Motoring: British minnows shine in the big pool
Saturday 18 October 1997
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.
Life & Style blogs
Max power: Nine ways to make your everyday meals more flavourful
Amputee drummer gains 'superhuman' skills with robotic arm
Livr: A social network only for drunk people
Fenwicks department store withdraws Boy London clothing over 'Nazi' eagle logo complaints
International Women's Day 2014: Google creates celebratory video Doodle to mark the day
Apple's Tim Cook: Business isn’t just about making profit
Thousands of young people forced to go without food after benefits wrongly stopped under 'draconian' new sanctions regime
Ukraine crisis: New navy chief 'defects' and surrenders Crimean HQ as Putin claims ultranationalists forced intervention
Britain's top vet sparks controversy with call for ban on slashing animals' throats in 'ritual' slaughters for halal and kosher meat products
Ukraine crisis: Russia dismisses '3am ultimatum' as 'total nonsense'
If you're horrified by a flame-roasted dog, you should be shocked at a hog roast
- 1 International Women's Day 2014: The shocking statistics that show why it is still so important
- 2 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 3 Orgasm machine to deliver climax at the push of a button
- 4 Too upsetting? Academy members voted for Oscar-winning 12 Years A Slave 'without watching it'
£12000 per annum: Inspiring Interns: A small but growing chain of boutique hot...
£12000 per annum: Inspiring Interns: The company works with Tier 1 FTSE 100 Ba...
£45 - 60k Per Annum: Charter Selection: Highly profitable leisure brand, marke...
£30000 - £50000 per annum + Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: Residenti...