13 Greatest British Sports Cars of All Time

Britain has a rich history of motoring and one of the world's biggest and best car scenes. There have certainly been rough patches, and its automotive industry has battered. But what it has produced in the past is worth talking about.

That includes an array of brilliant sports cars. Some of the most famous include the Jaguar E-Type, but others, such as the Dolomite Sprint, have earned a place in history.

This list will contain 13 of the best that the country has produced. We've based our selection on performance and speed, agility in the corners, and, in some cases, their designs' attractiveness.

Jaguar E-Type

Jaguar E-Type Series 1
Image Credit: Jaguar.

The most well-known British sports car is undoubtedly the Jaguar E-Type, notably the early Series 1. Jaguar produced the E-Type from 1961 to 1974, with early versions featuring the famous XK inline-six engine. The final generation of the E-Type would boast Jaguar's mighty V12 powertrain.

Enzo Ferrari called the E-Type “the most beautiful car ever made,” he isn't alone in admiring its attractiveness. For its time, the E-Type had several innovations, such as front and rear independent suspension with disc brakes mounted inboard at the rear.

Lotus Elan M100

Image Credit: Charles01 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0/WikiCommons.

The Lotus Elan M100 represents the final fling for the British sports car icon, as the Elan can trace its roots back to 1962. Lotus introduced the M100 in 1989, and the sports car has moved from a rear-wheel drive layout to front-wheel drive, still with the engine mounted in the front.

The Elam M100 was typically lightweight for a Lotus and had some of the best handling characteristics of any sports car on the market. Independent suspension and the Isuzu twin-cam turbocharged engine made it a joy to drive and one of the best-ever iterations of the Elan.

Jensen Interceptor

Image Credit: Mr.choppers – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0/WikiCommons.

You could strongly argue for the Jensen Interceptor as a full-blown American muscle car. That is because, under the hood, Jensen used the Chrysler small-block V8 engine to give the Interceptor some of Britain's most considerable horsepower numbers at the time.

The engines are from the small-block 360 ci 5.9-liter LA V8 to the massive 440 ci 7.2-liter high-deck big-block V8. The biggest downside for the Interceptor was that it was sadly more expensive than other offerings, such as the E-Type, which offered a little more prestige than the Jensen.

Lotus Emira

Lotus Emira
Image Credit: Lotus.

Even if it is a recent release, the Lotus Emira has done enough to earn a place on this list. The Emira also occupies a special place in Lotus's history as the last car to have an internal combustion engine under the hood before moving to a fully electric lineup.

Power for the Emira comes from a Toyota 3.5-liter supercharged V6 and a 2.0-liter four-cylinder Mercedes-AMG derived engine. Power for the V6 version is 400-hp and 320 lb-ft of torque, while the smaller Mercedes powertrain produces 360-hp. The Emira follows the “simplify, then add lightness” mantra that Lotus founder Colin Chapman followed for much of his life.

Triumph Spitfire

Image Credit: Lothar Spurzem – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.0 de/WikiCommons.

While reliability wasn't always its strong point, the Triumph Spitfire remains one of the best-loved British sports cars ever. Named after World War II's Supermarine Spitfire fighter plane, Triumph launched the car in the 1960s as a fun two-seater that you could sink your teeth into on Britain's back roads.

The Spitfire was in production for 18 years, and during that time, Triumph produced roughly 315,000 of them across five generations. All of them had inline-four power under the hood. Generations one and two had the 1,147 cc engine, while generations three and four had the 1,296 engine. The fifth generation had the 1,493 cc inline-four under the hood.


Image Credit: DeFacto – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0/WikiCommons.

The MG MGB combines excitement and affordability while being a great classic car. MG built the MGB from 1965 to 1980, and early models, with their chrome bumpers and trim, were particularly beautiful. Power came from a 1.8-liter four-cylinder 95-hp engine, which was plenty for such a lightweight sports car.

MG's appearance would change for later generations thanks to new plastic bumpers. However, the little MGB still retained all the characteristics that made it such a hit, and the MGB is a perfect example of a quintessentially British sports car.

Ford Cortina Mk III

Ford Cortina Mk III
Image Credit: Ford.

Classic Fords are some of the best ways to get sports car thrills for a reasonable budget. One of the very best comes from the British side of the brand: the Cortina Mk III, which Ford produced from 1970 to 1976. This makes it the perfect entry-level classic.

Thanks to the number of Fords produced, they have stayed relatively affordable while earlier generations have shot up in value. The Cortina Mk III is much more affordable than the contemporary Anglia and Capri. Ford lets you choose a Cortina MkIII with various engines, from a Crossflow inline-four to a Pinto inline-four.

Lotus Carlton

Image Credit: Charles01 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0/WikiCommons

The Lotus Carlton is one of the most ferocious and controversial British sports cars ever produced. It is a tuned and upgraded version of the Vauxhall Carlton, with a massive 3.6-liter Opel twin-turbocharged V6 that produced a scarcely believable 377 horsepower. The fact that the Carlton could comfortably carry four passengers and generate the same and better performance as even Ferraris caused quite a stir.

Sadly, the Carlton also became the target of many thieves. One famous Carlton, 40 RA, was used by a gang of thieves to steal up to $20,000 worth of cigarettes and alcohol. A smear campaign by the automotive press and British government sadly hurt Carlton's sales, stymying one of the best cars to come from Britain in years.

Jaguar XJ220

Jaguar XJ220 1992
Image Credit: Jaguar.

The Jaguar XJ220 remains one of the fastest yet most controversial British sports cars ever produced. When Jaguar introduced the XJ220 in 1988, the concept had a 6.2-liter Jaguar V12 under the hood, producing 500 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque.

Sadly, due to emissions requirements and engineering issues, Jaguar replaced the V12 with a twin-turbocharged Jaguar JRV-V6 engine. While it produced more power and torque, 542 hp and 475 lb-ft of torque, the change was enough to put people off the car, as was the $500,000 asking price. Yet the XJ220 was still capable of 200 mph, and its sleek styling and streamlined shape still looked cutting-edge.

2005-2018 Aston Martin Vantage

2017 Aston Martin V12 Vantage
Image Credit: Mr.choppers – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0/WikiCommons.

Aston Martin has produced many icons over the years, which continued into the 21st century as the brand tried to find its feet again. While the 2005-2018 Aston Martin Vantage was the “entry-level” offering in the range, the sports car was anything but entry-level.

With a V8 or V12 under the hood, the sports car was closer to a supercar, with 380- 595 horsepower on offer from its two powertrains. The Vantage also retained the iconic looks we know and love with any Aston Martin, with a beautifully sculpted rear end and the trademark grille and front fascia.

Aston Martin DB5

Aston Martin DB5
Image Credit: Aston Martin.

It might be cliche to say this, but the Aston Martin DB5 is arguably the British manufacturer's best-ever car. The DB5 shot to fame thanks to its role in the James Bond films, and while officially it was a grand tourer, its performance and handling put it right on par with sports cars of the day.

Under the hood, the DB5 had a four-liter engine producing 282 hp, propelling it to a top speed of 145 mph. Two years later, Aston Martin produced the DB5 Vantage, an upgraded version with 325 hp and a top speed of 162 mph. The rarest version of the DB5 is the convertible, with just seven produced from 1963 to 1965.

Jaguar XK-120

Image Credit: Thesupermat – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0/WikiCommons.

While the E-Type hogs Jaguar's glory, the XK-120 is arguably a more important sports car than its descendant. Jaguar initially produced the XK-120 as a concept car in 1948. However, the public reaction and demand were so strong that Jaguar put the car into production.

Between 1948 and 1954, Jaguar produced 12,055 examples of the XK-120, and it was the first sports car from the company since 1939, when they created the final SS100. For years, the XK-120 was the fastest car in the world thanks to the six-cylinder, 3.4-liter engine that made 160-hp with a top speed of 120 mph.

Noble M10

Noble M10
Image Credit: Autocar.

Noble is one of the most famous names in British sports cars. However, the M10 is often forgotten. Thanks to the success of the M12, it became a giant killer. But it was the M10 that started it all, becoming Noble's first production car when launched in the 1990s.

But you'd think they were from different eras, such as the modesty of the M10. Under the hood, the 2.5-liter Ford V6 remained naturally aspirated and produced just 168 hp. Noble also produced just six examples of the M10, but those who did drive it loved it. So, while it may have been tame, the M10 provided the launch pad for some of the most outstanding performance cars in history.

Author: Henry Kelsall

Henry is a freelance writer, with a love for all things motoring whether it be classic sports cars, or Formula 1 racing. He has freelanced for over eight years now, mostly in automotive matters, but he has also dabbled in other forms of writing too. He has a lot of love for Japanese classics and American muscle cars, in particular the Honda NSX and first-generation Ford Mustang. When not writing, Henry is often found at classic car events or watching motorsports at home, but he also has a curious passion for steam trains and aviation.

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