Foreign-powered Brits | Six of the Best

Shopping abroad for your output supplier is nothing new. In fact, it's the oldest trick in the book…

By PH Staff / Saturday, October 31, 2020

One thing has been playing on the mind of the PH brain trust this week (it honestly can't handle more than one): Aston Martin and its deepening relationship with Mercedes. It is a substantial subject, and has a tendency to scatter people either side of an obvious fence. On one flank, the stalwarts, who regard any outside influence – especially a technological partnership – as an unwanted and unnecessary affront. For these people Aston should remain small and pure and inscrutably British.

On the other, the realists, who insist the company cannot survive in any meaningful sense unless it has unfettered access to all the expensive and futuristic things which it cannot possibly hope to build for itself. For them Aston should be large and successful and proudly international.

As ever, the truth lays somewhere between the two (if not actually on the fence, then somewhere near it). A tiny, hand-wrought, super-focused Aston has some appeal, of course – but it would be endlessly inward-facing and obsessed with replaying past glories. Similarly, a brand too obviously at the mercy of a German manufacturer's parts bin is not attractive either. If Aston is not distinct and hugely desirable, it is nothing.

Doubtless the firm understands this – and because the value of its eventual 20 per cent equity share depends on Aston's continued success, Mercedes is at pains to acknowledge it too – and PH is hopeful that a page has genuinely been turned following what has obviously been a very difficult period. Naturally some of that hope springs eternal from previous partnerships with British manufacturers and foreign providers of power. Because those relationships – some perfunctory, others very tight-knit – have produced some of the finest and quintessentially coolest cars ever produced. Here are six of the best…

TVR Griffith, 1996, 69k, £17,995

I'd argue that there's never been a more successful exemplar of creating a distinctive sports car from donated parts than the TVR Griffith. The recipe was so perfectly executed back in the early 1990s, with a stunning body draped over an outsourced V8, that the very latest Griffith could very much be seen as a reimagination of the idea. But let's not get down in the dumps discussing the new one right now…

Instead take a look at this Griffith, smartly specced in Midnight Blue with red leather, and be happy: this is one of the TVR icons, a car as handsome today as it was at launch almost 30 years ago, available for the price of a Ford Fiesta. Prices have firmed up in recent years as the combination of dependable Rover V8 power and the Griffith's suave good looks have become properly appreciated. But this one, thanks to a slightly higher mileage of 69,000, is for sale at £17,995. You can pay much more than that for a four-cylinder Morgan of similar vintage.

Like so many of the British sports cars motivated by US muscle over the years, the Griffith's charm is simple: it looks great, sounds even better, and goes jolly fast. In an increasingly complex and confusing automotive landscape, don't underestimate that appeal – I'd have it in a shot.

Tesla Roadster, 2008, 24k, £78,000

Remember when Tesla was there for all to mock? Top Gear introduced the now-infamous Roadster first drive with EVs derided as "brown-rice eco cars" and "very earnest"; looking back on it, that was probably the time to think about investing…

Given it was launched 12 years ago, the Roadster looks remarkably prescient. Technically of course it was American – but technically we all know it was as British as roast beef and Yorkshire pud because it was based on the Lotus Elise using Norfolk-based know how to figure out how you could outfit a sports car with umpteen laptop batteries without it crashing into the nearest lamp post. It was very much a Britsh car powered by American parts – although we all know who came out of the relationship on top.

Despite a £92k asking price when new, Roadsters have retained a lot of their value as rare, interesting EV trailblazers. This one is still £78,000 after a decade and 24,000 miles of use, one of just 48 UK RHD models. Fresh batteries were installed in 2015, and the first Tesla is nothing if not intriguing in 2020. I wouldn't be surprised if the idea comes back around soon enough. Until then, how do I make it Supercharger compatible?

Morgan Plus 8, 2014, 26k, £80,950

I've a soft spot for Morgan; the end product may not be everyone's cup of tea, but I'd like to think everyone can at least appreciate the level of skill and craftsmanship that goes into each one. I fondly remember the Sunday Services we used to hold at Pickersleigh Road – let's all hope they can recommence soon.

Thanks to a kind loan from the team at Morgan back in 2014, I was lucky enough to have a 4/4 four-seater as my wedding car. A risky choice given our November date, but luckily the weather was on our side. Whisking the bride away from the church with the roof down in a shower of confetti was an experience I won't ever forget; I couldn't think of a car better suited to the job.

So there could be only one choice this week, especially as recent Plus 8 and Aero 8 Morgans were powered by the same BMW N57 V8 as found in my 550i. With noise and power aplenty, plus a whole lot less weight to lug around, I'd argue the BMW engine probably suits the Morgan sports car better than the saloon it was built for.

This specific example might divide opinion in Lamborghini Cepheus Blue, but I think it looks pretty special – especially with the contrasting black wheels and bonnet strap. £80k is a lot to throw down on car for high days and holidays (certainly a lot more than I spent on the 5 Series!) but then it doesn't look so bad given Pete's selection…

AC Cobra, 1964, 45k, £695,000

For a car nut this next statement will sound a bit bizarre, but I have a recorded copy of Le Mans 66 on my Tivo box and still have not got around to watch it. I'm excited to see what Hollywood made of one of motorsport's most memorable eras, although it's safe to say that the GT40 would not have existed in its legendary format without the success of Shelby's previous project…

The combination of an AC Ace and a Ford V8 produced, in my opinion, one of the best cars of the 1960s – especially with the Daytona-style hard top. And though I've been a bit greedy here – this Cobra's asking price is more than all the others combined, and quite a lot more – it's about as good as you'll find in 2020.

It's right-hand drive no less, with uninterrupted documentation from the day it rolled off the production line. The Cobra is a bucket list car for me, the perfect example of two nationalities working together to build a world-beater. I still dream of owning one, although I may have to think about a Dax 427 with hardtop to recreate some iconic racing instead… `

Jensen Interceptor, 1969, 95k, £59,995

Not so long after the Cobra had shown that a British chassis and Dearborn V8 could deliver heaven on earth, the Jensen Interceptor came along and added an Italian-designed shooting brake to the Anglo-American shortlist. Its 6.3-litre Chrysler 'Low Deck Big Block' V8 produced 270hp at the crank, which in a pretty two-door GT, made for exotica-troubling performance at the time – complemented, of course, by a bone-rattling soundtrack. Yet this was a car that could also comfortably cart a family over long distances, too.

Even so, the main reason I've always had a soft spot for Interceptors is because my grandad once owned one. He recalls with fondness my dad – who in the early seventies was a teenaged apprentice mechanic – grabbing the keys to blat up and down the A10 so he could "clear out the carbs". Or at least that was the excuse. It's clear that from the moment it arrived the Interceptor was something a bit special.

Things got even more outrageous following the Series 1, when Jensen shoehorned Chrysler's 7.2-litre 'High Deck' block into the engine bay. But thanks to the S1's lower production run – just 1,204 were made – the earliest cars have always been the most desirable. It's reflected in the prices; a good S1 is nudging new BMW M3 money these days. But just look at this one: it's a '69 S1 in brown and beige with gleaming chromework and that 6.2 all good and proper. I'm absolutely sold.

Caterham Seven 620R, 2015, 4k, £44,995

Nic couldn't make it to Six of the Best this week, and suggested I write about Ariel and its ongoing relationship with Honda. Granted, it is a triumphant example of British engineering flair mixing it with foreign conglomerate technical brilliance – but I never worked for Somerset's finest. I worked at Caterham, and it has been deploying other people's engines to good effect since before Ariel was a glint in Simon Saunders' eye…

While the naturally aspirated Ford Sigma and Duratec engines used elsewhere in the Seven range were hardly just 'dropped in', the 620R is on a whole other level. With a supercharger and a Sadev sequential gearbox, it is a true lunatics' special. And that certainly applies to the people who came up with it.

It is, without a doubt, the most raw, bonkers, exhilarating, bat-crap crazy car I've ever driven. There is a clutch for setting off in first gear, but once you're away you can fire through the gearbox without lifting your right foot. It is intoxicating. If you've never driven a Seven, it'll be terrifying. There's nothing to save you beyond your own ability. But if you've owned one before and are looking for maximum thrills, there's nothing that'll make you feel more alive this side of skydiving. The 620R isn't just a feat of showing how you well can cram a crate engine into a small engine bay – I think it's a masterpiece.

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