We aren’t known for our supercars here in Britain; items of such brashness and vulgarity are unbecoming. When we do build them however, it usually goes one of two ways. Either they’re the product of aerospace-grade nerdery and engineering fetishism, or they're hewn out of fibreglass and glued together in a shed. The cars on this list of our favourite British supercars will to some degree fall into one of those two categories, so let’s count them down.
The 16 best British supercars
Let’s get it out of the way shall we. The McLaren F1 is in many ways the definitive British supercar. This quantum leap in supercar design took us from glue smell, panel gaps and turbo lag to record-breaking speeds, space-age materials and over 600PS (441kW) in one fell industry-shaking swoop. That this entirely road-focused supercar sauntered to victory at Le Mans at its first attempt speaks volumes of just how total the McLaren F1 is in its brilliance. Gordon Murray’s masterpiece has not yet been surpassed in his own estimations, much to his surprise, some 30 years later, which is why he’s doing it himself by creating his own ‘son of F1’.
Gordon Murray Automotive T.50
Very few people have actually driven the GMA T.50 yet, so to claim it’s one of the best British supercars might be a bit of a wing and a prayer at this point. Only joking, of course it isn’t. You just know that this sub-1,000kg, 11,000rpm-revving V12, manual-gearboxed debug of the greatest supercar ever made (the McLaren F1), by the man who designed the original, isn’t going to be a pup. The T.50 is expected to do everything the F1 did and so much more, besting it in every measure both subjective and objective. A fitting swansong for the supercar as we know it.
We are British, so while our opening entries represent the very best we can do in the upper echelons of technical prowess, we also love building a hot rod in a shed. Such a description might be a bit harsh on the Lister Storm, but not too harsh. Stick a souped-up Jaguar V12 up front in an aluminium chassis, clothe it in alloy and carbon and send it on its way. They were even quite quick on track in their day and are a thoroughly rare sight today.
The hypercar rivalries were hotting up in the early 2010s, and boy did we have quite the contender fighting our corner. The McLaren P1 was the second offering from Woking’s then-new road car outfit. Given the hot-and-cold reception of the MP4-12C, it could have gone either way. It didn’t. Right out of the gates, the near 1,000PS (735kW), bewinged, shrink-wrapped, turbo tonic P1 was up there with the all-time greats. Even with the might of Ferrari’s latest greatest V12 and Porsche’s technical masterclass to face, the P1 dodged the odds and gave them both a serious socking, especially on track. The Festival of Speed presented by Mastercard in 2014 was the first time all three had been seen together, let alone compared, so the P1, along with the other two, holds a special place for us, too.
Aston Martin Valkyrie
As does the Aston Martin Valkyrie, which also had Goodwood as the venue to really show off for the first time. This mythical monster of a car is difficult to comprehend or believe: Adrian Newey-designed, 1,000PS (735kW) plus, a hybrid Cosworth V12 good for over 10,000rpm, LMP meets Group C styling and performance, all legal and emissions-compliant for the road. Doubt though many did, Valkyries are, as we write, finding their way to their very lucky buyers as, alongside the T.50, it sends the internal combustion motoring era out with a bang. Fingers crossed it gets put to work at Le Mans in the next couple of years too.
Taking things down to a slightly more affordable level is the McLaren 675LT. Alongside the P1, this hardcore runout variant of the 650S and 12C was proof that McLaren was really getting into its stride. Here was a car that drove beautifully, looked great and finally had the excitement and allure needed to rival Ferrari. For many, the 675 actually remains a high watermark for McLaren that’s yet to be surpassed, in spite of the truly excellent cars that followed and that they still make. Let us know your thoughts on that one.
It would be easy to dismiss an all-electric Lotus hypercar as entirely missing the point of both a hypercar and indeed a Lotus. Then you see the Evija, in all its porous glory. This is a truly beautiful machine with ground-breaking design that simply wouldn’t be possible with an engine given the packaging needs of internal combustion. Okay, being an EV, it’ll be heavy – not very Lotus – and of course, it won’t have a distinctive engine sound, but you know the boffins at Lotus won’t let this flagship out of the gates until it’s as close to perfect as they can muster.
The story of Noble is a complicated one, but the fundamentals you need to know are: they started out building plasticky supercar-rivalling sportscars and now they make plasticky supercar-rivalling supercars. The M600, long in the tooth as it is, is still the closest we’ll ever get to a modern Ferrari F40. Big turbos strapped to a Volvo V8 made for up to 650PS (478kW) directed to the rear wheels via a manual gearbox. This is a brute of a car that requires more from its driver than pretty much any rival. If you’re buying one of these, you’re fully committed. Barn-door though Noble are compared to say McLaren, this is still a beautifully engineered car, and the driving experience is the foremost priority.
Okay, we think this is as shonky and barn-door as an entry is going to get on this list. Meet the MG SV, MG Rover’s last hurrah; designed, developed and built for the money BMW spends on a side repeater. There was nothing remarkable about its Ford Mustang V8, its Fiat lights or its pound shop interior, and yet, the SV proved to be an entirely lovable mongrel. We’d like to say it was a shame that this car effectively volleyed MG Rover into bankruptsy, but it was probably for the best that a line was drawn at a V8-engined Rover 75 and this, which offered nitrous as an optional extra.
If the 675LT proved that McLaren could build a world-beating supercar, the 600LT proved it could do so en masse. This was the sports series, cars that anyone with enough money could just go into a dealer and buy, and yet the 600LT could rival the rarefied Ferrari 458 Speciale for a driving experience. It’s still one of my favourite cars I’ve ever driven, with the silky feel of that expertly-judged hydraulic steering and the whip-crack of those top-exit exhausts seared into my brain. The 911 GT3 RS was the logical choice at the time for the money but this thing brought real passion and emotion to the party. Not something we expected to be saying of a McLaren when the marque first reappeared on the road car scene.
Lotus Esprit Turbo
The original British supercar? In the wedge sense as we know it today, probably yes. It wasn’t exactly rapid and it wasn’t the most outlandish, but the Esprit Turbo, aside from being 007’s car of choice, was an expertly judged machine. What else would you expect of Colin Chapman? Next to a Countach or a Ferrari Berlinetta Boxer, the Esprit wasn’t exactly the most exotic. But it was probably the one you’d want to actually drive.
As a car making nation, Britain isn’t overly gifted with a sense of timing. That’s why Jaguar previewed a supercar to be released within three years in 1989, right around a pending financial crisis. Jaguar, not exactly flush with cash, was in little to no position to follow through with the V12 engine and all-wheel-drive setup that was promised for the XJ220. What buyers actually received was a V6 twin-turbo and rear-wheel-drive. Can you imagine if Aston Martin swapped the Cosworth V12 in the Valkyrie for an Audi V6 last minute? These days a White Elephant is a car that never makes it to production. Back then, the XJ220 selling fewer than half the planned production run got it entry to that club. But being British, it is beautiful, even with those Rover rear lights.
A couple of entries on this list have charted the positive evolution of McLaren Automotive. While the LTs are all well and good, the ‘normal’ stuff has to be up to it too. Well, the 720S was certainly up to it, to the point that even today, six years on from its reveal, it remains the forecourt-bought supercar benchmark. Hypercar fast, with telepathically well-judged handling and challenging but ultimately forward-looking aesthetics, the 720S is one of the great supercars, not just one of the great British supercars. Can it live with the new 296 GTB? Its age might be starting to show, but it’s still an astonishing thing.
If you were somewhat peeved in 1991 that Jaguar swapped the V12 for an engine from a Metro in the hypercar you ordered from them, there was an alternative. TWR, the chaps who put three Jaguar V12s on the podium at Le Mans, were building a Jaguar V12 supercar of their own. The XJR-15 was a no-compromise supercar using Group C racer parts to build the most advanced car of its time. It was the first all-carbon car, from chassis to bodywork. The V12 wasn’t Group C powerful mind, with under 500PS (368kW) instead of over 700 (515), but it was quite the machine all the same. The glamour of a one-make race series with a $1million grand prize following F1 across Europe didn’t do any harm either.
Did we say the MG SV was the most shonky barn-door car on this list? We did, and we meant it… but this comes close. The ill-fated TVR T400R was the Blackpool sportscar company’s idea of a supercar, built to homologate the Le Mans racer. In a short space of time, it evolved from T400 to T440 to Typhon – the latter is a very cool name – gaining more power via extra displacement and eventually a supercharger. It’s a glorious looking thing, and in supercharged Typhon form, had 550PS (405kW) and a sequential gearbox. Sheer madness, of which we’d expect nothing less of Peter Wheeler’s last hurrah.
Lotus Elise GT1
In the 1990s, following the incredible win at Le Mans by the McLaren F1, sportscar makers with designs on endurance glory were all drinking the GT1 coolade, including Lotus. With the launch of the diminutive Elise sportscar, what was the right thing to do? Lengthen it, widen it and whack a big V8 in it, of course. This monster of a machine was as you’d expect, not the most successful when facing the might of the Porsche 911 GT1 and Mercedes CLK GTR. Its bespoke V8 engine was unreliable and the GM-based engine they swapped it for was underpowered. Ultimately, the car proved to be too closely related to the road-going Elise to be competitive against the Germans, which were bespoke prototypes by any other name. With not a podium to its credit, the Elise GT1 bowed out. Why is it one of the best British supercars, then? Just look at it.
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