Automotive history

The Special Relationship: Five of the coolest British cars with American power

by Rob Sass
11 February 2022 2 min read
The Special Relationship: Five of the coolest British cars with American power
Photo: Silverstone Auctions

Opinions differ on the merits of Yank cars: Too big, too thirsty, too soft, too brash, underbraked, etc. Underpowered, however, is rarely part of the equation. Often, the marriage of British design and American horsepower creates magic that is both exhilarating to drive and easy on the wallet to maintain. Here are five of our favourites:

Jensen FF

Coming too soon: 10 cars that jumped the gun_Jensen FF

With style by Touring of Milan refined by Vignale, Dunlop Maxaret anti-lock brakes and Ferguson all-wheel drive, the FF was a truly special car. It was also heavy, weighing in at over two tonnes. A Chrysler 6.3-litre V-8 was just the thing to make the FF the performer that it needed to be.

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Gordon-Keeble GK1

Gordon-Keeble GK1
Photo: Pendine

Like the Interceptor, the Gordon-Keeble was a looker with Italian origins. Styled by a young Giorgetto Giugiaro, the glass fibre GK was far lighter than the Jensen, and with a Corvette-sourced V-8 and a four-speed, it was far sportier. Sadly, fewer than 100 were built, and although the vast majority survive, supply will never be equal to demand.

AC Cobra

AC Cobra

The Cobra was the brainchild of American chicken-farmer-turned-racer Carroll Shelby, who believed that there was no British car that couldn’t be improved with an infusion of American horsepower. While it’s debatable that the sublime AC Ace needed improving of any sort, the addition of the 271-hp 4.7-litre high performance Ford Mustang engine made for a far more dramatic car than either the Bristol or 2.6-litre Ford Zephyr-powered Ace could ever aspire to be. The leaf spring (4.2- and 4.7-litre Cobras) and coil spring (7-litre Cobras) versions are the most desirable Anglo-American sports cars on the planet.

Allard J2X

1952_Allard_J2X Rex Gary
Photo: Rex Gary

Sidney Allard predated Carroll Shelby in combining a British sporting car with an American engine. Primarily using heavy Cadillac V-8s, the J2X went like the clappers but its crude suspension could make it a handful. Like the Cobra, replicas abound.

Sunbeam Tiger

1965 Sunbeam Tiger Mk1
Silverstone Auctions

Yet another project that involved the aforementioned Mr. Shelby at the behest of Rootes’ West Coast American sales director. Shelby and Ken Miles actually produced one prototype each that turned the rather posh Alpine into a potential E-Type and Corvette competitor. MK I and MKIA cars used Ford’s 4.2-litre V-8, while the rare MK II cars employed the larger 4.7-litre. Beware of converted Alpines referred to as “Tipines” or “Algers.”

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  • Perry Mason says:

    The AC428 Frua!

  • Mr M Callaghan says:

    Sadly you have forgotten the Bristol 411!

  • allan Rodway says:

    very interesting

  • Nicholas Challacombe says:

    What no Bristols which used Chrysler engines from 1961 until 2011.

  • Anders says:

    Always loved the GK1 and still dream of owning one some day. Until that day comes, I’ll just enjoy my Sunbeam Tiger… 😉

  • Wilko says:

    As a kid I noticed this rather strange Alpine in our driveway. (Fibreglass all over the front under the bumper) I asked my Dad what it was. He asked to 2 men in the living room “Shall we tell him?”. IIt was of course the prototype V-8 Alpine to be known as the Tiger. When they left thy started it up and I’ll never forget the sound of the V8!! – ever since then I have a special connection to the Tiger –

  • Tim Bates says:


  • Dorien Berteletti says:

    Thought I would see a Bristol

  • Ian says:

    As a young motor mechanic, (Rover/Rootes trained) I had the good fortune to work on the Sunbeam Tiger , even fitted water injection to one (old school performance enhancer) and Road tested them , unfortunately Road holding, steering , tyres & brakes did not live up to the viscous power.

  • Dennis M Feathertone says:

    Ginetta G10 ?

  • Nicholas Challacombe says:

    If you count up the Bristols that used Chrysler Power it probably exceeds most mentioned and there are many more survivors. 407, 408, 409, 410, 411, 411 series 2,3,4,5 and 6 , 412, 603, Beufighter, Blenheim,Fighter, etc from !1961 until the sad demise with the V10 Fighter. All others from 407 used V8’s.

  • Keith Wyatt says:

    Rover P5B!

  • Keith Wyatt says:

    I owned a Tiger. Yes, pretty appalling road holding and handling. Changing the plugs was a ball-ache too!

  • Jeremy Barlow says:

    Rolls Royce

  • Ian Frankland says:

    What about TVR original Griffith Grantura ford v8 As a young mechanic 1 used to come in for service but i was NOT allowed to test it It was very quick !!!!!

  • Roy Burrell says:

    As a young recently qualified Mechanic interested in motorsport and special cars working at the main Rootes Dealer in Coventry, I got to work on 3 or 4 Tigers. A particular memorable one was the Factory 4.7 LHD. Press car. I had the Engine out of this on a couple of occasions, the first being to fit a Heavy Duty Clutch (the factory had obtained from USA). On road testing it was like the Tail wagging the dog, this was traced to the Rear Panhard rod mount on the Chassis flexing, this was duly fixed with the factory mod. A few months later it was back as the Motoring writers had damaged 2nd gear. out with the Engine to rebuild the Gear box (all new baulk rings).
    The ensuing road test was far less worrying and one could appreciate how well the 4.7 went.
    Fond Memories.

  • Thierry D says:

    Not to mention the many Rovers’ V8!

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