22 November 2004

Two new coupés, one based on the MG TF, the other on the Rover 75, have been revealed by MG Rover in a surprise double-headed announcement. The cars, both described as concepts but both feasible for production, are timed to coincide with the two marque anniversaries the company celebrates this year – Rover’s centenary and MG’s 80th year. The two new coupés are intended to demonstrate that, besides its headline plan to develop an all-new range of models in partnership with giant Chinese conglomerate Shanghai Automotive, MG Rover also has an eye on developing its existing models in imaginative and emotive ways. It believes such cars could well find buyers in Chinese and in Far Eastern export markets, as well as Europe. For now, MG Rover won’t commit to production plans for the two cars, but is concentrating instead on developing them into full, working prototypes. However, it admits both coupés have been created with maximum use of existing production components, and to comply with current legislation. The true future of the cars, as ever, will depend on their public reception.

MG GT Coupé

Considering its ultra-close relationship with the TF roadster, it’s remarkable how much MG’s new GT coupé looks like an all-new car. Its pretty fixed roof and new window shapes look exactly as if the car was always designed to have them. They give the MG a ‘face’ it never had before, and despite the car’s compact size make it seem both more expensive and more ‘grown-up’ than the TF. In the metal, the GT seems to be a credible Audi TT rival, which puts its notional entry price in the mid-£20,000 region, and would push it over £30,000 for the best-equipped versions.

The styling is exclusively the work of MG Rover’s in-house design department led by Peter Stevens – famous for shaping several Lotus models and the McLaren F1 supercar, among many other projects. Like its Rover 75-derived sibling, the car was built in just six weeks. It has a composite roof panel which incorporates a second, smaller side-window on each side behind each door, and a neat, curved rear window which gives the GT a completely new look,while allowing the existing TF bootlid and rear wings to be used. Access to the mid-mounted engine is via the usual access panel ahead of the boot, now inside the cabin. ‘We even use the same piece of carpet on the cover itself,’ said Stevens, who knows the car’s chances of production rest on reducing its need for unique and costly parts.

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

Therefore bumpers and body panels are mostly unaltered from a standard TF, and the windscreen rake and pillars are identical. Only the windscreen top rail is altered, to meet the roof panel neatly. The GT’s front bumper incorporates a new front splitter, and the bootlid spoiler is extended rearwards to balance it. MG Rover claims the GT’s co-efficient drag factor is 0.31, as opposed to the TF’s 0.36. The car rides on 17in smoke-finished OZ alloy wheels, but there are no significant suspension mods. The exterior mirrors (which incorporate the side repeater lights) have racy-looking twin-strut mountings. There are no exterior doorhandles; an electric door-release button sits under each outside mirror. The interior has a bold new colour scheme but echoes that of the latest TF roadsters. It incorporates a pair of sturdy roll-hoops, optional on the standard car. The GT is proposed with a sportier version of MG Rover’s proven 2.5-litre quad-cam KV6 engine, tuned to deliver around 200bhp. With that power it could turn a 0-60mph time below 6.0sec and reach 145mph, according to engineering director Rob Oldaker. Oldaker says MG Rover hasn’t built its own KV6 prototype yet but it has been keeping tabs on a privately-engineered V6 TF, whose sub-1200kg kerb weight is lower than most cars of its size and power. However, shoe-horning the V6 into a TF body would present considerable challenges because fuel capacity would be seriously limited. Previous investigations have shown that an ideal installation would lengthen the car several inches, requiring new panels, a new fuel tank, and perhaps expensive new crash testing. One handy option might be to adopt a new 2.0-litre K-series four-cylinder engine (so far used only in racing) which would weigh less and bolt straight in.

According to Oldaker, the addition of a fixed-head MG could well suit the brand’s marketing aspirations. Sales of Audi’s TT coupé account for around 50 per cent of the model’s total volume, he says, and are especially popular in hotter climates. A fixed-head MG TF, aspirationally styled and cheaply engineered, could help to bring its hard-pressed manufacturer a handy volume of incremental sales. Rover 75 Coupé

For all the reinvention of Rover’s core values in the marque’s 100 years of widely disparate ownership, the things that matter – ‘Britishness’, a certain understated elegance and an exceptionally comfortable cabin – have remained remarkably unmolested.

That’s why this new concept for a Rover 75 Coupé works surprisingly well. The car, conceived and built by designer Stevens’ in-house team in the same flurry of extreme productivity that has lately produced the MG GT and the MG SV-R, cleverly demonstrates how convincing – and perhaps how saleable – Rover’s original values remain.

The task, MG Rover bosses decided, was to mark Rover’s first 100 years with a stylish new design that would sit confidently with renowned Rovers of the past like the P4, the handsome P5 Coupé (Rover 3500), the innovative P6 (the Rover 2000) and the bold Rover SD1 hatchback. The way to do that, Stevens decided, was to produce an unashamedly beautiful car, rather than an aggressive one.

‘I want people to turn away for a moment from post-modern brutalism and enjoy the Coupé’s elegant and timeless lines,’ said Stevens. ‘The true character of a Rover comes from its ability to present a cosseting environment with comfort and refinement as high priorities. Those values should be conveyed in the form and detailing of the car’s exterior, and that’s what we’ve tried hard to do.’

The prototype is closely based on a standard steel-bodied Rover 75 saloon. Its wheelbase and overall length are unaltered, yet it looks surprisingly small and taut, and impressively well-proportioned for a relatively long-wheelbase two-door. The prototype is built entirely in steel, with lengthened doors and a roof and which integrates neatly into a new, large rear window, ahead of the standard saloon’s bootlid. Though it appears to be pillarless, the Coupé incorporates a stock saloon B-pillar (taken from the 75 production line) to make sure its windows work and its doors anchor securely into production-quality doorlocks. As with the MG GT, Stevens knows the car will only stand a chance of production if it can be easily manufactured.

The car incorporates Rover’s controversial corporate grille from the V8, which extends downwards below the front number plate. Its front and rear bumpers are standard. Subtle brightwork has been designed to surround the side windows, and the countersunk styling line along the side, just below the waistline, has been raised a little at the rear to cope with the steeply raked rear screen and the fact that the Coupé’s overall height is about 50mm lower than the saloon’s. The seats will be lowered a little, too, so that a production version would offer the same front and rear passenger space as a saloon. The coupé rides about 20mm lower than the saloon, but is otherwise standard underneath. Chunky but restrained 19in five-spoke alloy wheels, described as ‘not too radical’ by Stevens, fill the arches, and twin exhausts emphasise the fact that it could be built either as a front-wheel-drive car or with the rear-drive layout of the Rover V8 and MG ZT260.

Given the relatively low volumes expected of the car, the rear-drive application seems more likely in production, though MG Rover bosses admit the Coupé is less likely to find its way into production than the MG GT. But Stevens insists on the value of the coupé exercise, whatever its production future. ‘Heritage is a great strength for a marque as it gives you terms of reference, something to build on for the future,’ he said.

MG SV-R ‘Club Sport’

MG’s second anniversary offering is this thundering SV-R, a ‘Club Sport’ version of the carbon-bodied, V8-engined SV Coupé launched early this year in 4.6-litre 320bhp form. The SV-R has a 5.0-litre, 385bhp version of the same four-cam Ford V8. It also has bigger brakes, lowered and stiffened suspension, 20in wheels, a distinctly urgent shade of metallic orange and an all-black leather interior. The car’s official price has been announced at £89,250, but each car in production is likely to be different, so the actual cost will depend greatly on the depth of specification.

The idea behind the SV-R, MG bosses have said, is to stress this rapid MG’s credentials as a track-day car, and to emphasise the car’s potential in racing codes like the British GT championship. The company’s manufacturer, MG Sport & Racing, whose HQ is outside MG Rover’s Longbridge HQ, is believed to have several racing teams interested in campaigning an SV-R in 2005. In road-going form, the car runs a 0-60mph time of around 5.0sec, and tops 175mph flat out. The SV began life as a de Tomaso in Italy, but when that company ran into trouble it was taken over by Qvale, who put it into production it for a short time in 2000 as the Qvale Mangusta. Then MG Rover bought Qvale, and the car began a difficult four-year process of re-skinning and rethinking before emerging earlier this year as the MG SV, the fastest and biggest-capacity production MG ever built.

Add your comment

Log in or register to post comments

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week