Steve Harper talks through his involvement in shaping the MGF, as it was transformed from the F16 into the mid-engined PR3 in 1990-’91.
Setting the mid-engined sports car template for MGF
Most AROnline readers will be more than familiar with Steve Harper’s work – and that’s just the work he’s completed while working for Austin Rover as a Designer and, latterly, Rover as a Design Consultant. His most recognised work is probably the Austin Montego estate – but, for the lovers of AR miscellany, you can also count the Maestro Vanden Plas wheeltrims, red seatbelts in the MG Metro and the Allegro Equipe stripes…
You can read more about this work in this amusing blog, Making the Allegro cool, but beyond that, he has a fundamental role in the genesis of the MGF, which under his direction was transformed from a neat little roadster, lacking a splash of creativity, to a shapely new-age sports car that shouted its mid-engined layout from the rooftops.
In his own words, Steve walks us through the design changes he made during his time in charge of the way the PR3 project looked. However, if you need to know more about the development of the MGF, you know where to go…
From Apprentice to Rover Special Products
‘Sent by Austin-Morris to the Royal College of Art in 1979 to further my studies in Car Design. My final project when I graduated in 1980, was a study for a replacement of the Austin-Morris Princess. I continued to work for Austin Rover Group until 1984, when I went freelance, working for Volvo, among other companies.
A career high point was shaping the Ford Escort RS Cosworth, which almost 25 years later is viewed as an all time design classic.
‘After the Escort RS Cosworth project, a simple request from Rover Special Projects, just had to impress. From a time gone by, I knew what I wanted but, in March 1990, I don’t think they were ready for this – and, by the February of 1991, these wild ideas had been built.
Putting a Metro subframe behind the driver
‘Meanwhile, back in Coventry, somebody put a Metro subframe behind the driver, which became the PR3. But like so many Rover designs of that period it was relatively flat and had strong body feature lines. Upon hearing about the new project, I assembled a theme board for inspiration and direction, and set about thinking about the future of MG.
‘However, based on the fact that the engine was now behind the driver, my design philosophy was coming from a different direction. From a childhood favourite, and the most beautiful athletic cars of the day and the fact that we had just developed and built these two cars in our Studio. It was time to bring MG up to date – the sketching continued in earnest and, by the end of January 1991, the theme had evolved.
‘As on the Ferrari 348, and like I had done on the Volvo 480, I tried to bring the MG grille under the bumper. As on Milner’s Hot Rod in American Graffiti, the waist line was high and the window line was low and, like the Ferrari 250LM, I offered an alternative to the fold down flap lamp covers proposed, to give the car a cheerful face.
Giving the PR3 a cheery face
‘With the modelling beginning straight away, we had only kept the windscreen from the original PR3, and trying to find that elusive grille design, so by March 1991 we were ready for the first Di-Noc review of the clay model. With the Main Studio being required for the build of the McLaren F1, and the fact that I was actually working on two cars at the same time, the MG model was moved into MGA’s larger Studio where I could concentrate on both projects.
‘However, this did make reviews by Rolls-Royce and Rover Special Projects somewhat of a security task. The review of the Di-Noc clay model had identified that the car lacked an MG identity. We know now that, in parallel to our project, RSP was working on the MG RV8, and it was that car’s grille and front bumper lamps which were integrated into our model. The fold down headlamp flaps were also taken out of the project due to complexity issues.
Handing the car back to Rover Special Products
‘But sadly that was the last time I saw the car at MGA. I had a holiday booked in the Maldives and, while I was away, the car was re-painted with Di-Noc, reviewed and shipped out. In fact, by the May of 1991, the decision had been made to bring the design back ‘In-House’ where Gerry McGovern and his team then made numerous changes to the clay model, but as you see the essence of the winning concept remained.
‘In fact, the next time I saw the car was in 1995 when Autocar invited me to its photography session. Although proud to recognise my concept, I was alarmed at the car’s ride height on the Hydragas – but, like all these things, they sag over time!’
The PR3 in sketches by Steve Harper.
The PR3 as a full-sized clay.
Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...
Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.