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?
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.
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 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.
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.’
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.’