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A Hopeless Fantasy about putting New British Breath into MG

Chris Haining October 17, 2016 All Things Hoon, Terrible Ideas 34 Comments

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MG’s claim to Britishness has been pretty tenuous for a good few years now. Recent products that bore the octagonal badge and made it to UK roads have been marketed on the brand’s historical provenance, but the cars themselves had very little actual indigenous British content. They would arrive from China virtually complete and with just a few finishing-off jobs needing to be performed, like maybe fitting the ashtrays and hubcaps.  Just enough to merit a thin claim to “production”.

Now even that has ceased. As of September 23rd, MG ca are being imported to the UK in a fully constructed state. The final five minutes of ‘assembly’ at Longbridge will no longer be necessary, bringing the history of domestic MG manufacture to its conclusion once and for all. Of course, none of us are naive enough to believe that there really has still been a ‘real’ MG for at least a decade, indeed many would say there hasn’t been one since 1980 (Sorry Mr Harrell).

But does it have to be this way? Is there anything that SAIC MG- as it is now – could do to inject a bit of meaning into those famous initials? To reconnect with a heritage that now seems so distant? To relive the good old days when MG was revered around the world? To rekindle past glories? I think there is.

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You know, I think there probably is, but it would involve some changes to the way the cars the MG SAIC import to the UK are marketed. Right now two models are shipped into the UK via the company’s Longbridge UK ‘headquarters’, which, frankly, could be literally anywhere right now. They are the MG3 and the MG GS. The MG3, which I reviewed here, really isn’t a bad little car at all. The MG GS is a kind of Suzuki Vitara mini-SUV thing, it seems to be perfectly alright if unlikely to set the world alight, but really doesn’t quite wear the MG badge with much comfort.

Though a thought crosses my mind – what if there had been an MG variant of the Range Rover back during the BL era? Hmmm. Anyway. Digression.

The MG3 and MG GS are Chinese-built cars which, if we’re honest, don’t need to rely on the MG name for their marketing. SAIC, if it wanted to, could choose absolutely any name it liked the sound of to market them under over here. In fact, I’m sure the British public would love that. In fact, how about “Longbridge”? That would be a terrific name to use exclusively on the UK market. It has an air of honouring the past, while respecting the present. The Longbridge GS has a decent ring to it, while the Longbridge 3 sounds a little like a criminal gang,

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Adopting the new name would free up the old one and, over time, hopefully UK car-buyers can forget the octagon badge’s association with Chinese imports. After a while there could be a new reawakening of the famous name, a glorious new dawn, and not one associated with pacific-rim engineering.

How about the MG name be placed on something more in keeping with the origins of Morris Garages? I’m talking small-scale production, cottage-industry style. I’m talking about track-day cars. Something in the Caterham 7 class, but perhaps with a KTM Xbow aesthetic. Maybe even an Arial rival. As simple as possible, using straightforward engineering. As long as it was designed and built in Britain, the components could come from anywhere…. But why go anywhere else when you have the entire SAIC catalogue to raid?

What could be more old-school MG than a ‘special’? A simple, effective home-brew machine using freely available Chinese components but put together in the UK under low-volume care and attention? SAIC even has a 2.5-litre engine, the NV6, a development of the KV6 engine I hold so dear, just begging for the chance to be installed in something light and sporty.

It would be a small resurgence, but, I’m sure, a valuable one. To have a new Morris Garages, cranking out desirable, sought-after cars, even in tiny numbers. Just enough to put the brand back on the map in some meaningful way. And then, when MG’s profile is suitably elevated, perhaps they could soup up a Longbridge like the good old days of Austin / MG badge engineering.

A company like SAIC could do this tomorrow if it wanted to. Turn MG into a brand driven by passion, not merely a tenuous link to the past by name only.

Never gonna happen. I know.

(All images copyright Chris Haining  / Redusernab 2015/2016)

  • Mikeado

    “Something in the Caterham 7 class, but perhaps with a KTM Xbow aesthetic. Maybe even an Ariel rival.”

    You mean like the Zenos E10 but with an Anglo-Chinese engine and less carbon fibre? Could work at the right price, I guess.

  • “SAIC, if it wanted to, could choose absolutely any name it liked the sound of to market them under over here.”

    SAIC owns the name Morris, so they could just rename MG that way. It would make for a nice symmetry.

    Then, of course, someone could start a small garage to modify them….

  • Fred Talmadge

    I loved my MGB, so am nostaligic for the brand. But it seems that SAIC is only interested in the name, so I don’t really care.

    • Rover 1

      MGB GTs are cool, specially the MGB GT3 with it’s twin turbo Lotus headed 32v Rover v8

  • CraigSu

    At least you’ve still had new MGs to consider. The USA hasn’t had new MG sales since 1980.

  • Rover 1

    Still the best MG.

    Shame it didn’t get developed.



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    • It did eventually inspire the (much smaller) MGF, though. and I always thought the Rover CCV was better looking.

      • Rover 1

        And just after that it morphed into the ‘lumpen’ retro of the actual 800 coupe, starting a trend of wallowing in nostalgia for a half remembered utopian 1950s British past, rather than embracing the present, which has lead fairly directly to Brexit.

        • Don’t get me started.

          • Rover 1

            Also one of the reasons that my parents and myself left nice titles in the UK and came to live in NZ. Having a British passport as well does make travel easier though

    • JayP

      Hmmm…

      • Rover 1

        More than a few people have noticed that. Mid mounted 24 V 90 degree V6 and alloy momocoque, but no AWD and only a few years after the MG.

        • JayP

          I’d read it in a book which makes it a little more legit than a magazine and infinitely more than the Internets.

    • anonymic

      I quite liked the Magna they did in the late 70’s. The car was the MG version of the Lynx II project, it was TR7 up front and SD1 in the rear. It’s findable on the net as ADO21. But the one that should have been a car more than any other is ADO68/14. For the 70’s the styling is epic.

      • Rover 1

        • anonymic

          I was wrong about the project number, it’s not ADO21, I guess it’s just called Lynx. The one I’m familiar with has the actual SD1 tail lights.

    • cap’n fast

      this is the usual result of what happens to what many would consider to be technological brilliance
      performed by a small dedicated group people working outside the normal box of corporate think…
      i still marvel how the corvette survived its engineering gestation period at GM in the 1950’s. where did Zora Duntov hide the bodies???

      • Rover 1

        At least the engine got another lease of life in another ‘backroom special’ AWD mid-engined sportscar, the Jaguar XJ220. (And with added turbos and no AWD in the end.)

  • Lokki

    The best thing for everyone involved would be if SAIC sold the rights to the MG octagon to Moss Motors

    • Surely, along that line of thought, would be a better choice? They provided the bodyshells for the RV8 after all.

      • JayP

        New/old MGs would be a great solution now that the US has loosened the regs on this type of manufacturing. I don’t think the market would be able to bring the price down to what one would consider a realistic price.

  • outback_ute

    A couple of thoughts; surely even the traditionalists regard the RV8 as a proper MG? If not the F or TF.

    Secondly, I don’t think that a track day special is what MG did. Perhaps if SAIC did make a proper sports car, it might help?

    • Well, I’ve certainly met a few bearded lunatics who’d tell you that MG proper died along with the MGB and the closure of Abingdon.

      I don’t think an SAIC sports car would do it. Remember the Kia Elan? Never really caught on and that was based on a car which was proven as excellent. A sports car would also be a much bigger project to take on and involve a lot more expense in safety testing, emissions, design and ergonomics, all for an end product that everybody would see as another Chinese import. It would need to be good, too.

      If Ariel had developed a proper sports car it’s unlikely to have succeeded. Small volume sports cars fail. Track-style cars have a much better rate of success for small start-ups.

      • I know a couple of people who still haven’t quite forgiven MG for the MGA. One of them isn’t so sure about the TD or the TF (the original one, mind you), either. They’re polite enough about it but their feelings in this matter are nonetheless clear. By paying close attention I’m picking up pointers on how to become a properly deft low-key curmudgeon.

        • You just need to up your beard game.

          • If only it were that easy. Believe me, I’ve tried.

        • Rover 1

          Why settle for low key?

          • Preservation of dynamic range for special occasions.

      • outback_ute

        Ha, one of the funniest things I’ve seen was a guy like that (no beard from memory) going around cars picking things like “the GL shouldn’t have trim rings on the wheels they were on the GLS”.

        If the car was designed and built in Britain as per JLR I’m sure it would help. Not economic, but I expect they can afford a brand-building exercise. I don’t think a track day car would have the same impact with the wider population.

        I hope it is not too harsh, but it doesn’t really matter to me as I am not that much of an MG fan (ambivalent).

        • Yeah, I don’t see myself as an MG fan, either, but I am an enthusiast of heritage.

    • Rover 1

      They did put the MGTF(II) back into production for a while – with the post-K-series motors.

  • Steve Scarpato

    The new MG does not make a real MG. MG Motor cars was always about enthusiast cars that were exciting to drive.Back in the day they held land speed records and raced their cars everywhere!! That they haven’t as yet built a small convertible or any kind of Sports Car shows they’re only in it for the money. They are abusing and defiling a definitive British Motoring Icon. It’s a shame!!

  • cap’n fast

    fitting the ashtray upsidedown and getting the hubcap on off centered and cockeyed would definitely add that hand built British craftsmanship which we in the colonies have long associated with motor cars from the likes of British Leyland. i wonder if they built boats that didn’t sink on purpose?

    • Rover 1

      It stopped being British Leyland in 1986, 21 years ago. Then it became Rover Group, then MG Rover. Before that, in 1984 Jaguar was sold off, (then brought by Ford in 1990). The British Leyland part was over long ago.

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