A warm summer evening, a two-seater soft-top and the open road: the great British sports car plays a pivotal role in many an idyllic motoring dream. But are these machines as much fun to own and run in real life? We look at seven of the most popular models to find out.
There is one passion that ignites the British into foolhardy action like no other, and that’s ‘sport’. To combat the stupefying boredom of everyday life the British have come up with some quite ridiculous pastimes in order to amuse themselves. Take rugby, a game played by gentlemen who behave like savage hooligans. Skiing, anyone? Yep, a Brit stuck a few poles into the snow and persuaded his friends to race each other down the steep slope to see who could break both ankles along the way. How about hurling a rock-hard leather-clad ball at 80mph at a hapless batsman? The British have devised competition in many challenging guises. Americans, on the other hand, have taken girls’ sports such as netball and rounders to the extreme…
The advent of the motor car was a great opportunity for competition, speed, danger and broken limbs. The French held the first actual motor race in 1894, yet that was a slow, 80-mile endurance run, won by a steam engine. American Gordon Bennett Jr established his own event in 1900, but the British built the first proper race track at Brooklands in 1907 and held the first Formula 1 Grand Prix at Silverstone in 1950.
With the arrival of the automobile the British quickly added ‘sports’ to ‘car’ with the 1910 Vauxhall 20hp, regarded as the first, pure such machine. Since then, sports cars have been synonymous with Britain. Not always the best – some German and Italian examples have proved better engineered over the years – they have always provided driving enjoyment. So what does the varied septet tested over the following pages tell us?
1969 Lotus Elan S4 SE
This bright red Elan S4 is also supplied for test by Gerry Wadman of Sussex Sports Cars.
When launched in 1967, the MGC was panned by the motoring press.
1930/'38 Frazer Nash Chain Gang
'So what is that funny old car, then?' enquires a passer-by at the pub.
1969 Triumph TR6
The last of the old-school classic Triumphs.
1957 AC Ace Bristol
It's interesting how you can tell when a car is just right. This immaculate AC Ace Bristol is just such a machine.
1998 Lotus Elise S1
From the ridiculous to the sublime. While the TVR is all show, with admittedly plenty of go, the little Elise is the polar opposite.
1992 TVR 450SE
Ouch! The Juniper Pearlescent paintwork on this TVR is even brighter in the sunshine than it appears in these photographs.