Being There [Part Five]

What killed the MGB?

Image: Jaguar Rover triumph Ltd – Author’s collection

In the summer of 1979, the UK airwaves were dominated by the synthesized sound of Gary Newman and Tubeway Army’s ‘Are Friends Electric’. A single inspired by a novel which dealt with the subject of artificial intelligence was hardly your usual chart-topping fare, but as the decade moved towards its conclusion, it was becoming apparent that more than just music was moving in an increasingly technologically-driven direction[1].

But the pace of change would not be sufficient to doom the decidedly analogue MGB. A number of not wholly unrelated, but intractable elements would join forces to Continue reading “Being There [Part Five]”

Being There [Part Four]

The best of times, the worst of times.

Peak B: 1973 MGB roadster. Image: mgb1967.com

In the wake of BLMC’s 1968 marriage of convenience, Donald Stokes and his management team began piecing together a product strategy for the multifarious (and in some cases) overlapping marques that constituted the increasingly unwieldy British car giant. Amid this new order, the fate of MG would be subordinated to that of Triumph. And while some speculative MG designs were proposed, the reality was that Abingdon came virtually last in the BLMC Chairman’s priority list – the MGB remained a successful, profitable model line – a cheap nip and tuck and it was good for another couple of years.

Abingdon’s fears came to fruition in 1971, Stokes and his BLMC board electing to Continue reading “Being There [Part Four]”

Being There [Part Three]

Win on Sunday, sell on Monday…

Image: migioslot.blogspot.com

The 31st staging of the Le Mans 24 Hour endurance race took place at the circuit de la Sarthe over the 15th and 16th of June 1963. It would be won by the Scuderia Ferrari entrant, a 250P, driven by an all-Italian pairing of Ludovico Scarfiotti and Lorenzo Bandini, marking not only the first time a mid-engined race machine had won the event, but also the largest winning margin in 36 years.

Le Mans was to prove something of a Ferrari benefit that year, with Maranello taking the first six places of a field, which through a combination of attrition, misfortune and tragedy was whittled down to  12 finishers. This final classified car was an MGB, a solo privateer entry, discretely backed by the works. But in this case, finishing at the rear of the field would be marked as a victory (in Abingdon at least).

The MG marque iconography was forged to a very large extent upon competition, and although by the early 1960s, BMC’s racing activities were primarily focussed upon the Mini Cooper, their well organised competition department was centred at MG’s Abingdon facility. Not that BMC did everything themselves; the Cooper Car Company, Broadspeed and Equipe Arden handling the Mini’s UK and overseas track career, while the Healey Motor Company prepared heavily modified Sprites in the International Sports Car classes.

Having enjoyed some rallying successes with the MGA, and with BMC keeping close tabs on MG’s competition activities, General Manager, John Thornley was required to Continue reading “Being There [Part Three]”

Being There [Part Two]

A discord in C.

Strike a pose. MGC Roadster. Image: mgb1967

The MGC was born under a bad sign, or to further the musical analogy, a bum note. On paper it ought to have been a winning combination. Take a proven, popular car and improve performance and desirability with a larger, more powerful engine. Yet largely due to BMC’s parsimony, MG was saddled with a car which was met by derision. Whether the car’s short production life and paltry production numbers was a direct consequence of apathy from buyer or manufacturer remains a matter of debate, but what is evident is that the MGC was considered something of an orphan, even before going on sale.

During the pre-war era, the MG marque enjoyed something of a performance image, being offered with large-capacity six cylinder engines[1] and in certain cases, supercharging. However, post-1945, MGs had been confined to whatever small-capacity power units that could be wheedled from their Nuffield and latterly, BMC masters. Following the 1952 merger, which brought the British Motor Corporation into being, MG would end up playing second fiddle to Austin Healey, Leonard Lord’s favoured sports car marque.

By the middle of the 1960s, the Austin Healey 3000 was not only reaching the end of its commercial viability, but BMC were chomping at the bit to Continue reading “Being There [Part Two]”

Highly Volatile

Ten years ago, MG’s future looked something like this.

Image: Autocar

Since the desiccated remains of MG Rover was picked over by Nanjing Auto, later merged with Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC), the resultant MG-badged products have left observers and MG marque aficionados somewhere on a spectrum between bemusement and outright horror. Taking ownership of a heritage brand always comes with a measure of responsibility – certainly if one hopes to Continue reading “Highly Volatile”

Being There [Part One]

Symphony in B.

Image: caradisiac

National Treasure is a term which gets bandied about rather a lot in the media nowadays, particularly amid the world of showbusiness. Normally bestowed on the basis of merit, but in some cases it is as much a matter of longevity, dogged persistence even. But regardless of rationale, most recipients tend to exhibit a common sense of virtue. It is therefore perhaps fair to suggest that all of the above traits have contributed to the MGB’s beatification in afterlife, a seemingly impregnable status close to the pinnacle of historic car national treasure-hood. For in the UK at least, a classic car event without at least one MGB in attendance really cannot authentically call itself a classic car event at all.

This of course is not to say that even the rarest, most pristine (production) MGB is ever likely to make its owner Continue reading “Being There [Part One]”

Between Brooklodge and Riverstown

The fading embers of the commercial conflagration of Rover produced a few final sparks. Here is one.

2003-2005 Rover Streetwise. All Images: the author

The errant apostrophe serves as a hint about the state of affairs on the 34th floor at Rover Towers in Longbridge when this car hit the market. Let’s overlook the sub-editorial infelicity and see if we can Continue reading “Between Brooklodge and Riverstown”

Last Chance Saloon: MG Edition

Initial impressions of the Rover 75’s rebellious younger sibling.

All images: The author.

Regular DTW readers may by now recognise my curious obsession with the ill-fated products of the late MG Rover company and may also recall a recent report on spending nearly a year with a 2.5 litre Rover 75 Sterling. At the time, I intimated that the Rover had been replaced with something related that was just a little bit rare and special. 

Whilst I came very close to Continue reading “Last Chance Saloon: MG Edition”

Phoenix Follies (Part One)

At a crucial moment, and to the detriment of their mainstream business, MG Rover’s management squandered time and money on frivolous distractions.

2004 MG Xpower SV-R (c) topspeed.com

It had all started so well, or so it appeared. It was May 2000 and, after months of uncertainty and worry, Rover Group, the UK’s last remaining indigenous volume car manufacturer, was independent again and back under British ownership. Phoenix Venture Holdings, a consortium of businessmen led by John Towers, had secured ownership of the bulk of Rover for a nominal fee of £10 and negotiated a generous ‘dowry’ of £500 million from BMW AG. The German automotive giant was just relieved to Continue reading “Phoenix Follies (Part One)”

Making Good? (Part Two)

DTW continues the story of MG Motor and asks if things are finally coming good in Europe for the reborn marque.

2018 MG ZS

The summer of 2016 must have been a worrying time for MG Motor and its UK dealers. The MG6 GT and Magnette had failed in the market and were discontinued, so the company was reduced to a single model, the MG3 hatchback. European sales of the MG3 were trickling along at around 250 a month, a level at which final assembly at Longbridge was not viable, so the model would in future Continue reading “Making Good? (Part Two)”

Making Good? (Part One)

Following its return in 2007, MG Motor was for years a marginal and faltering presence in the European auto market. DTW asks if the Chinese owned company is finally beginning to make a meaningful impact.

Small beginnings: 2007 MG TF 500LE (c) mg.co.uk

The final collapse of MG Rover in 2005 was an ugly, rancorous affair. It was also a long time coming. Since BMW disposed of its troublesome English Patient in 2000, selling it for a nominal £10(1) to the Phoenix Consortium, the company limped along with increasingly desperate attempts to reheat and repackage its ageing product line-up.

The most egregious of these was not the Rover Streetwise which, it could be argued, was simply ahead of its time, but the MG Express(2). Yes, MG Rover really did think (or was desperate to Continue reading “Making Good? (Part One)”

Old Red Wine

We mark the passing of a much respected British engineer.

Don Hayter (second from left) marks the completion of the half-millionth MGB at Abingdon. Image: Hemmings

Don Hayter, was born in Oxfordshire on 24th January 1926. His father, a retired policeman, took up a job delivering MG TF Midgets from Abingdon to the docks for export. Meanwhile his son had shown not only aptitude but a flair for technical drawing. Upon leaving Abingdon school, he took an apprenticeship with the Pressed Steel Company at Cowley working on aircraft such as the AVRO Lancaster during the war, progressing to bodywork panels for Jaguar’s XK120 and the ZA Magnette.

Don had taken up an offer from then Feltham-based Aston Martin Lagonda as a draftsman in the early fifties with a return to Oxfordshire when AML upped sticks to Continue reading “Old Red Wine”

Local Takeaway

It’s the weekend, and you’re tired. Why not skip the cooking tonight and order in something decadent and a little, oily?

Nothing wrong with the MG6’s looks. (c) crazy4cars

There is something terribly poignant about the end of days at Longbridge. Having put its troubled past behind, under new ownership and seemingly looking to the future, it all came crashing down, thanks (in part at least) to the hubris and cynicism of its domestic overlords.

Following the firesale of MG Rover’s assets and intellectual property, the first fruit would be Nanjing Automotive’s Roewe 750, a hastily restyled version of the existing Rover 75 saloon. Also planned was a smaller car based upon the RDX60 programme, which had been in development prior to MG Rover’s demise. Another beneficiary of Longbridge’s assets was fellow-Chinese carmaker, SAIC Motor, who subsequently absorbed Nanjing Auto and quickly brought the Roewe 550 to market, engaging specialists in the UK to speed up the process.

But SAIC had plans to Continue reading “Local Takeaway”

Deep Below The Surface Of The Water In A Glass

A little while back I had a trawl through the press releases from a variety of manufacturers. I mentioned MG in passing and now I return to look at what they are selling right at this moment.

youtube
2018 MG ZS: Youtube

Having come back from the dead, MG has been transformed into a maker of inexpensive hatchbacks with no identifiable MGness about them at all.

Older readers will probably have an image of MG as a maker of inexpensive sporty cars (the MG roadster is the archetype). Less old readers may recall the dark days of MGified vehicles which amounted to trim variants of existing Rover cars (e.g. the MG ZS).

Now owned by SAIC, MG is situated in a high-cost country which is cutting itself off from Europe ** and it (the car company) has a rather low-rent image. This little presentation reveals the key facts that a) the MG3 costs about 8K, b) the MG ZS starts at twelve and a half, c) the MG GS costs fifteen thousand and d) the range is mixed up visually and pricewise.

Never mind that let’s jolly well and for goodness’ sake Continue reading “Deep Below The Surface Of The Water In A Glass”

Theme: Aftermarket – Plato’s Garments Cloak the Sunrise

Fun fact: for Ireland only this car came with a 1.4 L petrol engine.

That had something to do with Ireland’s punitive car taxation system. Still, it’s a puzzle. The Celtic Tiger roared loudest around then: was Rover (Irl.) Ltd so desperate to sell cars that they had to
Continue reading “Theme: Aftermarket – Plato’s Garments Cloak the Sunrise”

Today’s Random Nugget

Idly I wanted to know what John Simister is up to…

2014 MG3: source
2014 MG3: source

He wrote for the Independent and is a freelancer now. I remember him from his days writing for Car magazine (1995-1998). This review turned up, of the MG3. Since I don’t live in the UK, I never see these cars and had forgotten about them. This part of the review is a surprise: “Despite this, there is a precision, a deftness, a transparency to the MG3’s responses that are rare in a new, mass-market model. It steers beautifully, it rides smoothly over bumps, it flows in a way which just makes you feel good. You do have to work the engine hard, but it’s not too noisy and a tidy gear-change action helps get the best from it.”  Simister is known for his fondness for French cars so I read this as meaning the car drives like a Peugeot 205.

Poles Apart on Piccadilly

Two recent arrivals to the capital have helped underline the yawning chasm that exists between London’s Green Park and Piccadilly Circus. We take a sniff at both. 

An Image from the ARES Design website

Everywhere you go, the centre ground is crumbling, most notably on our high streets. As the mid-market vanishes, our thoroughfares are being transformed. Recently, I took a stroll down London’s Piccadilly; historically host to a number of car showrooms. Today it’s home to two, illustrating in its own way just how stratified the auto market has become. Continue reading “Poles Apart on Piccadilly”

Looking Back: 2001 MG ZT-190

Regular readers of this site know that there are only three natural positions for a product in the car market: luxury, sporting and economy. And?

2001 MG ZT-190: automobiles-sportive.com
2001 MG ZT-190: automobiles-sportive.com

And don’t get pushed too far from them. That’s the no-man’s land of not very sporty, not very cheap and not very luxurious. The unmarked graves of Lincoln (unfilled at the moment), Saab, Oldsmobile and Lancia are all in that bourne from which no car maker returns. Apart from Saab and Borgward.

On with the story. Continue reading “Looking Back: 2001 MG ZT-190”

Death Has a Revolving Door 2 : MG Revive Sportscar Revival Plans

If you should tire of Alfa Romeo’s latest new plans, Morris Garages (MG) have perhaps a more credible alternative set of ambitions reported today, a new roadster.

2014 MG Icon concept: they are not building this
2012 MG Icon concept: they are not building this

Coincidental to my recent posting on returns from the grave, MG has announced a plan to revive its MG roadsters, with a view to returning to the US market. Edmunds’ journalist Richard Bremner reported that SAIC, owners of MG, have revealed this much without any supporting illustrations of the mooted car**.  Continue reading “Death Has a Revolving Door 2 : MG Revive Sportscar Revival Plans”