Ben Richards has MG running through his veins. He’s also a very talented design graduate who decided it was time to design a new one of his own.
Here’s his story, in his own words, and also what it takes to design a new coupe. But will it lead to a future in the motor industry? Let’s hope!
University Design Project – MG 8 Coupe
Since a young age, I’ve always had an obsession with cars. When asked what I wanted to do when I was older the answer was always “I want to make cars”. As I grew older, the understanding of the career I wanted transformed the answer to ‘I want to design cars’. I worked my way through the early stages of my education with that clear goal in mind – no need for careers advisers, I knew where I was going, what courses to take and where.
University was the beginning of the realisation of my ambition. For the first time I could spend whole days just drawing cars, and not just at home. I could talk to like-minded people who were as enthusiastic about cars as I was. It’s probably worth mentioning at this point that I went to Swansea Metropolitan University – I find a lot of people when presented with a Car Design student assume they went to Coventry! I learned about the various aspects of vehicle design, packaging etc. I even remember doing a presentation about the ergonomic strengths and weaknesses of my Rover 25!
During my first two years at the University, I quite often saw the third year students in the workshops building their final year models. It was something that I couldn’t wait to do myself and I already knew pretty much what I wanted to do. That brings me neatly on to the object of my automotive obsession, MG.
It was an odd one to explain. My dad had never owned them (although he did have two Austin Montegos and a Rover 214), and I can’t recall any family or friends owning them. I just liked them and, having liked them all my life, I knew I had to do an MG for my final year project. During my time at University I was well known as being the MG fan, many laughed and joked, and an untimely Head Gasket Failure on the 25 certainly helped pour fuel on the bonfire! I put up with it though because it was just banter and it’s what I’m in to. I can tell you nobody had or needed to ask me what my third year project would be, they could guess quite easily.
First and second years passed, all shapes and sizes of cars covered, and at one point even boats, the time had come. We were given submission forms and would have a meeting with our tutor regarding what we wanted to do in order to get it signed off. By this time, MG itself had been resurrected by NAC, and later SAIC. This helped me in some respect as, by looking at the concepts, it gave me something to align my concept to, so that it did not look completely out of context.
I wanted to create a flagship model for the brand. Something that was sporting, but had a sense of elegance about it. I deliberately avoided the idea of doing a some form of supercar, aside from the fact it just wouldn’t fit, suggesting I do a super-hyper track machine with a million horsepower and flames coming out the back just isn’t my thing. It lacks a bit of thought in my opinion.
My idea was to create a flagship four seater coupe for the MG brand – something to rival the likes of Audi’s A5 and BMW’s 6-Series. After what was possibly the shortest meeting with a tutor ever – I think he could have even filled the form out for me to some extent – the idea was signed off and I could get started.
I got my general proportions by taking the dimensions of all the competitors in the sector and averaged them out. These were never to be the final dimensions of the vehicle, merely a base to get me started on the sketchwork. It was always a given the car would morph and change during the various stages of its development. I relentlessly knocked out side profile after side profile, endlessly altering shape, proportion and plenty of other details – experimenting with different combinations of ideas.
More tutor meetings came and went and the general consensus was positive. I scanned an agreed initial side profile into CAD and just made up a basic shape of the vehicle in order to print off and use as an underlay for three quarter view sketchwork. I also researched MGs of the past, present and future and tried to recreate some design cues onto this concept. Particular influences include the MG EXE, with its low front and high back end, but I also looked at features of the MG6 and Zero Concept.
I carried on sketching, eventually getting to a point where I was happy with the initial idea that I had created and it was time to move on to the next step. This was to create an orthographic front, side, rear, and top view drawing of the vehicle in tenth scale. This would eventually be used as a template and a reference for when I started to make my quarter scale clay model.
I spent roughly three days at the drawing board, ensuring that the design would work on a three dimensional model. I plotted sections across each view of the vehicle, which I could later use as templates for the basic shape of the 3D interpretation. After a presentation declaring my intentions and the orthographic complete, the project was signed off and ready to go into the modelling stage.
First of all, the finalised orthographic drawing was scanned in and blown up so that the image was quarter scale size. I had two of these printed – one was pinned up and used for reference while the other was cut up and used to create the templates for the sections that I had plotted in. I had been provided with a table, which was marked with a grid of 100mm squares, so this would allow continuity between the measurements on the drawing and the measurements of the model.
I made a base for the vehicle, made from MDF, and set to the ride height of the design. Once secured into place I could start glueing polystyrene foam to it. This was then shaped back to the rough shape of the vehicle, but 15 to 20mm smaller around all surfaces. This would be taken up by the clay, this was applied thinly all over the model first of all. Then the sections that I had made were clamped into place and I then built the clay up to the edge dictated by those sections.
Once the sections were removed, the build up of clay in those places had effectively split the car up into eight sections. These were then built up one by one, until eventually the loading of the clay was complete and I could start surfacing. To do this I took points off the drawing and plotted them onto the model – I marked styling lines and creases etc, with low tack 4mm tape so that I knew where to surface. This is where reality struck and taught me a lesson regarding my design work. In the past, I would create sketches without much regard for how easily it would actually translate into 3D. I would just innocently cast pen to paper and assume it could be done.
Doing this model taught me how significant even a basic line on a drawing is in real life, how it can quite drastically affect the form of the vehicle to the point it can just look completely incorrect. I was certainly an insight into the world of concept model making. Generally though, in my mind, things were going well and the vehicle was starting to take shape in some areas. Then there was another review.
That didn’t go well. The tutors weren’t convinced. General thought was that the idea was dated and some elements just didn’t work. I protested to some extent and pointed out via research that the things that I had done had reasoning behind them. That wasn’t accepted and a rethink was required. Honestly, by the time I got out of that room I just wanted to bin the model. I’d worked hard up to this point and being knocked back like that was humiliating. I went home, took a couple of days out and got my thoughts together. I got more feedback from the review, the form was generally okay, but most of the features needed work.
I started sketching again and it didn’t take me long to realise the tutors were right. I could do better. I knocked up a rough three quarter sketch and took it in to the workshop to see what I could do. It was a massive improvement straight away and certainly what it needed.
I carried on, experimenting further with some features to see what would work best – one thing I loved about the clay was that I could alter surfaces infinitely without it being too much of a pain. An informal review resulted in happier tutors and I continued on my way.
Eventually, I had everything on one side roughed in and it was time to start transferring these features over to the other side of the model. This involved a bridge structure that straddled the model and could be moved back and forth depending on where I was working. Vernier gauges, profile gauges, adjustable right angles and many, many rulers were also in use during this stage. Points would be taken in 50mm squares over one side of the vehicle and then plotted on to the other side. Points were built up using clay and marked at the correct position using correction fluid. For more intricate features, more points were taken to aid the translation to the other side.
That stage took roughly two weeks alone. Once it was complete the surfacing of the car was refined as a whole. I then applied modelling film, which had been painted in Nightfire Red. I also borrowed a friend’s painted Silver. This was done to inspect reflections and light lines on the vehicle to ensure nothing would look odd or out of place on the finished, painted model.
Once I was happy with this, the model was refined further and then flipped upside down to tidy up underneath. Final surfacing refinement was carried out using small fine slicks. On inspection by the clay modelling technician, the model was complete and ready for the next step.
The clay was to be used as a tool to create a mould for a GRP body. This was my first experience with using fibreglass and I had my reservations – in particular, I did not want to ruin several months of hard work put into the clay to end up with nothing. I was reassured by the workshop technicians and with their guidance made a start.
The clay was sprayed with a blue substance which in this case would act as a release agent in order for us to release the mould. Once this was dry the car was shuttered off into sections, this was to be a seven part mould. The shuttering was excess lengths clay pinned to the model using bicycle spokes. It was quite gut wrenching poking those into my model! Once that was done I could get started, doing each section one by one applying gel coat and two different grades of matting.
This seemed to go well and my confidence was building. Once all the sections were complete, it was trimmed to make it a little less awkward to handle and each part of the mould was released individually.
I use the term “released” very loosely! What was involved was several mallets, wedges and a drill – by the end of the torture the clay was utterly destroyed. However, the good news was it had provided a good mould so it had done the job it was intended for. The mould was reconstructed, cleaned with a pressure washer and then release wax was applied in readiness for the fibreglass of the final body.
Doing the final body was a far quicker process and was done within a few hours. It was the height of summer and it was hot with low humidity. The body cured remarkably quickly. Release of the body was a mildly easier process, with only one small blemish to repair on the front end. Once that was sorted, it was sent off to a local bodyshop to be painted.
Going to pick the body up from the shop was quite exciting, I was amazed at the job they had done and never imagined it was going to look as good as it did. I took it back home and started applying vinyls I had drawn up and cut for the windows, lights and various other details and trim. During this time I also got the wheels sorted – the tyre section was made from MDF, cut and shaped on a lathe, while the “alloy” inners were rapid prototyped from a design I had drawn and made on the University’s Prototyping Machine. The MDF was primed and then painted by myself, as were the inners which were resin casts of the prototypes in order to create a set of four. They were painted Gunmetal Grey, with black enamel sections – this was inspired by the Rostyle wheels of the MGBs.
The model was now complete and to my eyes it looked awesome. To me it is what I feel a modern MG should look like and has an aggressive stance, with sporting qualities and a general whiff of elegance. I was proud of the result and it was an immensely enjoyable process to make something that I had thought of and then drawn, to life. The car went on display at the Graduation Exhibition at Swansea Waterfront Museum, I had my final assessment and then it was all over.
Results day came, I was extremely nervous. All I had to do was log in to the University website. I got a 2:2 with Honours. To say I was gutted was an understatement, knowing that the majority of employers look for 2:1 and above I thought my shot at the car industry was over.
Luckily I was wrong. My model was spotted by a company that creates models and concept vehicles for manufacturers. They took me on for just over a month on a temporary basis, to help out on jobs they had going. Two months after I had finished I was taken back on. Generally, it was good – there were ups and downs, but overall I enjoyed what I was doing. Unfortunately though, in October 2012, I was made redundant and, bar a seasonal retailing job over Christmas, I find myself back out of the Car Industry.
I’ve been on the hunt for a new position ever since. I know my design work isn’t quite on par with others although I still enjoy sketching, but I love the model making aspect, so that’s the kind of position I’m searching for, particularly clay-based positions. The rejection is tough and I’ve thought about giving up and trying something else numerous times.
My ambition has always been to work at MG as it is a brand I have always been passionate about. I’ve sent portfolios to SAIC Motor UK among others, but they have nothing available for me. Part of me though makes me want it more every time I get turned down, just to make a point.
I’m keeping at it. I know deep down I’ll be back. It’s just a matter of time…
Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...
Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.