A Salute to Britain’s 5 Greatest Roadsters
Now that the 2016 Mazda MX-5 has officially broken cover – and honestly, it’s quite the looker – we thought it only prudent to commend the top British roadsters that have lent their DNA to Japan’s all-conquering Miata. The requirements? Like the Miata, these five British open-top two-seaters maintained lightweight diets, reasonable price tags (for the most part), gratifying handling and balanced performance … but are British, obviously. Enjoy. Austin-Healey Sprite / MG Midget “Affordable fun”
Produced in conjunction, the Sprite and Midget – or ‘Spridgets’ – were the successful results of Austin’s very necessary cost cutting. Designed by Donald Healey and featuring the engine from an Austin A35 and the steering from a Morris Minor, the resulting Sprite was cheap and uncomplicated.
In 1961 the Midget took things a bit up-market and larger engines were added, but that original 0.9-liter Sprite remains special in that unequivocally buzzy ‘British roadster’ kind of way.
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“Your neighbor’s roadster”
If it were a match of pure numbers alone, the lovable MGB would come out on top. Over its 18-year run, nearly 400,000 unobtrusive MGBs rolled off British Leyland’s Abingdon production line and into the hearts of enthusiasts worldwide.
Although hardly menacing in appearance, the MGB’s 1.8-liter four-cylinder hitched 94 horses, of which you could use all of them. It was also fairly inexpensive, simple to maintain, and competent in the bends. Effectively, it was the Miata…before the Miata.
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“Chapter one, page one”
In the 1950s, if you wanted a British roadster that could nick the 120 mph barrier, you got a Jaguar XK120. If you couldn’t afford one, you bought a Triumph TR2.
Assembled from 1953 to 1955, the TR2 sported a 2.0-liter four-pot chucking out 90-horsepower, capable of bagging a 105mph top speed. Not bad for a road car in ‘53. Larger brakes, a bigger engine, and a distinctive new grille signified the debut of the TR3, followed by a legacy of other notable sleek TRs.
PHOTOS: The 1962 Triumph TR3B Roadster was King of the Corners
“Not just a donor car”
Mention "AC" and you’ve already launched someone into a deluge of adoration for the remarkable Shelby Cobra. But of its own accord, the little AC Ace was quite the sportster.
Onto the scene in 1953, the original Ace packed an aged 2.0-liter straight-six and sleek, sporting looks, of which its wheezy six-pot couldn’t exactly back up. Then in 1956, AC replaced the plebeian motor with a potent 120-horsepower "Bristol" mill. And it was quite good.
RELATED: Before the V8 Cobra, the 1959 AC Ace Bristol Roadster reigned supreme
Like the Sprite before it, the teensy Spitfire was also based on an everyday sedan – the Triumph Herald. Also like the Sprite, it was up to an eager "Donald" to give the dream fruition: this time sales director Donald Stokes.
When it debuted in 1962, the Spitfire’s 1.1-liter four-cylinder out-powered its rival Sprite, notched a top speed of 92 mph, and notably included wind-up windows – something the Sprite didn't have. Plus you got to tell all the girls, “Yeah, I drive a Spitfire.”
Didn’t see your favorite listed here? Keep the conversation going in the comments below.
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