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British Motor Cars in the 1930s

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  • 01-09-2021
British Motor Cars in the 1930s

Do you want to find out more about British motor cars in the 1930s? We look at the birth of popular motoring and popular British car manufacturers.

The Birth of Popular Motoring

When people think of the production of 1930s cars, they don't think about speed. Sure, speed is important and especially when it comes to the speedier sports cars of the time. 

However, the most important aspect of speed in this era was the speed that manufacturers could produce their cars before the second world war halted their progress. 

When people think about the production of 1930s cars, they think about Austin and the Austin 7, the Ford innovations, Morris Engines Ltd and the numerous rivalries and competitors in the industry. 

The late 1920s is when British automobiles truly became mainstream. Cars were finally affordable not just for the rich and famous but for families too. A great innovator at this time was Henry Ford and his Ford Model T (nicknamed Tin Lizzie). 

The Ford car, produced in Michigan, aimed to be simple, durable and affordable. The car had a four-cylinder engine, which was a regular cylinder type for this car type, and a top speed of 40–45 mph. It was under production as both two-seater or four-seater models. 

The top speed wasn't incredibly impressive; however, the cylinder engine was capable of running on ethanol, gasoline, or kerosene. 

As for the chassis, the chassis for this Ford car was fairly standard; however, the heavy-duty model came with a special worm gear. This Ford car became the first mass-produced vehicle in the world. 

In the late 1920s, families could purchase the Ford Model T for $360, which is equivalent to four months of an average American's salary. This innovation kickstarted large scale car production in the UK, and Ford as a company was seen as a major pioneer of that time of the motor industry. 

Popular British Car Manufacturers of the 1030s

British Motor Cars In The 1930s

In the 1930s, British manufacturers followed the mass production methods of Ford in the US but operated in completely separate markets. 

The British motor industry was significantly more restricted due to its tax and tariff policies, and the citizens, in general, had much less purchasing power. 

Despite this, the British motor industry continued to expand as companies were not competing for a smaller market share like in the US.

Austin Motor Company

The Austin Motor Company is responsible for the production of the now-famous British car known as the Austin (specifically the Austin 7 model). In the 1930s, Austin was the most produced car in England. 

The Austin, nicknamed "Baby Austin", had a similar effect on the British motor market as the previously mentioned Model T, replacing most other British cyclecars and economy cars. 

During the inter-war years, Austin Herbert decided on a one-model policy for the production of Austin cars based on the 3620 cc 20 hp cylinder engine. Austin went into receivership before they could reach 1930 but rose again after restructuring financially. 

The Austin Motor Company survived production through the depression and remained profitable due to the success of the two-seater Austin Seven throughout the 1930s. Originally, the Austin Seven had a 696cc side-valve in-line four-cylinder engine. 

This cylinder engine was similar to the Ford Model T. The chassis for this car took the form of an "A" with the engine mounted between the channel sections at the narrower front end. The "A" frame chassis design was influenced by American trucks in the 1920s and early 1930s. 

In the late 1930s, the chassis was lengthened by 6". The top speed of this Austin owned British car was 60mph. 

This top speed is fairly impressive considering its price. Speed wasn't the goal with this specific Austin car, as it was a high production car made for the average family. 

The capacity of the cylinder engine was increased in March 1923 to 747cc, giving it a RAC rating of 10.5hp. 13 years later, Austin gave the cylinder engine three main bearings: a roller bearing at the rear, white metal in the centre, and a ball bearing at the front.

Morris Motors

In the 1930s, Morris Engines was the main production competitor to Austin. Many believed that the Morris Minor, Morris Engines' signature British car at the time, was a more sophisticated and higher quality version of the Austin Seven. 

Together, Austin and Morris Engines Ltd sold nearly 3 of every 5 new British cars at the time. The cylinder engine of the Morris Minor was designed by Wolseley. The engine ran at 4000 rpm, producing 20 bhp (15 kW). 

The Morris Minor's cylinder engine was produced in two different versions. In the late 1920s, An 847 cc overhead-camshaft cylinder engine was put into production. This lasted until 1932, where Morris' engine was only in production for the more expensive Minors. 

Morris Engines had in-house engineers at Morris Commercial Cars design the chassis. The chassis design was fairly standard for a 1930s car. This Morris car had a top speed of 55mph. 

This top speed was slightly less than the Austin Seven counterpart. Similar to the Austin Seven, high speed wasn't a goal with this car as they were competing for the average consumer. 

Numerous adjustments to the engine allowed Morris Engines Limited to sell the Morris Minor S.V. two-seater for just £100.

Morris Motors: British Car Manufacturers of the 1030s

These Morris Engines Ltd cars came in either a two-seater or four-seater version. 

The flexibility and pricing allowed Morris Engines Ltd to keep up with Austin and their Austin Seven. 

In the 1930s, Morris was producing significantly more cars than its competitors.

Morris Engines Ltd released many versions and models of their cars with similar chassis, such as the Morris Major, Morris Ten, Morris Ten Six, and the Morris Cowley Six.

Vauxhall Motors

General Motors Corporation acquired Vauxhall for US$2.5 million in the late 1920s. Many of the General Motors Corporation executives were unhappy with the decision as, at the time, Vauxhall was in a financial mess, and the car production amount per week was only seventeen. 

Vauxhall used their advantage of modern technology to produce cars that could compete with competitors such as Wolseley and Humber. The Cadet was their entry into the British market.

However, it was the four-seater 1933 Vauxhall Light Six that was the first Vauxhall to sell comparably to the biggest rivals at the time. The Light Six had a smaller version of the Cadet engine, which produced 36bhp at 4000rpm. 

In 1935 the British car was revised as the DY/MX model, which used the same engine. The chassis, however, was designed with a different suspension mechanism which enabled the engine to be moved forward.

Aston Martin

Aston Martin is best known in the 1930s for its British Bertelli sports cars. Augustus Cesare Bertelli was both the designer and technical director for this line of two-seater British sports cars. 

The company had many cars released in the pre-war and inter-war years, such as the classic car: the Aston Martin Ulster, a line of stylish and expensive British sports cars. The two-seater Ulster sports cars were based on the MkII chassis. 

The chassis had an Aluminium body and a 1.5-litre engine capacity. This classic car had a guaranteed top speed of 100mph. This top speed is very impressive for the sports car given the time it was released. 

In 1936, Aston Martin decided to focus on just road cars after facing financial trouble and then moved onto producing aircraft components for the second world war.

Jaguar Cars

The first pre-war sports cars produced by Jaguar were the 1935 SS Jaguar Saloon line. 

William Lyons and William Walmsley released these British sports cars under the Swallow Sidecar name, which was the company they set up back in the 1920s. 

Jaguar's 2.5l Saloon sports car was both beautiful and elegant, and it needed a name that reflected these qualities, and so the big cat moniker was chosen. 

Jaguar Cars: British Car Manufacturers of the 1030s

The Jaguar name originally was unwanted by William Lyons, but he was eventually convinced that Jaguar was a good choice by his advertising agency. After finding their footing, Jaguar released a plethora of models in the 1930s. 

Some of the most known models include the SS Jaguar 1½ litre Saloon, SS Jaguar 2½ litre Saloon, and SS Jaguar 3½ litre Saloon. These Jaguar Saloon cars would be known as the Mark IV's. 

The Mark IV Jaguar cars were built on a separate chassis frame with a modified suspension mechanism. Jaguar produced these Saloon cars between the mid-1930s and the late 1940s. 

For the SS Jaguar Saloon and Jaguar 1½ Litre Saloon smaller models, Jaguar used a 1608 cc side-valve Standard engine which was upgraded to a 1776 cc overhead valve in the late 1930s. These Jaguar Saloon cars were produced in either 4-cylinder 1½-litre or 6-cylinder versions.  

The variety in cylinder engines used allowed Jaguar to target certain markets. The 3½ Litre Saloon, introduced in the last 1930s, was essentially the same body, chassis and cylinders as the Jaguar 2½ Litre Saloon, but the larger engine gave it significantly better performance. 

The 'SS' was dropped from the sports car's name after the notoriety it had gained during the war. 

The 1936-37 1.5 Litre top speed for this Jaguar sports car was 70 mph, and for '38-40, it was 71.7 mph. However, the 1938-48 3.5 Litre version of the sports car had an impressive top speed was 91.8 mph. 

Rolls-Royce Limited

Rolls-Royce Limited: British Car Manufacturers of the 1030s

Charles Rolls and Henry Royce partnered to form Rolls-Royce as a luxury British car and later an aero-engine manufacturing company. Rolls-Royce was founded in Manchester, England.

In the late 1920s, Rolls-Royce created the 'R' engine to power British seaplanes. 

One of their most famous British cars in the 1930s was the 6½ litre Rolls-Royce Phantom II, which was the last of Rolls-Royce's 40/50 hp models. 

The engine used was an upgraded version of the Rolls-Royce Phantom 1. 

Unlike previous British models, this engine was bolted to the 4-speed manual transmission directly. It had a top speed of 92 mph. 

The successor, The Rolls-Royce Phantom III, was the most technically advanced British car of its time. This Rolls-Royce car had a cruising speed of 75 to 80 mph with a top speed of 90 to 95 mph. In the late 1980s, a marketing survey showed that only Coca-Cola was a more widely known brand than Rolls-Royce. 

In 1931, Rolls-Royce acquired sports cars manufacturer Bentley, one of its competitors. After years of development, Rolls-Royce released the British Bentley 3½ Litre sports car. 

Chassis series A to F were 3½ Litre sports cars, G to L (but not including I) were 4¼ Litres, and the M series was the 4¼ Litre Overdrive chassis.

Bentley sold only the drivable bare rolling chassis with the engine radiator, gearbox, and scuttle so that coachbuilders could construct their own bodies on this British sportscar. 


Bentley: British Car Manufacturers of the 1030s

Bentley Motors Limited was a luxury and sports cars company founded in 1919 by Walter Owen Bentley. The Bentley name saw great success due to their Performance at Le Mans between 1923 and 1930. 

The success inspired Woolf Barnato, a British financier and racing driver, to fund the previously underfunded sports car enterprise. 

This saved both the business and its workers and allowed W. O. Bentley to continue designing the new generation of Bentley cars.

Bentley Motors created the famous Bentley 4½ Litre, which was a British car based on a rolling chassis design. 

The speedy Bentley 4½ Litre had a top speed of 138 mph. This was a record-breaking top speed at the time. This car replaced the Bentley 3 litre. As it had its engine displacement increased to 4.4 litres. 

Between 1927 and 1931, a total of 720 4½ Litre cars were produced. During this time, a 4½ Litre Bentley won the 24 Hours of Le Mans. 

There has been a significant amount of Bentley variation and models throughout its history, such as the Cricklewood Bentleys, which come in 3-litre, 4-litre, 4½-litre, 6½-litre, and 8-litre models. 

The last British car Walter Owen Bentley designed for Bentley Motors was the speedy Bentley 8 litre, which was the most luxurious and largest Bentley car of its era. Unfortunately, the demand for the British car was low due to the worldwide depression caused by the Wall Street Crash. 

The Lanchester Motor Company Limited 

Frederick Lanchester is known to many as a true visionary and one of the greatest mechanical engineers of all time. In 1895, he built the first four-wheel all-British car. He established his business, The Lanchester Engine Company, in 1899, and it had manufactured British 400+ vehicles by 1905. 

The company would continue to produce British cars such as the Lanchester Eighteen until the economic depression heavily impacted demand. Testers have found that this car has an approximate 71mph top speed. 

Due to financial problems, the company was acquired in 1931 by The Birmingham Small Arms Company Limited (BSA). BSA would go on to make the first successful consumer front-wheel-drive car in the early 1930s. 

It didn't take long for other companies to catch up, though, as Stoewer released their front-wheel-drive car in the early 1930s, and Audi followed with their front-wheel-drive 'Audi Front' cars.


Rover is a British car company introduced in 1878. Rover launched as a bicycle maker called Rover company, but Rover switched to cars in 1904. The 2½-litre Rover Light Six was one of Rover's key cars produced in the 1930s. 

The 2½-litre Rover Light Six had a top speed of 60mph which is a reasonable speed given its size. It had a cylinder bore of 65mm. Rover released many now-classic cars in the 1930s, such as the 1934 sports saloon and the 1935 sports tourer.


Hillman was created by the Hillman-Coatalen Company, founded in 1907. It was renamed Hillman Motor Car Company in 1910. 

The Hillman company had built bicycles. In late 1920 / early 1930, the Hillman company was acquired by Humber. Humber Limited used Hillman as a small car marque for the early 1930. 

The following key Hillman cars were introduced to the specification of the Rootes brothers in 1930: Hillman Minx, Hillman Straight Eight, Hillman Vortic, Hillman Wizard 75, Hillman Twenty 70, Hillman hawk and the Hillman 65.


Similar to many car manufacturers, Singer motors started as a cycling company. It was originally founded by George Singer in 1874. 

Singer motors was a smaller company but are known for numerous classic cars such as the 1936 Bantam Singer Nine, 1936 Bantam Singer Nine tourer, and the 1939 Bantam Singer Nine Roadster.

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