The ill-fated, V8-powered MG X-Power SV is back - sort of - and Andrew Frankel's at the wheel
Andrew Frankel Autocar
29 September 2013

"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.

Perhaps on a soaking circuit the SV would do this, but on narrow, damp but drying lanes it felt rather tame. Traction is good and grip levels impressive without being outstanding. It responds faithfully to your commands, yet never quite as immediately as you might hope. But point it over some undulating, difficult back roads and it will dispatch them capably, without ever making you want to turn around and repeat the performance all over again. If you break the tail loose, it comes back in an easy, clean catch. But this kind of behaviour needs provoking; it does not come naturally.

A chum who ran one as a long-term test car on a rival publication all those years ago reckoned theirs was slow and underdamped; this car was pleasantly swift (although it would need to be shoved off a cliff to get near its claimed 5.3sec 0-60mph time) and had effective suspension control.

I returned with the SV to find the Eclectic boys keen to hear what I thought. “Quite good” was my somewhat unsatisfactory response. What I didn’t mention is that I’d have preferred it to be largely awful if, in exchange, it were a little more exciting.

But the determinedly mealy-mouthed nature of the car is not what concerned me most. It was not how good the car was but how much blindingly better it could and should have been that must stand as the SV’s unsatisfactory epitaph.

I’m glad Eclectic has just two left to sell rather than a car park full, because as rare, interesting and attractive oddities there must be a couple of homes out there for them, although looking at prices of low-mileage SVs, £60k does seem ambitious.

But were I a very rich MG nut prepared to lose a lot of money in pursuit of a dream, I’d buy both. One I’d devote to finishing the work that should have been done all those years ago. I’d throw out the chairs and replace them with some low, slim buckets and find a way of putting a spacer on the steering column. I’d raise engine power by 20 per cent (through supercharging or fitting the 385bhp 5.0-litre unit from the SV-R) and get a suspension guru to unlock the clear potential left in the chassis. It could be a very effective road weapon.

The other one I’d gut and turn into a racer. With all that carbonfibre, I’m guessing it could be made quite light, and versions of that engine are known to be safe with huge power. And you already have the gearbox to take it. Even fully prepared, I’m sure it wouldn’t trouble the sharp end of a GT4 grid, but it would guarantee you entry into and gasps of astonishment from any GT race meeting for which it was eligible. In the world of gentleman drivers, that’s almost as good as a win.

As it stands, though, the MG SV is not much more than a curio, more memorable not for what it was but what it might have been. Which does, at least, provide one thing at which it is unrivalled: as a metaphor for the last years of MG Rover, nothing else gets close

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Comments
13

29 September 2013

had concentrated on replacing its core products, instead of wasting what little cash it had on vanity projects they might just have survived, and no I do not class the current MG cars as successors, they are cheap Chinese knock off trading on the back of a rich heritage.

29 September 2013

But making this car didn't break MG. It was already broken beyond repent.

The impression I've always had of this car is that it was nothing short of a hasty attempt to make MG look sporty. A desperate attempt to grab some headlines. And as such never a polished product.

Probably also to try and get you to forget that all of MG's products were lightly disguised Rovers. That they had nothing else in the pipe line to replace them. BMW left them with £ 500 million, and they managed to burn through that and still have nothing to show for it. How bad was Rover if even the likes of BMW couldn't turn them around? That even being left with that dowry couldn't save them?

29 September 2013
Citytiger wrote:

no I do not class the current MG cars as successors, they are cheap Chinese knock off trading on the back of a rich heritage.

Never have truer words been said of the current crop of "MG" cars.

 

I'm a disillusioned former Citroëniste.

29 September 2013

MG Rover's last days were a story of desperate times and even more desperate measures. In my opinion the 75/XT was a good car, it was the rest of the range that did it for MGR - 25/XR, 45/XS, CityRover etc. But Citytiger is spot on, the whole MG X-Power experiment - this SV included - was pure folly, It wasn't a case of MGR management standing and watching as Rome burnt, they were feeding the flames. Probably a good analogy for a group that called themselves the Phoenix Consortium. Shameful, really.

29 September 2013

I believe that much of the design work, for the current, Chinese MG's, is still done in little Britain...There was half a chance to sell the Rover group to Honda, at one time.

www.KOOOLcr.com

 

29 September 2013
kcrally wrote:

I believe that much of the design work, for the current, Chinese MG's, is still done in little Britain...There was half a chance to sell the Rover group to Honda, at one time.

Like you say, much of the current design work of the Chinese MG's was done in Britain, the problem is when was the last time Longbridge actually design a decent car, probably in the late 70's early 80's, and even then they where not exactly brilliant, since then bar the odd exception they have been built around or based on proven Honda mechanicals. The best thing for Rover would have been to be taken over by Honda.

30 September 2013
Citytiger wrote:
kcrally wrote:

I believe that much of the design work, for the current, Chinese MG's, is still done in little Britain...There was half a chance to sell the Rover group to Honda, at one time.

Like you say, much of the current design work of the Chinese MG's was done in Britain, the problem is when was the last time Longbridge actually design a decent car, probably in the late 70's early 80's, and even then they where not exactly brilliant, since then bar the odd exception they have been built around or based on proven Honda mechanicals. The best thing for Rover would have been to be taken over by Honda.

It would of been brilliant for rover to be taken over by Honda, but Honda weren't Rover and had their business heads firmly screwed on. Therefore it would of been a commercial sucide for Honda to take over rover. Far easier to milk the royalty payments, which they did very successfully over the years to the demise.

On the subject MG SV I think the project was great as at least they had a bit of fun making one last foray knowning that disaster was looming round the corner. The car wasn't anything special and although it probably did waste several million, but it was several million quicker to liquidation, which is worthy of praise!

29 September 2013

Indeed I've ran a couple of Rovers and the best was the 416 that was fitted with a Honda engine and gearbox that was a real pleasure to swap cogs with. Good engine too if a little high revving at motorway speeds.

 Offence can only be taken not given- so give it back!

29 September 2013

When you can't afford your own light units, the writing is on the wall.

Alfa, take note.

30 September 2013

£60K for an ancient mongrel or £10K for a Chinese doppelganger? ... I think the clever money goes on a proper MG or a decent car from a host of better alternative manufacturers ...

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