British design is considered the finest in the world, from cars to Hoovers. Often nostalgic, our design icons define us. There are so many global design icons that originated in the UK. Here we focus on the motor industry.


The 1960s wouldn't be the 60s without the mini. It's in every photoshoot, the choice of pop stars and bank robbers alike. Designed by Sir Alec Issigonis (a British-born Greek) in 1959. It had oodles of space, a tiny footprint and if you have ever driven one, you feel like you are steering a rocket. How one man, Issigonis, can be responsible for the creation of such an icon and then go on to design the Austin Maxi, I'll never know.


The E-type Jaguar is still described as the most beautiful car ever designed (by Enzo Ferarri no less). They got it right first time and the 'improvements' on the later additions didn't improve on perfection. Released in 1961. Designed by Malcolm Sayer, an aircraft designer, he applied his aircraft principles to a car for the first time. It's a shape that has been copied many times, not least by Sayer himself with the XJS in 1976 – it is a fine car, but no E-type.

Go anywhere

What car, designed in 1947, still has recognisable principles in cars produced 69 years later? In post-War Britain there was a stack of aluminium left over from aircraft manufacture. Morris Wilks, the owner of a Willys Jeep, drew his design in the sand on an Anglesey beach. Simplistic, utilitarian and right up until the 1980s had more in common with farm machinery than a contemporary motor of the time. Apparently more than 50% of the world’s population saw a Land Rover as the first car in their life.

Not shaken, definitely stirred

Aston Martin, now owned by Ford and a consortium called Prodrive. But it still remains a British icon of car design and production. The DB1, produced from 1948, looks nothing like the DB4 we have come to associate with the brand. Since 1963, when the DB5 screeched onto the scene shooting baddies out of an ejector seat, the marque has been associated with our own secret agent, James Bond. It is a thing of beauty. Bond of course has driven many things. Unbelievably, he drove a Ford Mondeo – the sales rep’s car of choice – in Daniel Craig's Casino Royale. We all gasped: but not for the right reasons.

The ultimate

Rolls-Royce’s Silver Shadow was designed in 1965. (Have you noticed how many icons came out of the 60s?) It was going to be called the Silver Mist until someone pointed out that “mist” meant manure in German. For the world’s most luxurious car you need someone with a good name: no point in having a designer called Dave Smith. So it seems fitting that a name like John Polwhele Blatchley should have been the Silver Shadow's designer. And like the Land Rover, his principles can be seen in the modern editions. Driven by sheikhs and royalty (and, more importantly, by Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward, who drove a rare six-wheeled version) no matter who owns the company (BMW) it will always remain a statement of Britishness.

I wish we designed cars. We don't, so we can't help you there.

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