A new set of stamps issued today celebrates some of the most stylish and ‘cool’ British motor vehicles revered throughout the world. 2013 sees the 150th anniversary of the birth of Sir Henry Royce, motoring and aviation pioneer who founded Rolls-Royce with Charles Stewart Rolls. It is also the centenary of the founding of Aston Martin.
The stamp issue British Auto Legends explores two kinds of legendary cars – the thoroughbreds from the 1960s and 70s, many of which feature in experts’ lists of the greatest cars of all time, and four British workhorses – all classic and iconic vehicles.
Superb examples of the six thoroughbreds were located in virtually factory fresh conditions, and all were photographed by the expert car photographer James Mann, involving specialist lighting and set up to capture the classic lines of the vehicles.
One of the workhorses, the Morris Minor van in Royal Mail livery, is the contribution to the PostEurop theme of 2013 (the Post Van).
For a country of such small geographical stature, Great Britain’s role in shaping the history of the automobile cannot be underestimated. From the kernel of the ‘horseless carriage’, grew an industry that once accounted for a quarter of the world’s car production and almost half of all vehicle exports. Today, car manufacturing remains a significant part of the British economy with several marques currently enjoying record sales. However, the road to prominence was littered with potholes.
An astonishing 221 firms entered the industry between 1901 and 1905. From this jumping off point, the British motor industry began to flourish, with the likes of Herbert Austin and William Morris applying mass production techniques as they bid to bring motoring to the masses. However, it was only after the end of Second World War that the UK truly became a car manufacturing powerhouse.
Initially afflicted by shortages of raw materials, the British motor industry soon found its feet as governmental controls channelled the supply of steel to firms that exported 50 per centlater 75 per cent – of production. The term ‘Export or Die’ was seared into the collective consciousness.
By contrast, France, Italy and Germany’s motor industries had suffered grievously and took considerably longer to recover from the conflict. British firms were all too happy to exploit this situation and export sales surged with demand in Europe, as well as North America, resulting in record production figures. Add in commonwealth countries where there was a ready-made market and it is little wonder that the British motor industry was in the driving seat.
Unfortunately, this situation could not last. A mixture of political intrigue, shotgun weddings between former rivals and union unrest served to bring the industry to its knees. Sell-offs and plant closures would become watchwords in decades to come, culminating in the collapse of MG Rover in 2005. Yet for all the pain and pratfalls, the British motor industry continued to build landmark classics while also creating and exploiting niche markets – this is the nation that invented the sports car after all.
Today, there are just seven volume producers and they are all foreign owned. Nevertheless, these and other, smaller manufacturers continue to build cars that appeal on the global stage; brands that marry style with ingenuity and quality with refinement.
The British Auto Legends stamps can be ordered online at www.royalmail.com/autolegends and by phone on 08457 641 641. They are also available in Post Office Branches across the UK.