What springs to mind when you think of a classic, British car? Aston Martin? Mini? Perhaps even Bentley?
Whilst all of these brands may boast a strong British heritage, what you may not know is they’re now all owned by international companies. In fact, there’s only one British car brand that has remained truly, iconically British over the years.
Reckon you know who it is? Take a look below to see if you’re right. Here, we delve into the history of Britain’s top 10 car brands, and see how they’ve changed over the years.
Germany is the country that many people see as the pioneering force behind car manufacturing, so it’s perhaps unsurprising that their automobile companies own three of the top British car brands!
One of those brands is Bentley, which was founded in 1919 in London. Known for luxury and performance; Bentley was purchased by Volkswagen in 1998. Its production facilities are located in Crewe, ensuring it remains a classic British brand we all know and love.
Another classic British car brand purchased by a German company is Rolls-Royce. The first Rolls-Royce car was built in 1904, and its Silver Ghost model was hailed as the world’s best car in the early 1900s.
Rolls-Royce were the go-to cars for royals and celebrities in the 1950s and 60s; with Queen Elizabeth owning a Phantom IV. Only 18 were ever built, making it one of the rarest cars in existence.
In 1998, Volkswagen initially purchased Rolls-Royce alongside Bentley, but the rights to sell cars under the Rolls-Royce name were given to BMW. In 2002, BMW took over entirely from Volkswagen, with Rolls-Royce cars produced in Goodwood, England.
Perhaps the most iconic classic British car is Mini. The brand originated in the 1950s, when designer Sir Alex Issigonis (who worked at the British Motor Corporation – or BMC) developed the compact Mini in response to a need for efficient city cars, that could use fuel economically.
The Mini Cooper was created in 1961, as an updated version of the original Mini. However, it didn’t stay British-owned for long: during the 1970s and 80s, it was owned by Spanish and Italian companies. In the 1990s, the Rover Group (who owned the rights to Mini at the time), was bought by German car company BMW, who relaunched the Mini in 2000.
It’s now back at the top, as a quintessentially British car brand.
Did you know that Jaguar is owned by an Indian company? Tata – India’s biggest car manufacturer – purchased Jaguar (along with Land Rover) in 2008. Prior to that, Jaguar was owned by BMC from 1968, until it became independent in the 1980s. In 1989 it was purchased by Ford, before being taken over by Tata.
Originating in 1922 as the Swallow Sidecar Company, it wasn’t until the 1940s that the brand became known as Jaguar. From then on, it was famed for its high-performance, technologically advanced cars. This is something that still rings true: in 2014, the Jaguar XE was the first car in the world to use a new grade of highly recyclable aluminium.
Tata purchased Land Rover at the same time as Jaguar, merging them to form a single company in 2013.
Land Rover’s history is equally as interesting as Jaguar’s, with its roots firmly planted in British culture. The Land Rover Series was launched in 1948, advertised as an all-purpose off-road vehicle. In the 1970s, the Range Rover was born.
Land Rover was so popular, that in 1978 its owners British Leyland made it a standalone company; but it was bought by BMW in 1994. It then joined Jaguar under Ford in 2000, until it was purchased by Tata.
Founded in 1913, Aston Martin has grown to become an internationally-renowned luxury car brand. The name itself originates from a motoring event in Buckinghamshire; and it’s supplied many cars for competitive racing – including its debut at the 1922 French Grand Prix.
However, Aston Martin is perhaps most famous for being the car that James Bond drives – and that is what has firmly secured its reputation as a true British car brand.
What you may not have realised, is that actually, its owners aren’t British. Up until 2007, it was a subsidiary of American company Ford; but was then taken over by a consortium led by Prodrive, made up of an American private investor, and two Kuwaiti businesses. In 2012, an Italian equity fund then purchased a third of the company.
Vauxhall has been creating quality British cars for over 110 years – but did you know it’s owned by American company, General Motors (GM)?
GM has owned Vauxhall since 1925, and helped to reshape the company in-line with the cars they were selling under their brand name.
The first ever Vauxhall car was created in 1903 – the 6HP – and it soon made a name for itself in the sporting world; with the Vauxhall 30-98 setting the fastest record at the Waddington Fell hill-climb in 1913.
Whilst GM experienced financial difficulties in 2000s, they gave Vauxhall a much-needed boost, and moved production of the Astra to the UK, helping it to retain its British heritage.
Much-loved British brand MG was founded in 1924, launched as a faster, sportier version of Morris Motors, which was a popular brand at the time.
Prince Charles was perhaps the most famous MG owner – he purchased a car in 1969, and later passed it down to Prince William.
MG has retained its strong British roots, despite its international owners. In 2000, the MG Rover Group was formed, but entered administration in 2005. It was at that point where it fell into Chinese hands, NAC.
In 2007, NAC merged with SAIC who have owned MG ever since. However, MG cars continue to be designed and engineered in Birmingham.
Lotus was most recently acquired by Chinese company Geely, who now owns 51% of the company. The other 49% remains with Etika, a Malaysian business.
This is an exciting time for the brand, as Geely is responsible for Volvo’s latest success – having bought the Swedish car brand in 2010, they’ve actively embraced new platforms and autonomous technology.
Lotus has never been a “big” car company compared to other brands, but it didn’t want to be: instead, its focus has always been on function. Founded in 1952, Lotus started out as a racing car; and was later modified to be driven on the road.
Once Ferrari’s biggest competitors on the racetrack, Lotus cars are perhaps most famous for being so lightweight.
The only British car brand that has stayed 100% true to its British roots is Morgan. The family-owned business produce hand-built sports cars that are renowned for their heritage and expert craft.
Established in 1909, Morgan 4-4 car that was created in 1936 holds the title of the longest running car in production in the world.
With only 850 cars produced each year, Morgan remains a highly desired and niche brand. The factory is located in Malvern, Worcester; and customers and fans are often invited to visit.
The family history and true British heritage makes Morgan a truly exciting car company.
Whilst the Germans and the Italians may be well-known for their cars; the truth is that the British have created many exciting brands too. Whilst many of them are now owned by international companies, all of these brands have retained their British heritage, and that is what makes them so sought after.
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