United Kingdom arguably has more active and historic car brands than all other major nations in this industry. The first brands started appearing in the 1890s, although even some of the biggest modern companies date back to before the WW1. Needless to say, the automotive culture in this country is very well-developed and old. Britain is known as a hub of quality engineering in Europe (on par with Italy and Germany).
Founded: January 15, 1913
Founder: Lionel Martin, Robert Bamford
Headquarters: Gaydon, United Kingdom
Subsidiaries: Aston Martin Racing
Aston Martin might be the most famous British brand, at least for the moment. They are the first thing many people think about when the conversation stirs to car manufacturing, especially to premium cars. The company started in 1913, and thanks to their many appearances in movies, they are amongst the top firms in the UK right now.
Founded: January 18, 1919
Founder: W. O. Bentley, H. M. Bentley
Headquarters: Crewe, England, United Kingdom
Parent organization: Volkswagen Group
Bentley is quite similar to Aston, although they are a bit less iconic, but surprisingly a bit more successful. They weren’t founded much later than AM was, only 6 years after. Despite their success and influence, they are now just a daughter company to the Volkswagen conglomerate – they have been since 1998.
Founder: Bayerische Motoren Werke AG
Headquarters: Westhampnett, United Kingdom
Parent organization: Bayerische Motoren Werke AG
Rolls-Royce is a much older premium car producer than the previous three. The brand has first surfaced in 1906, when the cars were still an innovation. They weren’t too lucky afterwards – the original company died in 1971 and was revitalized several times. Right now, they are in full possession of BMW.
Founded: September 4, 1922
Founder: William Lyons, William Walmsley
Headquarters: Coventry, United Kingdom
Parent organizations: Tata Motors, British Motor Holdings, Jaguar Land Rover Holdings Limited
Jaguar is another British luxury producer, and it’s really only different from its colleagues in really minor details. Right now, they are focusing mostly on creating compacts and SUVs (premium-grade, naturally). They are also a product of later generations, at least compared to the previous brands. The Jag has been around seen 1935.
Founder: Spencer and Maurice Wilks
Headquarters: Great Britain
Owner: Jaguar Land Rover
Speaking of Jaguar, it’s fitting to introduce Land Rover now. LR produces mostly luxury cars now, but they are still more a crossover and compact cars manufacturer than a premium brand. Bizarrely, they and Jaguar have been merged together into one legal entity (the brands are separate), although independently they existed since 1948.
Founded: 2 December 1985
Founder: Ron Dennis
Headquarters: McLaren Technology Centre, Woking, Surrey, United Kingdom
Parent: McLaren Group
McLaren is one of the few genuine sports car producers from England, but they are still considered a quality producer. They story started in 1985, long after the current leaders were established. Even so, they are amongst the most successful car manufacturers in the region – much more profitable than Aston Martin and others.
Founder: Colin Chapman
Headquarters: Norwich, United Kingdom
Parent organizations: Proton Holdings, Geely, Zhejiang Geely Holding Group
Lotus is the second major supercar producer in this country. They are much older than McLaren (created in 1948), but they pale in comparison with their direct rival. Lotus also puts a large emphasis on racing cars. In the 60s and 70s they were brilliant on trek, but then were replaced by McLaren as chief British racing brand.
Founder: Alexander Wilson
Headquarters: Luton, United Kingdom
Parent organization: Opel
Comparatively, Vauxhall is probably the only affordable car producer in this list. They are the only big British car firm that produces family cars and compacts. Their history is pretty unique as well. Namely – they are the oldest car brand in this country. The company itself is more than 160 years old, although the first car only appeared in 1903.
Headquarters: United Kingdom
Mini is a much less influential brand in comparison to the big names above, but they still play a large role on the market. Their main product are small cars (hence the name), which they create since 1969. They changed parent companies many times, but ultimately settled on BMW in 2000.
Minor car brands
There is a lot of minor brand in the United Kingdom. Over the course of history, there have been hundreds of them. So, this list will try to include only the living and as tightly grouped in different categories as possible.
There are especially many minor sports car producers. The most notorious are AC Cars (1901) and Noble (1999). The former has been very unlucky financially over the course of its history. Still, it’s one of the oldest brands in Britain. Noble, on another hand, is a young and surprisingly successful brand, for their caliber anyway.
The smaller brands include Lister (a 1954 brand famous for their Jaguar upgrades), Caterham (a 1973 brand famous for their peculiar retro designs), Zenos (a 2012 Norfolk brand which produced Zenos E10 – a small high-performance car with an open roof) and Arash (1999 brand previously known as Farbio).
Furthermore, there are several very small brands that concentrate on creating racing cars, mostly designed in F1 style. This includes Ariel (1991) with their light high performance cars, buggies and motorcycles, Briggs (2009) with their stylish white road-legal racing car, Brooke (2002) and Bowler (1985) that also produce one-seaters.
Radical (1997) should be mentioned separately, because they are a much more successful manufacturer of racing cars with international name. They competed many times on treks in Spa, Le Mans and others. It’s very surprising, considering their humble beginnings.
Lastly, there are 2 car brands that still produce 3-wheelers. One is Grinall – they produced an iconic Scorpion III car in the 90s, which is pretty much a large trike. The other is Triking, they are a bit older than Grinall and their car design is thick with vintage car styling. Still, they also create small cars that qualify as trikes.