A Brief History of the British Car Industry

Today, vintage British cars seem like beautiful relics. But they’re not that old. Here’s a quick timeline that outlines the development of the British auto industry.

Frederick Simms with his Motor Scout, the first armed petrol engine-powered vehicle in the world.


The British motor industry began with a friendship: Frederick Simms met Gottlieb Daimler, from whom he bought the rights to sell and manufacture Gottlieb’s high-speed petrol engine, among other patents.


Henry Royce and Charles Rolls work together to build the six-cylinder silver ghost. This was the beginning of the Rolls-Royce brand.


The Bentley brand is founded by W.O. Bentley.


Swallow Sidecar company, later to become Jaguar, begins manufacturing motorcycle sidecars and some passenger cars.


Cecil Kimber founds MG, originally Morris Garages. The first cars to bear the name and octagon logo “MG” were actually sold up to a year before 1924, so historians still wonder when MG actually opened its doors.


Rolls-Royce purchases Bentley.


At the London auto show, the first car with the name Jaguar appeared: the SS Jaguar 100, recalling the company’s former name, “Swallow Sidecars.” Soon after WWII, the “SS” would be dropped from the name.

The SS Jaguar 100, manufactured between 1945 and 1940.


The Rover Company, which had previously produced only luxury cars, begins to produce the Series I Land Rover. It was launched alongside a less Spartan model called the “Station Wagon.”


Britain is the world’s largest vehicle exporter by a huge margin, providing 52% of the world’s exported cars.

After 1950, much of the British automotive industry was bought out or taken over. By 1960, the UK was in third place as a world vehicle manufacturer, with Jaguar and Land Rover being the strongest niche producers. In 2002, Jaguar and Land Rover were united into a single entity by Ford. Today, Jaguar Land Rover is a subsidiary of Tata Motors, headquartered in India.

Still, the reputation of British vehicles holds. Jaguar Land Rover, along with other British automotive brands, represents the strength of versatility within one brand and product.


Simms’ plans to manufacture Daimler’s motors were taken over by H.J. Lawson, under whom Britain’s first serial-production car was made. The company by the name of Daimler still exists, but it has largely been succeeded by Jaguar.

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