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British Car Day: The good, the bad and the unreliable

Post-war England was the birthplace of some of the world’s most interesting and inspiring cars. Each September, thousands of British car enthusiasts gather west of Toronto to celebrate an era known for brilliant design, unique perspective, and dodgy reliability. Globe Drive columnist Peter Cheney headed to Bronte Creek Provincial Park to check out the hardware.

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1997 CSX Sheby Cobra: Although the Shelby Cobra is American, it has English roots – designer Carroll Shelby came up with the Cobra by installing a V8 in a tiny British sports car called the AC Ace.

Peter Cheney/The Globe and Mail

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1962 Lotus Elite: Designed by the legendary Colin Chapman, the Elite epitomizes 1960s English cool. Style, light weight and handling were among its strengths. Reliability was not.

Peter Cheney/The Globe and Mail

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1969 Triumph GT6+: The flip-up front end and sleek roofline gave the GT6+ unique style. The car was created by putting a roof on the lowly Triumph Spitfire and replacing the four-cylinder motor with an inline six.

Peter Cheney/The Globe and Mail

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1959 Opperman Unicar: The Unicar was briefly produced by an English tractor manufacturer. Its appearance may have played a role in its limited success.

Peter Cheney/The Globe and Mail

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1961 Austin Healey Sprite: Best known as the Bugeye, the Sprite was never known for its speed, but its endearing face and wind-in-the-hair style made it an enduring classic.

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1954 Austin-Healey 100-4: Healeys were noted for their beautiful lines. The tilting windshield of the 100-series is one of the sexiest features ever added to a sports car, although it does increase your chances of taking a rock in the head.

Peter Cheney/The Globe and Mail

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1962 BMC Mini Woody: By extending the rear compartment of the Mini and adding wood trim, BMC created both an interesting car and a double entendre.

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1962 BMC Mini Woody interior: Extra luggage space (and yet another double entendre).

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1960s Triumph short-track race bike: This elegant little model exemplifies the mechanical style that drew so many to English vehicles in that decade. (Steve McQueen rode a Triumph.)

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1962 Morris Minor convertible: The Minor was woefully underpowered, but as I learned on a long-ago test-drive, women love it.

Peter Cheney/The Globe and Mail

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1990 Caterham 7 Supersprint: The Caterham is a much-improved version of the much-loved yet deeply flawed Lotus 7. The Caterham has all the thrills of the original, minus the breakage-prone frame. (The lack of wind protection and roasting-oven footwell have been retained.)

Peter Cheney/The Globe and Mail

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1967 Jaguar MK 340 saloon.

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1966 Jaguar E-Type. Although most Jaguar buffs slavishly adhere to the car’s original specifications, this owner has committed heresy by installing a custom exhaust straight out of The Fast and The Furious. (I’m told that it sounds good though.)

Peter Cheney/The Globe and Mail

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E-Type Jaguar engine compartment. Revered as one of the sexiest cars ever built, the E-Type’s beauty continues beneath the skin: Polished carburetors and camshaft covers crown a work of mechanical art.

Peter Cheney/The Globe and Mail

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If you’re going to put a bigger motor in your Mini, why not go all the way? The owner of this 1970 model replaced the original, front-mounted four with a 350-cubic inch Chevrolet V-8 that goes in the trunk. Acceleration is greatly improved at the expense of luggage space and rear seating.

Peter Cheney/The Globe and Mail

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Modified 1963 Triumph TR4: By gutting out non-essential items like bumpers, sound-deadening and the windshield, this owner turned his classic TR4 into a race car.

Peter Cheney/The Globe and Mail

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1970 Lotus 59/69 race car: Former pro racer Bill Brack piloted this car to a long series of Formula B and Formula Atlantic driving championships in the 1970s.

Peter Cheney/The Globe and Mail

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When the E-Type Jaguar was first released in 1961, Enzo Ferrari declared it “the most beautiful car ever made.” Fifty one years later, the shape remains compelling.

Peter Cheney/The Globe and Mail

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