Sports car projects : MG EX234

The MG EX234 project was developed in 1964 as a proposed replacement for the MGB. Under the skin lurked some very interesting engineering solutions…

 The Pininfarina styled EX234 was particularly pretty from this view.

The Pininfarina-styled EX234 was particularly pretty from this view

The EX234 project was instigated in early 1964 when the Abingdon engineering team’s thoughts turned to the issue of revising the MGB in order to give it a degree of chassis civility. The story behind the car was simple really; there was a palpable level of disappointment with the MGB, not so much for its styling or performance, but with the suspension system.

The trouble was that the ‘B was designed around an independently sprung rear end but, due to time and cost factors, this arrangement could not be implemented. This meant that the familiar MGB live rear axle arrangement was employed. Effective it might have been, sophisticated, it was not, and many MG testers felt that the ‘B’s road manners had suffered accordingly.

Given that BMC’s product range was moving – wholescale – towards Hydrolastic, it was a logical conclusion that any independently sprung MG sports car would need to use this layout, in order to achieve economies of scale. The decision was made, therefore, to go down this route – and using the Austin Gipsy’s final drive layout along with the now-familiar Hydrolastic layout of the ADO16.

It was around this time that the decision was taken to drop the idea of updating the MGB’s suspension, but employ the layout in a new body. Now that EX234 could be considered an entirely new car, the next step was to expand the project’s remit and, if a range of engines could be offered (i.e., the A-Series as well as the B-Series), it could also be pressed into service as a Midget replacement, as well as a ‘B replacement.

Lotus Elan or Pininfarina MG? Either way, this deliciously proportioned convertible continued the family style defined by the Midget and the MGB

Lotus Elan or Pininfarina MG? Either way, this deliciously proportioned convertible continued the family style defined by the Midget and the MGB

Pininfarina was duly tasked with producing new bodywork and, with its characteristic efficiency, they put together a tidy looking car within a few short months. As can be seen from the accompanying photographs, the final Pininfarina EX234 was somewhat more compact looking than the MGB, and that was no doubt a decision taken purposefully in order to bridge the gap between the Midget and its larger brother.

The EX234 that came back from Italy was A-Series powered and, according to David Knowles’ book, MG The Untold Story, there was never any serious work undertaken on a 1.8-litre version of the car.

Still, the A-Series-powered, Hydrolastic-suspended sports car had a great deal of potential and, when finished, it acquitted itself very well with everyone who drove the car. Knowles’ book relates this: ‘Roy Brocklehurst took the EX234 prototype to Silverstone where, according to Jim Stimson, it was driven by a few trusted experts… including John Surtees. Roy said that they told him that they thought the roadholding was as good as any car they had driven.’

Certainly that indicates – yet again – the fundamental excellence of Alex Moulton’s Hydrolastic system.

In the end, the EX234 became a victim of other – more pressing – priorities within the company. The MGB and Midget were still selling well, especially in the USA, and as a result the development of the EX234 was put on the back-burner. By the time of the BMC-Leyland merger in 1968, the EX234 had pretty much gone the way of the dodo – which is a real shame, given its dynamic excellence. However, the concept of the Hydrolastic MG did not die, as the existence of the ADO21, which came along a few years later, demonstrates.

It was sold at the Bonhams auction at Goodwood on 24 June 2016 for £63,100, including premium.

Here’s what Bonhams said about the EX234 in advance of the sale

The unique car offered here is one of the many fascinating ‘might have beens’ in the history of the MG marque. Its planning began in 1964 when Abingdon’s engineers’ thoughts turned to a ‘next generation’ MGB that would have better chassis dynamics: specifically, the new car would incorporate the independent rear suspension intended for the original but abandoned as too expensive. Designer Syd Enever’s team was responsible for constructing the prototype, code named ‘EX234’, raiding the BMC parts bin for the 1,275cc A-Series engine and gearbox, Austin Champ rear axle, and Hydrolastic suspension units. Suspension was by upper and lower wishbones all round, steering was by rack and pinion, and there were disc brakes on all four wheels.

Once completed, the rolling chassis was despatched to Pininfarina in Italy for bodying, and the result contains hints of the master coachbuilder’s FIAT 124 Sport Spider and Alfa Romeo Duetto, while at the same time incorporating the sawn-off ‘Kamm’ tail that would later appear on the Alfa Romeo 1750. EX234 was intended to replace both the Midget and the MGB, and despite being more compact than the latter offered a more generously sized interior. The exterior trim on either side was different: one style being for the GT version, the other for the open roadster.

Back in the UK, EX234 was enthusiastically received by all who drove it. In his book ‘MG – The Untold Story’, David Knowles has this to say on the subject: ‘Roy Brocklehurst took the EX234 prototype to Silverstone where, according to Jim Stimson, it was driven by a few trusted experts… including John Surtees. Roy said they told him that the roadholding was as good as any car they had driven.’

So why didn’t EX234 make it into production? At the time of its inception both the Midget and the MGB were still selling well, and it was felt by senior management that there was no pressing need for a replacement. The project was shelved. Following BMC’s merger with Leyland to form British-Leyland, the balance of power shifted within the reconstituted group in favour of Triumph, at least as far as thoughts of a new sports car were concerned, and when the time came it was the Triumph TR7 that was chosen, despite the MG marque’s greater popularity in the USA, B-L’s most important export market.

In 1977, with only 100 miles on the odometer, EX234 was acquired by the long established MG dealer Syd Beer, becoming part of his MG Museum collection in Houghton, Cambridgeshire. While there it was driven by motoring journalist John Sprinzel, who had been a works MG driver back in the 1950s. In the resulting magazine article (copy on file) he observes that the Hydrolastic suspension ‘kept the car beautifully flat and smooth through the corners, with none of the usual lurch over uneven bits of the surface. There was also no rear-end steer, and I felt that even without any development input that the handling was far superior to the current Spridget.

‘The interior was vast, and for my six foot three inches of height, there was space for legs, knees, arms, and elbows. The small steering wheel was set amongst excellent instrumentation, and occupants were surrounded by interior trim far better than has been normal on Abingdon products, with comfortable seats and two compact extra back seats with better legroom than in the MGB GT. There was excellent visibility and really good braking…

‘All in all, I concluded my little road test by thinking this would have been a delightful successor to both the B and Midgets, with good looks, great performance, and probably the continued money-making record of many years of Abingdon sports cars.’

Offered for sale by the Beer Family Trust, this unique and historic MG prototype comes with a current MoT certificate, its original V5 registration document, and a copy of the original factory specification sheet. The car also comes with a factory hardtop, intended for use on the GT version, and has a folding convertible hood made of an attractive flocked material rather than the vinyl used for contemporary MGBs and Midgets.

MG EX234 (1) MG EX234 (2) MG EX234 (3) MG EX234 (4) MG EX234 (5) MG EX234 (6) MG EX234 (7) MG EX234 (8) MG EX234 (9)

Keith Adams

About the Author:

Created in 2001 and watched it steadily grow into AROnline. Is the Editor of Classic Car Weekly, and has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, Classic Car Weekly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, and the the Motoring Independent... Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasable adventures all across Europe.

27 Comments on "Sports car projects : MG EX234"

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  1. Paul S says:

    Does a prototype of EX 234 survive?

  2. Paul says:

    That rear drive Hydrolastic platform would surely have provided a far sounder basis for the ADO Marina – The economies of scale would no doubt have resulted in this sophisticated solution being more cost effective than putting the 1940s engineered Minor suspension back into mass production.

    • Kev says:

      Without realising it, you’re getting close to where ADO77 was heading. Sadly, because of the disaster that was SD1, the program was cancelled.

  3. Jemma says:

    I saw a gleaming MGB in black the other day, a convertible, and for the first time realised just how tiny they are, how come you could build a 4 seater with a perfectly adequate boot into a space half the height of a Focus with the roof up? More to the point why aren’t we doing it now? Even the MX5 is much bigger and wider.
    As to the prototype, the styling is ugly, not sure which is worse, the front end or the back which obviously nicked bits from the landrover parts bin.
    Why didn’t they re engineer the MGB chassis for Hydrolastic/hydrogas? I can’t imagine it would have been horribly difficult. More to the point now, why hasn’t someone found a way to convert the heritage bodys so you could have an option with the cart springs and an option with maybe the suspension off a terminally ill MGF/TF … That would surely be an interesting drive.

    • bartelbe says:

      The problem is safety, the MGB might as well be made of paper for all the crash protection it offers compared to a modern car.

      To make a car safe you need to absorb the energy of the crash somewhere other than where the driver and passengers are sitting. So you make a strong passenger cell, and surround it with weaker crumple zones in less critical areas that are designed to fail in a crash.

      These crumple zone take up space, as do side impact bars in the door, and other equipment like airbags. You couldn’t design a car as basic as an MGB or Midget, and be able to sell it legally.

  4. maestrowoff says:

    EX234 to me looks quite “feminine”, less sporty and aggressive than the MGB and more reminiscent of the Fiat 124 Spider.

  5. Nate says:

    Would it have been better to develop EX234 to replace both the Midget and MGB or instead sit in between both via Downton-tuned 83-106 hp 1.5-1.6 E-Series engines, while the MGB is uprated to a 106-127 hp 2.0-litre B/O-Series engine?

    Since the A-Series EX234 would inevitably be slower then the Midget even in Cooper S tune, while the B-Series in 1.8 form would likely not be much faster compared to the MGB. Also a pity the MGB never featured fully-independent suspension from the outset.

  6. christopher storey says:

    It looks quite pretty from the rear, but the front looks like an MGB which has been sat on. The problem sounds to me to have been that it fell between the B and the Spridget in size and thus met neither car’s requirements . Incidentally, Jemma’s remarks about the MGB being tiny are rather strange to me – the B has more legroom in it than any other car I can think of , and every time I get in mine I am suprised by how much more room there is than in my E types .

    I was also interested in the IRS suggestions . The tooling requirements would, I think, have been enormous and the results would not necessarily have been all that good when one considers the problems with the Spitfire’s rear suspension . The shame is that the parabolic springs which are now available for the B , and which give a dramatically better ride , were not fitted during the production run

  7. Jemma says:

    @ Christopher

    Put it next to even something focus, Accent, original Mondeo sized, and stand back. It must be 2ft lower and a foot narrower than even my accent, if it wasn’t for those side bars they fit on semi trailers nowadays you could change lanes by scooting underneath. Not in front of traffic police..
    I’m not sure what it is about the EX car that I really dislike but it’s definitely not an improvement on the B. Was there any reason why they didn’t keep using the MGA Twin Cam for the B, other than its habit of eating cams?
    Has anyone thought to do a engine swap compatibility list? Which engines use the same mounts, bell housings, clutch size etc? Metro turbo engine in a B could be interesting or in an MGA..

  8. christopher storey says:

    Ah , well I agree that modern cars are fat and tall by comparison ! The way cars have grown is extraordinary – I was looking yesterday at an Astra parked next to me, and it would have been a large(ish) car by the standards of the 1950s/early 60s. The twin cam had been abandoned long before the demise of the A, when the mark II went to 1622cc . The B is quite heavy, and needs torque , ( so the A series even turbocharged would fall a bit short of requirements , and certainly wouldn’t pull the axle ratios and overdrive on the MGB ) which was the reason for the engine’s stretch to 1798cc from 1622 . Nowadays , people stretch them to beyond 2 litres

  9. Hilton D says:

    @ Chris Storey… yes modern cars seem to grow with every new incarnation. The current Fiesta is about the same size as a MK1 Focus and the recent Astra’s are as big if not bigger than late 1960’s Victors. As for the Mondeo, it’s bigger than a Zodiac or MK1 Granada me thinks.

    • Will M says:


      Length 180 in
      Width 70.5 in

      Length 186 in
      Width 70.5 in

      Length 186.4 in
      Width 69.5 in


      Length 188.1 in (hatch, 190.7 for saloon)
      Width 74.3 in

      mk4 (current)
      Length 191.7 in
      Width 72.9 in

      • Paul says:

        Part of the reason the current Mondeo is so big is because its a global design hung around the Fusion from the land of the obese. Over there its considered “compact”. Surely Ford should have thought about renaming this car and producing it in up market trims only as a budget alternative to the likes of the Audi A6, adding something like a stretched Focus to the range as a 21st century Cortina. Ford who pioneered the C/D class in the 1960’s with that car now have a chasm between the Focus and Mondeo as big as that between the Anglia and Zephyr.

  10. Hilton D says:

    Thanks Will… those dimensions say it all.

  11. Tony Evans says:

    One of the very simple reasons that cars are bigger is the increased safety standards. My old MG Midget had doors 3″ thick. In a side impact your were a goner. Same with the MGB and any other early 1960s car.

    My current MX5 has side impact protection beams, airbags, crumple zones etc, not to mention ABS, catalytic converter, PAS etc. [And a decent heater]. It is also a darn sight more comfortable than an MGB.

    In any significant crash, I would rather be in my MX5 than an MGB. no contest.

    Length 3,886 mm (153.0 in)
    4,019 mm (158.2 in) rubber bumper version

    Width 1,524 mm (60.0 in)

    Height 1,219 mm (48.0 in)
    1,295 mm (51.0 in) rubber bumper version

    MX5 Mk1
    Length 3,950 mm (155.5 in)
    Width 1,675 mm (65.9 in)
    Height 1,230 mm (48.4 in)

    MX5 Mk3
    Length 4,000 mm (157.5in)
    Width 1,720 mm (67.7 in)
    Height 1,240 mm (48.8 in)

    Food for thought.

  12. Ian Elliott says:

    To get back to the subject of EX234, this was one of the cars that MG hid in their boiler house during the Stokes era, in case he decreed that it should be scrapped. (A lot of things were hidden away from Stokes, ranging from prototypes to Lord Austin’s Office in preservation at Longbridge!) EX234 eventually went into Syd Beer’s MG collection, maybe it’s still there?

  13. Glenn Aylett says:

    @ Tony Evans, add in a hard, non collapsible steering column, protruding switches, no compulsory fitting of seatbelts until 1965 and brakes without servo assistance, and you stand a far greater chance of being killed or seriously injured in a mid sixties car than one from the 21st century. Yet it had to be said, most motorists survived the sixties with no mishaps and looking at that MG is far more interesting than yet another crossover from Ford. I’d deffo go back to the era of British made sports cars from MG and Triumph, but with modern driving abilities and safety.

  14. Richard Wheeler says:

    The MG EX234 is due to be auctioned at the Bonhams sale on June 24th 2016 at the Goodwood Festival of Speed.Here is the link:

  15. christopher storey says:

    I’m not quite sure why you regard brakes without servo assistance as being a safety demerit. They produce far better feel, are just as powerful, albeit requiring more pedal pressure, and best of all are not vulnerable to failure of the servo unit , which if it occurs can take you rather by surprise. Also, I wonder how many people ever suffered any injury from switches ? They are not in front of either driver or passenger . By the same token , a previous reference to side impact bars seems to me to offer a completely illusory notion of safety – quite how a piece of thin mild steel can dissipate the very considerable energy possessed by a car intruding into the door is something which has always baffled me. It must, of course, make some difference , but the difference seems to me to be likely to be minimal ( and of course side impacts are historically the most lethal)

    • Kev says:

      It would be instructive for you to search out and study the head impact regulations for both Europe and the USA. Switches are very much included in the head impact zones.

      The intrusion beams in modern car doors are not there to absorb side impact loads. They exist to transfer those loads into the body structure. In the case of front door beams, into the A and B posts. The structure absorbs the impact so that you don’t.

  16. JH Gillson says:

    Makes you wonder if BL couldn’t have save itself a fortune on the TR7/Lynx and its associated factory by simply upgrading the B with a coil-sprung live rear axle – which Mr Knowles tells us it was meant to have had before reverting to leaf springs at the eleventh hour – and then plumbing in the Triumph slant four. Maybe carry forward the MGC’s torsion bar front suspension too – it made fitment of the Rover V8 so much the easier.

  17. Graham says:

    @JH Gillson

    Certainly a very possible thing to do as the MG owners Club cells a kit that does exactly that along with a limited slip diff, power steering and much improved development of the much improved front end from the RV8.

    One could have imagined the MGB being developed with O Series and T Series and of course the Rover V8.

    But none of this could and would have happened, because the future sports Car Brand for British Leyland was Triumph, in principal they were right, the MGB was tired and Triumph was the better regarded brand than MG in the US. The original Triumph plans for a Roadster, Coupe and 2+2 GTE with a 2 litre 4 and a 3 Litre V8 was bang on what was needed.

    The problem was that the resulting TR7 was badly styled, under developed and the badly built like so many of the British Leyland products of the 70s.

  18. Richard Wheeler says:

    The July edition of Classic & Sports Car magazine (On sale from the 2nd June) has a fully illustrated 6 page feature all about the MG EX234.Its well worth a read.

  19. John Binden says:

    A stolen version of that C&SC article can be found here:


  20. Ian Parker says:

    Very nice design indeed extremely elegant compared to the TR7, another missed opportunity

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