Motoring: British minnows shine in the big pool

The big foreign car companies keep getting bigger, yet once every two years, at the Earl's Court Show, Britain's locally owned motor industry - full of tiny makers mostly building sports cars - emerges from its slumber and dazzles with its innovation, its boldness and, perhaps most impressively, its perseverance. We have lost Austin, Triumph, Riley, Lanchester and Morris for ever. Jaguar, Rover, Land Rover, Aston Martin and Lotus are now German, American or Malaysian owned. But we still have TVR, Marcos, Bentley, Rolls-Royce, AC, Caterham and Morgan. Earl's Court is where they strut their stuff - this year more convincingly than ever.

Bentley and Rolls-Royce together constitute Britain's biggest locally owned car maker: extraordinary, when their cheapest model, the Bentley Brooklands, is pounds 106,866. Rolls and Bentley (two badges, one maker) sold almost 1,400 cars in the first nine months of 1997 - far less than the daily output of General Motors. But that's 9 per cent up on last year and cause enough to open the Bollinger.

The Bentley Continental T was Earl's Court's most extravagant and most expensive (pounds 233,355) star.

Vickers, which owns Rolls and Bentley, hotly denies persistent rumours that it will sell them to either BMW or Mercedes, but sadly this move would surprise nobody. The minnows are likely to stay British - they are so small that no foreign giant would want them. Morgan, the best known, once famously rebuffed Sir John Harvey-Jones's advice on TV's Troubleshooter ("increase production and raise prices") and was vindicated by a subsequent world recession that affected it by not one jot, while the bigger, more expansionary companies bled.

It had a new range of cars at Earl's Court - "the biggest change since we introduced the cowled radiator in 1952", according to a dealer - but they look the same as ever, 1930s testaments to fine old British design and wind-in-the-hair fun, contemporaries of the Spitfire, not the 747. They have airbags, electrically heated windscreens and engine immobilisers, sops to new laws on safety and security, but their heart-and-soul is rooted in the past, not least in their hand assembly. Their style, their best asset, hasn't changed and probably never will.

While Morgan (annual production 500) may be the most traditional of Britain's small makers, TVR (annual production 1,800) is the most extreme, the raver compared with the tea-party vicar. Peter Wheeler, who bought the Blackpool company in 1981, is a bold man. If you don't believe me, visit his stand next to the main entrance. His Speed Twelve model looks like a road-going Batmobile, uses a 7.7-litre V 12 engine producing 800bhp and costs pounds 150,000. TVR says it is the fastest road car ever built. It joins his noisy, ill- tempered yet fast and eye-catching other models - the Chimaera, Cerbera and Griffith.

Caterham (annual production 750) makes modern versions of the bug-like but entertaining Lotus Seven. They have the creature comforts of a park bench, but go fast, handle brilliantly, and have an enthusiastic worldwide following. Nothing puts you closer to the action.

Marcos (annual production 150) is another long established sports car player whose cars haven't changed much. For Earl's Court, the front end was smoother, and there was a new 2.0 GTS model, at just over pounds 27,000.

Spectre (annual production 20, but set to double), a relative newcomer, impressed with the R45, with its beefed-up American V8 motor.

On the smallest stand of all stood little AC, Britain's oldest surviving car maker. Recently rescued by a team of British and American investors - but still proudly made and managed at a site near the old Brooklands racing circuit near Weybridge - AC (anticipated annual production, 150) showed a revised Ace sport car and a new version of its best-selling Cobra. They were in a bullish mood when I visited on day two. They'd just sold a new Cobra. At pounds 70,000, that more than covered the cost of their stand.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
Prince Harry is clearing enjoying the Commonwealth Games judging by this photo
people(a real one this time)
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Your picture is everything in the shallow world of online dating
i100
Life and Style
Attractive women on the Internet: not a myth
techOkCupid boasts about Facebook-style experiments on users
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
football
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Defendant Personal Injury 2+PQE

    Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - NICHE DEFENDANT FIRM - Defendant Pe...

    Java Developer

    £45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: JAVA DEVELO...

    HR Business Partner (Maternity Cover 12 Months)

    £30000 - £34000 Per Annum 25 days holiday, Private healthcare: Clearwater Peop...

    Microsoft Dynamics AX Developer

    £475 - £550 per day: Progressive Recruitment: MDAX / Dynamics AX / Microsoft D...

    Day In a Page

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on