Growing up in the UK during the ’70-80s, it was easy to understand why the British car industry was in so much trouble. Poor products, quality control, management and labor relations all took their toll. And despite a robust “Buy British” campaign, Japanese and European imports offered reliability and style.
Although government bailouts were available for some struggling automakers, particularly the publicly owned British Leyland, eventually the companies became unviable. Many have faded to extinction, while others were cherry-picked by overseas investors looking to trade on the heritage of some of the finest brands in the world.
Most of the brands were treated sympathetically but the first owners had over-capacity and debt to deal with. It seems to be the second owners who’ve been able to focus on product development.
We now see companies like Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Aston Martin, Jaguar, Land Rover and Mini thriving under foreign ownership, often with British designers, engineers and marketers. The jury is still out on Chinese-owned MG/Rover, though.
Our drive in the Aston Martin DBS and first sight of the new Range Rover and Jaguar F-Type prove these three companies have definitely rediscovered their mojo. Perhaps HRH The Queen joining Mr Bond for the Summer Olympics was the sign of the overall health of a nation that once counted soccer hooligans as its biggest export, but now boasts one of the world’s largest sports franchises in the Premier League, some of the most successful F1 teams and a healthy haul of Olympic medals among its crown jewels.
The health of a nation is more than its GDP. It can be seen in its optimism and creativity. The F-Type is the latest product from this Sceptred Isle that demonstrates a confidence lacking in many sports car makers. It has a poise and precision that while not echoing the perfection of the E-Type, certainly reflects its greatness within the constraints of modern crash protection, emissions, recyclability, etc.
In light of the UK recovery, you have to wonder what will happen to the US automakers post-bailout. Will they have to go through a similar extended period of reinvention? Are bold products like the Volt and Explorer a sign of renewed energy and purpose? Will they bounce back from the PT Cruiser, Monte Carlo and HHR to lead the world with innovation? Is the country and its economy ready to support the Big Three as they embark on a new chapter?
It’s certainly a fascinating time to be alive, and an epic period for automotive development as engineers attempt to embrace speed and efficiency, boldness and sustainability.
In one of his final interviews, Carroll Shelby regretted that, despite everything he’d seen, he wouldn’t live long enough to witness how the electrification of the automobile turned out. Most of us will not only live to see that progress, but we’ll also benefit from it.
Yes, it’s in the eye of the beholder but I have to admit some personal favorites are in this issue. From Stefano Tringali’s VW GTI to Jim Cooper’s E-Type, we’ve got some all-time classics. I’ll also confess that the BMW 1M and Ferrari FF are among my top modern designs, and both Vorsteiner and Novitec seem to have enhanced each car.
I know some people won’t like the air-ride on the GTI, the vents on the XKE, or the carbon on the FF and 1M, but let’s all agree they have the basis of great tuner cars. We can all imagine how we’d do it differently perhaps, but these guys actually went out and got it done.
Looking further forward, I can’t wait to perhaps get my hands on an F-Type one day. Looking around it, I was initially struggling to see what could be done with this car. The design is so precise there didn’t seem much room for improvement. But I’ve since come up with a few ideas I’d love to see materialized in the metal.