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Best of British

  1. Diamond Jubilee, Olympics, the continued residence of Michael Winner and the upcoming GP: 2012 is a glorious time to be British. And, after four decades of slow decline, the UK car industry is doing its bit to boost the Cool Britannia brand, with good news stories pouring in. Don your Union Jack boxers, strap a bulldog to your head and revel in our Big List Of Reasons To Be Cheerful About the British Car Industry!

    This article originally appeared in the June 2012 issue of Top Gear magazine

  2. China and the Middle East are bursting at the wallet-seams, and they’re splashing their cash on British opulence. 2011 was Rolls-Royce’s biggest-ever year and Bentley shifted nearly 1,800 cars in the first quarter of 2012 alone, with sales to China doubling. “Chinese customers are passionate about British history and luxury goods,” says Bentley manufacturing boss Michael Straughan. “Buying into Bentley’s racing heritage and the hand-crafted nature of our products is important to them.”

    But with history and heritage in the bag, wouldn’t it be rather cheaper to build Bentleys in China not Crewe? “Our craftsmanship in wood, leather and metal have been handed down through generations and are unique to our workforce,” Straughan says, “They can’t be found anywhere else.” Hey, the empire might be long gone, but we can stitch a bit o’ cowskin like nobody’s business.

  3. We crowned it our car of 2011, and it turns out we’re not the only fans of Mrs Beckham’s dinky SUV. The Evoque has picked up over 100 awards around the world - including the coveted Playboy Poland Car of the Year - and boasts an X-Factor-audition-length waiting list. The success of the Evoque - and the inevitable arrival of the seven-seat and convertible versions - has spawned another 1,000 jobs at JLR’s Merseyside plant to cope with the increased demand, and there’s been a £355m investment in a new Wolverhampton factory building four-cylinder engines. If Britain ever escapes this recession, we’ve got Mrs Beckham to thank…

  4. After decimating Britain’s car industry back in the Seventies - by sneakily making cheaper and more reliable cars, the underhand cads - Japan’s now our best buddy. Honda and Toyota recently announced the expansion of their UK-based factories, but both are dwarfed by the runaway success of Nissan’s Sunderland operation. Established in 1986, last year it built just short of half a million cars, the largest volume ever from a UK car plant. And Sunderland’s getting bigger still: it recently won the contract to build Nissan’s upcoming Fiesta and Focus rivals, taking the workforce past 6,000 and investment in the plant past £3.5 billion. “Nissan doesn’t only build cars in the UK,” says Nissan VP Kevin Fitzpatrick. “We design them in Paddington, engineer them in Bedfordshire and produce them in Sunderland…”

  5. Caterham, Radical, Ariel… no other country has such a dizzying array of small-scale manufacturers producing tiny, fast cars. Far from being a dying breed, little Brits are on the up, with all-new lightweights popping up willy-nilly: which other nation could birth the brilliant, bonkers BAC Mono? Even Morgan - a company apparently trapped in the roaring Twenties - is experiencing a new lease of life: with the arrival of the 3Wheeler, the Malvern metalworkers made over 1,500 cars last year for the first time, an increase of nearly 70 per cent on production numbers a decade ago. Top hole!

  6. It’s already one of the fastest cars on the planet, but the MP4-12C is just the start for Woking’s nascent road-car division. There’s a 12C roadster on the way, as well as McLaren’s long-awaited ‘Son of F1’ hypercar, rumoured to have as much as 800bhp. Just a few months ago, McLaren opened a new £50m factory at its Woking HQ, a facility that will build 4,000 cars a year by 2016.

  7. Yes, yes. We know. Mini is owned by the dastardly Germans and therefore a vile desecration of everything British. But consider this. With the exception of the Countryman, every single ‘BMW’ Mini since 2001 has been built in Cowley, from the Clubman to the new Roadster. That’s over two million Minis, three-quarters of which have found homes overseas.

  8. Remember Jaguar’s gorgeous C-X75 concept? Remember its ridiculous, never-gonna-happen powertrain: a pair of fuel-fed micro turbines generating electricity to feed in-wheel motors? Well, yeah, those micro turbines exist: created by tiny Isle of Man company Bladon Jets, they’re expected to reach production cars in the next couple of years. That’s Jetsons technology, devised right here in the UK. 

  9. Italy has its supercar valley, but we’ve got the racing equivalent: the M40’s glamorous ‘motorsport valley’. Eight of the 12 teams contesting the 2012 F1 season are based in the UK, six of them clustered in a 40-mile zone around Buckinghamshire: an area that’s also home to motorsport firms Cosworth and Prodrive.
    “The UK is the place to be for F1,” says Christian Horner, boss of Red Bull F1, Austrian-owned but based in Milton Keynes. “There is a proven heritage, and a network of suppliers and skills that is very concentric within the UK.” But the world’s biggest race teams aren’t here just because it’s convenient. They’re here because we’re the best. “Engineering is something that the UK has always been particularly strong at,” Horner says. “In advanced technologies such as carbon fibre, it’s the market leader…”

  10. There’s a hot Mercedes A-Class AMG on the way, with a 2.0-litre turbo petrol packing a rumoured 330bhp. Who’s developing the engine? Not AMG in Germany, but Mercedes’s High Performance Powertrain Division in Northants, the branch of its F1 operation responsible for race engines. Aston Martin didn’t turn to Germany in its hunt for the most powerful naturally aspirated engine in history, but to Cosworth, who cooked up a 730bhp V12 for the One-77… and still found time to pump Subaru’s 2.0-litre turbo boxer up to 400bhp for the CS400. Want a fire-breathing engine? Visit Britain!

    Let’s not get carried away. Despite the patriotic tub-thumping, for every good news story coming out of the British car industry, there’s one of redundancy or closure. Britain will never topple Japan, Korea or China from the top spots of the global car league table, but we can still do fast, clever and luxurious better than anyone else. The British car industry was never dead, just lulling you into a false sense of security…

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