Ah, the quaint British summer of days gone by. Long rays of sunshine dappling the village green. Men in off-white clothing standing around, occasional bursts of furious movement accompanied by the echoing sound of leather hitting willow and cries of “OWZAT!” Cucumber sandwiches at teatime. Retire to the clubhouse at the end of the afternoon to debate the state of the wicket while downing several pints of warm bitter. Jump in a sports car parked outside and drive off, burbling exhaust bouncing off the hedgerows, slight crunch accompanying every gear change, silk flying scarf blowing in the breeze. Back to the airfield and find all the squadron chaps in the officer’s mess gathered round the wireless listening to grave reports that there’s a bit of a brouhaha developing in Europe. Looks like it’s time to take to the skies and give the Huns a jolly good spanking again.
Fuck all that rose-tinted noise. A few exceptions aside, I’ve never really gotten along with old British sports cars and what they stood for. They represented a Great Britain that for too long traded on former glories while failing to invest in its future, superficially modern enough on the surface but pig iron old-fashioned underneath. Was a car company ever more emblematic of the British disease than MG?
Careful Adrian, your class-warrior colors are showing. Yes they are, and bite me. I’ve got far more claim to being from the streets than – irony klaxon – Sir Lewis has. Mother Dearest got engaged three times, whizzing between a revolving door of fiancés in an Austin Healey Sprite, before reluctantly replacing it with a Ford Popular when she fell pregnant with me. Even as a fetus I was a pain in the ass.
A Brief History of Death and Rebirth
MG was born in either 1924 or 1925, when William Morris’ business manager Cecil Kimber started slapping lighter bodywork from Carbodies of Coventry onto Morris chassis. These sportier versions of Morris sedans sold well and eventually led to Morris Garages moving to its own factory in Abingdon in 1929. Pre-war economic depression led to the collapse in sales of these sedans, so MG introduced the template for the quintessential cycle-winged British sports car – the Type M Midget. How important was this car? It likely saved the company and invented the affordable sports car category.
By the time American servicemen were arriving on British shores in the early forties to seduce our women with Hershey bars and nylon tights prior to fighting the Germans, the Midget had evolved into the T type, which stayed in production until 1955. When the Americans returned home after squiring every eligible female in the home counties surrounding London, they loved their nimble little British sports cars so much the United States became MG’s most important export market. The first MG with enclosed bodywork, the swoopy MGA, arrived in 1955, before being replaced by the unibody MGB in 1962.
The MGB is the purest embodiment of the classic British roadster. Rugged, mechanically simple and with an electrical system designed by the devil. Using carry over engines and gearboxes from the MGA they weren’t exactly the most cutting edge thing on the road, especially compared to exquisitely engineered rivals coming from Italy. But they had a certain traditional charm with tidy enough handling and respectable performance. I’m not really a fan, but I have a soft spot for the achingly pretty Pininfarina designed MGB GT coupe, especially in V8 form (that was bizarrely never offered in the US. Good old British Leyland). By the time it was finally put out of its misery in 1980 the B had become a knock-kneed, over-bumpered shadow of its former delicate self, the last models wheezing off the line coinciding with the closure of the Abingdon factory.
That wasn’t quite it for MG. As the British car industry collapsed faster than a royal marriage the name began appearing on hot versions of the Metro, Maestro and Montego. They were quick but the mechanicals were ancient; the Metro Turbo had to make do with a four speed box because it still used the A series engine and transmission in sump combo that the original Mini had in 1959. Reactionary Colonel Blimp types decried these red seat-belted ditch-finding mongrels as not proper MGs, but by then the market turned away from dedicated sports cars and towards hot hatches. Until 1989, when the Miata came along.
Finally here was a British roadster that wouldn’t leave you stranded in a back road lay-by awaiting the recovery truck. Kickstarting a sports car mini-revival, in response the corpse of the MGB was dug up in 1992 and given a trowelling of makeup to become the RV8, the majority of which were bought by those lovers of British kitsch, the Japanese. Finally in 1996 the bar of soap shaped MGF appeared, a genuinely advanced but fragile mid-engined sports car. In the meantime the rebadging of hot Rover hatches as MGs had continued, but the whole sorry mess, stripped of its crown jewels Mini and Land Rover by BMW, imploded in bankruptcy in 2005.
Rising Like a Phoenix
Currently the brand is owned by Chinese megacorp Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation, and they reintroduced a range of shitacular penury boxes back to the UK market in 2013, cynically trading on their ‘British’ identity. Ten years later they’re selling a range of extremely generic hybrid and EV hatches and crossovers. They’ve exploded in market share over the last couple of years by dint of being the only company that had any fucking cars to sell, and the Dollar Tree Lamborghini styled EV4 actually being quite good.
Are there enough fans of the brand left to warrant a new MG roadster? The Cyberster (yet again, did I miss a fucking meeting?) has leaked in filings with China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, and those reactionary middle England types are going to be having rage strokes all over again. A new MG two-seater, built by China and powered solely by electricity? Send a carrier (the UK has two now!) to the South China Sea IMMEDIATELY!
Alright Salty Bingham, calm down. It’s not exactly groundbreaking, but it’s not ugly either. A sort of ok-ish homogenous take on the generic roadster form. I think it borrows the long fender line and rear haunches from the MGA, which is wise because the A was always a more forward looking design than the slightly upright chrome and wire wheel wearing B. All the feature lines make sense and follow through to logical conclusions, and the light catcher above the rockers nicely allows the body to taper at the waist. The front isn’t over done with air vents, although I do think dividing the lower one lends it a bit of a buck toothed appearance. Aero is critical for EVs – notice the little vertical flaps on the underside just ahead of the front wheels to help manage the airflow in this important area.
It’s quite difficult to get a sloping nose with pedestrian impact regulations, you always end up with the convergence point of the surfaces higher than you ideally want. MG have resolved this tricky area well – by dipping the transition towards the middle slightly without making it look like the car has a goofy smile. It’s reasonably good, but the light graphics are a bit bland although it’s hard to tell definitively without seeing them lit.
The Trouble with Tail Lights
Round the back is where they’ve really let their creativity run wild. It looks like they couldn’t decide between two equally bad tail lamp graphics and decided to use both of them. The problem is the upper horizontal one with the vertical elements at the end is that it’s a rigid shape that doesn’t work with the curvaceousness of the rear fenders. Look at the ends and you can see the issue – that sharp 90-degree corner creates two creases that run into the rear three quarter. It’s like trying to squeeze a perfectly square robot shit out of a soft round human asshole. The arrows, I just can’t. [Editor’s Note: If the arrows illuminate as the turn indicators I think I can’t help but like that. Sorry, Adrian. Haven’t you always wanted a sports car with these? – JT] Ugh. What’s frustrating is I actually really like the way it looks like the horizontal part is one continuous piece piercing through the narrower section of the rear panel – but the arrowheads feel like they were going to copy MINIs Union Jack lights and then bottled it. Somewhere in between these two bad ideas there’s a good idea trying to get out, but with this they’ve chosen taillight violence over diplomacy.
The black panel above the diffuser has too much Z height – they saw the back of an Aston V8 Vantage and thought, hmm more of that but worse please. I know why they’ve done it – it’s an attempt to visually reduce the height of the car, but this is a case of something having the opposite effect to what was intended, instead drawing attention to what you were trying to hide. The black graphic running around the tops of the doors and into the roof panel is trying to fool your visual cortex in the same way – because if you look at the actual cowl height it’s high for a sports car. Because this is an EV with all the cells under the floor, which pushes up the H point (if you’ve missed earlier classes, this is the distance of the driver’s hip point above the ground plane).
All the dimensions are large for a sports car. Make no mistake, this is a big old bus. At 178” long it’s some two feet longer, 7” wider and 5” taller than a Miata. And at nearly 4400 lbs, it’s 2000 lbs fatter. Alright yes, it’s full of batteries, although we don’t know how many, it’s obviously all of them. Real sports cars get the virtuous circle spiraling downwards not up; lower weight needs less power, lighter suspension components, lighter structure which leads to smaller brakes and so on. It is admirable for probably being the first sports car EV to market, but they could have made more of an effort to get the weight under control.
How you have to view this MG then is as a Chinese sports car in Union Jack dress, with all the indecisive design decision making and show-off technology that identity entails. It’s even got scissor doors for fucksake, they don’t look particularly long so for the life of me I can’t figure out why. Given all that, it’s probably going to be expensive as well, which really goes the made in China USP, and MG’s current position at the budget end of the market.
Let’s hope they didn’t subcontract out the electrical systems to Lucas.