MG Rover was keen to obtain the rights to other manufacturers’ vehicles and re-brand them as its own. We had the CityRover, but we could have ended up with this MG-badged SsangYong Rexton had the time and money not run out.
Keith Adams tells the story of the car – and talks to Peter Stevens, the legendary Designer charged with creating it in days…
MG Rexton: The Land Rover rival that couldn’t
It’s fairly common knowledge within the industry that, when BMW and Rover cut their ties in 2000, a certain number of conditions were imposed about the future use of certain marque names. For one, BMW decided to allow MG Rover to use the Rover marque name on its own terms – by licensing it to the British company.
Although, outwardly, this might seem like a strange decision, there was a sensible reason for it. In order to make its books appear to balance more favourably following its British adventure with Rover between 1994 and 2000, BMW decided that it couldn’t keep hold of Land Rover and so sold the Solihull company to Ford for a whopping £1.6bn.
In order to protect Ford from MG Rover producing a rival off-roader, one stipulation of the convoluted licensing deal involving the Rover marque was that Longbridge could not produce an off-roader or four-wheel -rive car bearing the Rover name. After all, customers in international markets might confuse a Land Rover 4×4 with a Rover 4×4 – and, if you think that sounds implausible, remember that, in the USA, most drivers call their Rangies ‘Rovers’…
However, the restriction did not deter MG Rover from looking at some alternatives during its five-year run. The main source of new metal for MG Rover would come from collaboration with other manufacturers – and producing MGR versions of vehicles already in production. This thinking clearly resulted in the CityRover and MG XPower SV, but could also have produced a number of other interesting vehicles.
Here are just seven cars that could have become MG Rovers – and those are the ones that we know about:
- Matra M72
- Renault Espace
- Fiat Stilo
- Proton Gen2
- Fiat Multipla
- Lancia Musa
- A great little mid-engined Tata Indica with MG TF 180 running gear
Why the SsangYong Rexton?
Another car that was seriously evaluated at Longbridge was the SsangYong Rexton but, because of the no 4×4 stipulation from BMW, it would have had to be badged as an MG. Given that marque’s sporting heritage, there’s no doubt that an off-roading, Octagon-badged SUV might cause marketing problems. Considering MG is dependent on SUV sales these days, this car was remarkably prescient.
However, that didn’t stop Peter Stevens’ Stylists reluctantly agreeing to have a close look at the idea on behalf of Longbridge. It wasn’t the first off-roader to be evaluated by MGR, either, as the Test and Development Engineers who put miles on the aborted MG ZT-T 4×4 (using Freelander running gear) will attest to.
Peter Stevens recalls: ‘To try and keep the dealers on side, Kevin Howe had a plan to get them all up to Longbridge and show them how bright the future was – hence the mock-up of RDX60 that was done at the Dove Company in very quick time! However, at the last minute, he didn’t think that would be enough (too true!), so he asked me if we could take a Rexton and make it into an MG for next Friday.
Achieving the impossible…
‘Once again the great guys at the Dove Company did the impossible with my brilliant ‘right-hand man’, Ian Moreton in charge. This took just nine days and, I have to say, it had great wheels and tyres. Kev had heard that SAIC was planning to buy SsangYong and thought the vehicle would be a great idea.
‘You would think that, while doing something like this, he would have mentioned the idea to SsangYong. Well no, actually he didn’t.’
The MG version of the Rexton looks surprisingly good – much better than the car it’s based on – and may well have had potential. Three prototypes were allegedly built, although only one has been confirmed.
What happened to the prototype?
Interestingly, the Security Guards at Longbridge ended up using one of the prototypes on the site and MG’s parent company SAIC was apparently unaware of the existence of the project until the merger with NAC in 2008.
The car continued in service as a security support vehicle until Longbridge was wound down as a production site in 2016, when it was unceremoniously scrapped.
Gallery: MG Rexton