Extinct British car brands: where are they now?

Many grand old British car brands are no longer around; we look at their chances of revival.

There was a time when British car marques ruled the world, and brands such as Austin, Hillman and Morris were established in the furthest-flung outposts around the globe. As the 20th century progressed, empires shrunk and new world powers emerged, which saw the demise of many small and not-so-small automotive brands. 

Some of the worthier dead marques still retain a strong enough image to warrant a revival, fuelled by romance and the power of heritage. We look at some of the more interesting brands that could make a comeback…

VANDEN PLAS (1870-2009)


This Belgian carriage builder supplied bodywork to car marques from 1890, and to Brit brands Daimler, Bentley, Alvis and Rolls-Royce from 1913. The name was bought by Austin after WW2, and used for ‘posh’ Princess, 1100 and Allegro VDPs, and to create an upmarket Rover and Jaguar sub-brand.

Owner now: Shanghai Automotive Industries Corporation, and Jaguar Land Rover in America. 

Chance of revival: A very outside chance that Jaguar could one day apply it to American range-toppers.

JENSEN MOTORS (1934-1976, 1998-2002)


Jensen originally supplied car and lorry bodies to marques such as Austin, Ford and Volvo. It launched its first own-brand car in the 1930s, and moved into GT cars in the 1950s. The iconic Interceptor arrived in 1966, and made a brief comeback in the late 1980s, and then again in 1998. In 2002, the administrators moved in. 

Owner now: The Jensen Group.

Chance of revival: Minimal, even though the name retains great cachet.

JOWETT (1901-1954)


The post-war Javelin and Jupiter from Bradford-based Jowett Cars were advanced sports cars, but production and sales issues had killed the brand by the mid-1950s.

Owner now: Jowett, now an aircraft part manufacturer. 

Chance of revival: After all these years? None. 

HILLMAN (1907-1976)


A huge name in the mass market through most of the 20th century, Hillman was the creator of such cherished models as the rear-engined Imp (1963-1976), family-friendly Avenger and classic Minx. Chrysler binned the Hillman badge when it took over in 1967, and then sold out to Peugeot in 1979. 

Owner now: France’s PSA Group (owner of Citroën, DS, Peugeot and, as of late, Opel and Vauxhall).

Chance of revival: PSA has plenty of popular mass-market brands, so this is pretty low.

DAIMLER (1896-2007)


Daimler is one of the most established names in motoring, having supplied cars to the British monarchy from 1902. The distinctively styled V8-powered SP250 Dart was its most famous sports car. Jaguar bought the name in 1960, and labeled its range-toppers as such until 2007.

Owner now: Tata Motors, via Jaguar Land Rover. 

Chance of revival: Mercedes-Benz’s parent firm is called Daimler AG, which means any small-scale revival might problematic. 

AUSTIN (1905-1987)


Austin was massive in the 20th century, and largely responsible for mobilising Britain with its 1922-1939 Seven, 1959 Mini, 1960s 1100/1300, and Metro. Rover discontinued the name in 1987. 

Owner now: Shanghai Automotive Industries Corporation.

Chance of revival: A rumoured comeback a few years back came to nothing.

WOLSELEY (1901-1975) 


Britain’s best-selling brand in the 1920s, Wolseley was taken over by William Morris in 1927. He established a badge-engineering programme to add value to his subsequent BMC and BL cars. The 1975 18-22 Series was the last Wolseley.

Owner now: Shanghai Automotive Industries Corporation.

Chance of revival: Unlikely.

TRIUMPH (1885-2004)


The former bicycle builder branched out into motorcycles and cars in 1921, and became a popular small car marque postwar. After producing a string of popular TR-badged sportsters, it was destroyed by the ‘curse’ of British Leyland. 

Owner now: BMW.

Chance of revival: There was talk of a rebirth in the late 1990s. It didn’t happen.

ROVER (1878-2005)


Another former bicycle builder, Rover’s had the most chequered past of all Brit brands. It was always known for its high-quality cars, but declined under British Leyland, which ultimately damaged the prospects of the brilliant SD1. A Honda collaboration and BMW takeover compounded the issues, and MG Rover went bust in 2005. 

Owner now: Tata Motors (via BMW and Ford).

Chance of revival: Negligible – unless saloons become the next big thing over SUVs.

RILEY (1890-1969)


In hindsight, Riley over-diversified by manufacturing bicycles, motorbikes, engines and cars. It led to the company’s demise, and William Morris added the brand to his stable for the purposes of his Wolseley-style badge engineering programme. This produced models such as the Morris 1100-based 1968 Riley Kestrel. 

Owner now: BMW.

Chance of revival: In the late 1990s BMW considered using the name on a Rover 75-based model. It didn’t happen.

MORRIS (1913-1984)


Morris’s 42% UK market share in the mid-1920s slowly dwindled away under subsequent BMC, British Leyland and Austin Rover ownership. The Ital, a 1971 Marina facelift, was its last car. 

Owner now: Shanghai Automotive Industries Corporation

Chance of revival: Unlikely. 

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  1. From reading this, you would never know that MORRIS was THE quintessential English car following WWII, and was the FIRST English brand to ever sell one million cars. This article makes it sound like nothing happened after the 1920s! What rubbish!

  2. In almost every case, the demise of these marques was the result of mismanagement, with a dose of trade-union recalcitrance playing a part in some cases. Very depressing. All the marques produced brilliant cars at various times, but build quality and insufficient engineering development let them down again and again.

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