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Monday, 23 July 2012

New MGB Will Be Made In China, Should Stay There Forever

MG Icon Concept
As you most likely know, MG-Rover is still alive, except that Rover is now spelt Roewe (only still existing in China), and MG is currently only making a fastback-shaped Focus rival with a cheap feel and only one engine, called MG6. They plan to expand that range with an "MG3" hatchback to take on Vauxhall Corsa-sized cars, previewed by the MG-Zero Concept, and now this. This is widely being touted as a "new MGB", which will become available as both a coupé and a roadster. There's just one problem...

The ride height. You'll no doubt remember what an MGB Roadster looks like - low, clean and very British - and you'll no doubt remember that it wasn't a crossover SUV designed to take on the Nissan Juke high hatch. Oh China, have you got any idea what you're doing? Owners of real MGBs would choke on their pipes if you showed them something akin to the overstyled, high-riding MG Icon Concept above as a production model called MGB. It would be a worse comeback than BMW's Mini impostor by quite some margin, and completely soil the adored iconic badge.

Of course, the brutal reality is that this idea - even without any historical tie-in - would probably sell better than a small roadster that isn't a Mazda MX-5, because more and more people want something with more ground clearance and a waistline higher than the one on their grandfather. I'm not sure why that is - in these austere times, you're buying a heavier, less aerodynamic and therefore less efficient and economical version of a highly popular type of car. Why a Nissan Juke instead of a Ford Fiesta, for example? Why a Range Rovér Èvoque N°5 instead of something like a Mercedes-Benz CLS? Is it for a "commanding driving position"? Do you still have the misconception that a chunkier car is safer? Because that's definitely not true. Not only would you fold a pedestrian in half, but more metal just means there's more to bend and crush. Is an A3 sheet of paper harder to fold and rip than a sheet of A4? No. Point made. They just look tougher. Is that what it is? To look tougher? Are you seriously trading fuel economy and fun handling for not much extra space and an image? You shallow little fool.

With that said, not everything has to be low and sporty. Of course. That would be silly. What use would a low-slung Land Rover Defender be? But an MGB revival must be low and sporty, because it's a sports car. How hard is that? I sincerely hope they don't call it an MGB or make any more references to the iconic classic when releasing their high hatch to tackle the Juke. I also hope it doesn't make it to the UK and the convertible is a complete flop.

Speaking of Blighty, it is of course the MGB's 50th birthday this year, which is cause for much celebratory pipe smoking and engine fixing. The definitive small British sports car hasn't been forgotten, and British sports car "restomod" specialists Frontline Developments have made an Eagle-Speedster-style neoclassical version of the hardtop GT, that teams modern mechanicals with old-school styling to make the best of both worlds: a classic car that doesn't break down, and a modern sports car with genuinely classy looks.

Here it is, the LE50, and the thing you'll notice is that it looks exactly the same as an MGB GT. That's because it uses a "Heritage shell", effectively an exact copy of the original body shell authorised by the British Motor Heritage, who own the rights to classic MG, and made with period-correct tools. To keep it classic, for each of the 50 LE50s sold, Frontline Developments buy a scrapped MGB, transfer the registration and VIN over, let the MG Car Club take any parts from the scrap car that they want, and then crush it to avoid cloning scams. Because the LE50 uses a certain percentage of period-correct parts (made new to the old spec, including the live rear axle), it's classified as being that scrapped B GT "repaired", despite technically being a new creation. Brilliant!

What's more brilliant is that the drivetrain and suspension don't have to party like it's 1965, so it uses the engine and gearbox from - perhaps ironically - a brand new Mazda MX-5 (bought from Mazda, not stripped from a production car), meaning the death-prone 95bhp 1.8-litre B-Series engine is replaced with a 215bhp 2.0-litre engine upgraded with 45mm throttle bodies, a new exhaust cam, a custom Omex engine management system and a carefully tuned exhaust to make it sound like a '60s racing car. Said engine is connected to a light aluminium 6-speed manual gearbox with close ratios, also from an NC2-generation MX-5. So that's the reliability sorted, what about rust? Well it's rust-proofed, but Frontline Developments have also seam-welded the body shell for extra strength and to sort out common trouble areas in MGB shells. To top it all off, it has the bracing panels from the V8-powered MG RV8, so it's far stiffer and somewhat safer than an original MGB.

Using an engine/gearbox combo made of aluminium instead of cast iron means the kerbweight drops by over 100kg to a mere 941kg, giving it a power-to-weight ratio of 235bhp/tonne, which is level with a supercharged Lotus Elise. What's more, that 215bhp is sent through a Limited-Slip Differential (LSD), so it's much more adept at being a drift machine than before (TopGear.com even compared it favourably to the built-to-drift Toyota GT 86 in this respect). In fact, all signs point to this being an absolute hoot to drive, which is after all the point of a car like this.

Why is it worth £50,000? Exclusivity - there shall only be 50 - as well as care and attention; paint is done over 7 weeks by a specialist, and each part is CAD-drawn and analysed to make sure it's perfect. You can also get heated seats and windscreen if you ask nicely, and it has air conditioning and a modern sound system. So what we have here is a faithful recreation of the original, but which irons out all the issues of the old one and makes it as fast as a modern sports car to boot, while being just as sweet in corners as the old car (more so, even, as it's packing modern multi-link suspension with adjustable dampers). Fantastic.

So what'll it be? A neoclassical sports car, or an ugly and inaccurate impersonation made into a high-hatch? It's enough to make wish someone did the same thing as the LE50 to original Minis (only cheaper)...

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