Concepts and prototypes : MG DR2/PR5 (1989-1991)

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

MG DR2/PR5 at the Canley Design Studio’s viewing garden

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).

MG Dr2/PR5

Keith Adams
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  1. I saw this concept at Gaydon yesterday and it really does look fantastic. Seemed to have a very Jaguar look to me, but maybe it just shares features with the later XK8. Would have loved to have seen it make it beyond this stage. With a KV6 and RWD it could have been fantastic.

  2. The dopey Leyland management seemed incapable of realizing their biggest customers for MG’s was America. The imbeciles must have been typical Brits with an uneducated anti American attitude. Hundreds of thousands of MGA & MGB sold to America and Leyland close the shop in favor of a Euro Market toy car MGF/TF. Too delicate and too complicated for the Yanks who were used to lifting the hood and fixing the crap Lucas electrics or unsticking the flooded SU’s. Complete IMBECILES.

  3. #2. You seem to have little or no idea about the difficulties of selling into the US market in the late 1960s/early 1970s, when the move to outlaw open cars was at its height , and when the whole concept of low slung sports cars was threatened by the bumper height and headlamp height regulations . Furthermore, some 13 years elapsed between the demise of the MGB and the introduction of the MGF . You are also rather too free with your use of the word Imbecile . Life is not quite so simple as you perceive it to be

    • Totally agree, even though my reply is somewhat late to the party, the MGf/MGTf was right up to its demise a massive seller for the brand, and remained as one of Europe’s best selling convertible cars for its entire cycle.

  4. those examples above are both nice looking cars for the time its a shame they didn’t make them, then again its s shame jag didn’t make a short tail xj40 and a station wagon XJ40 and the MG6 don’t make a wagon now… make you wonder what these companies think with sometimes if only they thought like most men do….rather than….ok ill stop now.. alex

    • Yes it is a shame that JAGUAR didn’t make a derivative of the XJ220, which they couldn’t sell after the massive change in development, which was down to FORD, as they were by then under the FORD brand umbrella and were previously a separate stock listed company, so in essence had no connection to the corporate side of BL/AR etc…. The MG6 was a poor car, thats not a judgement on the car, it just was the wrong car at the wrong time, they needed to get the volume one out first, the MG3, get that running, then maybe the MG5, before bringing a very low selling car to market, as, by that time SUV’s were flying out the door, and MG Needed to get a reputation.

      This reputation is now well on its way, and with the demise of ICE cars, MG are well placed to get in first (as a mainstream brand) to get all their cars changed over to EV, they even had the EV city Car the ZERO, so that could in reality pop back.

  5. It does almost make you cry. Especially the red car. They could have produced this – instead they came up with the short squat, looks like it was designed by a CorsaChav MGF. From grace to gurn in one decision. And didn’t they have the KV6 kicking around by that point? Or am I too early. Even the 2.0 16v turbo as mentioned re the 800 could have made a good fit… Even Chrysler could manage it. 3.2 v6 for the home market 2.4 for the UK in the Plymouth. Hell if they were really desperate – dredge up the 2.2E6 and slap a turbo or two on that (with maybe a 18v or 24v head) – smooth as silk and goes like a rocket.. Just don’t tell them they’ve just bought half a landcrab..

  6. A nice looking car that, I imagine it would have been at a significantly higher price point than the MGF, and is almost too up large and upmarket for an MG (that long bonnet!), and more an Austin Healey or even a TR!

  7. I think they should have built this instead of the MG RV8. Retain the Rover V8 and sell it through Range Rover dealers in the US. TVR could surely build them 500 a year, a halo car to keep the dealers happy

    • They couldn’t even build their own cars, hence the bankruptcy, sale to the Russians, failure, re purchase by the Brits and total disaster in the way the BLMC management used to behave, with the return of the Carry on Franchise, this could be a perfect fit for them…

  8. I’ve never seen this before what a great design it is.a muscular successor to the much loved Austin Healey 3000 or to the rather less lamented MGC ,the spirit of the brawny sports car was taken up by Mitsubishi,Nissan & Toyota with the 3000GT,300ZX and the Supra. Now all that is left is the Nissan 370Z (I don’t count the latest Supra as it’s far too much BMW for my taste) and Nissan isn’t going to import the new 400Z to Europe that ends another chapter in car history

    • And where did you get this snippet of info, i have read nowhere that the 400Z is not coming to Europe, and my dealer has already seen video of it, would not let me see it though, but says it is stunning, and will be a great sellier, along with the new GT-R, two Halo models for the company thats sales have fallen through the floor.. with a drop in market share by 2 percentage points in four years, for the UK alone.

  9. I agree with Stephen Daniel – would sell but in low volume so better to subcon it to a specialist under close Rover supervision like TVR or Reliant and use low volume technology? Remember they made 2,000 MGRV8’s and had to export 1,800 to Japan since they didn’t sell in the UK despite a vocal MG owners club….

  10. Concept cars were fun and could be made at low cost in a factory unit. Even today when original designs can be built on computer and translated into physical prototypes, there are complex and vastly expensive processes to go through to bring a car to market. Some factors to estimate accurately would include production investment, break-even volume at all levels, level of distribution, selling costs, likely volume and so on. Then there is the task of making all these factors add up to profit contribution which generally is measured in fractions of a percent.

    I estimate around 50% of new cars never get to the estimated profit contribution over a realistic time-span. When the car first hits the showroom, the manufacturer may find it impossible to make sufficient volume of the new highly desirable car, or it may turn out to be a total lemon due to unforeseen factors totally outside their control. Then consumers are remarkably prejudiced, ill-informed and fickle – refer the current UK crisese.

    This is why investing in the motor industry is only for those happy to burn billions to gain millions, why manufacturers fail, and why only the boldest, brightest gamblers such as Ghosn succeed and myopically optimistic projects such as the Dyson eventually get pulled.

    So, a lovely design but as the main market was the USA, it was far, far too risky to stand any realistic chance of achieving break-even volume.

    • Halo cars are free marketing. You build 500 a year, lose say 20k on each, that’s 10 million. What does that buy you in the LA media market? Not much. vs 500 happy influencers singing your praises and showing off to their friends in Beverley Hills then sniffing round the nearest Range Rover dealership.

      • The Chevrolet Corvette started like this to get prospective buyers into the show rooms, with any sales being a bonus.

        Only it turned out there was an untapped market for sporty cars that could be repaired by amateur mechanics or at any small town dealerships, as most imported sports cars at the time were a challenge to own away from the big cities.

  11. I seem to remember reading in CAR around the time that a big rwd sportscar based on the Scimitar with Rover V8 power was being investigated. Is this a different project or related?

  12. Buyers wanting a 6-cylinder roadster a la big Healey could buy a BMW Z3 from 1995-on. That was fairly successful in the US – it was built there and didn’t use any ‘low-volume technology’.

  13. This is utterly gorgeous. Can’t help but feel they called it spot on building the RV8 instead though. Same kind of headlines, halo effect and brand reinvigoration at a fraction of the cost. For what it’s worth I felt the MGF was a pretty good flanking attack on the MX5 – going head to head with an FR roadster would have been (to quote Sir Humphrey), most brave.

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