New versus old, the arguments for both are lengthy and detailed. But faced with importing one of these British classic cars, and old-school charm swings it.
Older or classic car status isn’t all that old. Anything 25 years or older is technically a classic, bringing a bunch of recent cars into the mix. That includes several TVRs from the original Griffith right up until the Tuscan Speed Six. Similarly, the Lotus Elise S1 is a classic that for various reasons were never sold in America. And yet it’s another Lotus that is a more interesting prospect. What of the McLaren F1? Stupid prices aside, US gearheads couldn’t buy one.
Without question British and classic cars are inseparable. The mention of Jaguar, Aston Martin, and Rolls-Royce has collectors misty-eyed at the idea. Classic cars are timeless pieces of engineering that never fail to draw admiring looks.
10/10 TVR Cerbera Speed Eight
TVR’s approach to unhinged sports cars prevented the Cerbera from making it to US shores. At a casual glance, this 2+2 coupe appears normal enough until you fire up the engine. Under the hood of this plastic monster, TVR used a flat-plane crank 4.5-liter V8 cranking out 420 hp.
Mash the throttle in one of these, and anything short of a supercar would struggle to keep up. In raw numbers sprinting to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds before hitting a top speed of 196 mph. A lack of airbags, ABS, and other safety gear prevented TVR from exporting the Cerbera.
9/10 Jensen Interceptor FF
Another British bruiser that didn’t sell in the US. Jensen’s FF failed to make the crossing for technical reasons. Despite the familiar Interceptor shape, the FF was five inches longer to fit the AWD gubbins. Even with the extra length, space was at a premium.
Fitting the FF with AWD required running the prop shafts under the passenger seat. As a result, the FF in left-hand drive specification was a no-go for US Export.
8/10 McLaren F1
Even a world-beating performance couldn’t sway the NHTSA to allow the F1 on US roads. First up, a recap of why the F1 was so special. Built from carbon fiber like a race car the F1 utilized low weight with a 627 hp V12 BMW engine to crack 240 mph.
Speed however isn’t the reason why the F1 wasn’t sold in America. Lacking airbags, side repeaters, and bumpers prevented the F1 from passing safety tests. While these could be, and in some cases were retrofitted later, the F1 remained a dream for rich US gearheads.
7/10 Triumph Dolomite Sprint
Exotic sports cars aren’t the only British classics worthy of import. The Triumph name might be more familiar to bikers, buts its cars are the stuff of legend. Enter the Dolomite Sprint, an otherwise ordinary four-door sedan with a courageous heart. Under the hood, the world’s first series production 16-valve engine pumped out 135 hp.
Despite its merits, the Dolomite Sprint is largely overlooked. Gearheads with a nostalgic craving tend to favor the Ford RS2000 or BMW 2002. But, the Triumph is more than a match for its rivals, and cheaper too.
6/10 Lotus 340R
Faced with the Exige/Elise gearheads came up against the “banned” status imposed by the NHTSA. Adding insult to injury, Lotus went a step further with the 340R. In effect, a stripped-back lightweight track version that was also met with a firm No! Less is more with the 340R weighing in at 1545 lbs, a staggering 500 lbs lighter than the Exige.
As with the Exige, Lotus fitted a 1.8-liter Rover K-Series motor sending 190 hp to the rear wheels. Although Lotus designed the 340R for track use, in Europe it was entirely road legal. The closest US gearheads got to the 340R was a handful of “track only” demo cars.
5/10 AC 3000ME
AC Cars’ troubled history and small size ruined the AC 3000ME’s potential. Seven years in the making, production kicked off in 1979 continuing until 1985. During that time, a possible deal with Shelby/Chrysler looked promising but failed.
Despite a promising tubular chassis and fiberglass body, success amounted to 106 cars. Yet, rarity values appear to have skipped over the AC 3000ME. Used cars are harder to find, but at $20,000 it’s a great classic to import.
4/10 Jowett Jupiter
Buoyed by success in competition and with the Javelin, Jowett targeted overseas buyers. The Jupiter debuted in 1950 using a simple body-on-frame layout powered by a 1.5-liter boxer engine. But, despite its appearance, the Jupiter was far from simple. To maximize space, the engine was ahead of the front axle with a cooling radiator situated behind.
Despite the odd-ball layout, Jupiter proved to be a capable sports car spawning R1 and R4 variants. Success extended to a class win for the R1 at Le Mans in 1952. But, success on track didn’t improve sales overseas, and, in total, Jowett produced 900 cars.
3/10 Lotus Carlton
The best sleepers are always the cars you least expect. In 1993 that was Opel/Vauxhall Carlton, a large executive car with an emphasis on comfort. That was until GM and Lotus worked their magic.
Exterior changes are subtly limited to wheel arch extensions, badging, and a spoiler. Under the hood, it’s a different matter. A Lotus enlarged 3.6-liter 377 hp turbocharged six made Carlton the fastest sedan on the market.
2/10 Aston Martin DBS
With power, Performance, and a little upper-class snobbery, the DBS has it all. Being a luxury GT the Aston Martin isn’t going to be cheap. More so considering Aston only produced 787 cars up until 1972. But, if it’s wafting around town with the kind of panache reserved for James Bond, then read on.
Offered with a choice of engines, the base model straight six is augmented by a 5.3-liter V8 option putting down 325 hp. In the latter, that equates to sixty in 6 seconds and a v-max of 161 mph to the tune of a baritone V8 burble.
1/10 AC Aceca Bristol
AC Cars, purveyors of stunning British sports cars and grand tourers. While most gearheads will recognize AC for the Cobra connection, few will know of the Aceca. The Aceca launched in 1954 and is one of the brand’s rarer cars, spanning a range of 320 cars over ten years.
Of the numbers built production, two engine options could be had. At the lower end, AC’s 2-liter unit made do with 90 hp, while the Bristol spec car featured a larger 125 hp 2.6-liter motor. Regardless of engine options, the Aceca is a classic that still draws attention.
Sources: TVR Car Club, McLaren Automotive, Aston Martin, AC Aceca