When it comes to enthusiasts picking their next project car, there’s a lot of choice out there. Picking a car from a Japanese manufacturer might seem like an obvious place to start, as Toyotas, Nissans and Hondas already have a big aftermarket scene and a very versatile selection of cars. Likewise, American cars are also a good shout, as there’s everything from classic muscle to modern pickup trucks to pick from. Builders looking for a bit of extra flair could even choose an Italian car, although it’ll probably be trickier to keep running.
There’s another choice out there though, and one that doesn’t get nearly as much attention as the three previous options. Over the decades, the British have produced some of the greatest automobiles ever, and they’ve also made a bunch of vehicles that make amazing project cars. They might not be the obvious choice, but in fact, there’s something for nearly every type of modifier, from iconic off-roaders to JDM-style slammed sedans. Today, we’ll be taking a look at ten of the best British cars for a project, with some that are already cult favorites and some that are unusual but head-turning choices.
Starting off with one of the most famous British cars of all time, the Mini Cooper has a solid fanbase all around the globe. Originally designed as a small, affordable family car, the Mini soon exploded in popularity thanks to its unique looks and back-to-basics construction.
Most classic Mini Cooper builds focus on making the car ready for the track, as it’s about as close to driving a road-legal go kart as it’s possible to get. That means fender flares, racing engines, and often bigger grilles to make sure those new engines don’t overheat. Oh, and a period-correct racing livery, of course.
Land Rover Defender
The Defender was launched in the mid-’80s as a utilitarian model for Land Rover that focused on all-terrain capability above all else. Its original production run came to an end in 2015, although the new Defender launched in 2020 with a different shape and more luxurious interior.
Modifying a Defender will almost always mean enhancing its off-road chops, as it’s simply not comfortable or quick enough to do much else! That’s a good thing though, as it means it’s the perfect candidate for an Overlanding build, like the trucks above. Just stick on a roof-mounted tent, a snorkel and some other tweaks and drivers are ready for the wilderness.
A Bentley might seem like an odd pick for a modified build, but it’s actually a great alternative to the usual cohort of modded luxury cars. Newer models carry their own brand of sophisticated cool, which can be amplified with a careful selection of aftermarket rims and a lower ride height.
Older models are even more versatile, as they’ve depreciated enough to be within the range of many project car buyers. A cheap Continental will cost well under $30,000, even in today’s crazy used car market. That means more builders are willing to make all manner of weird and wonderful projects, like turning the Continental above into a pickup truck for some reason. It’s pretty pointless, but it’s undeniably cool.
They’re cheap, they’ve got big engines and they look great when they’re sat low. The Jaguar XJ makes for an awesome slammed sedan build, and it’s refreshingly different to the Japanese sedans that are usually used for this type of project.
They might have a reputation for being unreliable and well, they often are. But hey, that’s part of the fun with a project build right? After all, buying an old Jag will guarantee that its owner will always have something new that needs fixing.
Ford may be one of the greatest American automakers ever but many Americans don’t know that they actually have a UK-headquartered subsidiary, called Ford of Europe. The subsidiary makes cars that are specifically designed for the Euro market, and one of their most famous models is the Escort. That’s not to be confused with the American Ford Escort, which confusingly is a different car altogether.
The Euro Escort ran across six generations from 1967 to 2002, which means there’s a lot of choice for project car buyers. Simple, clean builds with subtle modifications always work well on these cars, but then more drastic racing-style builds are also common sights at British and European car shows too.
Another economy car turned project favorite, the Morris Minor sports classic English looks at a rock-bottom price tag. It was the first British car to sell over one million units, and it’s thought over 1.6 million were sold when production stopped in 1971.
Being so popular, it’s no surprise that a variety of modified builds cropped up. What is surprising is the nature of those builds: the Minor became a common racing and drag car in Britain during the ’60s and ’70s, and there’s still plenty of those builds around today. It was a favorite in other parts of the world too, as the New Zealand-based build above shows.
For a laser-focused track car with precision handling, it’s difficult to beat a Lotus Exige. The faster and more extreme brother of the Elise, the Exige is best when it’s at full throttle on a circuit or darting through empty backroads.
Many owners like to add their own personal flavor to their Lotuses, which is what makes it such a good car to modify. There’s already a lot of aftermarket parts out there, but owners still get an incredible sports car right from the get go.
Land Rover Range Rover
The modern Range Rover might be more associated with celebrities and wealthy soccer moms than off-road prowess, but it can still hold its own on rough terrain. Not that most owners care though, as the majority of newer Range Rover builds take advantage of aftermarket builders like Overfinch to add style and speed to their SUV, but not off-road capability.
With older models, it’s a different story though, as their boxier shape and more basic nature makes them a more natural candidate to venture out into the backcountry. Forget the stereotype of unreliability: an old Range Rover is no more unreliable than any other forty-year-old car, and in fact, their solid build quality makes them a more resilient choice than many enthusiasts might think.
Famously called the most beautiful car in the world by Enzo Ferrari himself, the E-Type is more commonly associated with stuffy collectors and high auction prices. For those willing to break the mold though, the car makes a unique and controversial base for a project.
Be it the Frankenstein E-Type in the top image or Chip Foose’s modded project in the second one, an E-Type build always generates debate from the wider automotive community. There will always be purists that disagree with turning a classic Jag into anything other than its original form, but for many E-Type project owners, that’s part of the entertainment.
It’s easy to assume that just being Italian is enough to make every sports car collectible, but that’s not always the case.
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