclusiveness of the classic world – a woody shooting-brake without the traditional coachbuilt price, a sense of classlessness and the knowledge that pretty-much anyone might drive one or adapt it to any need. In this sense, it’s Britain’s Volkswagen Beetle.

‘It’s like a mobile version of a friendly chat over the fence while doing the gardening on a Sunday afternoon’

Owning a Morris Minor Traveller

‘I’ve had mine for ten years and have had no major problems with it – bearing in mind it was left sat in a garage for 19 years before that,’ says serial Morris Minor owner Trevor Foot of his 1969 Traveller.

‘It was easy to get back on the road, and I’ve only really had to have the brakes overhauled, but that was it. They’re very simple to live with.

‘During my time owning it I’ve added halogen headlights, replaced the original dynamo with an alternator and fitted electronic ignition in place of the old points, all in order to make the car safer and more reliable. Just as well – I’ve driven it as far afield as Holland.

‘It’s only let me down once, on an Owners’ Club run down to the old factory in Oxford, when the condensor went. It broke down outside a garage that happened to be run by a man who was ex-Morris, so he just wired up a new one. ‘I mainly use my Traveller at weekends now, but when I first bought it, it was my daily driver.’

1969 Morris Minor Traveller

Engine 1098cc inline four-cylinder, ohv, SU H52 carburettor

Max Power 48bhp @ 5100rpm

Max Torque 60lb ft @ 2800rpm

Transmission Four-speed manual, rear-wheel drive

Steering Rack and pinion


Front: independent, upper and lower links, radius arms, torsion bars, lever-arm dampers

Rear: live axle, semi-elliptic leaf springs, lever-arm damper

Brakes Servo hydraulic drums front and rear

Weight 800kg


Top speed: 74mph

0-60mph: 24.9sec

Price new £583

CC Price Guide £5000-£20,000

‘It’s like a mobile version of a friendly chat over the fence while doing the gardening on a Sunday afternoon’

Still the cheapest, most charming way into a ‘woodie’ Basic BMC A-series is slow, but reliable and characterful. Robust interior the most homely of any car, ever.


1987 Ford Sierra RS Cosworth

British design prowess isn’t all about styling and packaging, as this Ford Sierra RS Cosworth demonstrates. The culture of the garagiste is woven deeply into British motoring culture. Those who modify, tune and repurpose cars are as central to what the British automotive sector has to offer as those who build them from the ground up. In Northamptonshire, boasting 176 Formula One wins, victories at Le Mans and Indianapolis, and countless rallying and saloon-car titles all over the world, is Cosworth.

And no car is more synonymous with the firm than the Ford Sierra RS. Built by combining the expertise of Cosworth with the financial might of Ford, no car has been more successful in the world of touring-car racing. Outside and in, the Sierra Cosworth is an odd mixture of sports car and saloon. That three-door bodyshell with its fastback rear was always more coupé than conventional hatchback, and its unpopularity, certainly in the UK, meant you were always more likely to see one in Cosworth guise rather than 1.6-litre base-trim. Cosworth’s aerodynamic modifications to the nose, wheelarches and skirts, and of course that outrageous Formula One-style rear wing with its central mast, serve to disguise it completely.

Get inside though, and you’re reminded that it’s still a practical family Ford at heart, with big rear seats and a useful boot. But the front seats are very heavily bolstered and the tiny steering wheel is more Porsche 911 than late-night minicab. Turn the key and you’re greeted with a menacing low crackle from beyond the bulkhead.

This was a family car that the British tuners made capable of 150mph and 0-60mph in 6.5 seconds. A handful of German tuners would offer you something similar via outrageously expensive aftermarket operations, but this was a Ford you could buy through a mainstream dealer for the price of a BMW 325i. It semi-democratised very high performance in the same way the £2000 Jaguar E-type did back in 1961.

Pull away, and the Ford familiarity makes it a very friendly-feeling high-performance car, belying its Max Power reputation of tail-happiness and flame-spitting exhausts. The reality of this completely unmolested example is progressive, long-travel damping resulting in predictable roll angles, reassuring grip from extremely sticky tyres, and secure-feeling high-speed aerodynamics that you can feel working when you change lanes suddenly at high speed. You hear the wind rushing across the lip of that huge rear wing and sense the entire bodyshell hunkering down under throttle load. It’s a safe car to drive fast.

And it is very fast, especially once the turbo lag is cleared past 2500rpm and the speedometer needle has carelessly shot past the red warning strip pointing out the 70mph motorway speed limit. If Cosworth can be likened to Ferrari, the focal point of our Midlands ‘Motor Sport Valley’, then in the context of the time this was its supercar. And although a Testarossa might have bettered it on paper, the chassis breeding that made it feel compact and nimble enough to conquer all those racetracks would leave the sidestraked Maranello monster flailing in its wake on a British B-road.

We recommend seeking out an RS Cosworth while all the serious fast-Ford collector attention is on the rarer, more hardcore RS500 variant. In reality, what makes that dominant on track slightly undermines it as a road car, with its brutally laggy power delivery, and while the RS500 goes for an easy £50k at auction, a good standard RS Cosworth can be had for half that. The rarer Moonstone Blue cars carry a ten per cent premium, but we found a nice black example in Birmingham, restored in 2000 and given a thorough recent mechanical refresh, for £25k – the only major deviation from standard being a set of aftermarket wheels.

So long as alterations are mild and unobtrusive they shouldn’t affect value. However, if the YB engine is pushed beyond 360bhp without a complete rebuild with motor sport-specification components, it’ll blow a head gasket. Sierras were always rot-prone, so especially check behind the polyurethane body extensions to make sure it’s not hiding rust. Interior trim is an even bigger worry – nothing is available, and modifiers often hacked door cards and parcel shelves about to fit big speakers, so you’ll be reduced to fingers-crossed autojumbling if you want to restore one properly.

Owning a Ford Sierra RS Cosworth

‘Ever since the late Eighties, I’ve flown all over the UK to buy Ford Sierra Cosworths,’ says Paul Clugston of UK Sports Cars (uksportscars.com), who brought along his latest acquisition.

‘I always tried to look for them off the beaten track – Scotland is a good source, where they tend to be ten per cent cheaper because fewer buyers are willing to travel. Also bear in mind that in the Eighties you could only really insure them in rural areas, so you’re more likely to find long-term-owned cars in remote areas too.

‘They’ve been subjected to a lot of messing around over the years, with aftermarket electrics creating a birds’ nest of problematic wiring. This is completely original, one of six exported to New Zealand – they didn’t mess with them out there, and it’s never been welded either.’

‘It semi-democratised very high performance in the same way the £2000 E-type did in 1961’

1987 Ford Sierra RS Cosworth

Engine 1993cc inline four-cylinder, dohc, Ford-Weber electronic fuel injection, Garrett AiResearch T3 turbocharger

Max Power 204bhp @ 6000rpm

Max Torque 205lb ft @ 4500rpm

Transmission Five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive

Steering Power-assisted rack-and-pinion


Front: independent, MacPherson struts, track control arms, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar.

Rear: independent, semi-trailing arms, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar

Brakes Servo-assisted discs front and rear, anti-lock braking system

Weight 1217kg (2683lb)


Top speed: 145mph

0-60mph: 6.2sec

Price new £15,950 (1987)

Classic Cars Price Guide £15,000-£35,000

The bits that matter were upgraded. The rest – pure repmobile. Motor sport-bred YB capable of more than stock 204bhp.


1968 Rover P5B Coupé

Of all the British design landmarks we’ve gathered here today the Rover P5B Coupé may well be the most significant, influential and unsung of all. No slick modern car manufacturer’s PR department would ever admit to its influence, of course, but in every prestige brand’s model range nowadays you’ll find at least one four-door coupé, effectively created by taking a more mundane saloon and giving it a sleek makeover into something devastatingly handsome whilst retaining its underlying practicality. It’s a practice that began with the Mercedes-Benz CLS and has since spread even into the realm of Hyundai and Kia. Yet would the modern grand-touring salooncoupé exist as we know it were it not for this Rover?

In the metal it’s sleek and raffish – forget Rover’s old-man image nowadays or the notion that it only really tipped towards trendiness with the SD1. I’m looking at its stainless steel-lashed roof, then sliding into its interior with its huge seats, fisheye rearview mirror and dramatic dashboard blending Rover’s traditional arboreal approach with extravagantly moulded plastics, and I’m reminded of a recent interview I heard with designer Tom Dixon. He explained that while other countries’ design philosophies may tend more towards form or function, the legacy of the Industrial Revolution means that the British prize the quality and tactility of material to a greater extent than others. The sheen of steel in its various finishes, the grain of the steam-formed bentwood, the smell and firm give of the leather, the shaping possibilities of plastics taken to what would have looked like extremes in 1967 – these are intrinsically British qualities.

The P5B pulls away silkily through its automatic ratios with a fruity, muscular burble from its 3.5-litre V8. This combination of interior extravagance, overt high quality and V8 urge is reminding me somewhat of a Mercedes-Benz 280SE 3.5 Coupé, but of course that had two doors and, dare I suggest, looks a bit flashy and Sixties-faddish compared to the more slick and coherent Rover. The lowered roofline is a tad intrusive if you’re tall – not helped in this example by the folding air deflector for the Webasto sunroof – and the wind whistles incessantly around the quarterlights at speed, but these are complaints that could also be levelled at an Aston-Martin DB6.

And then I pitch it into a corner, and realise that this £20k Rover bests its £100k German rival instantly. While Mercedes of this era wallow to the point where you think sills are going meet tarmac, the Rover maintains a dignified composure. It’s not a car you feel compelled to hurl around – especially because the huge plastic steering wheel feels vague, forcing you to pick a line and hold it – but it feels as though there are few roads where it would be truly out of its depth. It fulfils the true grand-tourer brief effortlessly. Admittedly the sheer size of the front seats make it more of a two-plus-two, even given the presence of rear doors, but it’s far more practical than a Jaguar XJ12C or the Mercedes.

You only need drive one to see why the P5B Coupé is the most expensive, sought-after Rover of all. However, the marque is so undervalued in general that it merely makes it a bargain when compared to its period rivals from Germany and Jaguar. For a while, £20k was the top going rate, but restored P5Bs are now cropping up for £30-£35k. This makes finding a sub-£20k privatesale example, like the concours-entrant blue one that sold recently in Gloucester for £17.5k, or the black older-restoration example we found in Worcester for £13.5k, worth snapping up before the best examples exert an upwards effect on the rest of the market.

Mechanically, they’re virtually unkillable and most engine parts are easily and cheaply available – many neglected P5Bs have been dragged to rusty death by robust powertrains. The extravagant but tough interior is cocooned in water-absorbing soundproofing that will surprise you with rot bursting through the scuttle. But unlike a Mercedes of this era it’s easily disassembled, so a new interior should cost no more than £6000. A full restoration is another £30,000 – £15k for the body, the same again for brightwork and running gear. But even that won’t save a car with rotten door posts, which will render it economically unviable to restore.

Owning a Rover P5B Coupé

‘I’ve had this Rover P5B Coupé for two years, but I’ve had another one since the Eighties that’s currently in need of some tender loving care,’ says owner Mick Marsden.

‘I had this one retrimmed shortly after I bought it – the interior was very scruffy because the guy I bought it from was a Metropolitan Police dog handler, and used to let his dog clamber all over the interior when they went out in it!

‘I bought new seats for it, and thought I might as well have the whole thing redone in leather, also replacing the parts that Rover skimped on by choosing to finish them in vinyl. It looks the same, but is of higher quality. Later examples had thinner seats, supposedly to increase rear legroom. ‘Rover was self-consciously competing with Jaguar when it built the P5B Coupé, with its sporty Rostyle wheels. Curiously, the 3.5-litre aluminium V8 is actually lighter than the base-model P5’s 3.0-litre straight-six too.’

‘There are few roads where it would be truly out of its depth – It fulfils the true grand-tourer brief effortlessly’

1968 Rover P5B Coupé

Engine 3528cc V8, ohv, two SU HS6 carburettors

Max power 160bhp @ 5200rpm

Max torque 210lb ft @ 2600rpm

Transmission Three-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive

Steering Power-assisted worm-and-peg


Front: independent, unequal-length double wishbones, torsion bars, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar.

Rear: live axle, semi-elliptic leaf springs, telescopic dampers

Brakes Servo-assisted discs front, drums rear

Weight 1595kg


Top speed: 109mph

0-60mph: 10.7sec

Price new £2097

Classic Cars Price Guide £12,000-£30,000

UK’s answer to V8 Mercs is a motorway car par excellence Started its second life in UK cars right here.

Interior more avant-garde than Rover’s image suggests.


1988 Lotus Esprit Turbo

You might be looking at the performance bargain of the decade in the Lotus Esprit Turbo. A mid-engined thoroughbred supercar with F1 breeding, Ferrari-humbling performance and handling, and all-British design and engineering pedigree – yet one without the reliability issues of its forebears. And the very best will cost £25k. This is the second-generation of forced induction Esprit, built from 1987-92. It shrugged off the cool-but-dated Giorgetto Giugiaro styling of the Seventies Esprit, and was reclothed by one of the UK’s greatest stylists – Peter Stevens – a graduate of the Royal College of Art, an institution that also honed the skills of Ian Callum, John Heffernan and Ken Greenley, creating a generation of British design talent to rival Pininfarina in the late Eighties.

It’s a clean, unadorned shape that reintroduces the ideas of restraint and good taste to a genre of car that was suffering from an overdose of skirts and spoilers at the time.

Inside, it retains the Italdesign-penned cockpit of its predecessor, and unfortunately it’s not suited to the long-legged. I’m having to operate the accelerator and brake with my big toe, and my left clutch leg is cranked round the small but chunky wheel at a painful angle. However, it’s a reminder of the industry that produced the Esprit – it was engineered by one of the world’s most successful F1 teams at a time when it enjoyed the driving talents of Ayrton Senna, was a genuine podium contender and left Ferrari in its shadow.

Visibility, on the other hand, is excellent for a supercar of this era, especially because the rear window louvres of the old Turbo Esprit didn’t make the transition. It also feels narrow and wieldy at low speeds, and given that the turbocharged 2.2-litre four-cylinder engine is capable of delivering 0-60mph in 5.3 seconds and a maximum of 152mph, it renders the 12-cylinder likes of the contemporary Ferrari Testarossa and Lamborghini Countach a tad unnecessary. If anything validates Colin Chapman’s performance through- light-weight ethos, it’s those acceleration figures.

The engine gives off a wonderfully complex snarl under acceleration. It may only have four cylinders, but it’s a sophisticated, high-revving yowl that’s smoothly replaced by the hiss and scream of the turbocharger past 3000rpm. It’s at that point mere sports car becomes supercar; 3000rpm to 4000rpm happens in the blink of an eye as the acceleration rate increases. Then I look down at the speedometer, and I really am spiralling towards speeds that only a true supercar should reach.

If you want to experience this kind of excitement on a regular basis, it pays to check an Esprit’s interior first. If it’s shabby, this usually reflects badly on the rest of the car and suggests neglect. Also check the mileage in the service history against the one on the dashboard – instruments are prone to failure and one in 20 Esprits have had their speedometers swapped, so unscrupulous owners sometimes take the opportunity to hide disconcerting bills while they’re at it. Bear in mind an engine rebuild costs £10,000.

Thankfully, so long as they’re well-maintained they’re reliable. Chassis are galvanised and well-protected so don’t tend to rust. A well-maintained engine can deliver up to 300,000 miles without a rebuild, because by this point the high-compression version of the Lotus 900-series was extremely robust and less stressed than earlier applications, but look for filthy oil – a sign of an unchanged oil filter, and possibly skipped services. Rusty fuel tanks are a concern, replacement incurring a £650 bill.

The market has been flat for these Esprits for a long time because classic attention has been on the Giugiaro-styled cars, with very early restored cars quietly changing hands for £100,000, while the colossal performance of the later S4 and V8 cars commanding upwards of £30k for good examples. However, this overlooked generation of Esprit, among the most numerous with nearly 1800 built, cannot keep offering this performance, handling, style and ownership appeal and remain as cheap as the £16,995 example we found for sale on the Wirral, or the £19,995 79,000-miler in Lancashire. Even this car, one of the best on the market, is being offered at just £22,995 through Lotus specialist UK Sports Cars. With the new Evija reigniting interest in roadgoing Lotus supercars, it can’t stay like this forever.

Owning a Lotus Esprit Turbo

‘The beauty of this generation of Lotus Esprits is that, so long as you’ve got a good one to start with, all they need are a cambelt change every three years and everything else is straightforward to maintain, with not much to worry about,’ says Paul Clugston, a serial Esprit owner and the proprietor of Lotus specialist UK Sports Cars (uksportscars.com). ‘Just keep the battery tricklecharged and don’t leave them unused for months otherwise the clutch will seize and you’ll have electrical problems. ‘But don’t confuse them with the Lotuses of old. The galvanised chassis really does have no rust problems. There are a couple of points where the suspension pickup points chafe and can corrode, but I recently bought one that had been left in a field for nine years, and the chassis was like new. And the engine was over-engineered and understressed compared to its predecessors.’

‘It renders the 12-cylinder likes of the contemporary Ferrari Testarossa a tad unnecessary’

1988 Lotus Esprit Turbo

Engine 2174cc inline four-cylinder, dohc, two Dell’Orto 45M DHLA carburettors, Garrett AiResearch T3 turbocharger

Max Power 215bhp @ 6000rpm

Max torque 220lb ft @ 4250rpm

Transmission Five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive

Steering Rack-and-pinion


Front: independent, double wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar.

Rear: independent, upper and lower transverse links, semi-trailing radius arms, coil springs, telescopic dampers

Brakes Servo-assisted discs front and rear

Weight 1268kg


Top speed: 152mph

0-60mph: 5.3sec

Price new £28,900

Classic Cars Price Guide £15,000-£25,000

This symbol of engineering prowess is a £25k bargain. All-new up top, but interior has Seventies roots. F1 tech gets supercar speed from a 2.2-litre four.


2003 Aston Martin Vanquish

We cannot celebrate the best that British car design has to offer without including an Aston Martin. So what about the curiously undervalued Vanquish, the car that defined what a modern Aston could be, and took the GT-supercar fight to Ferrari in a manner so convincing that it’s been looking warily over its shoulder at Gaydon’s output ever since.

I’ll be frank – the Vanquish is going to get an easy ride from me because I’ve always found its arch-nemesis, the Ferrari 550 Maranello, a tad overrated. It looks overwrought and heavy-handedly retro alongside Ian Callum’s sublime Vanquish shape. If you know the man’s work, you can trace the idea for a taut, muscular coupe from the Ford RS200 via various Astons, Jaguars and even the Ford Puma, to the Vanquish’s pinnacle. It manages to look both aggressive and respectful of Aston’s Zagato-injected design heritage without labouring it or having oversized identifying features. The grille is bold without being brash. The haunches are assertive rather than cartoonish. It’s a similar kind of restraint as shown by Stevens with the Esprit, but there’s something even more confident underpinning the Vanquish as a package – the sense that it could well be the best car of its kind in the world.

Inside, it feels snug and compact, a focused driving machine unlike the bluff bruisers older Astons could be. And then there’s the controversial F1-style paddleshift gearbox, criticised greatly at the time, but one of the first of its kind in a road car, and de rigeur for supercars nowadays.

Once you’ve heard a Vanquish at full cry, you’ll never tire of it. The starting procedure is a little cumbersome, involving having to pull both paddles to select neutral before being allowed to press the starter button. But it’s theatre ahead of the whipcrack followed by a relentless thundering boom that never relents and even threatens to take the edge off the Vanquish’s grand-touring credentials.

I’m not used to paddleshift gearboxes, so it’s my instinct to lift off the throttle when changing gear anyway. Do this, and the Vanquish actually upshifts in a fairly slick manner. Many period road-testers used to using the technology in racing cars attempted to change gear with the accelerator flat to the floor and were disappointed by the Vanquish’s jerkiness and slow-shifting nature, but treat it like a clutchless manual in the manner of a Citroën SM’s and there’s little to find fault with.

And no Aston before the Vanquish drove quite like this. Unlike its forebears, the engine is set far back in the chassis, achieving a neat balance. Admittedly the nose will still drag wide under very hard cornering, just warning you of the car’s near-two-tonne weight, but it’s preferable to the Maranello’s knife-edged skittishness. Its 460bhp is far too much to be silly with, so bearing this in mind, it’s an impressively neutral car, and was probably the fastest point-to-point machine Aston had made since the DB4GT.

It’s great value for an Aston flagship at the moment, with excellent early cars to be found for £85k, and the odd private-sale example cropping up for £65k-£80k. This looks likely to rise as the later S models are already fetching £125k after a few years in the doldrums. They don’t suffer the corrosion issues of older DB- and Virage-shape Astons, but it’s worth removing the undertrays and In specing the front and rear subframes for rot, because they can trap dirt if the car’s been thrashed down country lanes and not cleaned properly. But given the ownership, it’s pretty unlikely – they’ve never been cheap enough to suffer shoestring budgets.

With such a diverse range of landmark British classics currently undervalued, it’s only logical to say that any one of them represents a smart buy in the current market. All of them will put a smile on your face for different reasons, and each is a safe place for your money, even if the E-type probably isn’t going anywhere for the time being. Still, you’ll have quite possibly the greatest British automotive design icon ever in your garage, so there’s hardly grounds for complaint.

However, two cars stand out even of this crowd for me – the Lotus and the Rover. The P5B Coupé is a real groundbreaker to which the modern industry owes a debt of gratitude, and is far more suave, cool and exciting than the post-SD1 connotations of the Rover marque suggest.

But the greatest bargain of the lot is surely the Peter Stevens-designed Lotus Esprit Turbo. A genuine supercar with an unexpected dose of dependability, devised by an F1 team yet nowadays it’s yours for the price of a new Mazda MX-5. Bargains have never looked bigger – or quicker.

Owning an Aston Martin Vanquish

‘I’ve had Vanquishes as personal cars ever since they came out, and owned 12 over the years,’ says Aston Martin specialist Roger Bennington of Stratton (strattonmotorcompany.com). ‘They aren’t the risky proposition people think they are so long as they’ve been correctly maintained,’ he explains. ‘The automated-manual gearbox, for example, is quite straightforward and can often be repaired in situ. It’s the selection mechanism rather than the ‘box itself that might need repair. I’ve never had to rebuild the actual gearbox. The popular manual conversions actually retain the original gearbox and feature new software and a lever, but for me the paddleshift is part of the car’s character.

‘They sometimes need new clutches if they haven’t been driven properly. Don’t rev it at the lights – the clutch closes when you lift off the accelerator pedal.’

2003 Aston Martin Vanquish

Engine 5935cc V12, dohc per bank, Visteon Twin PTEC electronic multi-point sequential fuel injection and engine management

Max power 460bhp @ 6500rpm

Max torque 457lb ft @ 5500rpm

Transmission Six-speed paddleshift electro-hydraulic automated manual, rear-wheel drive

Steering Power-assisted rack-and-pinion


Front and rear: independent, double wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar

Brakes Servo-assisted discs front and rear, antilock braking system

Weight 1835kg


Top speed: 190mph

0-60mph: 4.7sec

Price new £164,349

Classic Cars Price Guide £60,000-£125,000

Interior more snug than expected, but it’s comfortable Mighty Cosworth V12 good for 460bhp. Vanquish made the world take Aston threat seriously.


British-educated designer Patrick le Quément

French-born, British-educated designer Patrick le Quément provides an outside-in perspective on British car design

‘It represents the quintessence of British sport cars’

Patrick le Quément is one of the most influential car designers to operate in the mass market, styling the Ford Sierra before moving to Renault and announcing, ‘We make cars for people, not the masses.’ He led a design revolution at Renault, bringing to life radical cars like the Megane II, Vel Satis and Avantime. We asked him to cast a critical eye over our seven British classics.

‘Does a more quaint and charming design exist in the automobile scenery?’ le Quément asks of the Morris Minor Traveller. ‘I think not. Of course the sedan resembled so many other cars of that period, be it the VW Beetle or the Renault 4CV, but somehow it has this “cheerful little chap” look with its mouse-like front end that sets it apart. The 1953 Traveller, with its well-proportioned body and wood-framed rear, exuded a charm that one associates with picnic baskets and Earl Grey tea in real bona fide china tea sets.

‘The Jaguar E-type is a masterpiece in voluptuous sculpture, organic yet so well controlled. If the position and angle of the windshield looks slightly awkward on the coupé, this does not seem to affect the roadster for the worse.’ Le Quément isn’t afraid to criticise British car design’s holy grail, ‘On the other hand, all E-types suffer from a noticeable design weakness in the inward positioning of the wheels within the bodywork, making the car look over-bodied. All in all I forgive that flaw because it is such a gorgeous and emotional design statement.

‘The TR4 is, to my eyes, Michelotti’s most successful design for Triumph. It contains this paradox that, even if the designer was Italian, the car is 100 percent British, and it represents the quintessence of British sport cars. This spirit is to be found in its expressivity as well as the raucous note coming out of its tailpipes.’

Regarding the Rover – a car under development at Longbridge at the time when he was a student at Birmingham Institute of Art & Design – le Quément makes an unexpected observation, ‘One of David Bache’s gloriously proportioned designs, with that chopped-top appearance. Obviously the inspiration behind the mid-2000s Chrysler 300C but, whereas one imagined mobsters driving the Chrysler, an elegant tweed-clad gentleman smoking a pipe would definitely emerge from the Rover.’

He’s diplomatic about Cosworth’s alterations to his clean, aero-smoothed Sierra shape, ‘I recall the development of the rear spoiler, which looked to some as an overstatement but communicated to the man in the street that here stood a damned fast motor car!

‘Peter Stevens’ 1987 version of the Lotus Esprit looked like the awakening of a sweet car penned by Giorgetto Giugiaro. Suddenly, the car acquired an aggressive style as if transplanted with a high performance personality, leaving behind the world of café racers.’ But le Quément reserves special praise for the Aston Martin Vanquish. ‘It’s unmistakably an Ian Callum design, taking its cues from the DB7 but adding steroids and rippling muscles to become something of a muscle car. We are far from the quiet-bodied Touring designs of former times, as we move with the Vanquish into the body of an extroverted athlete, whose eagerness to propel itself from the starting blocks is evident for all to see.’

Design: Between The Lines by Patrick le Quément is available for £35 from Merrell Publishers (www.merrellpublishers.com), with a foreword by Stephen Bayley, complementary texts by Stéphane Geffray and illustrations by Gernot Bracht


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Additional Info
  • Type: Petrol
  • Drive: RWD
  • Type: Petrol