60s sports cars
The 1960s was the golden age of the British sports car. MGs, Triumphs and Austin Healeys offered performance and handling that put them well ahead of family saloons of the era. With no speed limits on the first motorways, drivers could make full use of top speeds of over 100mph.
Many people thought sports cars were draughty and uncomfortable, but even the cheaper models were getting wind up windows and more convenient hoods. Some even offered luxurious leather seats and walnut fascias.
There were three types of sports car in the sixties:
- Small, cheap cars: MG Midget or Triumph Spitfire;
- Medium-sized cars, still small by today's standards: the MGB, Triumph TR4/5 and Sunbeam Alpine;
- Fast and expensive cars starting with the Austin-Healey 3000 and E-Type Jaguar.
Small sports cars
The second-hand market allowed people to own a sports car for very little money. You could easily buy an older, second-hand sports car, such as a classic MG TF or TD from the early fifties. They still held their price well. MG TFs sold for around £300 in 1964 and TDs were going for upwards of £200.
If you wanted a modern car, there was a choice between an MG Midget, Austin-Healey Sprite or a Triumph Spitfire. The Japanese competitor, the Honda S800, joined the fray in the mid-sixties.
These small cars were cramped, but had a performance of 80mph or better.
The Austin-Healey Sprite was launched in 1958. It was a new breed of small, cheap sports car, not in the vintage tradition. The Sprite was a first sports car or a second car for a more affluent two-car sixties' family. Austin-Healey Sprite
BMC (British Motor Corporation) made both Austin and MG cars. They launched the MG Midget in 1961. It was almost identical to the Sprite. MG Midget
Triumph launched the original Spitfire at the 1962 Motor Show. It had a little more power and performance than the Sprite. Throughout the sixties these cars competed head to head for the same market. Triumph Spitfire
People were getting used to Japanese transistor radios, cameras and watches. The first Japanese cars also appeared in the 1960s. The Honda S800 was a cheeky new entrant into the British market. It had a small, high revving engine and became a serious rival to the Sprite and Spitfire. Honda S800(Picture source 本人撮影, author 韋駄天狗, from Wikipedia Commons image slightly cropped)
Medium-sized sports cars
Medium-sized sports cars had engines of up to two litres. They offered performance to match all but the biggest saloon cars of the era. The MGB, Triumph TR4 and Sunbeam Alpine competed in this market. These cars offered relaxed motorway cruising around 90 to 100mph. The larger cars also offered a little extra room and more comfort than the Midgets and Spitfires.
Open top sports cars were also joined by the GT. GT stood for Gran Turismo. GTs were expensive vehicles that could transport their wealthy owners at high speed and in luxury on continental roads for hundreds of miles at a time. The MGB GT, Sunbeam Alphine GT and Triumph GT 6 brought GT motoring to those with more modest means.
MGB and MGB GT
The MGB, launched in 1962, brought a bigger engine and more refinement to MG's classic sports car, the MGA. The MGB had a reputation for good handling and performance. In the 1960s it set the standard for the classic British sports car. In 1965 the open roadster was joined by a closed GT car. MGB and MGB GT
Triumph TR4 and TR5
Triumph's TR4 was introduced in 1961. It was a new style sports car for a new decade. The TR4's performance was better than the MGB, but the firmer ride and the handling were not to everyone's taste. Triumph TR4
The Sunbeam Alpine was Rootes' entry into the sports car market of the 1960s. It had a reputation as a comfortable tourer rather than a true sports car. James Bond drove a Sunbeam Alpine in Dr No. However, endorsement from Britain's favourite fictional spy did not improve the Alpine's image. Although the V8 engine in the Sunbeam Tiger, based on the Alpine, was something else again.