Motor Show `98: Small specialists prove the Brits have grit

The big players may be in foreign hands, but there are still UK car makers that can deliver surprises

BRITAIN'S INDIGENOUS car industry has not yet been totally plundered. All the mainstream players are now under foreign control, but several specialists remain independent. They have a strong presence - and several exciting new models - at the NEC.

AC, Britain's oldest car maker, has resurrected the Aceca name for a stretched, tailgated version of its slow-selling Ace. A lengthened wheelbase has made the pounds 69,795 Aceca the "most spacious full four-seater coupe on the market", claims AC. Power comes from Ford's ubiquitous 4.6-litre quadcam V8, soon to be an option in the Ace. Also new is the AC Mk11 289 FIA - a limited-edition replica of AC's racing Cobra of the Sixties, built on the same jigs and formers as the original seven cars.

Caterham reveals three new models. The Seven Silverstone - a stark aluminium- bodied sportster powered by a 153 bhp Ford engine - commemorates Caterham's 40 years in business, first selling, then making Lotus Sevens. The others are a Supersport-engined Classic, and a dual road-and-track Clubsport, which has big brakes and dry-sump lubrication (to prevent oil starvation on high-G corners). Its price includes circuit fees at the Caterham club's "turn up and enjoy yourself" track days.

Healeysprite launches two new models - a lookalike of the Sixties Sprite with a 1.8-litre Ford engine shoehorned under its bug-eyed bonnet; and the ambitious 4x4 Workhorse, a plastic-bodied pick-up powered by a 2.4 Mercedes diesel.

Jensen's revival by the Creative Group is centred on a new high-performance luxury roadster, costing around pounds 40,000. Long-nosed and short-tailed, this Jag XK8 rival promises to be a show star. Breaking with tradition, Jensen has turned to Ford V8 power, forsaking the Chrysler engines used in the Sixties Interceptor. With 325 bhp from 4.6 litres, performance of the aluminium-bodied supercar should be electrifying.

Lea-Francis has been ticking over for years making the Ace of Spades sports saloon. Backed by new funds, its new two-seater sports car is a radical departure, with active suspension patented by Jim Randle, Jaguar's former design chief. Of rivetted aluminium construction, the new Lea-Francis, shown as a prototype at the NEC, is powered by a front-mounted 3.0-litre GM V6 driving the back wheels. It's expected to cost around pounds 40,000 when sales start in 18 months.

Lotus (foreign-owned, but creatively still very British) has two new models. The 340R is a radical, open-wheeled Elise-based lightweight with the performance, handling and grip of a racing car. The absence of doors, roof, heater and dashboard is intended to heighten a unique driving experience. The only snag: production (if it happens) is some way off. Don't hold your breath. To boost interest in the fast but fading Esprit, there's a new Sport 350 variant costing pounds 65,000. Focused on driver entertainment, it's a race-bred, stripped-for-action lightweight capable of 175 mph. Only 50 will be made.

Marcos launches its new Mantaray, which inherits the underpinnings - and last year's nose-job - of the old retro-look Mantara. New tail-end treatment gives the Mantaray contemporary good looks in keeping with a TVR rival. Prices start at the pounds 33,000 for the 2.0-litre Rover-engined turbo. V8 power (either 3.9 or 4.6 litre) costs more.

Reliant has not abandoned its "Del Boy" three-wheelers, but the thrust of the restructured company is now on importing ready-made niche-fillers. The San Streak, made by San Motors in India, has a glass-fibre body as it is a Renault Clio-powered economy "funabout" with a projected price of pounds 8,000. The San Storm open version goes on sale in the Spring.

TVR astonished the industry when it started making its own engines to achieve grande marque status. Look out at the NEC for a new Tuscan Speed Six, powered by an in-house 4.0-litre, 350 bhp straight-six, priced around pounds 38,000.

Westfield unveils the FW400, reckoned to be its most radical sportster yet. Designed and built out of carbon-fibre (just like a F1 Grand Prix racing car), the FW (for featherweight) 400 is powered by a tweaked MGF engine mounted up front, as in all Westfield's other Lotus Seven-inspired cars. To even up weight distribution, the gearbox is at the back. Few exotic supercars can match the FW400's projected power-to-weight ratio of over 450 bhp per ton.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

    £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

    Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

    £28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

    £16575 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity is ava...

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Executive

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading and innovative con...

    Day In a Page

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

    Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
    Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

    One day to find €1.6bn

    Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
    New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

    'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

    Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
    Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

    Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

    The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
    Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

    Historians map out untold LGBT histories

    Public are being asked to help improve the map
    Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

    Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

    This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
    Paris Fashion Week

    Paris Fashion Week

    Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
    A year of the caliphate:

    Isis, a year of the caliphate

    Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
    Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

    Marks and Spencer

    Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
    'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

    'We haven't invaded France'

    Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
    Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

    Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

    The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
    7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

    Remembering 7/7 ten years on

    Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
    Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

    They’re here to help

    We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
    Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

    Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

    'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
    What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

    What exactly does 'one' mean?

    Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue