Originally Posted by PaulMJohnson
For disclosure as to where my opinions are coming from, I'm a Brit, living in the UK.
Basically, the British are an inventive people, but have not always been very good at understanding the difference between being an inventor and being an engineer. It was assumed that whoever invented or designed a product would be able to make the whole thing into a product, and we missed the boat when other countries (notably Germany with cars) figured out that once someone had designed the look of a car, someone else was needed to make it reliable, so in that sense, we didn't engineer cars to be reliable in the way the Germans did.
Effectively we allowed one key player in a design to hold sway over everything, so the thing never worked as a whole. So it wasn't just we made good looking cars that were unreliable, Lotus for example would be fixated on making their cars fast, and would forget reliable (it's telling that Lotus is jokingly said to stand for, Lots Of Trouble, Usually Serious).
The British car industry was then let down by serious union strife in the 1970s (by the way, please don't turn this into a union vs. non-union debate - both the unions and the car manufacturers did much to antagonize each other during the 70's) and as such build quality went through the floor.
However, things have improved dramatically. Nissan in Japan actually badge some of their cars with a Union Jack, to indicate that it was made in the UK Nissan plant, and the Japanese will pay a premium for those ones, as they regard the build quality as superior to ones made in Japan. Honda, BMW (with the Mini), Jaguar, Range Rover etc. are all now foreign owned, and have infused a culture quality that the UK didn't have, and they are all making excellent quality products now, aligned with what has always been a strong design aesthetic. Britain has actually done a pretty good job of accepting foreign ownership of British brands, and has worked that to everyones advantage.
As someone else mentioned, Rolls-Royce aero engines compete with the best in terms of efficiency, reliability and quality, and BAe systems are a world leader in weapons systems.
So, in summary, you are absolutely right to call out poor British quality, but in my opinion, it is increasingly a thing of the past.