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Britain's dozen transport design icons, by Gavin Green

Published: 24 January 2012

A great British design classic is reborn next month. The new Routemaster bus goes into service (from Victoria to Hackney). It looks great, including practical jump-on jump-off rear platform. I can hardly wait to get on board.

I loved the old Routemaster, especially riding on the top deck. So I got thinking about great British transport icons and came up with my ‘top 12’, in order. (A dozen seems more British than 10, which sounds a bit French and decimal.)

No doubt I have forgotten something. As always, feedback (or flak) welcome.

1. Spitfire (1938). OK I know the only transport it did was to convey British airmen to shoot down the Luftwaffe. And I know it’s as predictable as choosing Churchill as our all-time greatest Prime Minister. But, like Churchill, it saved us from foreign invasion, which is not a bad commendation. When asked by Luftwaffe commander-in-chief Göring what his pilots needed to win the Battle of Britain, General Adolf Galland replied, ‘Spitfires.’

2. Concorde (1976). It was half-French, I know. That’s probably why it cost so much to develop and never made any money. But has there ever been a more beautiful thing that moves?

3. The Rover ‘Safety’ Bicycle (1885). John Kemp Starley invented the production diamond-frame bicycle and all subsequent bikes are based on it. Maybe Britain’s greatest transport achievement.

4. The Mini (1959). The most intelligently space efficient car of all time. All small front-drive cars now have Mini in their genes.

5. The E-type Jaguar (1961). Enzo Ferrari called it the most beautiful car, ever. He was being modest. I would put his 250GTO over the E-type. But it’s close.

6. The Routemaster bus (1956). London’s greatest transport tool. There was no finer way to see the capital. Sorely missed.

7. The Land Rover (1948). The world’s first SUV and, in many ways, still the best.

8. The Cutty Sark (1869). The most beautiful sailing ship, ever. Last of the tea clippers, on display in Greenwich, and now being restored following the 2007 fire (and reopening this year).

9. Triumph Bonneville (1959). Fast, powerful (and vibratory). The quintessential British superbike.

10. De Havilland Comet (1949). The world’s first commercial jet airliner – from Hertfordshire. Exquisitely styled and 50 percent faster than the best contemporary piston-engine airliners. The only downside was that it sometimes crashed.

11. JCB Digger (from 1953). In yellow, of course. We’ve all had a model. Only the lucky few get to try the real thing.

12. Sopwith Camel (1917). I love its simplicity and design purity. Plus it was a superlative fighter, with unmatched manoeuvrability.

By Gavin Green

Contributor-in-chief, former editor, anti-weight campaigner, voice of experience

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