Sometimes a car becomes iconic because it revolutionises automotive design; enhances practicality or performance; or creates a completely new model type. However, sometimes a car can be deemed an icon because it hangs around for so long, unchanged, that it literally becomes part of the automotive landscape. And in the case of the British car industry, both definitions are equally true.
Despite being a very small player in the global automotive market, the country has produced more than its fair share of iconic designs. However, rather than taking these innovative automobiles and redeveloping them as tastes and times change, the British approach more often than not is that if something isn’t broke, don’t fix it, as this list shows.
The most iconic example of this attitude is the Mini. When the truly revolutionary car launched in 1959, it did so as the first ever to feature a transversely mounted engine and a gearbox mounted directly underneath the motor. This layout enabled the car to be tiny — just 3m x 1.39m — but still offer room for four plus one or two bags in the trunk.
Yet between 1959 and 2000, when production ceased for good, all that had really changed was the badge on the hood, the gearbox and the driver and passenger side windows.
The Series One Land Rover made its debut in June 1948 and the final model to roll off the Solihull, UK production line in January 2016 still boasted many of the original’s parts. Likewise the Range Rover, which this year is celebrating 30 years in the US, was launched in 1970 and wasn’t significantly updated once until 1994 with the second generation model’s launch. But even then, the original remained in production for a further two years.
The XJS was a cutting-edge sportscar created to fill the void left by the E-Type. And when it launched in 1976 it was so futuristic that it took people time to adjust to the styling. Luckily enough, time was something the XJS had in abundance. It stayed in production with very little in the way of a makeover, save for bigger engines, new taillights and better front and rear bumpers, right up until 1996.
The MGB was an innovative open top sportscar when it arrived in 1962. Well balanced, well-proportioned and one of the first vehicles to adopt a monocoque construction rather than being a body on a chassis. And because it sold well, MG decided not to mess with the winning formula for 18 years, other than adding rubber bumpers and raising the ride height to meet tougher US safety regulations.
The tiny bespoke sportscar firm has been in business for 107 years and for 62 of them it’s been building the Morgan 4/4 to almost the same specifications. The model actually launched in 1935 and had its last major external overhaul 20 years later, meaning that since 1955 all that’s changed is the engine, the front suspension and the stereo system. The car’s frame is still painstakingly cut from ash and the body panels shaped from aluminum.