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.
Going to jump in here and be the first to point out that in addition to being a dodgy project, it came out looking like a Dodge-y project, especially from the front.
I don’t really see too many hopes for the current MG brand. MG TF was tried few years ago after MG Rover went out of business but it failed, because by late ‘2000s, the model was too dated to stretch some life out. The current owner SAIC Motor made up Roewe to replace Rover, but I would say they still have a legal Wolseley to use, and the image fits old Rover cars rather well. Those from SAIC may recognize Roewe just doesn’t sound right anywhere and rebadge all the models as MG most of the time, but sport heritage is most likely lost by now.
However, if those people from the office in either Birmingham figured something out, it’s not too late to save MG after all.
Actually, MG is doing okay, and has re-entered the European market. One of the models they are about to introduce is an…..SUV, of all things. Called the MG GS, or GS Rui Teng in China.
The GS joins the other 2 models in the U.K., the MG3 and the MG6, both small hatchback sedans the size of a Ford Fiesta and Focus…respectively. But like most Chinese products, they seriously uncut their “mainstream” competition on price.
I am amazed any cars at all were produced given the financial state of Rover at the time. By the 2000s it was becoming ever harder to build small volumes in the Lotus, TVR, Morgan style. It is nice to see there were still a talented group around trying to make something happen. Thanks Roger
Even more than the V8 engined Rover 75 and MG ZT, and the various racing projects, this car reinforces the idea that the “Phoenix Four” used the company as a plaything while they built up pension pots and ran it into the ground.
Raisin d’etre? What a delicious typo 😉 Also, your phonetic spelling of Qvale ain’t gonna work for an American audience who don’t go for the ‘phantom r’. How about ‘kuh’?
Was “raisin d’être” a product of spellcheck?
Very informative piece. I was ignoring most of the mainstream car magazines around this time, mostly because they were preoccupied with cars of the sort this one wanted to be, and I think the U.S. ones were mostly ignoring U.K. vehicles anyway. So anyone reading the occasional Road & Track only occasionally at the barber’s wouldn’t have a clue here. Unfortunately, neither did the perpetrators of this thing, or insufficient ones anyway.
As for the late Mr. Qvale, his real successes were due to some hard work and fabulous timing, and some brilliant hires on his payroll … with a lot of luster added by his relentless self-promotion. In his final couple of decades he completely failed to acknowledge that his star had faded in tandem with the market that had sustained it, though he was still able to charm Kevin Nelson, author of the brilliant “Wheels of Change”, into writing the breathlessly worshipful “Lunches with Mr. Q”. I recommend both books, though for very different reasons.
I don’t know, but I’m not a big fan of using foreign phrases when the same thing can be said in plain old English. Fixed now.
Mazda finally solved the “Succession Problem” for the MGB. Once again, Japanese juku (“cram school”) veterans did their homework & aced the exam.
Oops, I forgot that the Miata design came from their California design office, though most of the engineering was done in Japan.
Would love to actually see one of those MG’s someday. Reasonably impressive looking in the front, but the car goes rather mundane from the A-pillar back.
I did get to see my first Qvale Mangusta at the local cars & coffee four weeks ago. To those who have never seen one, the car is physically smaller than it photographs. Bigger than a Miata, but definitely smaller than a C4 or C5 Corvette. A lot smaller. And the engine compartment is absolutely crammed with that Ford V-8. I did like it, a lot, though.
I saw the same one (I can only assume that out of ~300 cars total, there can’t be more than one in Richmond) on Boulevard near Monument last year. Definite double-take moment, and then a bit more mental processing to remember exactly what it was! Though mine was only a passing glance, it does look better in person, and it’s certainly not large.
I remember seeing these in the magazines of the time, they reminded me a lot of TVRs for their over the top appearance. The Mangusta I remember as well, and I found it odd it shared the same namesake as the gorgeous mid-engined Giugiaro designed Mangusta of the 60s.
using the same 4.6 litre Ford Mustang engine as the MG ZT V8.
Minor nitpick – The ZT V8 used the iron block SOHC two valve engine, while the Mangusta used the aluminum block DOHC four valve variant used in the SVT cobras at the time.
Wow, how many times had that been tried before in the British car and motorcycle industry? Buy a struggling competitor and integrate the product for high volumes and high margins!
Am I correct, Kjell Qvale imported the Jensen-Healey into the U.S.?
I have a feeling that there may have been an SV amongst the vehicles auctioned off when MG Rover went under here in Australia. I can understand wanting to have an attention-getting halo car, and one that was more than just a concept car pushmobile, but they really needed to focus on the important things at the time such as a replacement for the Rover 75 blandmobile that could be a sustainable product rather than these flights of fancy.
The problem they faced with the 75 is that doing anything more than dress-up of the fusty styling was going to involve more tooling expense than they could swallow and wouldn’t solve the dilemma of also needing some stronger engines, especially at the top of the range. In some ways, the 75 was a pretty good car, but the likelihood of keeping it viable in the most competitive segment of the European market seemed low.
One of the conclusions I’ve drawn from the lessons of automotive history over the years is that the words “racing” and “motorsport” are bad, bad news unless that is the reason the company exists in the first place. If you’re a racer selling production cars to homologate your racing stuff and make some extra cash, like Ferrari lo many years ago, that’s one thing, or if you get some contracts selling stuff to racers. But the prospect of going racing if you’re not doing it already should strike fear into the hearts of responsible finance directors.
I think I remember the MGX on an early episode of Top Gear, but I could be wrong. I like the MGX from an aesthetic point, it’s a very aggressive and out there design, the kind you want from a car like this. The problem with this car is that it was made when the company pretty much had not only no money, but no cachet as well. Considering that this was when Rover was being flogged for the CityRover and the fact that it was clear that the company would end up shuttering, there was no way this car would turn around the company in such a way as to keep it sustainable. Although, getting back to aesthetics, it almost doesn’t look like something that would come from MG, it almost seems like it should have a Holden badge on the front of it. That would seem more reasonable.
If nothing else, I like it a lot better than the Qvale Mangusta, which always reminded me of the unholy love child of the 90s Aston Martin Virage and the MR2 Spyder. The fact that the Mangusta shared it’s name with one of the most striking cars of the late 60s and the best looking product that De Tomaso ever came out with really didn’t help matters.
This was sadly wrong in so many ways. As Roger has shown, this was not the car to turn around MG Rover; a halo car that, at best, would have done nothing to persuade more buyers to choose 25/ZRs or 45/ZSs.
It also fundamentally misunderstood what MGs were. MG was always a by-product of Nuffield/BMC/AR’s core activities. Whether small roadsters or warmed-up saloons, Midgets, Magnettes and Metros took an existing kit of parts and gave them the performance and appearance that they needed to succeed as mass-market sporting cars.
Occasional forays into record-breaking or Le Mans were unusual; the point of MG was that wasn’t a specialist vehicle, but one that your local Austin-Morris garage, or you yourself, could work on and fix.
This isn’t just a “don’t mess with our lovely heritage of old MGBs held together with piano wire” argument. An MG badge on a sort-of supercar, in a market dominated by Germans, was an absurd gamble. The target market didn’t want MGs, associated with Maestros, Montegos and the F; it wanted Audis and Porsches.
The Phoenix Four will probably need to be six feet under before we can truly understand what they were doing in the five years that they owned MG-Rover; the XPower was a “coming soon” sideshow news story for most of the Phoenix years, but it was just a distraction of the main event, the final and inevitable collapse of UK-owned mass-market car manufacturing.
I liked this shape, certainly one of the better silk purses from a sow’s ear but of itself I also think it works. The revived MG marque should have worked; it had just as much brand equity as Mini, and yet the MGF and subsequent efforts just didn’t click. I blame Miata as much as anything else. Good feature Roger.
A fascinating article, Roger. That the MG name was attached to something that looked this menacing…
I always thought the original DeTomaso Mangusta was such a stunning supercar. I had no idea it had been later attached to a stubby-looking (esp. from the rear) roadster.
Back to our featured car, I wonder if styling consultant Harris Mann was responsible for the gills on the front wings / fenders. He seemed to have a penchant for quirky design elements (Allegro, TR7/8, Princess), but I am a fan of his work.
I’ve heard there’s one of these in South Carolina – I wonder how it got there!
I somehow missed the existence of these entirely. Knew of the Mangusta, which I’ve quite unexpectedly seen one of in person, but not the x-power. It does seem kind of an absurdity though–not enough halo for a halo car, not enough experience and development for a real racing effort, not enough production to justify the thing. And that styling–not my cup of tea at ALL. The nose, as has been mentioned, looks Holden-ish. The center and rear of the car are rather boring, especially compared to their lovely if quirky Mangusta predecessor. The wheels look like the kind of cheap alloys you’d put on a beater Mustang. And the fender gills are cartoonishly absurd.
Still, fascinating to learn the history!