From cheap and cheerful roadsters to posh luxury saloons and million-dollar hypercars, the British have done it all. Yes, we could make the same tired old jokes about Lucas electrics all day, but Americans fell in love with British cars back in the 1940s and for many of us the spark is definitely still there even if the likes of MG, Triumph and Austin-Healey are no longer with us.
With such a variety of cars coming out of the UK over the years, some are naturally faring differently in the market, so we’ve scoured the Hagerty Price Guide values and insurance quoting activity to compile a list of six British cars to buy, sell, or hold right now.
Even though the XJ-S was never intended as a direct replacement for the E-Type, comparisons were inevitable, and the XJ-S was just always going to come up short. One of the prettiest cars ever made is a tough act to follow, and the XJ-S’s reputation for being a nightmare to live with doesn’t help. The large V-12 under the hood is complex, difficult to work on, and likes to overheat. Parts are surprisingly hard to find because of all the running changes over a 20-year production life. XJ-Ss have also been cheap for years and not worth enough to put serious money into, so many owners neglected the biggest jobs, instead leaving them to the next owner.
But maybe we’re being too hard on the XJ-S. A V-12 Jag is silky smooth when it’s running right, and the XJ-S has serious performance chops with success in Trans Am Racing, the European Touring Car Championship, and the Cannonball Run. Jaguar sold 115,000 of them worldwide, so plenty should be available in good condition. And if prices are any indication, people are starting to look at these big cats with a little less skepticism. If you’re taken with the idea of a 12-cylinder engine (an easier-to-run and cheaper-to-buy straight-six was available for a few years, and some people actually prefer it), the XJ-S is still just about the cheapest V-12 you can buy, but average prices were up anywhere from 10.5 to 19.7 percent for coupes at the beginning of the year and look set to increase further. Convertible prices are flatter, but a serviceable open car still commands about 7 to 9 grand more than a coupe. Insurance activity has been steadily increasing, and younger buyers are showing a surprisingly keen interest, both encouraging trends. Most coupes cost between $15,900 and $17,400 in #2 (excellent) condition.
The key is to find a well-maintained XJ-S. It will it be kinder to your wallet in the long run, and the gap between good examples and ones with needs is growing for these cars and will probably only get wider.
Triumph’s response to BMC’s Austin-Healey Sprite/MG Midget twins was prettier, more practical, and sounds more badass with a name from a World War II fighter plane. The model changed quite a bit over its nearly two decade run, but values are broadly similar and every iteration of the Spitfire has its pluses and minuses. Earlier ones with their swing axle rear suspension have tricky handling at the limit but look better, while later ones have better suspension and more creature comforts but have less power and less attractive bodywork. All Spitfires, however, are fun to drive, cheap to buy, and cheap to maintain. Parts are easy to find, and the cars are simple enough that you can fix most problems yourself.
And while you’ll never get rich off a Spitfire, you probably won’t lose money on one, either. Median #2 (excellent) values are up 10.3% over the past two years, and buyer interest is up as well. Younger buyers (Gen X and Millennials) make up 48 percent of insurance quotes for Spitfires which bodes well for long-term appeal. Currently, any Spitfire in decent driver condition can be found for less than $10,000, and a #2 condition car goes for less than $12,000. With so much fun per dollar on tap, they’re unlikely to get any cheaper than they are now.
A lightweight British two-seater and a big Ford V-8 stuffed under the hood – that’s the Shelby Cobra formula that Sunbeam decided would spice up its Alpine sports car. The Anglo-American hybrid that resulted, called the Tiger, was more compromised than the Cobra and never as successful, but it’s still an exciting little roadster that comes at a fraction of the price of a genuine Shelby.
At one time, the Tiger was one of the hottest cars on the market, quickly going from a “poor man’s Cobra” to just a “slightly less rich man’s Cobra”. Median #2 (excellent) values rocketed from $43,300 at the beginning of 2012 to a peak of $113,000 toward the end of 2016. Since then, though, values have been consistently dropping, with the Mk IA dropping 20.5 percent in the past two years, while the later Mk I and Mk II have dropped 13.5 and 9 percent, respectively. No other signs point to Tigers bouncing back, so it looks to be as good a time as any to sell. If you’re still looking to add one to your garage, however, check out or buyer’s guide.
The TR3 has a lot going for it. The swoopy lines are exciting, the cut-down doors make you feel connected to the road, and it costs about the same to buy as an MGA despite offering more power. For whatever reason, though, the TR3 is getting no love in the market lately. If you want to get the most money for your TR3, your best bet is to find a time machine and crank the dial back to 2013. TR3 values peaked that year at over $41,000 for #2 (excellent) cars, but have steadily retreated since then and are down 12.75 percent over the past two years alone. Younger buyers show surprisingly little interest in them despite their relatively affordable price, and insurance activity is among the lowest of any of the cars we track. Values for the comparable MGA have retreated as well, so there’s still room for the TR3 to drop. If you love your TR3, then by all means keep driving. Just don’t expect to be pleasantly surprised when it comes time to put it up for sale.
The first Rolls-Royce to feature the retractable Spirit of Ecstasy, the Silver Spirit and long wheelbase Silver Spur are far from the best things to roll out of Crewe, at least from a styling perspective. But at a median #2 value of $16,600, you could have a hand-built, 5,000-pound, V-8 barge of magnificence with power everything, and that flying lady on the nose that will fool at least some people into thinking you’re filthy rich.
Yes, there is a catch. Things on the car will break, and the bill to fix them will probably have an extra zero or two more than you’re used to. But after a 5.1 percent drop in #2 values at the beginning of 2017, they’ve been flat ever since and Silver Spirits/Silver Spurs appear to have hit their bottom. Younger buyers make up 25 percent of quotes (surprisingly high for a brand otherwise more popular with older folks), which bodes well for long-term collectability. It’s hard to see these cars getting any cheaper than they are now, but no signs point to them growing, either.
While not exactly the prettiest thing on four wheels (and certainly not the fastest), the Mk I Bugeye Sprite is solidly in the running for the cutest. It’s hard not to fall in love with a car that literally smiles at you, and the Sprite has the added benefit of being fantastically fun to drive, simple to work on, and cheap to run.
They’re not all that cheap to buy, though. Bugeyes (called Frogeyes in the UK) have just 43 horsepower to work with and they don’t even have a trunk or windows, but with a #2 (excellent) value of $19,500 they’re worth nearly twice as much as a later, better-equipped square-body Sprite. Charm, as it turns out, counts for a lot, and there isn’t much out there that can touch the cute-factor of a shiny Bugeye. Bugeyes have retreated a bit since #2 values peaked at $23,900 in mid-2016 and are down 12.5 percent since two years ago, but the curve has flattened and shows signs of holding steady. Roadster season is right around the corner and there’s no reason to worry about prices, so just go out and drive.