Rare Auto Makers of the UK: (part 3C)

Caterham

The story of Caterham is the story of Lotus. Founded in 1973 as a car company, Caterham was originally top seller of the Lotus series 7. Series 1 Lotus Seven began production in 1957. The car is a great “club-style” racer which produces speed via it’s light weight more than it’s powerful engine. Lotus went on to create a Series 2 (1960), Series 3 (1968) and Series 4 (1970) versions of their seven, before discontinuing production in 1973.

That’s when Caterham stepped in and bought the rights to continue manufacturing the Seven. They continue to make their Caterham 7, a direct evolution of the Series 3 Lotus Seven designed by Colin Chapman. More recently Caterha did start making the Caterham 21, (based on the Lotus Elise) and  the SP/300.R, a track only car co-developed with Lola.

The seven reduces weight by chucking every creature comfort and safety feature they can. Its not a practical modern transportation vehicle, without air-conditioning, airbags, traction/stability control, ABS, satellite navigation or cruise control. Lovers of this car would argue that this car exists as a celebration of the pure driving experience. If you have driven one, please let us know.

David Brown

David Brown believes the car is created for the soul. The well known businessman and car enthusiast put his first car forward in 2014 a year after they founded in in Coventry. In 2017 they moved their headquarters to their brand new manufacturing facilities in Silverstone Park in April 2017.

Their first car was the Speedback GT, which does not have any relationship to the Aston Martin version of the car. Their second car was the Mini Remastered in 2018, which is pretty closely related to the Mini Coup.

Using 5.0-litre Jaguar AJ-V8 engine as a powerplant the fastback gets 565 lb⋅ft of torque. It’s inspired by 960s racing grand tourers and British jet aircraft of the same era.

The Mini Remastered powerplant is the basic Mini engine delivering up to 83 bhp. They basically strip a brand new mini “donor” car and redesign the body by all-new steel body shell is bespoke-made by British Motor Heritage, which is then coach built and refined by David Brown Automotive–painstakingly creating something that looks just like it did before they touched it. They also make some improvements to the interior adding a air conditioning, electric start/stop button, remote central locking, full LED lighting and a 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple® CarPlay®, satellite navigation3G4GBluetooth® and DAB connectivity, and electric power assist steering. Just in case you weren’t paying enough for your mini.

MG

MG not only makes smaller sports cars they would appear to hold the record for the smallest Web Address. mg.co.uk, really? It’s taking economy a bit seriously. MG belongs to to Chinese corporation, SAIC Auto Group, via their merger with Nanjing Automobile Group, who originally acquired MG. SAIC now manufactures all cars in its plant in China, continuing all MG lines although they’ve continued to modernize the design a bit.

As a British Car Company with its own Marque, M.G. Car Co. Ltd, only existed from 1930 to 1972, though it was founded by Cecil Kimber sometime around 1924. How is a car company founded 6 years before it incorporates? Cecil Worked for William Morris of Morris Garages a retail sales and service garage in Oxford. Cecil was a sales manager for Morris who came up with the idea of building a line of sports cars and put MG Super Sports on the front plate. William Morris kept the project under his own name until he sold it to his own company, which merged with Austin to become BMC (British Motor Company), which absorbed Leyland Motor Company becoming BLMC. It got passed around as BLMC bought Rover, at one point being MG Rover Group before Nanjing bought them and later merged with SAIC. Dizzy yet? Us too!

Fun Fact: No one can decide when they started making MGs. We picked 1924 because that’s when they registered their trademark, but full disclosure, they were already putting the MG plate on cars before then. It’s important you know these things in case someone bets you they have an MG built in 1923 and you say, “Impossible!” It’s totally possible.

If you think the company rebranding is hard to follow the MG model line itself is more of a pretzel still. What began as a new sporting body on a Morris Oxford chassis, became a purpose designed vehicle in 1928 (the M type), which spawned a T-Series of Midgets, and later Y-type Saloons (Sedans), and a host of race cars of course. There are some major models that lasted quite a while, like the MGB, but there are many more short runs of re-badged cars like the MG Midget in 1961, really a restyled Austin-Healey Sprite.

There is not room in this post to cover the litany of models, some of which were only popular in certain countries, but what’s amazing is the level of design consistency. No matter who makes them or owned them at the time, an MG always looks like a relative it’s cousins.

Morgan

Founded in 1910, by Henry Frederic Stanley Morgan, Morgan Motor Company is a English motor car manufacturer currently owned by Italian investment group Investindustrial. Based in Worcestershire, Morgan employs approximately 220 people, who hand make 850 cars per year.

All Morgan cars are made of wood, frame and exterior, and have always been made of wood. H.F.S. Morgan quit the Great Western Railway in 1904 to open a garage, develop independent front suspension, and design a cool-looking three wheel round about car. The company began making four wheel cars in 1935 and phased out three-wheelers in 1952. HMS helmed the company until his death in 1959.

Interesting facts: The Morgan became the only car ever to appear in a shop window at Harrods for sale at 63 pounds sterling. They had racing success with three wheels in in 1913 winning the Cyclecar Grand Prix at Amiens in France. Racing success drove sales until  E. B. Ware’s rolled his racer at Brooklands in 1924, which lead to three wheeled cars being banned from racing.

The company produced roadsters, coupes and super-sports. All were original looking and worth staring at if you get a chance.

You can check them out for yourself at their museum and see examples of every model they’ve made. If you’d like to order one, be prepared to wait on the list between 6 months and 10 years.

Noble

Chief designer and founder, Lee Noble, started Noble as a make of express sports cars in 1999. He was also the manager until 2009 and though he sold his part of the company in 2006. Based in Leicester, England, bodyworks and chassis are manufactured in South Africa (Port Elizabeth), and assembled in the Noble plant.

M400

The company makes low quantities of their lines, including the M12 GTO, M12 GTO-3, M12 GTO-3R and Noble M400. In 2009 Noble released a Hypercar, the M600, capable of 650 bhp via a 4.4-litre V8 Volvo, twin-turbocharged engine, with a Graziano 6 speed manual gearbox.

If you’re American and want to buy a GTO-3Rs or M400, only about 200 were imported, combined. You can get your hands on one from 1G Racing out of Ohio under the name Rossion Q1. The 3R and M400 are essentially the same car with minor differences in engines and suspensions. Essentially the M400 is the track variant which was the reason 1G bought the exclusive rights to American Distribution in 2007.

TVR

Created in 1947 by English engineers Trevor Wilkinson and Jack Pickard, TVR makes lightweight sports cars with powerful engines, offering a diverse range of coupés and convertibles.

At one point, TVR was the third-largest specialized sports car manufacturer in the world at present the American market is the focus of their efforts to grow.

In December 2006, the company was divided into several small firms. Which makes sense when you consider how much this company has changed over a series of eras–based often on the vision of the new owner. Trevor Wilkinson was born in Blackpool, May 14th, 1923, and left school at 14 to start an engineering apprenticeship at a local garage. His general engineering and car sup-up shop, named Trevcar took off when partner Jack Pickard joined the company in 1947. The new TVR Engineering focused on cars and thrived, eventually making their own one-offs called TVR One, Two, and Three between 1949 and 1953.

Trevor left TVR in 1962 and eventually died in 2008. Between 63 and 65 the company almost died–literally announcing they wouldn’t make any more cars. They weren’t able to pay Ford for powertrains anymore is the biggest reason. In 1965 Martin Lilley took over the vision of TVR, which was now famous for their racers and for unreliability in their street cars (engines too big for the brakes and chassis design.

The Lilly era brought the Vixen series one model. He moved production from Hoo Hill to Bristol Avenue and hired model Helen Jones to pose nude on the TVR stand at the British International Motor Show at Earls Court in 1970. It was hugely controversial, so they did it again in 1971.

TVR No. 2

In the 1980s, under the ownership of Peter Wheeler took over, grew engine capacity from 3.5 to 5 liters, and re-introduced the traditional design elements from the M-series. This finally worked to bring the company from financial disaster to the black. The company finally designed their own engine, the AJP8, a V-8 engine named after consultants Al Melling, John Ravenscroft and Peter Wheeler. The engine was modified to a straight-six before being widely used in their models, because it was cheaper to make and maintain than the eight.

In July 2004, Russian Nikolay Smolensky bought the company. His leadership saw the near death of the brand and his attempts to make it profitable lead to laying off so many workers that car owners paraded their cars through London, creating the single biggest one-marque convoy November 26, 2006, Dubbed “London Thunder.”

The company was restructured auctioned back to Smolensky and is now owned by a group of investors including the Government of Wales. They’ve been developing a new car design since June of 2015, the TVR Griffith, whose production might save the company. The company was owed more than £8.23 million from debtors, and has net assets slightly exceeding £2.1 million, but must pay off £2 million loan from the Welsh government and a £3 million loan from financial firm Fiduciam.

Westfield

Westfield is an English make of cars founded in the beginning of the 82. They currently offer both factory built and kit versions of several two-seater, open top sportscars based on the Lotus 7. You read that right, Collin Chapman’s Lotus Seven strikes again.

Caterham Cars bought the rights from Lotus, but Chris Smith from Westfield went into direct competition with his own kit. Did Caterham threaten to sue? YES. Westfield settled out of court and then improved the design of their cars. While the surface appearance of the cars remains similar you’ll know a Westfield by it’s fiberglass body, which is ironically more like the original lotus.

Westfield Sport

When Chris Smith became the director of Westfield he didn’t dream of creating a factory built car, but the car continues to sell well and maintains a great reputation for craftsmanship. The model range of Westfield is not often replenished by new cars, BUT see special facts section below to know why Westfield is probably going to be around for awhile.

Special Notes: Total Kit Car, Westfield produces about 450 SEi and XTR chassis per year.
Top Gear, a Westfield XTR2 set a faster lap time than the reigning record holder of that series, the Pagani Zonda.
June 2009 Westfield became the first Niche Vehicle Manufacturer to be awarded European Small Series Production Status.

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