The MG DR2/PR5 was created as a modern-day reboot of the Austin-Healey 3000 or MGC – an open-topped, two-seater, multi-cylinder sports car.
Its conception and development process was an interesting process and proof that Rover’s Design Studio in Canley was capable of producing some very interesting ideas. Getting them off the ground was always the issue.
MG DR2/PR5: made for America
Throughout the mid- to late-’80s, the Austin Rover Design Studio produced several MG sports car mock-ups, most of which came to nought. They primarily investigated a new Midget or a replacement for the B nicknamed F16, but nothing was off the table when it came to creating interesting design concepts.
Things became more serious following the launch of the Mazda MX-5 in 1989, and Rover’s management finally realised there was genuine money to be made in open-tops. That led to a project to investigate the viability of a number of sports car ideas, including an entry-level model, a mass-market B replacement and even a halo project aimed at the upper end of the market.
The impact of the Mazda MX-5
Now Rover’s management had finally woken up to the huge potential for the MG marque beyond the badge-engineered saloons that it had been building since the arrival of the Metro – the proposals were developed. Gordon Sked’s reported reaction at his first sight of the Mazda MX-5 – he felt like crying when he saw the new car – and the subsequent positive greeting from the press and public, proved the Designers had been right all along about the potential of MG.
Under British Aerospace, money was tight, so whatever sports cars were produced would have to be in a cost-effective manner. A number of projects began to fruit, and it was at this time that they were put under the auspices of Rover Special Products, where prototype development and engineering were farmed out to external agencies such as MGA Developments Limited, Design Research Associates (DRA) and Automotive Development Consultants (ADC).
This proposal for a range-topping sports car conceived at Canley led to Roy Axe‘s DRA operation being commissioned to create a full-sized model. This car was targeted at the USA as MG’s big return stateside to bolster sales of the mass-market MGF by creating an exciting new halo model.
From Midget to Healey
We know the rest. The MGF won out and was forwarded for production, but not before this interesting sports car, codenamed DR2, was sketched out by Canley in late 1989. As Roy Axe told AROnline in 2003, the car had been ambiguously styled as an MG or Austin-Healey, as the revival of both were seriously considered during the development of the sports car portfolio. So, the adoption of a drooping side feature line could have been a Healey signature, but the curvaceous front end was very much cast in the MG mould.
As for the prototype (above), it was shaped in clay in the studio, was approved by Rover for further investigation, and passed back to DRA to build into a running concept. Roy confirmed that the engineering team visited a local TVR agent, and bought what was described as a near-concours example of a Tasmin 350i roadster. ‘I didn’t have the heart to tell the salesman what we had planned for it,’ he laughed.
When the TVR returned to engineering, it was stripped down to be used as the donor car, and the Axe-penned body was fitted on to its tubular chassis. The interior is straight out of the TVR, not the one that Axe had designed, as was the running gear. With its Rover V8 and rea- wheel drive, it was fun to drive in the traditional way. However, following a management ride ‘n’ drive exercise, and Rover’s subsequent pull-out of the American market after 1991, the car lost out in favour of the mid-engined MGF, which had been developed into an interesting mid-engined roadster.
By this time, the DR2 had been renamed the PR5 (for Phoenix Route) to slip into a short-lived programme for the rebirth of the MG marque. The running prototype remains at the British Motor Museum at Gaydon (below).