Whatever historians say, 1996 has been accepted in most quarters as the year in which the centenary of the British motor Industry should be celebrated. That has sparked off some very interesting opinion polls, only as to which were the leading British makes but which, in the opinion of the voters, are the all-time top motor-cars.
One such poll was organised by Classic & Sportscar which invited views on the fascinating subject based on what were the greatest “enthusiast cars ever”. In this poll, the Mini Cooper came the clear winner by a matter of 150 votes. As I participated, with 169 others, in this poll I hope no exception will be taken if I list the top cars on the ballot papers of some of the better-known voters: John Haynes (Ferrari 456GT), Alan de Cadenet (Alfa Romeo 8C 2.3), Paul Grist (Alfa Romeo 8C 2.9),Denis Jenkinson (Lancia Aurelia B20 coupe), the Earl of March (Jaguar D-type), the Hon Alan Clark (SS100 3 1/2-litre), Gordon Murray (McLaren F1), Paul Frere (Mercedes 300SL), Jabby’ Crombac (Lotus Super Seven), Jem Marsh (Marcos Mantara Spider), John Cooper (Mini Cooper), John Sprinzel (Austin-Healey Sprite), Stuart Turner (Triumph TR2), ‘Steady’ Barker (Lancia Aprilia), Nick Britain (Ferrari 250GT SWB), Torn Threlfall (Austin-Healey 100/6), Neil Corner (Ferrari 250GTO), Paddy Hopkirk (Mini Cooper S), Stanley Sedgwick (Bentley Turbo R), Guy Griffiths (Jaguar D-type), Raymond Baxter (MG J2), Rob Walker (Mercedes 300SL Lightweight), Roger Bell (Jaguar E-type 4.2), Spen King (Rover Jet-1), Stirling Moss (Mercedes 300SLR), Phil Hill (Porsche 959), Walter Hayes (Aston Martin DB7), Willie Green (Maserati 250F), Alex Moulton (Mini Cooper S), Tony Crook (Alfa Romeo 8C 2.9), Stanley Mann (Bentley 4 1/2-litre Le Mans), John Surtees (Jowett Jupiter), Philip Young (Austin-Healey 3000), Colin Crabbe (Mini Cooper), Nick Mason (Ferrari 250GTO), Michael Bowler (BMW 328), Donald Day (ERA) and so on… Apologies to those omitted to conserve space and to editor Mick Walsh — who topped his list with the AC Ace for cribbing a bit of his very bright idea, which merits this slice of repetition.
If some of these “toppers” seem a little unusual, I hasten to explain that the brief was to list ten cars one had the most enjoyment from, after driving them, not simply the industry’s leading productions — which would require a manufacturers’ census, rather than a vote for individual cars; it would have to start with Mercedes/RollsRoyce and include Ford and VW, wouldn’t it? I was happy to have recorded my ten but confess to having not realised that it should have been for car enjoyment, not a list of the most important makes from the past 100 years. Sorry, Mick! Thus, I put down, not in any particular order, Ford Model-T, Mini, 1919 Hispano Suiza, Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, Vauxhall 30-98, Bugatti Type 35, Alfa Romeo 8C 2.3, Mercedes 38/250, Bentley 8-litre and Citroen 2CV. A difficult task, and both merit and personal driving enjoyment came into it. Had I correctly followed the brief I would have included the Lancia Aprilla and Aurelia, Jaguar E-type, Lotus Elan and Gullwing Mercedes 300SL, etc.
This listing of top cars seems to be contagious. The well-known writer Graham Robson, for The Road Back, put down his 20 most significant post-war British production cars as Morris Minor, Land-Rover, Austin-Healey Sprite, BMC Mini and 1100, Daimler 2 1/2-litre. Ford Consul/Zephyr, Ford Cortina, Ford Fiesta, Hillman Imp, Lotus 7, Jaguar XK120 and E-type, Jensen FF, Lotus Europa, Nissan Bluebird, Reliant Scimitar GT, Standard Vanguard and Triumph TR3 and TR5.
Perhaps when this century year is over, and you have weighed it all up, MOTOR SPORT should ask you what you regard as the dozen most significant makes the world has seen in the past 100 years. It is safe to suggest this, as by then you will have forgotten about it … W B