"The MG? Ah yes, here it is, the machine that broke three car companies.”
The words belong to Simeon Cattle, co-owner of Oxford-based Eclectic Cars. And although he exaggerates for effect, the point is well made: the MG X-Power SV, to name it properly, can trace its roots back to De Tomaso and from there to MG Rover via Qvale. None of them survived to tell the tale.
Of course, MG Rover had problems stretching far past the narrow confines of the SV to explain its demise, but if it did not cause MG Rover’s passing, the SV also did nothing to delay it. It seems inelegant to rake over all those ashes at this distance but, briefly, what started life as the De Tomaso Bigua concept car of 1996 and became the Qvale Mangusta turned into the MG X-Power SV after some judicious reshaping from none other than McLaren F1 stylist Peter Stevens.
The theory behind it was good: the car would be powered by proven off-the-shelf components (Ford V8 motors in various states of tune and an indestructible Tremec five-speed gearbox) but clothed in lightweight carbonfibre panels to avoid uncomfortable comparison with TVRs and justify a bracingly high price point.
But the car’s mixed parentage caused all sorts of headaches, not least the fact that the production process required each car to visit six different companies, one of which was in Italy. Although allegedly available in a range of power outputs up to 1000bhp courtesy of nitrous oxide injection, most were standard cars like this, powered by an off-the-peg 320bhp 4.6-litre Ford motor.
A total of 82 cars were reputedly built, of which three remained unassembled until last year, when Eclectic Cars persuaded the MG Rover creditor to finally complete their build, seven years late. One left-hand-drive car went straight to Germany, leaving two – one black, one ‘aubergine’ – to be re-homed by Eclectic for £60,000 a pop.
It certainly looks worth it. It’s low, purposeful and menacing, and I’ve never seen Fiat Punto headlights put to better use. Your eyes are drawn naturally to those steroidal wheel arches, the outlandish side strakes and those deep bonnet vents. Each car comes with a huge rear spoiler, which Eclectic has wisely elected to present separately to their new owners. The cabin will not be to everyone’s taste in its cream leather with red suede inserts, but there’s no doubting the quality of the materials used.
Nor, sadly, can the interior’s bone-headed architecture be denied. The driving position is one of the worst I can recall, the seat far too high and the wheel too far away because of what appears to be an ancient GM rack with no reach adjustment. Headroom is appalling, too; you’re forced to rake back the seat just to let your head clear the roof lining, siting the wheel even further from your outstretched hands.
But which British, Italian or even Anglo-Italian sports car was ever built without a few character-forming foibles? Salvation, surely, would be found on the road.
Actually, I’d expected the SV to be largely awful to drive, but with the odd flash of brilliance. It was neither. It was, if this does not sound too damning, quite good.
The engine, for instance, is smooth and refined, offering a purposeful and mellifluous V8 woofle, without ever threatening to break into full Detroit thunder as you might hope. Nor is there the low-down torque you always expect from American iron; the car will perform quite respectably, but it needs revs to do it. Happily, the Tremec feels less truck-like than in other applications and has ratios that bridge the V8’s narrow powerband well enough for you not to miss a sixth gear. ‘Pleasant’ is the word that kept recurring in my head, which might not be exactly what you’re after from a car like this.
It’s well matched by its chassis, too. I’d hoped for a similar experience to that provided by the fabulously flawed MG ZT 260. A day in one at a wet Mallory Park still ranks as one of the funniest things I’ve done in a car; all you could guarantee was that whichever direction you turned the wheel to get into a corner, you’d have turned it back as far as it would go by the exit.