Proudly built in Britain, these magnificent automotive icons were simply ahead of their time. They are great cars, but they fell apart, spectacularly.
Fortunately the UK motor industry, after decades of neglect, is bouncing back, with McLaren, Lotus, Jaguar and others standing head and shoulders above the world’s best, testifying to the ingenuity and country’s design prowess. However, no matter how good any car is, the potential for flop is always present. Overpriced, overrated or just plain junk; the specter of failure is never far away.
Truth be told, bad cars don’t exist anymore; no car currently on sale or in the past decade should have failed on merit. Cars that have fallen in the sales chart are more likely a human failure rather than a design flaw. These British sports cars are an example.
ten MGA Twin Camera
Incredibly pretty, small, nimble and a complete financial disaster, the MGA moved a mere 2,111 cars in seven years. Launched in 1955 to replace MG’s pre-war MG TF Midget, the MGA used a sleek two-seater chassis that mimicked a host of British and American sports cars of the era.
Revisions for 1958 included a twin-cam version of MG’s B-series 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine developing 108 hp. These lofty claims were short-lived, before the bang, forcing MG to cut its compression ratio at the expense of power, with later cars making do with 100bhp.
9 Aston Martin Lagonde
Given Aston Martin’s fondness for beautifully curvaceous sports coupes, you might be tempted to think that the long-lived Lagonda comes entirely from another planet, with curves giving way to sharp edges. The Lagonda existed for the sole purpose of showcasing Aston Martin’s new tendency towards the modern; the company’s Bulldog follows a similar trajectory.
Behind the angular bodywork was Aston Martin’s naturally aspirated 5.3-liter V8, giving the Lagonda sports car levels of performance in a 4,409-pound luxury limo. Burying the throttle in one would see 60mph in 6.2 seconds, rising to a maximum of 149mph. Over a 15-year lifespan, Aston, despite its best efforts to attract a younger generation of customers, only sold 645 cars.
8 MG Rover ZT260
Rover’s farewell gift to the mainstream executive market, the Rover 75, won over reviewers and critics alike with its bold styling and unparalleled ride comfort. Undoubtedly a great car, although it sported a front-mounted front-wheel-drive chassis, the 75 was considered one of the best luxury cars you could buy.
The bad news for Rover was its reputation; the famed Longbridge-based automaker had fallen from the grace of gearheads decades earlier due to quality issues, irreparably tarnishing the brand’s image. Rover’s answer was both simple and brilliant; turn the 75 limo into a rival of the BMW M5. Under the hood of this unassuming luxury sedan, Ford’s 4.6-liter Modular V8 develops 252 horsepower. Arriving in 2003, the ZT 260 moved 833 cars in three years.
seven R42 Spectrum
The Specter R42 proved once again that Britain could build supercars to rival any overseas exotic, only to shoot itself in the foot by not quite completing the project. With a little more time spent on quality control, the R42 could have been a huge hit. Specter by the end of production in 1998 had completed a small number of cars.
Originally intended to follow in the footsteps of the GT40s, to conquer the world of endurance racing. The R42 used a lightweight composite body and engine recipe. Under the rear deck, Ford’s iconic 4.6-liter Modular V8 sent 350 hp to the rear wheels, resulting in a top speed of 175 mph.
6 Ginette G60
Ford engines powered another British sports car maker with track-based ambitions. Ginetta drawing on its racing car background launched the limited production G60 in 2012. Constructed of a carbon fiber skin on a tubular steel frame chassis with its occupants seated in a car-style carbon tub race, the G60 weighed only 2,380 Kg.
Unlike other sports cars in this segment, Ginetta adopted a mid-mounted V6 Cyclone engine for better weight distribution and better handling. Built for the road; the G60 was even better on track. Despite boasting an impressive 310 bhp and a top speed of 165 mph, Ginetta could not find enough buyers, failing to exceed 40 cars built.
5 Light Car Company Rocket
Think of the Rocket as Gordon Murray’s warm-up project, 12 months predating British car designers’ McLaren F1. Naturally, the two have common ideals, both aimed at delivering the ultimate driving experience. Launched to much acclaim was the Rocket, a small two-seater fair-weather sports car that sits on the side of classic open-wheel Grand-Prix cars.
To find the right balance between weight and performance, Gordon Murray chose a steel tube chassis and a 1-litre Yamaha motorcycle engine developing up to 165 hp. The problem is not with the design or the performance, but with the production and the costs, the delays in delivery and the increase in the sale prices which paid for the Rocket.
4 Lightning GT
Dead and buried before production began. The Lightning GT, had funding been secured, could have been Britain’s answer to Tesla. First unveiled in 2008 with customer deliveries scheduled for the following year, Lighting produced a single GT development.
Designed in-house, the Lightning GT’s carbon fiber low-slung 2-seat coupe body sits on an aluminum honeycomb chassis powered by two electric motors. Partly funded by government sources, the GT has ranked highly among the Zero-Carbon community for its use of lithium-titanate batteries and fast-charging capability. The only development GT now resides in the British Motor Museum.
3 Lotus Europe S
A rare error in judgment by Lotus? In response to sports car enthusiasts who wanted a smoother, more user-friendly Elise, Lotus produced between 2006 and 2010 a simple 504 Europas. Gearheads looking for the best track car will suffer from the Elise or Exige’s stripped-down cockpits and track-focused suspension setup.
Where does that leave Europe? Forgetting the quickest lap times of its parents, the fully-fledged Europa is a true Lotus sports car capable of mixing it all up on a track day and still comfortable for the drive home. Lotus, by sticking to its bonded aluminum chassis mated to a 2-litre GM Z20LER turbo engine, knew what it was doing even if the gears stayed away.
2 Zolfe Orange/GTC4
Zolfe isn’t a name most gearheads will have heard of, the little-known UK-based sports car company broke cover in 2006 only to go bankrupt ten years later with just one model to its name. Introduced as Zolfe Orange, later adopting a more appropriate GTC4 name.
The first Orange used a space frame chassis clad in composite materials befitting its lightweight design and engine assembly, motorcycle engines the first choice. Moving one step closer to production, the GT4C adopted a stretched chassis to accommodate MX-5 transmissions and 300hp Ford Duratec engines.
1 Noble M600
Coming soon to a dealer near you, Noble’s latest M500 sports car promises to be more user-friendly compared to the incredibly powerful and fast M600. Built between 2010 and 2018, Noble’s plans to build the M600 in small numbers proved to be a challenge in itself; in his forties, barely 20 cars had found takers.
Criminally overlooked, the M600 is a serious alternative to everything Ferrari, Porsche and Lamborghini build with a user-controllable level of boost delivering between 450 and 650 bhp. Rather than self-build, Noble uses a Yamaha 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8 to hit a top speed of 225 mph.