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Top 10: used British Sports Cars
image © MG
If there’s one thing us Brits are good at it’s sports cars. Here we look at our top ten specialist UK manufacturers and suggest a used example for you to enjoy.
Whether you’re after the brute power of a TVR, charm of a Morgan or focus of a Caterham or Ariel you’ll find something to suit in our British sports cars top ten. Our choice from each maker is in bold.
Like so many here TVR has survived by offering something a bit different from the norm. Whether it be the dramatic styling inside and out of the more recent cars, or the wedgy machines that preceded them one thing no TVR is ever short of is power. All offer serious performance for the money power coming from a range of six-cylinder and V8 engines. If we had to choose a used TVR we’d opt for the first of the ‘modern’ cars - the Griffith. It offers ample power from its V8 engine, which through time grew from 4.0 to 5.0-litres. Tricky handling and sometimes questionable reliability are all forgivable for the noise it makes. Decent ones start at around £10,000.
A newcomer on the scene Noble’s rise to the top has been meteoric. Founder, Lee Noble is a well known name in the small volume sports car world, but it wasn’t until 1999 when the M10 arrived that Noble as a marque became firmly established. Only a handful of M10s were ever produced prior to the introduction of the sensational M12. Originally its V6 motor was a twin-turbo V6 of 2.5-litres, but the M12 is now offered in 3.0-litre guise in both the M12 GTO-3R and the M400. As a used buy an early 2.5 car represents good value and start at around £30,000, and really you’ll struggle to get more performance for the money. Our choice: M12 GTO 2.5
Morgan Plus 4
The last bastion of British tradition, these ash framed vintage machines have a tremendous following. Hand built in the Malvern hills Morgan has always had a healthy order book, which means used prices remain high. Whether you’re after the relatively sedate driving experience of the 4-cylinder cars, the slightly livelier V6s or the frankly rather scary performance from Plus 8’s V8s there’s plenty of choice. If you want a more ‘modern’ experience there’s always the wonderful Aero 8, but you’ll still pay a lot of money for one used. We’d opt for a four-cylinder car, which is quick enough really and starts at around £10,000. Our choice: The Plus 4
Like so many here Marcos has had a turbulent history but it soldiers on today making its instantly recognisable cars. Powering these unique looking sports cars are a wide array of engines – everything from 2.0-litre turbocharged lumps, to Rover and Ford sourced eight-cylinder monsters - the fastest of which being supercharged. The V8s make all the right noises and provide quite shocking performance – the Mantis 4.6 supercharged V8 is able to sprint to 60mph in under 4.0 seconds. Used, it has to be one of the V8s for the noise and performance. We’d look for a recent Mantaray 4.6, with the tidied up rear styling. £20,000 will buy you a perfect example.
If you love driving buy a Caterham. Nothing out there can connect you to the road quite so effectively. Driving a Caterham 7 is a blast, whether it’s an entry-level 1.4-litre model, a flagship Superlight R500 or one of the manic superbike engined cars. Based on Colin Chapman’s Lotus 7 design, Caterham has honed the Seven to be one of the most involving drives money can buy. Sure it’s hugely impractical and cramped but you won’t care when your driving it. Even the lowest power models feel ridiculously quick, while anything with over 150bhp offers supercar beating pace. Prices used start at around £7,000, but we’d look to spend between £12-£15,000 for a factory, rather than home built car. That said, you could race a new one for £199 a month if you sign up for the Caterham Academy. Our choice: 1.6 Supersport
Despite the company’s recent demise (not the first time in its history, and if you believe the current rumours they may well return again) MG made some good cars. The MGF was the best, and can now be bought used for as little as £3,000. This cute looking mid-engined two seater remained a big seller, and you can still get a new one with a decent discount. During its life it received a large re-engineering becoming the MGTF. It’s these cars that are the most desirable, their more conventional suspension working better than the hydrogas suspension of the MGF. They also look better, too. Avoid the automatic, or the 1.6-litre engine, instead spend from £8,500 up for a TF with the 1.8-litre engine and enjoy.
Lotus has a long history of producing light, fast sports cars with peerless handling and fantastic feel and performance. Famous, evocative names like the Elan, Esprit and the more recent Elise all follow these Lotus principles. Earlier cars are probably best left to the real enthusiasts who have the patience, time and money to spend on them to keep them working properly. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t have a Lotus, the most recent Elan looks good and drives fantastically despite its front-wheel-drive layout and can be had for sensible money, but we’d opt for an Elise every time. Take someone along who knows the Elise when buying, and avoid cars that have been used excessively on track. Used prices have dropped below £10,000 for series one cars – that’s not a lot for a car that will easily provide driving thrills to better cars costing ten times that. Our choice: Lotus Elise (Series One).
All the cars here require a degree of commitment and sacrifice from their owners. None more so though than the Ariel. Open to the elements in a way that makes the other choices here look civilised the best way to describe the Ariel is as a fully open car. Its tubular construction features only minimal bodywork and no screen, meaning you’re as open to the elements as a motorcyclist. The result is that the Ariel is super light allowing even the more modestly powered engines to deliver scintillating performance. Rover engines have now been replaced by Honda screamers, which can be supercharged for even more eye-watering performance. Used cars don’t come up very often and you’ll not pay less than £16,000 for any, but for that you’ll get a unique motoring experience that’s hugely fun on road or track. Our choice: Atom 1 Rover 140
Like Caterham, Westfield offer customers the chance to build their own cars from a kit, or have them factory built. They’re similar in looks to Caterham too, particularly the pre-litigation cars which aside from the badges were virtually identical. But Westfield is arguably even more bonkers, fitting everything from Hayabusta motorcycle engines to thumping great V8s into their lightweight sports cars. Popular at track days and easily tuned, any Westfield will give you an unforgettable driving experience. We’d have to have a V8 just to hear the sound it makes and scare ourselves silly behind the wheel. Used prices start at around £6,000, but spend a bit more to find a nice V8 example. Our choice: Westfield Seight
Few have heard of them, but once you’ve seen an Ultima you’ll never forget it. This mid-engined monster has claimed several speed and acceleration records, and looks like it’s come straight from the track. Famously, McLaren used a couple of Ultimas as test beds for the 230mph F1, a car which the most powerful Ultimas can actually better. A beautifully constructed spaceframe chassis forms the basis for these machines, its power coming from a range of Chevrolet-sourced V8 engines. Available as a turn-key model direct from the factory, or in kit form for home assembly, the Ultima is the cheapest route to owning a 200mph+ supercar. Used examples are rare, but around £40,000 will buy you a car that’s got the performance to beat everything on the road – and track. Our choice: Ultima GTR
British sports cars really do offer something special to their owners but unquestionably require a degree of dedication and compromise to own. The Ultima would thrill us with its ludicrous performance, while the Lotus Elise and Caterham’s fantastic handling is hugely appealing. Conversely, the Morgan reeks of vintage charm. They’re all so different it makes choosing one car here impossible. However, one thing is certain. Whatever car you opt for, every drive will be an experience, and that’s what makes all these cars so unique.
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