Historic imports: when foreign car brands arrived in the UK

Many readers will remember the arrival of the Korean cohort of car companies in the 1990s and, before that, the genesis of the Japanese. The latter’s excellent products played a significant role in the downfall of Britain’s own car manufacturing industry, which had once accounted for almost every vehicle sold here.

But many of the foreign brands you see represented out on the streets today have been peddling their wares on these shores since a time when most homes didn’t even have a supply of electricity – and it’s pretty doubtful that any of you are old enough to recall that.

So here we detail exactly when and how each non-British brand that’s still relevant today (because there are literally hundreds that aren’t) bravely stepped into this new territory. You might well be in for some surprises.


Panhard 3.75hp: What was the very first car to land in Britain? A Panhard et Levassor, powered by a 3¾hp Daimler engine, on the 4th or 5th of July 1895. Its buyer was the Honourable Evelyn Ellis; he purchased it in Paris, from where it was driven to Le Havre, shipped to Southampton, loaded onto a train to Micheldever and illegally driven home to Datchet. Panhard was formed in 1887 and made its first car in 1890. It would produce several key innovations, achieved sporting success and made cars for the president of France. It was sold to Citroën in 1967 and has since made military vehicles. It moved to Renault in 2012.



DS 3


Cupra Ateca


Polestar 1: Whether or not Polestar has just become the first Chinese brand present here depends on both your view of modern MG and whether you look more to Polestar’s headquarters in Gothenburg or factory in Luqiao. The brand has an odd heritage, starting as a Swedish Touring Car Championship team, being bought by Volvo and then transformed into a maker of luxury electrified cars by Geely of China.