MG’s might-have-been bruiser
Throughout the mid- to late-’80s, the Austin-Rover design studios produced several MG sports car mock-ups, most of which came to nought. Things became more serious following the launch of the Mazda MX5 in 1989, and Rover’s management realised there was genuine money to be made in open-tops.
This proposal created by Design Research Associates under Roy Axe was targeted at the USA as MG’s big return stateside in the lead-up to the launch of the mass-market MGF. It never made it beyond the running prototype stage.
F the launch of the game-changing Mazda MX5 in 1989, Rover’s management finally woke-up to the huge potential for the MG marque beyond the badge-engineered saloons that it had been buiding since the arrival of the Metro in 1982. Several sports car ideas had been floating around Canley since around 1983 – including one proposal for a new Midget, and what would ultimately become the MGF – but there had been little will within upper management to develop any of these exciting concepts into production reality.
Following the MX5’s launch, Gordon Sked’s reported reaction – he felt like crying when he saw the new car – and the subsequent positive greeting from the press and public, the Rover board finally lent its support to the new sports car programmes. But only if they could be made in a cost-effective manner. A number of projects began in parallel, a number of which would be farmed out to outside contractors such as MGA.
The MGF won out, but not before this interesting sports car, codenamed DR2, was sketched out by Roy Axe’s team at Canley in late 1989. As Roy told AROnline back in 2003, the car had been deliberately styled so that it could fit within the MG or Austin-Healey marque, as the revival of both were seriously being 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 a running concept. Roy confirmed that the engineering team visited a local TVR agent, and bought what was described as a near-concours example. ‘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 fit 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 rear wheel drive, it was fun to drive in the traditional way – but following a management ride ‘n’ drive exercise, and Rover’s subsequent pull-out of the American market, the car lost out in favour of the mid-engined MGF. By this time, the DR2 had been renamed the PR5 (for Phoenix Route).
The running prototype remains at the Heritage Motor Centre at Gaydon (below).