The history of the British motor industry, especially that of BMC, BLMC and its successors is full of missed opportunities, dead ends and incomplete projects. Perhaps the most intriguing of recent years is the MG X Power SV.
In 2001, MGR bought the assets of the Italian supercar maker Qvale, and its product the Qvale Mangusta. You are quite entitled to ask exactly what Qvale was, why MGR bought it and how it was expected to fit into a company like MG Rover.
Qvale had been built up from the assets of the defunct de Tomaso Group in Modena, the home of the Italian supercar, by an American car importer Kjell Qvale (pronounced Shell Ker-vah-lee). Since 1994 and controlled by Qvale, de Tomaso had been building the Mangusta, which was essentially a very low volume, high power sports car, using the same 4.6 litre Ford Mustang engine as the MG ZT V8.
The Mangusta was actually derived from the Maserati Barchetta. But, by 2000, after around 300 cars, what demand there was had all but dried up and the money had run out.
After the BMW led break up of Rover, the new MG Rover Group had high ambitions for the MG brand, as a high profile, high power sports brand, selling in relatively small volumes, but with a high margin. The opportunity to purchase Qvale and the Mangusta for £7m seemed to fit this plan – it gave MGR a ready made product, which was also approved for the North American market. It seemed that all that was needed was for a modern restyle and to bring as many of the production processes in house to Longbridge for the car to be considered as a new flagship for the new MG.
MGR’s design consultant Peter Stevens quickly, in less than 3 months, gave the car an MG restyle and it was launched, as thew MG X80, to the press at the Frankfurt Motor Show, on 11 September 2001. Not the best day, in hindsight…
Despite appearance, this was just a restyle – as you look closely you’ll see that the windscreen is the same, as is everything you can’t see. To change more would not only have cost money, but also have meant that the US approval would have been lost. The body was entirely carbon fibre, with the mouldings prepared in the UK, assembled in Italy and the car finished in Longbridge, Birmingham.
MGR were sufficiently encouraged by the initial reactions, and committed by the fact the fact that deal with Qvale was done, and planned to build up to 2,000 cars a year, effectively as a competitor to cars like the Jaguar XK-R, Porsche Boxster and the AMG Mercedes SLK. A roadster was also talked about, but never materialised.
However, it soon went off the boil – the cost of bringing the design to state where 2,000 could be build profitably for the price MG would be able get was quickly found to be prohibitive and it became a side line project, assigned to the MG Sport and Racing division. MG devotees will liken to this BMW M Sport division – well maybe, a bit. The key point is that it was moved out of the mainstream MGR business structure, and became a project led by Peter Stevens, predominantly a stylist.
Stevens and his team (including some detail consultancy by Harris Mann, of Austin Allegro and Triumph TR7 fame) quietly carried tinkering away, turning it from an everyday car to an out and out weekend track day and race car. In late 2002, it was shown to the press again, now known as the MG SV, and now featured the distinctive side gills, a feature that also appeared on some more mundane MG saloons. Various details came from elsewhere – the lights were from Fiat for example.
As well as the visual changes, which were striking enough, MG were now offering this car in any level of tune from 325bhp up to 965bhp(!) with a factory-fit nitrous injection option. Sales were expected to start at the end of 2003, with prices from £65000, at a rate of 130 cars a year. Quite a turnaround from 2,000, but in the event, around 80 cars were built in 2004.
But why anyone would buy one instead of Porsche 911 or Jaguar XK-R is a mystery. In the event, those few cars did reach the market during 2004 and early 2005, but in reality it was a white elephant, a side show and, like the MG ZT V8, a distraction for the main job in hand at MGR – keeping Longbridge busy, MGR’s real reason for existence.
82 cars is a very small return for the investment MGR made; perhaps more crucially it showed that the plan for MG to transition to low volume, high margin producer of performance cars was going to need a lot of time, investment, automotive building blocks and some specific skills, all things MG did not have.