As with every nation known for making cars, the UK has quite a few small makers that are worth taking note of. Unlike most nations most of the smaller auto manufacturers seem to start their name with an “A.” Just kidding, although you’ll see it’s sort of true. We hope you enjoy this brief list of them. If you know of some we missed please comment. (PS yes, I know the picture says part 3a. Again I recycle the graphics for the rare makers.)
AC Cars Ltd was one of the first car makers of Great Britain. It makes sports cars set apart by excellent dynamics and racing qualities. AC stood for Auto Carriers Ltd. in the beginning. Around 1901 the Weller brothers began tinkering with a making a car, a 20 HP touring car which they presented at the Crystal Palace motor show in 1903.
Their business manager and financial backer, John Portwine, was a butcher by trade. He didn’t want to take that full car into production. It was too big and only useful as a passenger vehicle. So they decided to crate a 3 wheeled delivery vehicle first.
In 1904 the company, now names Autocars and Accessories, debuted a very popular single seater with a cargo box behind it. Three years later they made a version available with a bench seat in place of the cargo box, called the sociable.
The company became Auto Carriers Ltd. in 1911, adopted their round logo, and produced their first four-wheeled car in 1913. WWI put the company on hold for a bit. In 1921, Selwyn Edge (previously of Napier), pushed the John’s Weller & Portwine out of the company, renaming it to AC Cars Ltd. and began promoting the car through racing.
Sales declined and the company was bought out by the Hurlock family who had not interest in making cars. Hurlocks ran a successful haulage business and wanted the factory on High Street as a warehouse. They continued to service cars until they agreed in 1930 to start producing cars again. In 1932 they contracted with Standard to supply new chassis. The 2nd world war shut them down again, but after the war AC got a government contract to produce the odd-looking Thundersley Invacar Type 57. This crazy thing had a fibreglass-body, one seat, and a Villiers 2-stroke engines. This odd car was designed for wounded veterans, distributed for free to the disabled, and kept AC solvent for decades.
Thus the company embarked on their continued journey as both an industrial/business car maker as well as a race/sports car maker.
As a race car maker they have a storied history including an early La Mans success but things really kicked into high gear when AC was approached by none other than Carol Shelby in 1961. He wanted to put a small block Ford Windsor V8 engine into an Ace chassis. The AC Ace could be a post unto itself having developed through a pattern of race team experimentation across Europe, which spawned production cars from AC based on the battlefield (racetrack) success of these modifications. (We say modification but don’t think they added a spoiler or something, we’re talking about rebuilds with new engines on an AC Chassis in some cases.)
The result of the Shelby collaboration also produced a set of cars (31 of them) that were ultimately sold to the public as Cobra 427 S/C. These cars sell for around $1.5 million if you can get your hands on one.
The Peregrine Falcon is the fastest creature on Earth and putting it’s image on the Arash emblem was a bold statement about the type of car Arash Farboud was going to make. Starting in 1999 Farbound committed to a new era of power and convenience in sports cars. Originally Farboud Limited, (name changed in ’06) Arash Motor Company makes Supercars and Hypercars based in Newmarket, Suffolk, England.
Of course it wouldn’t be a British car company without more drama than a high school cheer squad. So here is the short version. Arash’s first design, the Farboud GT, garnered a lot of attention at its debut in Birmingham NEC Autosport Show, but his second car, the Farboud GTS became a sought after design–by other designers. Chris Marsh worked for Arash (sales and marketing) and became obsessed with the car. Arash granted him licence to the shape allowing Chris to switch out he engine, stream line the doors and improve the interior, which gave the engine a link to bio-fuel. After trying to re-brand the car as “the Fangion” after deceased Argentine F1 racer, but being stopped by the family, Chris renamed it “the Farbio.”
Arash sold his shares of Farbio to Michael Simmonds, who later sold to Laurence Tomlinson of Ginetta fame, who kept the design and renamed the car the Ginetta F400.
Arash retained 100% of what is now Arash Motor Company and went on to design more fast and powerful cars–the AF10 (2009) and AF8 (2016). The AF10 is 7.0-litre V8 engine producing at least 500bhp. The AF8 is a mid-engined 7.0-litre V8 engine producing 505bhp (Brake Horsepower).
You might think of Arial the Bicyle and later motorbike maker in Bournbrook, Birmingham, but we are talking about the tiny maker of cars in Crewkerne, in Somerset, England, where a team of 7 to 30 people makes about 100 cars a year.
Founded by Simon Saunders in 1991, Arial makes 4 different designs.
The Atom is an extremely light, high performance car, with unique “exoskeleton” design, (no bodywork or roof) its built entirely around the tube chassis, making it weigh less than 500 kg (1,102 lb). If you want to look like you’re driving an F1 Racer on the street, the Atom is your only choice as there are no other street legal cars of this design. Powered by a Honda Civic Type-R engine and gearbox the 3.5R supercharged model will get you around 700 bhp per ton!
The Ace is Ariel’s attempt at a bike, which could be confusing given the historic bike maker mentioned above. It’s powered by a Honda 1237cc V4 engine and gearbox.
The Nomad can be thought of as an off-road version of the Atom. This road-legal buggy only produces 235bhp.
Ascari Cars Ltd. is a producer of sports cars based in Banberi, UK. The company was founded by Dutch millionaire Klaas Zwart. The company is named after two-time F1 world champion Alberto Ascari (1918—1955).
Very little is known about Ascari. They established in Dorset originally, in 1994. In 2000 they built their new facility in Banbury in northern Oxfordshire.
Its first limited-edition car, the Ascari Ecosse, (1998). Ascari’s second car, the Ascari KZ1, was developed at Banbury, which also housed Team Ascari’s racing assets. The premises are now occupied by Haas F1 Team, of Newman Hass fame. We wouldn’t mention them at all if they stuck to race cars, but they did have a 2005 road-going version called the Ascari KZ1-R version of the A410 race car.
A full list of their cars and versions can be found at this link. Very pretty web surfing for folks like us.
Bristol Cars is technically defunct in our opinion, though you could see some of their cars on the road if you get lucky. The manufactured a very small number of “deluxe” class cars by hand until March of 2011 when they suspended manufacture, changed their board members and fired 22 employees.
Bristol Cars was born out of the Bristol Aeroplane Company in 1945 when the war effort would no longer be buying warplanes. Much of Bristol was bombed during WWII so the entire area was being remade and modernized.
Interestingly, a new company was formed in 2011 to sell off components of the old one. The new company is owned by Kamkorp Group, and mainly operated to service units it had previously sold. In 2018 they began talking about a new flagship cars design called the “Bullet” a two-seat, open-top sports car which commemorated their 70th year as a company. Power is sourced from a naturally aspirated 4.8-litre BMW V8 producing 400 bhp, an tribute to their the Bristol 405 Drophead coupé. At least 8 completed chassis with BMW V8 before the company again dissolved without going into full production.