Concepts and prototypes : MG X120 (2003-2005)

MG Rover was planning a revival of the Midget, a new TF and an upmarket Boxster rival – until, that is, the lights went out at Longbridge in 2005…

MG X120: Saviour of the octagon?

The X120-generation MG Roadster
The X120-generation MG Roadster

MG was planning a trio of exciting new mid-engined sports cars to revive the brand and give Longbridge its mojo back. Going under the codename X120, the Longbridge Design Team was working on a new Midget, a TF roadster replacement and an upmarket coupé that would have gone head-to-head with the Audi TT. However, when the company went into administration in April 2005, these projects were officially frozen…

When MG Rover was formed in 2000 following the sale of Longbridge to Phoenix Venture Holdings Limited (the Phoenix Consortium), led by John Towers, the only sports car in the portfolio was the mid-engined MGF. The five-year-old car was still popular enough to outsell its major rivals in the UK but, for continued success, it needed an update. Two years later, the F was facelifted to become the TF, which remained in production until 2011. MG’s ingenious plan to replace it with three cars, would have increased the company’s share of the market significantly, as well as spearheading its planned re-entry into the American market.

The three cars were all to be based on the same platform, which would have been a modified version of the existing car. According to according to Chris Lee, the Designer of the leading proposals pictured here, this meant that the three cars would have retained the TF’s poor driving position. But the X120 was limited to a budget of £50m, and a mere nine Designers were assigned to the programme at Longbridge’s Product Development Centre.

The X120-generation MG Roadster
The X120-generation MG Roadster

New suits, same underpinnings

They were to be powered by a development of the K-Series engine which the Longbridge-based Powertrain operation was working on. The improved power unit would have been offered in various states of tune between 120 and 180bhp, and boasted lower emissions, as well as engineering updates. Many of these updates subsequently found their way onto the N-Series/TCI-Tech engine which powered the SAIC-era MG TF, MG6 and Roewe 550 saloon.

The disadvantage of using the TF’s platform manifested itself early in the programme when it became clear that the older car’s compromised driving position would be carried over. Lee added that, for an extra £2m, MG could have used an all-new aluminium tub, but there simply wasn’t the budget to pursue it. He says, ‘It was such a shame because, for relatively little investment, we would have had an amazing mid-engined platform that would have cured all the TF’s packaging problems.’

During the X120’s development, the TF replacement had basically grown to be a Boxster rival, with a 100mm stretch of its wheelbase creating a much roomier cabin, and far more balanced handling thanks to new steering and rear suspension. Lee’s styling proposal was considered ‘very MG’ by management, incorporated a number of novel engineering solutions, and was perfect for the higher-priced, higher-profit car that was needed for success in the USA.

A new MG Midget for the USA

The X120-generation MG Midget
The X120-generation MG Midget

The new-generation Midget was a lower-priced entry-level model, featuring bold coupe styling and compact dimensions that meant it was just as it home in the city as well as on country lanes. It was available with a Fiat X1/9 and Lotus Elise-style Targa top, although the finer details of where that panel would be stored when not in use were still to be decided.

Because of the new TF’s move upmarket, the Midget’s role was to take over where the old car left off, taking up the slack in the lower end of the market – the Mazda MX-5 and Smart Roadster were considered the new car’s principal rivals.

MG Midget

The final car, the coupe, was the furthest from production, and never really left the drawing board. This car was the most expensive of the trio, and would have sat on the new TF’s extended platform, but would have been offered with a choice of more powerful power units. The extended wheelbase would have facilitated the fitment of the 2.5-litre KV6 engine, used in the Rover 75 and MG ZT. Lee describes this car as similar in concept to the Lotus Evora – meaning that it would have had the market pretty much to itself, depending on price.

Two of the three X120s were serious projects indeed, and really only needed an injection of cash to see them into production. Lee added: ‘The Midget and the TF were initially given considerable design and development resources. The smaller car was hobbled in some respects because of its need to use carry over doors from the TF, but I designed the leading proposal and everyone loved it.’

The X120-generation MG Midget
The X120-generation MG Midget

A case of no money, no time

As the programme developed, the money ran out, and the operation was quickly scaled down. ‘There were just myself and another Designer who was working on his alternative clay model towards the end. There was every intention to take MG back to USA as MGR really needed to find new markets for its products and USA was the only place where the MG name still meant anything. Plus the business case really relied on USA numbers to turn a profit,’ Lee recalled.

In the end, the swiftness of MGR’s death surprised even Lee. ‘Put it like this, Trevor McDonald from ITN knew the company was finished before we did! That is how quickly it happened. Several Designers were not paid for the last month’s of work due to the rapid nature of the insolvency,’ he added.

Despite that, Lee thought the cars had success written all over them, and regrets that they never made it into production. ‘I felt like we were making history and it is a shame it never came to fruition.’

The X120-generation MG GT Coupe
The X120-generation MG GT Coupe
The X120-generation MG GT Coupe
The X120-generation MG GT Coupe
Keith Adams
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20 Comments

  1. An unusual looking design looks like a cross between an MG TF and a Honda Beat with a dash of Audi TT thrown into the mix – would have been nice to see it in the metal.

  2. I’m sorry, but all that comes to my mind when looking at the photos is “Big Boys’ Toys”. More fit for comics than car parks in Coventry, Chester, Carshalton, Cardiff or Cambuslang. Exactly what was the perceived market?

    • the report above states which markets they were all to be placed and and even mentions similar cars from those segments.

    • You’ll see plenty of big boys (and girls) driving around in Audi TTs and the like if you look outside your window…

  3. Depending on the angle of the roadster and Midget proposals can see some flattering elements inspired by the third generation Toyota MR2 on the hand hand, though unsure about the side in the fourth image as it brings to mind the original Daihatsu Copen.

    The Midget name meanwhile brings to mind a much smaller and lighter car as opposed to a car intended to fill the void left by the old TF, essentially a car that is lighter than the third generation Toyota MR2 for entry-level 1.4-1.6 K-Series powered variants to be considered (or just the 1.6 K-Series at minimum) yet still heavier than the Lotus Elise S2.

  4. Nice looking models, but a £50m budget to develop 3 new sports cars? Seriously? Stick another zero on and you’re still not even half way there.

    But it’s a great Sunday morning ‘plucky-Brit’ pipe dream, exactly what we all come here for!

    • I assume that the £50m was for the design and development, not the production, that would have been costed out at a later date, if and when the project was given the green light, and as the car was going to use already in production parts, like engines, and chassis, and even tub, then costs would be significantly lower.

  5. Interesting ideas, but a return to a more simple engineering configuration of rear wheel-drive and front engine might have been better. Also the need for higher and more consistent levels of build quality were also needed as this was something noticeably lacking on the MG TF models made from 2002. I suspect much of this could only have been achieved with an all-new platform and a pursuit for achieving higher quality rather than merely profit margins; something MG Rover Group were simply not in the position to do as an independent company with no partnerships in place.

    One thing’s for sure, I never cease to be amazed by the commitment of MG Rover Group’s employees at all levels to use what limited resources and funds they had to try and deliver something new and engaging. But, like many, I am a realist who recognises that such ideas could not have been delivered as serious production models on such tiny budgets, despite what the often irrational rose-tinted MG aficionados out there believe ‘would have saved the company’.

    I can only hope that many of the design engineers involved in these projects continue to work in the automotive industry as their commitment and dedication to the MG Rover Group cause was second to none.

  6. Rather than recycling the TF platform, it seems a shame that MGR couldn’t have taken the same route as GM and re-purposed the Elise platform for a new family of MGs. The VX220 seemed to do the job. Didn’t Proton offer Lotus to MGR at one point?

  7. The Midget reminds me of the Smart coupe and that didn’t end well.. Bold designs but they might have dated quickly. Could have been done on the cheap though. The Nanjing TF’s didn’t sell well – I still think that practical hot hatches have made the two seater sports car somewhat redundant.

  8. It’s always amusing to see that anything from our own BL or AR stable gets seven colours of what-sit kicked out of it. There is a simple answer of course – just stick an Audi or BMW badge on it and the pundits will think its wonderful!

    • That’s because compared to anything BL/AR built they are – as are Fords, Vauxhalls, VW, Renault, Mercedes or any other car from a mainstream manufacturer you care to think of! Back to this article – why when the company was dying on its feet was scarce resources diverted to nonsense like this? – MGR needed a 45 replacement that was its top priority and everything the company had should have been poured into this to bring a proper volume new car to market as soon as possible – instead they pissed about with projects like this and the Mustang engined RWD Rover 75, incredible!

      • I agree, the only way to save the company was either a new platform to build a whole range or adapting the Rover 75 platform to make the smaller cars.

        I am afraid the owners cared more about financial engineering and asset stripping; than trying to save the company.

  9. Ambitious but to me way too optimistic, to launch 3 new sports cars, in what was a declining market. It reminds me of the hopeless Dany Bahar era at Lotus, where he promised an enormous range of new product and delivered very little

    To me MGR was an awkward size anyway, far too small to compete with AND reach the quality standards of the volume manufacturers, but also far too large to compete with the low overhead “garden shed” operators, where people buy your sports car as a Sunday fun thing and accept it’s faults

    • Agreed. There seems to have been a great deal of time and money spent on very little. “Needs US numbers to make the business case”. Problem – MG have
      no US dealer network!

      When they started using the Mustang V8 I thought maybe there was a cunning plan to sell MGs through Ford/LandRover dealers in the states…alas

  10. As has already been said, MGRover was not big enough to compete with the volume boys so perhaps a new direction of lower volume specialist cars like these might have been the answer. I’m not clever enough to criticise their development policy but for seventeen year old designs they look great to me – far more cutting edge than anything from Ford, VW, Vauxhall, Renault or Mercedes, all of which I’ve either owned or sold. With a couple of exceptions I’d rather have my Rover 75 any day! Appreciation in the eye of the beholder I guess.

  11. Ah yes, desperately trying to get more life out of dated cars, so the owners would have longer to asset strip the company before it went under.

    They should have spent that BMW money on developing a new platform from day one. Instead, typical of British owners, asset stripping and lining their own pockets took priority.

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