British Cars – the Formative Years

There’s no hiding away from the fact that the USA was undoubtedly the tour-de-force of the vintage car making era. That said, the UK did produce some of their own cars and, certainly in today’s market, that does pay off. Where the American production lines were putting out 90% of World production during the roaring 20s, British car manufacturers held less than 10% of market share. As a result, those cars that have made it through to 2013 are in much shorter supply, and consequently have a greater potential for value.

1927 Bentley 3 Litre
1927 Bentley 3 Litre

 A Brief History of British Cars

Britain has a long-standing tradition for luxury and sports cars. Notable names include Aston Martin, Jaguar & Rolls Royce, but it all started with Daimler. Now somewhat of a forgotten marque, Daimler were the founding car making institution of the UK, and made a number of prestige vehicles. Such was their associated luxury, that they were given British Royal patronage as early as 1898, as well as being named official providers of Prussian and Spanish state cars shortly after.

By 1913, the market was dominated by Ford, who had built a factory in Manchester, and 4 all-British producers in Wolseley, Humber, Rover & Sunbeam. That year Ford produced 7,310 cars with 9,000 manufactured between the UK quartet. Understandably, production of commercial vehicles came to a standstill between the Great War years. However, fledgling companies, such as Austin, utilised this period to create cars and machinery for the military. As such they were able to grow exponentially and by 1929, the height of the vintage era, it was Austin and Morris who led the British automobile market.

The Value of UK Vintage

Car of the People:
The king of the road during the vintage era was undoubtedly the Austin 7. Between 1922-1939, over a quarter of a million of these ‘Baby Austins’ were made, effectively making them the UK’s answer to the Ford Model T. And anyone aged between 15-25 might be more familiar with the little car than they realise, as a scaled down version was used for the popular children’s TV show ‘Brum’ in the 1990s. Despite the large production figures, one of these in mint condition can reach anywhere between £10-£20,000.

Sports Icon:
Was there ever an icon to rival the Bentley 3-Litre [pictured above]? Introduced in 1919, this classic was Bentley’s first, and went on to win the prestigious Le Mans race 5 times! A sports car for sports men, “it was not the means whereby the 3-Litre Bentley performed, but the manner in which it did it” wrote the well respected magazine, Classic Sports Cars. And with only 1,622 ever made, these cars are hard to find, a famous model (formerly the property of Sir Malcolm Campbell) selling for £212,800 last June.

Rare Breeds:
Rolls Royce is to cars as Rolex is to watches – a brand with worldwide recognition, synonymous with luxury. The manufacturer began producing cars in 1904, and by 1907 had been described by Autocar magazine as the “best car in the World”. This was mainly down to the unveiling of the 1906 ‘40/50 hp’, of which one particular model has gone down in history. Although 7,874 were made, only one was officially named the Silver Ghost. Intended as a showcar to demonstrate the reliability of the brand, the model soon gained World-wide recognition and all other 40/50s were unofficially donned with the same name. And while a 1920s model has recently sold in excess £500,000, the real treasure remains the original showcar, with registration number AX 201. Reported to be the most expensive vehicle in the world, it was insured in 2005 for $35 million.

Novelty Value

We’ve all seen old cars that have been stripped down and rebuilt. And then there are cars that have been extensively modified and turned into ‘hot rods’. But if you think this is a purely modern phenomenon, think again!

Austin 7
Austin 7

This lawnmower was crafted from a 1924 Austin 7 back in the late 1950s. We bet you’ve never seen anything like this before and thought we’d finish today’s article with something a bit out of the ordinary. Capable of a slightly alarming 30mph, it was sold at auction last year for £11,025, which just goes to show: considerable value can be found in the strangest of places!

Until next time, Ed Hallinan and the borro team.

About the Author:

Shani is the Senior Vice President of Marketing at Borro Private Finance.