15 Of The Greatest British Cars Ever Built

15 Of The Greatest British Cars Ever Built

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With almost all of the British car manufacturing know-how now under foreign ownership, we thought we’d take a trip down memory lane and revisit those classic British motors that helped put the Great in Great Britain.

Have we missed your favourite? Let us know in the comments!

#15. Morgan Plus 8

Morgan Plus 8

Built by Morgan between 1968 and 2004, the Morgan Plus 8 was an instant classic whose popularity has been credited with keeping the company alive and famous during its 36 years of manufacture.

The original Plus 8 chassis was based on the Morgan Plus 4 with the addition of a powerful Rover V8 3.5L engine and upgraded wings to accommodate the larger tyres needed to handle the power.

All Morgan Plus 8′s share incredible levels of performance combined with “exciting” handling characteristics and the same old Morgan body/chassis construction methods.

#14. Austin-Healey Sprite

Austin Healey Sprite Mk I red vl

Designed by Donald Healey and released in 1958 by the British Motor Corporation, the Austin-Healey Sprite was a small, low cost sports car designed to fill the gap left by the post-war Austin Seven sports cars.

The Sprite included a tuned version of the engine used in the Austin A-Series along with a number of parts and components from as many existing cars as possible in order to keep costs low.

The British Mark I Sprite was known as the Frogeye in the UK, and the Bugeye in the US due to its distinctive headlights mounted on top of the centre bonnet.

#13. Lotus Elise

Lotus Elise

First released in September 1996 by Lotus Cars, the Lotus Elise was a two-seat, mid-engined roadster. The Lotus Elise’s hand-finished fibreglass body, and aluminium chassis helped to provide a rigid platform for the suspension whilst also keeping the cars weight and production costs to a minimum.

Capable of reaching speeds of up to 150 mph, the Elise’s success marked the long-overdue return of a genuine, reasonably affordable British sports car.

#12. Jaguar XK120

Jaguar XK120

The Jaguar XK120 was the companies first post-war sports car, built between 1948 and 1954 the XK120 succeeded the SS 100. At the time of its release, the Jaguar XK120 was the fastest standard production car available, capable of speeds of up to 120 mph (more with the windscreen removed), making the XK120 a successful racing vehicle.

The XK120 was available in two convertible options, the roadster, the drophead coupe, and as a closed or fixed head coupe. The drop head coupe featured a luxury wood interior comprising of dashboard, door interiors and other wood features.

#11. Bentley 4½ Litre (Blower Bentley)

Bentley Blower

With its 4.5 Litre engine and front mounted supercharger, the Blower Bentley quickly became the Walter Owen Bentley’s quintessential British sportscar.

Whilst the 4½ was designed on previous cars such as the 3-Litre, the 4½’s Roots supercharger offered an increase in power to 240 bhp, making the  Blower a stunning road car and a possible contender for endurance racing.

The Blower Bentley is one of the heaviest cars to compete in Grand Prix racing, proving to be a highly reliable track car and almost won the Le Mans 24 Hour race in 1928 and 1929.

#10. Jensen Interceptor

Jensen Interceptor III

Hand built in the UK by Jensen Motors between 1966 and 1976, the Jensen Interceptor was a sporty GT-class car that broke with the tradition of other Jensen cars by having a steel bodyshell instead of glass-reinforced plastic.

The Interceptor featured a Chrysler V8 6276cc engine which grew to 7212 cc in late 1971 models. The Interceptor saloon had a distinctive large, curving wrap-around rear window that doubled as a tailgate. The original specification included electric windows, reclining front seats, a wood rimmed steering wheel, radio with twin speakers, reversing lights and an electric clock.

#9. Triumph Spitfire

Triumph Spitfire Mk-II

Released in October 1962, the British-made Triumph Spitfire was a two-seat sports car largely based on the Triumph Herald saloon, and throughout its life was built at the Standard-Triumph works at Canley, Coventry.

The Triumph Spitfire was originally designed to compete with the Austin-Healey Sprite in the new small sports car market, and saw fiver separate Spitfire models launch during the vehicles production run.

#8. Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud II

Rolls Royce Silvercloud III

The Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud II launched in 1959 and was the first production Rolls-Royce to include a V8 engine.

The 6230cc V8 engine gave the Silver Cloud an impressive top speed of 115mph along with an even more impressive acceleration times for such a large and heavy car (0-60mph in 10.8s).

The same V8 engine was also used in the new Bentley SII and Phantom V limousine.

#7. Sunbeam Tiger

Sunbeam Tiger

Manufactured by Jensen, the Sunbeam Tiger was a muscle car version of the Sunbeam Alpine roadster sporting a 4.2 L V8 ford engine.

Production of the Sunbeam Tiger ran from 1964-1967 and reached over 7,085 cars.

#6 – MG TC Midget

MG TC Midget

A quintessential classic British sports car, the MG TC was the first postwar car to be released by MG and quickly became a favourite of WW2 fighter pilots.

Powered by a twin-carburettor 1250cc engine, the TC was only available in one body style – an open two-seater which made its appearance very similar to that of the TB.

Despite its somewhat dated mechanical specification and appearance, the TC took MG by surprise and became arguably one of the most popular post-war cars.

#5. MGB

MGB Roadster

Released by MG Cars in 1962 to replace the MGA the MGB featured a 4-cylinder engine, with the mater MGB GT V8 including an ex-Buick Rover V8 engine.

The two-seat open roadster was capable of 0-60 mph in a little over 11 seconds, with the MGB’s handling being one of its strong points.

The MGB was also one of the production cars to feature controlled crumple zones designed to help protect the driver and passenger in a 30 mph impact.

#4. Aston Martin DB5

Aston Martin DB5

Named after the head of Aston Martin (David Brown 1947-1972) the Aston Martin DB5 was first released in 1963 and was made famous for being the first and most recognised James Bond car.

Designed to replace the DB4, the DB5 featured an enlarged 4.0L engine, new five-speed gearbox, and 3 SU carburettors capable of producing 282BHP giving the DB5 a top speed of 145 mph.

Standard features on the DB5 included reclining seats, pile carpets, electric windows and a fire extinguisher. All models had 4 seats and 2 doors.

#3. Jaguar E-Type

Jaguar E-type series III

Manufactured by Jaguar between 1961 and 1974, the Jaguar E-type quickly established itself as an icon of 60s motoring.

Thanks to its great looks, high performance and competitive pricing, the E-type proved a huge success for Jaguar with over 70,000 E-types sold during its lifespan.

#2. Mini

Austin Mini Cooper Sport Red

Built by the British Motor Corporation from 1959, the original Mini has long been considered an icon on 1960s Britain. With its space saving front wheel drive design influencing a whole generation of car makers.

Designed for BMC Sir Alec Issigonis The Mini Mark I had three major UK updates: the Mark II, the Clubman and the Mark III. With the Mini Cooper and Cooper “S” sportier versions proving themselves as successful rally cars winning the Monte Carlo Rally four times from 1964 through to 1967.

A total of 1,581,887 Minis were sold in Britain after its launch in 1959. The last new one to be registered was sold in 2004, some four years after the end of production.

#1. Austin Healey 3000 MkIII

Austin Healey 3000 Mk3

Released in October 1963 the Austin-Healey 3000 Mk III was the most powerful and luxurious of the big Healey models, featuring a walnut-veneer dash, wind-up windows and a 150 hp engine.

Only 2+2 seat models were manufactured, with optional extras similar to those of the Mk II but with a standard interior trim comprising of Ambla vinyl and leather seats as an added extra.

The 3000 was a successful car which won its class in many European rallies in its heyday – and is still used in competition by enthusiasts today.

17,712 Mk III’s were built, with production grinding to a halt in 1967 when the production of Austin-Healeys finally came to an end.

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45 Comments

  1. Winston Green says:

    Idid not see my ROver P5B which I believe is one of the most beautiful cars from the U.K.
    I currently own a 1973 coupe and am looking for a club in N.Y.

    Regards

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  2. Van Watson says:

    I have one of the last Sprites (MK IV) completely restored and yes it leaks oil,is noisy,large motorcycles move it around on the highway when they pass me but I would not sell it for anything. These cars are for people that like to work on cars-period.
    Give me a sunny day with the top down and it is just plain fun-oh yeah,make sure you have a towing rider on your insurance policy.

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  3. brit car lover says:

    the mini is the best by far

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  4. Paul de-Ville says:

    I don’t think that selection here is about ‘super’ qualities of cars. It is perhaps more important to list those that have been milestones. For example: the Morris 1000 as a landmark ‘everyday-car’, MGB as the most popular Sportscar, Austin 7 – because it was licensed to the Japanese for their first ‘popular’ car: the Hino 7. Should the original Landrover not be included too? – it inspired just about everything since that has (or purports to have) off-road capability.
    In other words, the list is not intended to highlight the specific virtues of a particular model, but more to establish the significant broader contribution that the vehicle made.

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  5. Oliver Bischoff says:

    It certainly had to be hard to choose only 15 cars from a hundered years of car-building history – but where´s the Lotus Super 7? No AC Ace? No Range Rover? And what about the Triumpf TR4? Not to mention more modern cars…

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  6. I know you mention it briefly in the sprite’s bio, but come on, the Austin 7 should be on the list. They were the forerunner for the Mini, BMW, jeep, and Dixie. They’re no Bond car but it’s the little british car that shaped the future for the rest of them.
    But the list is pretty good :)

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  7. WTF HAPPENED TO THE MCLAREN F1!!!! ONLY THE BEST BRITISH SUPERCAR EVERMADE!!! 627BHP, 240MPH, WAS FASTEST CAR IN THE WORLD FOR OVER A DECADE!!
    Not being angry with you mate but the f1 must be on that list.
    Not to forget the beautiful Lotus Esprit, nimble, superb handling & in the case of James Bond, drivable underwater.
    And the Aston V8 Vantage (old one)
    And the new V12 Vantage (AM are no longer owned by Ford).
    And the recent Ariel Atom!
    And the Morris Minor, great car, not fast, luxuary or anything but amazing!
    And the Triumph TR6,Triumph Stag & Triumph Dolomite.
    Oh, and the new Mclaren MP4-12C.
    Maybe next time, a top 40/45 would be a better idea, then there would be a lot more spaces!

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  8. I was fortunate enough to have owned a 1967 Austin-Healey mk III. What a dream car. Previously, i had a ’56 MGA and a 78 MGB. No comparison. While I enjoyed my MG”s
    they had many problems, but the healey was perfect.

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  9. Terry Lewis Jersey CI says:

    I just bumped into this list browsing the net, and could’nt believe that my beloved 1963 3.8 litre Jaguar Mk2 was not on your list, truly a superb motor car, and one which makes one proud to be british when driving on the continent.

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  10. Brian Bergen must be describing a 3 year old Mazda I bought, after selling my 1952 Mg TD, certainly the squeaks, overheating, head gasket, brakes, not to mention suspension and excessive play in the steering, give me my old reliable MG any time, in a list of 15 you have to leave out some, and the Lotus Elan is a fantastic handling car, Daimler Dart is quite a car, not perfect, MG TD which was much more modern than the TC, MG Midget was in my opinion better than The Spitfire, I would include both, I would also add the TR4, or GT6, Jaguar XKSS Austin Healey 100/4, very different from the 3000, and there are many pre war cars, including many Riley`s and MG`s, 15 just isn`t enough

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  11. Where’s all the mini???

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  12. I am glad to see the was one of the most prolific designers of sports cars in the 20th century, Giovanni Michelotti’s Triumph Spitfire on the list.

    No other car offers as much fun at nearly any price.

    It is arguable the best entry level classic with
    the best access to the engine of any other make or model, making it a pleasure and enjoyable to work on.

    It has a strong resemblance to the BMW 507 also
    designed by Michelotti.

    Check out The Meridianosedici Oldtimer Tour with these
    cars to see why I believe this one is a less looked upon diamond that scores high on my list.

    This passionate and relaxing tour in the South of Italy captures the beauty of the car in a nutshell.

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  13. courtney knight says:

    Hmmm…I’d have included the AC Cobra 427.

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  14. Gary Kiff. says:

    Great list, difficult to compile. Inevitably nostalgic but missing the beautifully ugly Daimler “Dart”(SP250,the only truly British v8 Hemi! The E-Type owed it’s ovoid nose to it and it would be in the Top 5 best sounding cars, surely.
    If you are allowed British/American hybrids(Tiger,Interceptor) in your list then surely the Gordon(Keeble)Corvette.I think in the mid-60′s even Bristol realized that American engines make heavy cars purr along better. Rollers soon made v8′s after 1959. So why not the archetypal amalgam between British beauty and Yankee power, the AC Cobra? – it should be there, surely!!

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  15. Duncan Kirk says:

    In The King’s Speech film, what was that beautiful car that Lionel’s son was driving during the air raid on the way to the Palace? I’ll take one.

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  16. I think it would be difficult to list the 15 best British cars without the list being dominated by Lotus
    But nice to be able to have a list of top class engineering and design un ashamedly copied by the rest of the world.

    Perhaps a list of 30 would have been more apt.
    Brits be proud.

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  17. brian bergin says:

    What all these car have in common is : they are British built and should therefore be consigned to the scrapheap. Having owned “British Classics” I can testify that they are all junk…………trunnions,leaks,squeaks,oil leaks,over heating, head gaskets, brakes (breaks) electrics, cold starting,hot starting, no starting (shocking) where do I stop………Tragic.

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  18. Good call on the Spitfire!!

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  19. Mark Morris says:

    Please, some perspective. To place the Jensen or MGB or Sunbeam above the Jaquar XK120 is preposterous. The latter was revolutionary in its time for the performance of a production sports car and stands today as one of the most beautiful cars ever made. The Jensen, the Sunbeam, the MGB rank higher on what criteria? Rubbish.

    But, to each their own…

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  20. Thanks for rating the Sunbeam Tiger so highly. You have though chosen to illustrate the machine with a poor quality photograph of a Sunbeam Alpine. I shall be pleased to supply you with another!

    Graham Vickery
    Editor
    Sunbeam Tiger Owners Club

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  21. At least three Bristol Cars missing off the list !

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  22. This list without a Lotus Elan is not acceptable.
    Truly a remarkable car with performance,light weight and handling that has to be experienced to be believed

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  23. Where is the McLaren F1?

    This was the motoring equivalent of Concorde or the Saturn 5 rocket

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  24. Bristol Cars should probably have three cars in this list !

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  25. Tough to make a list like this without leaving out so many deserving cars. The AC Cobra has always been my dream car and it’s missing from your list (but I do now have one in my garage, yippee!). But for something more modern: how about a Noble?

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  26. No Lotus Elan!!!! Absolutely astonishing. I’m talking about the original Elan and Elan+2 of the 60s and 70s. Any list of great British cars should include this car.

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  27. Britican says:

    What about the Land Rover ?, some of the 1st ones built are still in use today ! So what, they’re not as luvly as a Jaguar E-type ? :>) …… prob’ly the longest selling British vehicle is it not ??

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  28. I think you need to add the Hillman Imp – the mini-killer of the mid 60s. It’s stylish design and nippy engine would have made for great sales if only the first batch of cars had not been made in Scotland. The test of a good class car is how many you see now on Google images – go and have a look!

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  29. In the small number you listed you left out one of the Greatest ever British Sports Cars in my opinion………….The Wonderful Range of World Performance Beating TVR’s!! Also why show the V12 E type which simply does not compare with the Beautiful and Original Series One 3.8 and 4.2 models, there simply is no comparison in my humble opinion!!

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  30. Really the Jensen Interceptor makes the list, but not the Lotus Elan?

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  31. Norman Smith says:

    We have an active British Car Club in Davenport , Iowa serving Eastern Iowa and western Illinois. We hold an annual autofest and show in August . Usually about 100 Brits show up. It is a good show and has been sponsored for many years.

    I own a completely frame to finish rebuild of a TR -4 . It is not as a “flashy” model as some but serves a good pupose. This car is now only driven on Sunday’s and in good weather. It has won many awards. It is a 1965 when the model was being changed to the TR-4A so it is a rare make . It runs beautiful ( which can be an exception for a Brit ).

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  32. Bob Thompson says:

    Bought a used Jaguar E-type in 1966. The transmission died. I learned that you had to remove the engine to get to the transmission. That was a minor problem; if you want real pain and aggravation in your life. Buy an E-type. But she was beautiful.

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  33. Bob Thompson says:

    I sold MG’s new. They were junk. When a customer purchased the care I told him it would burn oil excessively, leak like a sieve and at 50 mph you could not hear the radio.

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  34. “Now pay attention please Bond.”

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  35. AC 300ME – v. Italian styling + Ford V6 lump.

    Ginetta G33. Bit of a hairdresser’s special – choose your colour carefully!

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  36. I can understand if you only wanted to include only one Lotus; but Elise over Elan?

    I like the Elise plenty, but the Elan is simply fantastic.

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  37. You can put what you like in the other 14 slots – we’re just thrilled to see the Spitfire, our own classic of choice, actually included on a list like this considering the panning it often gets :D

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  38. Where is the Range Rover Classic? It is arguably one of the most important British vehicles of all time… and the first vehicle to ever be displayed in the Louvre.

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  39. Jeez, do they all have to be small sportscars?
    What about the Ford Sierra Cosworth? A champion car nearly 20 years after its demise.
    http://z.about.com/d/cars/1/0/g/n/1986_ford_sierra_cosworth.jpg

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  40. gray lensman says:

    I had a ’63 A-H Sprite Mk II ($1800 new as above with regular front fenders and lights, lockable trunk and 1100cc motor) and a ’65 1275cc Mini Cooper ($2300 new). Both were fun to drive and cute, but not very reliable. Mine spent time in the shop with gearbox and other drivetrain problems. Of course, I drove ‘em hard all the time.

    Mileage was great especially for the times of 20 cent gas. I once got a 41 mpg tank on a 60mph drive in a rainstorm on the Gulf Coast in the Sprite.

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  41. An interesting list – but its missing quite a few significant British cars :

    As noted by Rick, the Morrie should be in there

    The Metro should be there too – for better or worse, it is a significant and important British car, and perhaps one of the last real ones.

    Equally, the 1990′s XJ40 should be there – its a significant and good looking car.

    So should the Aston Martin Zagato – both DB4 (1950′s) and ZGT (1990′s)

    Where too is the Bentley Turbo R Coupe ? Its stunning, British, and modern

    Then, there is the Ariel Atom – this is a modern British sportscar that deserves to be there

    And the Lotus 7 ! And the Esprit – both the James Bond submarine and the last of the line V8 which is sublime

    Where are all the Cossies ? Cosworth have made a lot of great engines – for Ford Sierra Cosworth is a very British car, despite having its origins in the Ford Probe III and Ford Germany. All Cossies are RHD and manual, and made in England.

    Plus – all the world’s F1 and A1GP and Formula Ford car chassis, suspensions, etc are made in Woking.

    And I could go on – Bristols ! Though supposedly bad, they are in fact wonderfully traditional. The new Beaufighter is a stunning modern machine – and not over the top expensive. Where are they ?

    Where too are the Austin 7 and the Austin Clifton Heavy 12/4 (Gumdrop) ? The 7 is extremely important, as it not only made cars owned by the masses, but introduced the manual gearbox + pedal configuration common to modern cars ! This one is also the origin of BMW, who began making the 7 as the Dixi. The 12/4 is beloved of children, and had a long and significant career

    We are also missing two other forms of Great British Car Transport – the London Taxi and The London Bus.

    Please let me know what you think…..

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  42. Gareth Harris says:

    Where is the AC Ace Bristol – outstanding roadster and father of the Cobra?

    My wife [now EX] totaled mine.

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  43. Nothing newer than the ’60s, says it all really.

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  44. The tragedy is that these all belong to the past.

    The deadly combination of inept politicians, incompetent management, and suicidal unions consigned those years of glory to the slag heap of history.

    Like the days of Empire, they are as dust…

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  45. You left out the Morris Minor – The first British car to sell over 1,000,000 units and sold 1.5 million cars and trucks all over the world. Though often eclipsed by its Mini replacement, because of its long production life (1948 – 1971) and a large international distribution, is much more loved and collected all over the world than any other British “people’s car.”

    While the Mini is also as important because its design is the basis for most of today’s FWD cars and is better known today because of its modern retro version, the Minor 1000 was built as a saloon (2 & 4 doors, a tourer, an ash-framed woody-wagon and light trucks (van, pickup and cab/chassis) and were sent all over the world during England’s early post WWII “Export or die” era.

    Along with the Austin A40 and the MGTC, Minors were the cars that put England on the post-war international automotive map.

    Richard Feibusch
    Venice, California, USA

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