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 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.
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.