Category Archives: MG Rover

MG SV – Hardly a Concorde Moment

By Chucky de Hammer

Back in 2001 MG Rover launched the MG Z series saloon range, a short term sticking plaster to keep sales up and buy some more time for new models to be developed. With some effective (if a little crude in places) engine and suspension tweaks from Rob Oldaker, and styling changes from Peter Stevens and Harris Mann, it was a decent attempt to get some good publicity and a bit of breathing space for the company. Christ knows the place needed it; MG Rover was overstaffed and building cars in decrepit surroundings, but at least they now had a focused, bullish management team looking to grab the company by the scruff of its neck and get MGR speeding towards a brighter future.

Well, that’s what we were led to believe anyway because, at the same time as the ZT launch, that so-called focused team had wet their fingers and stuck them in some handy plug sockets to green light one of the most stupid decisions ever in automotive history was also made. MG would produce a new car to headline the range. A ‘halo’ model. AN SUPERCAR.

The Phoenix 4

Precisely why any of the directors at MG Rover thought it would be a great idea to waste millions on stretching the MG brand far, far beyond its traditional markets can only be explained by those involved. Unsurprisingly, Towers, Stephenson, Beale and Edwards tend to shy away from talking to anyone these days. Which is a shame, because any written notes taken of the meetings they had about this mental idea would make for fucking hilarious reading.

Anyway, the chain of events to all this started over in Italy, where Qvale were wondering what to do with a steaming turd of a sports car called the Mangusta, which they had bankrolled DeTomaso to create for them. Launched less than a year earlier in the US and inspired by the TVR Griffith, the Mangusta had already spent about 6 years in development, cost a minor fortune to get out the door, and was tanking. And with good reason too; chassis designer Enrique Scalabroni came up with a heavy brick of a platform festooned with awkward hard points for Gandini to drape something sexy over it. The legendary stylist took one look at this brick on wheels and went on a 5-day Grappa fuelled bender, finally delivering a shape for the Mangusta that can only be described as pigshit ugly. Very pigshit ugly.

Qvale were now in a bit of a jam and so to try and give sales volumes a lift they went looking for a partner to put the Mangusta in European showrooms. After trying everyone they could think of and getting the bums rush, an office junior got out the Giallo Pages, found the number for MG Rover and got through to Nick Stephenson, where he was asked if he fancied a tie-up.

This is where things went badly awry.

If anyone else with a brain at Longbridge had taken the call they would have politely turned down the idea of their dealers being distracted away from selling MG and Rover badged cars for some bloated, gopping tat. The issues of replacing three ageing models and turning round a fourth, plus sorting out a troublesome petrol engine and finding a new diesel, should have been far more important than helping out another company in an even worse position.

But for some reason, Qvale’s call sparked a deranged idea about making V8 powered high-performance models, headlined with a powerful sporty number for £40 grand to get loads of attention for the company and push for a tidy slice of the premium market. And on the face of it, who wouldn’t be attracted to the idea of coming up with a range of batshit fast motors? Churning out dreary little hatchbacks and olde-worlde saloons is so boring. Glamour, speed, desire, that’s where MG Rover needed to be. And the Mangusta, with a chassis ripe for re-bodying, seemed to be the perfect cut-price place to start.

The idea may sound perfectly reasonable, inspired even. But there were a few minor details that made the whole caper an unspeakably idiotic suicide mission.

First, MG had no history and no credibility in competing in a rarefied market dominated by the likes of the Porsche Boxster. The utterly gorgeous MG-EXE, unveiled back in the mid-Eighties and a concept very much in the same vein as this idea from MGR, was little more than a pitch for more talented designers to come and work for Roy Axe. Harold Musgrove ruled out any idea of it entering production – and he was bang on the money there. MG’s brand history was rooted in mildly jigged up saloons and modestly sporty two-seaters. And if you still think an MG supercar is a fantastic idea then take a look at the VW Phaeton – a luxo barge with the Beetle’s badge on the nose. You only see them at airport taxi ranks or chuffing round council estates. Way to go, Piech.

Second, if you’re going to make a move upmarket you need to do it from a financially sound position – and even then be aware it could cost you. BMW found this out the hard way when it produced the 507, a nice V8 roadster based on the 500 saloon platform at the suggestion of US dealer head Max Hoffman. It very nearly put them out of business. VW lost money on every Phaeton built and only continued to make them because Chairman Piech refused to admit his pet project was a stupid idea only driven by his ego. MGR needed every penny to focus on sorting out the core problems they had, not pursue a man-in-a-shed fantasy.

Third, if you’re going to make something expensive, make it desirable. Strangely, MG did at first have a stab at this when they launched the X80 concept. The awkwardness of the Mangusta underpinnings compromised the styling – check out the grille treatment for the radiator / underbonnet airflow – but it did have some promise, if also erring towards being a bit bland. It needed work, particularly on the flanks, and the detail was lacking, but it had some potential.

Somehow then, this daft twattish idea had resulted in a concept that, if nothing else, didn’t look laughably bad. So who downed a pint of gin one lunchtime and threw it out for a pimp-my-ride tank?

Rotund ball of uselessness; ‘Fat’ Kev Howe

The smart money seems to be on MD Kevin Howe, who has form for such stupidity; his insistence on the 75 Coupe nose using the David Brent grille, specifying the ZT380 with an almost undriveable suspension setup, and later repeated his complete disregard for taste when selecting the hideous final design for the RDX60 tells you everything about this fat, shouty clown. But little matter, it was Peter Stevens who took on the new brief to replace the slightly dull X80 and out-do TVR with the SV, a blunt-nosed, be-winged, Millwall FC tattooed bastard that could only be loved by a 4 year old tripping on blue Smarties. The interior continued the two-fingered salute to style with wobbly switchgear and trim not so much fitted inside as casually hurled in from a considerable distance. It was enough to make kit car builders shake their heads in disappointment.


And last, a car really needs to be as efficient to build as possible. Oh boy, did they take a dump on this one. Carbonfibre panels made in the UK, chassis made in Modena, all trucked to Turin for slapping together with engines from Michigan before shipment back to Birmingham for ‘fitting out’. A logistic and production nightmare that only the blindly stubborn would allow to go ahead, although after dithering about with this project while the cash reserves started to dwindle there was little choice. Yes, the exotic materials made the SV over 100Kg lighter than the Mangusta. But it forced a massive price hike – the top line SV-R model was now camped in 911 GT3 territory. The MG SV was Cherie Blair pitched against Heidi Klum in a swimsuit contest.
Perhaps it was a blessing in disguise that the company folded before the SV was on sale for too long, although that fact that 80 were shifted still makes you marvel at how some people lose all rational sense and part with their money for such a grunting cow’s arse of a motor. But the sheer folly of the idea, and the waste of resources and money accompanying it, means that the SV will forever be remembered not as a some sort of last hurrah, but as a shining example of the incompetence of the people who took over the MG and Rover names and ensured they died the most undignified of deaths. And for that they deserve our everlasting derision.

The MG 3 Launch – An Experience

By Lord Sward

Here is a look back to 2013 when Lord Sward was present at the glittering* MG3 launch at Longbridge….
Wednesday 12th June 2013. Longbridge, England.

At 10am the UK Press from motoring magazines, newspapers and TV gathered in small hospitality room within Longbridge’s engineering department. In addition to the UK visitors, dozens of SAIC engineers and suppliers had flown in from China for the occasion. We were all waiting to see the simultaneous unveiling of the newly enhanced design centre and the UK launch of MG3.

Somewhat cannily MG had billed the event as a rebuke to Jeremy Clarkson’s recent article which heavily slated the newly launched MG6 diesel range. However, it was quite clear that the event had been in the planning for quite some time.

Doug Wallace

Doug Wallace ushered us into the newly built Visualisation Suite for the presentation. This very large ‘booth’ will be used to project life-sized images of sketches in either 2d or 3d aspects. The idea of this is to give stylists a flavour of what has been sketched in China, the UK and contractors. For such “high-end kit” I was disappointed the giant screen in the room was used for just for a PowerPoint presentation which Guy Jones kicked-off.

He told the assembled audience that SAIC “was immensely proud” of the result of the sizable (£5m+) investment which was gone on over the past 3 years –doubling the size and number of design studios. As hacks, to be brought in to see the investment in facilities and products was said to be “a unique, one off opportunity”. I can understand that, for the whole place was to be wide open to us. Incidentally, all 300 engineers on site are now fully integrated into working with the 2,000 Chinese engineers on projects. There doesn’t appear to be any demarcation over design now, although design direct does emulate from Shanghai – I digress.

Guy soon handed over the presentation to Anthony Williams-Kenny who waxed lyrical that Britain “was a leading light in the world of industrial design.” He claimed the facility would help imbue the products with the MG brand core values of being British, Fun and Affordable. I did feel at one point I was taking part in a Brit-Pop video however….

Of SAIC’s 130 stylists, there are 30 on site at Longbridge in the 2 styling studios. These artists are especially pleased with their “new, 5 axis milling machine”. I was later to see this machine finalising a change to the flanks of the good looking MG SUV vehicle…but on with the presentation.

The boss within styling at Longbridge is Martin Uhlarik. Just before he took over from A K-W we watched a short video. Now this video, on a huge screen in a dark room remember, reminded me of the torture melted out to Harry Palmer in the Ipcress Files movie as ‘they’ attempted to brainwash him. I genuinely thought they were trying to mass hypnotise the audience before giving us the full low down on changes that make the MG3 desirable and acceptable for the British market.

Marketing

Essentially, MG will be pitching the MG3 at the young and trendy who want a MINI or an Audi A3, but can only afford a Fiesta or FIAT 500. There is big emphasis on personalisation of the car at the point of purchase meaning genuinely interesting and wacky graphics and bits of colour-coded dash. These are intended to clash/compliment the 10 bold colours on offer.

MG also realise that you need to equip a car with the very latest in plug-in bits for your Sat-Nav, digital radio, Ipod and whatever else and have thoughtfully placed these sockets and power points in a large slot on top of the dash. This slot is rubber lined to stop objects rattling on the move and has a folding lid to hide said objects when parked-up.

MG refused to answer any further questions relating to the sales and marketing budget for the car, other than to say there wouldn’t be a TV advertising campaign for it. They did admit however, that they’ve been holding off marketing spend until the MG3 is launched to the public. They also refused to disclose their expected sales target and couldn’t give me a definite date when it will be available. They are expected to reach all 29 dealers by Sept 1st however for test drives.

Externally.

Visually, there are no sheet metal changes to MG3, but the front bumper and grille is new. These contain the front end’s calling card of “hockey stick” LED daytime running lights. They are bold and visually enhance the slightly bland frontal aspect, although the headlamps do feature an internal octagon, a feature isn’t immediately obvious.

The side of the vehicle has new side skirts which look neat and are finished in matt blank along the lower centre section and body coloured as they touch the wheel arches. These skirts visually lower the vehicle and make such a tall, narrow vehicle look more ‘ground hugging’. The wheels are said to be diamond cut alloys in a two-tone finish. Disappointingly these show the rear drum brakes off all to readily.

The rear of the vehicle is visually the smartest aspect of the styling I feel. In addition to the already neat design, a large rear spoiler tops the tailgate while the new rear bumper moulding houses a substantial rear valance said to have been inspired by the British Touring Car series. A chrome exhaust finishes the detailing.

Interior.

Internally, the general feel is of decent enough quality for the class, rather mimicking the last generation VW Polo in terms of style and layout. As previously mentioned, you can colour-code certain bits of interior plastics to add “fun” and alleviate the old-school blandness. The needles for the speedo and rev counter do a neat sweep and re-set when the ignition is switched on, just like a racing cars’. With regard to interior space, the passenger room is a revelation and “fun” could certainly be had by an amorous young couple.

The seats feature read stitching to match the stereo surround illumination and a large Octagonal insert. There has been a great deal of thought gone into those seats too. A stronger (yet still light) seat frame, a robust double backrest adjustment mechanism (for crash safety) and denser foam padding (for fat man comfort) have been carefully thought through to cope with an average Brit. I was deeply impressed with the diligence that had gone into making the seats suitable for us Brits.

 

The attractive climate control system

Go for the climate control system and you get a well-designed, simple to use control panel that looks good.

The basic heater controls of the low-spec MG 3

 

Go for the base model and you get dated heater control dials of dubious quality and appalling action. You have been warned.

 

Finally on base models you get a manual ‘joystick’ adjusted for the external door mirrors. This reminded me of the old Rover ‘XX’ 800 series and gave me a warm glow. Overall the car did give overtones of the much missed MG Metro. So much so, I enquired as to why the car hadn’t been given red seat belts. I was told that they had been considered, but the dye does things to the webbing would therefore require the car to go through homologation again…..

Powertrain & Chassis.

The MG3 has been extensively driven all over the UK to ensure the chassis is up to the MG moniker. That means the car rides 10mm lower than Chinese versions and boasts all new springs, dampers, anti-roll bars, rubber bushes and wheel/tyre combinations. Almost uniquely, the MG3 will come with good old fashioned hydraulic power assisted steering. Such a system is great for feel and feedback, but has fallen out of fashion due to its effect on a vehicle’s CO2 output. I did ask what the MG3s CO2 output would be, but I was told that MG would be making “No Comment” until the vehicle pricing structure has been worked out.

The engine is the new (to us Brits) 1.5 16 valve unit feature variable valve timing on the inlet values. Such an engine is large for its class and anticipated demographic although the car won’t be over powered with just 105ps available. The engine mapping and throttle response is said new to be unique to the British market. Its CO2 output however, will be super-critical to customer acceptance.

Finally.

First impressions of the MG3 are good, but in no respect is the car cutting edge in the immensely competitive Supermini section. The styling is trying to be youthful and trendy, but at the same time it is saddled with a practical, yet boxy bodyshell. This could be considered a USP, but it doesn’t feel it. The biggest issue that will hinder the cars sales success is the miniscule dealer network. Plans are said to be afford that will see this increased to a much need 100 over the next two years. Indeed at this very event, national dealer groups were being courted into taking on MG franchises.