It's that time of the year when classic cars are spruced up ready for a summer on the open road.
Despite our unpredictable weather, the UK has always been one of the world's largest markets for open-top cars and driving a cherished convertible is a great way to take a trip down memory lane.
Back in the day, British sports cars were popular all around the world and there are plenty of examples at the more affordable end of the market if you want to enjoy the sensation of wind-in-your-hair motoring in a car oozing with character.
If you choose wisely and stay within your comfort zone, both financially and mechanically, there's plenty of choice out there from famous names such as MG, Triumph, Jaguar and Austin-Healey.
And remember, if you run a classic car that's more than 40 years old, it's road tax and MOT exempt – and cheap to insure.
Take a look at our classic car guides for more information:
- Top 10 cheapest classics to insure
- Classic car buying guide
- Classic car MOT changes – all you need to know
So, fasten your seatbelts for a selection of British classic convertibles for the summer...
1. Triumph Spitfire
Frankly, you could almost fill a top 10 list of British classic convertible cars with Triumphs alone. As well as the Spitfire, there's the Herald, Vitesse, Stag and all the TRs.
We've included three starting with the Spitfire, which was launched at the 1962 Earls Court Motor Show in London and soldiered on until 1980 through the worst days of British Leyland when it was well past its sell-by date.
Even though they’re tiny inside and early versions were a handful, they’re collectible. Many have long since been scrapped, but there are good examples out there – especially later cars.
Expect to pay at least £5,000, but double or more for a Spitfire in superb condition. Do your research and get advice from an expert before investing in any classic because what may look good might be hiding a multitude of problems.
2. MGB Roadster
One of the most popular British sports cars of all time, especially in the States, more than half a million MGBs and its variants, including the GT (2+2 coupe), rolled off the assembly line in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, between 1962-1980. It may not be the quickest classic convertible, but it's a joy to drive and cheap to run. In its heyday it was affordable too, though now you'll have to pay at least £5,000 for a runner and £10-£20,000 for something decent with a good history.
Chrome bumpers were replaced by rubber in 1974 and the former are more desirable. The 1.8 litre cars sound good and are torquey, while the V8 (it arrived in 1973) added a whole new dimension to the GT. There's a thriving owners' scene for the MGB so parts large and small, and even full rebuilds, aren’t uncommon if money is no object.
3. Austin Healey Sprite MK 1
A joint venture between Austin and Donald Healey, the resulting Austin-Healeys were classic British sports cars. The cheeky Sprite Mk 1 (affectionately known as the ‘Frogeye’) was one of the highlights. Built from 1958-61, it was powered by a 948cc engine used in the Morris Minor, developing just 43bhp.
The Mk 1 was replaced by the Mk 2, but sadly this just looked like a badge-engineered MG Midget and the original Frogeye is the most collectible. Mk 1s are now rare and cherished ones will cost you north of £15,000, though you could pay double that for a fully restored example.
4. MG Midget
Launched in 1961, the MG Midget was the result of a bit of 1960s’ badge engineering. Effectively an Austin Healey Sprite Mk 2 (itself a development of the original 1958 Mk I 'Frogeye' Sprite), the Midget was a small, simple, affordable sports car powered by the 948cc A series engine also seen in the Mini.
Later came a more powerful 1275cc unit, then for the last five years of its life, it was treated to a 1.5-litre Triumph engine. Apart from more powerful engines, the biggest change came in 1974 when it was fitted with black bumpers to comply with the latest safety rules.
Fun to drive and with low running costs, round-arch Midgets with chrome bumpers (1972-74) are generally considered to be the most desirable. Around £3,000 will buy you a perfectly acceptable Midget, but you'll have to pay three times that for an immaculate car. Parts are widely available, and Midgets are DIY-friendly, but you'll have to look hard to find a solid one. As ever, always thoroughly check over for rust before committing.
5. Triumph TR7
Triumph's TR range of sports cars was built between 1953 and 1981, starting with the TR2 and ending with the TR7, followed by the short-lived TR8 in 1981. While the TR6 of the 1960s was a classic British muscle car, the dramatic wedge-shaped TR7 with its pop-up headlights was something quite different.
Launched in 1974, it was advertised as “The Shape of Things to Come” and about 115,000 were built. Initially only offered as a fixed-head coupe, a convertible version finally arrived in 1979, while the final TR8 version featured Rover’s potent 3.5-litre V8 and is the rarest.
Much maligned during its lifetime, early TR7s suffered from build quality issues, but these were sorted out and the arrival of the drop-top did wonders for its reputation. If you're smitten by the TR7, best to go for later cars generally. Runners can be bought for as little as £1,500, but you'll have to shell out at least £6,000 for a good example and more for a convertible.
6. Caterham Seven
Today's Caterham Seven is a direct descendant of the Lotus Seven – best known as the car driven by Patrick McGoohan in the cult 1960s series, The Prisoner.
Produced from 1957-72, the Lotus Seven was a basic lightweight two-seater designed by Formula One legend Colin Chapman. It was very successful so Caterham Cars bought the rights to the Seven in 1973 and the fun little drop-top is still going strong. It has evolved hugely since, but the fun formula is still the same.
A multitude of variants have been released since with several engines, but our advice would be to test drive a new one to see whether it's for you. If so, then work back from there. New Caterhams start at £26,490 and you'll have to pay at least £12,000 for a used example, and closer to £20,000 for a cracker.
7. Jaguar XK8
Built between 1996 and 2006, the handsome XK8 replaced the XJS and was initially released as a coupe before convertible editions also became available a year on. Endowed with a potent V8 it was an old school Jag inside with plenty of leather and walnut trim.
For those seeking even greater thrills, the 375bhp supercharged XKR was released in 1998. A second generation XK/XKR (2007-2014) finally gave way to the F-Type we have today.
The XK8 was a premium performance GT and, as such, anyone considering buying one should get expert advice or else it could end up being an expensive mistake. First generation XK8s can be bought for as little as £1,500, but expect to pay at least £7,000 for a good one and nearer double that for a cherished example.
8. Vauxhall VX220
The lightweight Vauxhall VX220 was built between 2000-2005 by Lotus at its plant in Hethel, Norfolk, during a partnership between the companies. Although it was closely related to the Lotus Elise S2, the VX220 didn’t sell well. However, it’s now considered very collectible and is serious fun.
Initially fitted with a 2.2-litre capable of 0-62mph in 5.6 seconds, that time dropped to 4.7 seconds when a 2.0-litre turbo came along in 2003. A turbo power boost in 2004 delivered 4.2 seconds. Find a well cared for example and you’ll revel in its driving dynamics.
You'll have to pay between £10-£20,000 for a good VX220, and as with any classic, do your research and get expert advice before investing in one.
9. MG TF
Launched in 1995 by the Rover Group, the MG F (later the MG TF) had a chequered life. Praised for its great handling, it was a popular car, but – as ever – struggled with build quality and reliability.
Production paused in 2005, when MG Rover went into receivership, and resumed in 2007 under MG’s new owners, Nanjing Automobile Group of China. Production was suspended again in 2009 due to the recession, restarted in 2010, but finally ceased in 2011.
The TF is now great value, but prices for cherished examples are edging up. Runners are available for as little as £1,000 and good late, low mileage examples can be snapped up for as little as £3,000, while the best ones go for nearer £10,000.
10. Triumph Stag
Produced from 1970-78 and styled by Italian designer Giovanni Michelotti, the Stag is still one of the prettiest classic British sports cars. However, it acquired a reputation for mechanical unreliability, usually in the form of overheating.
That said, the V8's problems can be fixed and if properly maintained, it shouldn't be a deal-breaker. Just under 26,000 were produced and many good examples survive, though it's best to get a prospective buy thoroughly checked out by a specialist. As well as rust (wheel arches, sill-to-floor joints and rear spring top mountings) and the engine, there may also be issues with the power steering, for example.
Go for one with a manual gearbox with overdrive and if it's got a factory hard top, even better. Projects can be found for as little as £3,000, but you'll have to pay more than £10,000 for a good one or as much as £25,000 for a minter.