Limited Made British Sports Cars in the 1950s

Written by rob wagner
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Mass-produced British sports cars have garnered much attention over the decades. The 1950s MG, Austin-Healey and Triumph, among others, are iconic roadsters in British automotive history. Much more prestigious -- and more expensive -- were the limited-production sports cars that were often handmade. TVR, Morgan, Bristol and Ginetta usually numbered no more than a few hundred units each model year. TVR, for example, only manufactured 100 examples of its 1958 Grantura sports car.

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TVR

Blackpool-based TVR is an independent automaker specialising in lightweight coupes and roadsters with four- or six-cylinder engines under the hood. Its first production sports car was the 1958 Grantura two-seat coupe, hand-built at the Blackpool factory. It featured many components from other vehicles. Its brakes came from an Austin-Healey, the suspension from the Volkswagen Beetle and the rear axle from the British Motor Corporation. It body was glass-reinforced plastic. TVR offered six four-cylinder engine options from different automakers: a 1,172cc Ford Sidevalve, 997cc Ford 105E, 1,489cc BMC B-Series, 1,588cc BMC B-Series, 1,098cc Coventry Climax and the 1,216cc Coventry Climax. The Coventry Climax versions allowed the TVR to reach 0 to 60mph in 9.9 seconds. It had a top speed of 114mph.

Morgan

Headquartered in Malvern, Morgan has a long history of handmade sports cars. Starting in 1949, Morgan began to use Vanguard 1.8-litre engines to power its Morgan "Plus Four" roadsters, and then moved to a 68-horsepower, 2,080cc Vanguard engine. By 1954, Morgan switched to Triumph engines, using a 90-horsepower, 1,991cc engine from a Triumph TR2. For the 1959 Plus Four models, Morgan added all-wheel, 11-inch disc brakes. The 1955 models were lightweight at just 839kg., with a steel body placed on a wood frame. A four-speed manual transmission with a final rear axle ratio of 3.73-to-1 complemented the engine. Only 4,584 units left the factory during the Plus Four's 1950 to 1969 production run.

Bristol

Bristol originated as an aircraft company in Bristol, United Kingdom, in 1947. Its two most popular sports cars were Models 403 and 404. The 1953-to-1955 Model 403 featured quad headlamps, a body inspired by prewar BMW styling and a 100-horsepower, 2-liter, BMW in-line, six-cylinder engine. It achieved a top speed of about 80mph. Bristol only built 281 units. The Model 404 followed the 403, and came with a 105-horsepower, 2-liter straight-six. It was capable of reaching 110mph. The Model 404 sat on a 96.3-inch wheelbase and was considerably heavier than the TVRs and Morgans, with a kerbside weight of 1080kg.

Ginetta

Ginetta began automaking operations in 1958 in Woodbridge, Suffolk, England, with early versions patterned after the prewar British Wolseley Hornets. Ginetta's first production car was the G2 roadster, produced as a kit car on a tubular frame to avoid excessive British taxes. A 36-horsepower, 1.2-litre Ford engine powered the Ginetta G2. A three-speed manual transmission matched the engine. It was tiny, with a wheelbase of just 88 inches, and an overall body length of 122 inches. Its top speed was 70mph. Ginetta produced only 100 units for 1958.

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