Powertrain Limited was a very busy company between 2000 and 2005 – Keith Adams explains how it was working on an exciting range of developments which would have modernised MG Rover’s engine line-up and powered that company’s cars confidently into the future…
A new range of petrol and diesel engines featured some very exciting technology and could well have transformed Powertrain into the engine supplier of choice for the British specialist car industry, while pushing MG Rover towards the forefront of its class.
A bold future
The well-respected KV6 engine and the cars it powered… A snapshot of happier times at Powertrain.
As the UK press gleefully reported from time to time, both the K-Series petrol engine and L-Series diesel were seen as past their prime. The reality of the situation was that, although they were encouragingly light and efficient, they had also earned a reputation for fragility. Thanks to the efforts of the BBC’s Watchdog programme and MG Rover’s refusal to field any kind of defence against a myriad of allegations, the story became so widespread that public perception became distorted whenever the subject of Rover engines was raised in conversation.
The K-Series did, of course, suffer from the famous weakness of its head gaskets and effort was made during production to put the fault right – but, as has been widely reported, these efforts were not wholly successful. Speaking in confidence to AROnline before the company went into administration, one Production Engineer said: “We knew exactly what we needed to do to put the K-Series right, but management simply wouldn’t allow us to do it… it was frustrating to see such a fine engine dragged through the gutter by mean spirited management.”
The truth was that, shortly after the formation of MG Rover Group Limited in 2000 and the subsequent splintering of the business, Powertrain Limited was moving rapidly towards a significant update for the K-Series, which not only would have seen it pass the upcoming EUIV emission regulations, but also address the traditional K-Series weak spots.
It is well-known that, when BMW bought Rover back in 1994, it was quietly impressed by the ability of the K-Series engine. However, forward model plans favoured its replacement for the launch of the Rover 55 (in 2002/2003). The huge Hams Hall facility in Birmingham would have been fully up to speed by this date and BMW’s NG four-cylinder engines would have slotted straight in. The Rover 75 would have also received these engines shortly after the Rover 55, when it received its first major facelift.
Once this option closed to MG Rover, it was clear that development of the existing engines was the only way forwards. In the end, the new engine would have been a revamping of the existing K-Series, but with careful attention paid to the production tolerances and an interesting technical update for the top-spec engines.
One Engineer who worked on the project told AROnline: “The name of the game was ‘dual cam phasing’. Basically, the inlet system was the same as BMW’s Bi-Vanos system and worked in a similar way to the VVC system, but simplified, so it would be cheaper and easier to produce. Reliability was also a very serious factor.”
He added: “This was only to be fitted to the 1.8 engine though. It didn’t really increase power to the VVC levels, but it was an improvement over standard (i.e., 140PS instead of the standard 1.8’s 120PS).”
Nic Fasci, a former MG Rover Homolgation Engineer told us: “The EUIV project was going very well and some of the engines were ready to go, notably the 135 TF engine and the 160VVC for TF and ZR. Some of the 25 engines were being tested and some results were in the throes of being submitted for homologation. Looking at my old diary, there were some more tests booked in for the end of April, some in June for 75/ZT testing…
“Stuff was ready to go in some shape or form and everything would have met the October 1st cut-off point for the change from EUIII to IV legislation. Some calibration work would have carried on but things were ready to go. The only other engine that was EUIV compliant was the 4.6 V8 that went into the MG ZT 260 and the Rover 75 V8. My manager had been out to visit our good friends at Roush in the USA to do something else and they had kindly done an EUIV calibration for the engine. The cars (manual and auto) had been tested and all of the paperwork had all been submitted to the VCA and returned with the all important “Row B” limits certification rubber stamp. Oddly enough, the engine that had the biggest capacity was the “easiest” to upgrade to EUIV limits with no major engineering changes. EUIV was another step closer.”
The engine was planned for use in the RDX10 (Rover 75/MG ZT) and was slated for a launch in January 2006. All other EUIV compliant engines were to have been much closer to the current K-Series unit and would have only differed in detail. According to the same Engineer, it would have only taken further calibration to get the existing unit within the new regulations.
G-Series in situ. (Picture: Steve Childs)
Much has been written about the upcoming replacement for the L-Series diesel engine and there was much truth behind the rumours. In development for at least three years, the G-Series engine (or Galilleo as it was also known) had been undergoing dyno tests in Germany and the UK and, from being the roughest DERV engine to sit on German testing rigs in 2003, it was developed into a commendably smooth and punchy unit. Essentially it was an 8V common rail version of the existing L-Series power unit, but with a number of detail improvements. G-Series came about following the decision to replace BMW’s effective M47 unit as used in the Rover 75 and latterly the MG ZT.
One of the former Powertrain Engineers reckons that the G-Series was about six months away from volume production, following a very rapid and efficient engineering programme, which saw many engineers putting in all-nighters. At the time of MGR’s closure, it was still undergoing calibration tests, as there been a series of obstacles to get over. He said: “Basically there wasn’t going to be enough time to fully validate the tune, as an engine calibration takes about four years to complete satisfactorily, and we had about nine months to do the job, once the prototype parts started arriving at Powertrain. Tooling for all major components was completed or well under way and the only remaining tooling was for various pieces of pipework.”
Technically, the common rail power unit was at least a generation ahead of the outgoing L-Series unit and featured a Siemens engine management system. It featured the latest injector technology and tricks in fuelling meant it was quiet. Nic Fasci explained the differences between G- and L-Series engines: “The G-Series engine which was under development looked pretty much the same as the L-Series, but there were many differences. The vast majority of the components were new: valves, head, pistons and fuelling system – the only items carried over were the block and sump and a few other odds and ends. We did, however, have a new acoustic cover for the engine, which looked much better than the old one.
“However, if one looked under the bonnet of a G-Series powered car, it might be difficult to tell, though The first time I opened a bonnet up, I went, ‘oh, is that it then?’, and felt rather disappointed. Apart from some changes which the observant onlooker would notice, it was pretty familiar to most,” Nic remembered.
“As far as how the engine felt to drive, it was very quick and responsive and, in terms of refinement, the G-Series was a major step forward over the L-Series. It wasn’t ever going to win awards for smoothness, but it was fairly quiet.
“The throttle system was no longer in the engine bay; it was down at the top of the throttle pedal. The real changes were when you turned the key and got going. Oh, you’d know if you got a G-series car, as it hated cold starting, as our calibration was still being worked on. You had to let it warm-up for a few minutes before moving off. A gentle warming before unleashing…”
In terms of power output, the engine came in four states of tune – 84PS, 105PS, 115PS and 130PS, although development on a 16V version had just commenced, which would have topped out at an impressive 160PS.
Already undergoing road evaluations in prototype cars, the G-Series powered diesels were turning in some impressive performance figures. Another Engineer told us: “As far as how the engine felt to drive, it was very quick and responsive and, in terms of refinement, the G-Series was a major step forward over the L-Series. It wasn’t ever going to win awards for smoothness but it was fairly quiet. We were told that during evaluation by European dealers and they were very impressed – we received very, very, good feedback.”
Nic Fasci recalled: “It was quieter than BMW’s M47, amazingly punchy and rather frugal too. One of the MG ZRs I drove with it in was a flying machine. There was so much grunt available that we had restricted it in third gear, instead of first and second, like the L-Series. The turbo was a full electronic Garrett unit that was variable in boost and one of the guys, who took one of the Rover 75s out to Sweden to do the sign-off work on the new brake control system and stability program, ran the 135bhp unit at full-chat all the way there – and he said it was fantastic. It flew and never missed a beat.
“DSC sign off work was very hard on the cars and, apart from splitting one if the intercooler hoses as a lot of air was getting shoved around, it performed really well. In terms of refinement, the G-Series met its markers, too. Nic added: “You could park an M47 and G-Series car next to each other, set them idling and ask people to choose which was which, and everyone got it wrong. G-Series was much quieter at idle (even compared with the JTD). The Powertrain lads did an amazing job on the engine, in a very short period of time. If MGR had still been in business, I’d have been running around in a ZR G-Series car from August/September as an appraisal/development car. However…”
Interestingly, the development of the G-Series very nearly stopped, just when it was need most. Nic explained: “The best bit about the G-Series engine was the ‘Royal’ decree by Kevin Howe for us to stop working on it. This was given at one stage, so we would have been left without a diesel engine towards the end of 2005. Luckily, the clever bods within Powertrain and Calibration continued to work on the project ‘under the radar’, so that we didn’t fall behind in the development of the engine. When the ‘get on with it’ command arrived, the guys popped their heads up from the mound of earth they’d all been hiding behind and carried on as normal, with no real loss of time. Another Kevin Howe balls-up in my eyes.
“But then, according to some within management, ‘diesel is not the way forward…’. This was stated in a meeting I was in as part of my target setting role – at which point I think I exploded and told them to effectively remove their heads from any puckered orifice they may have it up and look around them.”
Powertrain Engineers were very proud of what they achieved with the G-Series engine and Nic sums up the situation best: “It was the G-Series that stands out, because of what was achieved in such a short space of time. It was something I pushed very hard with Sales and Marketing when I spoke to different people. The chaps from Powertrain asked me to drum up enthusiasm about the engine, because Sales and Marketing did not understand how much of an achievement the engine really was.”
The G-Series was scheduled to appear in the RDX30 (Rover 25/MG ZR) in December 2005, with the RDX10 following in January, 2006
Prototype G-Series engines were recently run in Rover 25s, and the results were very positive…
Other petrols and diesels into the 75
VAG TDI engines
Initially, MG Rover investigated plans to buy in VAG TDI engines as a replacement, but a rising cost price soon torpedoed these plans.
Next on the agenda, and far more serious, was an investigation into the Fiat JTD engine in varying states of tune. However, the Fiat engine deal floundered because the Italians wanted more money per engine than MGR would pay. Fiat wanted a guaranteed volume of engines and Longbridge couldn’t comfortably sign a contract on those numbers so a lesser volume was proposed, at which level the price per unit was too high for MGR to stomach. Much of this was thrashed out in 2002 when, immediately after the Geneva Motor Show, an MG Rover team headed down to Turin with the hope of sealing a deal. As well as the proposed deal to buy VW diesel engines, MG Rover also had talks with Mitsubishi over engine supply, but again they couldn’t make the numbers work.
According to Nic Fasci, the Fiat JTD engine was not a complete success in the 75/ZT: “My only experience of driving one (as they were very closely guarded bits of metal) was from out of the Prototype Methods build area back up to the back of the Engineering office; the diesel clatter echo you could hear between the buildings was huge compared to M47/G series. They were perky enough engines, just a bit gruff for my liking. It was a shame that the 2.4-litre five-cylinder JTD engine didn’t fit, now that was a load of fun!”
Nic added: “The Rover 75 development models used the four-cylinder 1.9-litre unit mated to either a five-speed, six-speed or tiptronic gearbox. We did spend a lot of time looking at fitting the JTD engine to the 75 range as it fitted in neatly and gave us access to some new gearbox specifications. However, it all went belly up, as I believe that JTD demanded more money for each unit, and I think Fiat wanted cash up front to get things going. Needless to say, we pulled away from the project. Pity really – it would have been interesting.”
Another Powertrain Engineer said: “Peugeot diesel into R75 was a Project Drive initiative to replace the BMW M47 engine with a Peugeot (I think DW10) diesel engine. This would have been a big cost saving because MGR was being ripped off by BMW on the cost of its engines. I think it was canned because of the development costs.”
He added, “MGR toyed with the idea of a 3.0L Isuzu diesel into R75. I went to many package meetings to discuss this – not really sure why it died – maybe the proposed tie up with Fiat killed it.”
He also commented; “Not too sure how this came about, but Petronas had an engine range they had designed that they needed an experienced partner to develop. PTL was keen to oblige. A number of Petronas engines were fitted to R75s to assess. I didn’t drive one, but my understanding was that they were all top end – great for MG but not Rover.”
Camcon Technology Limited and IVA
Powertrain was also moving forwards with its advanced camless engines and plans for up-to-the-minute transmissions. The camless technology, known as Camcom, and licensed from Camcon Technology Limited, was still some way away from production (although Powertrain announced its use in future engine design to the media around the same time MG Rover went into administration), but the signs were positive and it still provides a tantalising look into the future of engine design.
The licence enabled Powertrain to develop a camless pre-production engine prototype, based on Camcon’s digital actuator technology, and followed an 18-month research and development programme undertaken by Camcon and Powertrain Limited, at Camcon’s laboratories in Harston, near Cambridge. The introduction of Camcon’s digital actuator technology in Powertrain’s engines would have allowed each valve of the engine to be independently controlled, have supported a number of lift positions, allowed for energy recovery to support low power consumption and provided low seating velocities to ensure durability and low noise.
Intelligent Valve Actuation (IVA), as the two companies named the product, was to be used in upcoming petrol and diesel engines and was developed specifically for Powertrain. Essentially, Camcon used a very high speed powerful stepper motor that could, in theory, replace the camshafts in high-speed Internal Combustion engines. It allowed for variable valve timing and lift and, rather than being controlled mechanically, it would have been controlled by an extremely powerful engine management system. Although Powertrain confidently spoke of the system being used in the next generation of engines, it was a long way away from production.
Nic Fasci: “We had a brand new stability program for 75 and ZT under development. There would have been different levels of intervention – dependent on the vehicle it was fitted on. It was rather good – it only really ever cut-in right at the edge of trouser/underwear changing activities… and I hate stability programmes with a vengeance.”
Another project underway was the extremely promising Antonov dual clutch five-/six-speed manual/automatic manual gearboxes. Powertrain was looking at two gearboxes: a five-speed, and a six-speed. Both were dual clutch – manual or semi-automatic. Two test cars with five-speed autos fitted were produced and, in these early stages of development only worked in very specific circumstances, such as on flat roads, in normal operating temperatures, and at part-engine loads.
Work had been progressing well on the Hybrid cars and prototype build components were due to arrive at Powertrain in mid-April. In simple terms, the MG Rover system would accelerate the car to around 30mph, when the engine would automatically fire up and take over the load from the motor. The performance figures for this system were very impressive and a Powertrain-prepared Rover 25 Hybrid could get from 0-60mph in an estimated 7 seconds yet, around town, would produce lower emissions and might lower fuel consumption. The Rover 25 was an adaptation of the MIRA-produced hybrid MG TF 200 (pictured).
Methods Production Area
Nic Fasci worked closely on many projects within MG Rover. He explains what the ‘Methods’ build area is:
“Methods build is where all of the hand-built and prototype construction went on.
“Everything started life in there, from simple bumper/trim fittings, right up to engine and drivetrain builds. It was the area where all of the manufacturing feasibility studies went on, so there were car hangers, engine “stuff up” bogies etc. The crew of talented guys in here wrote things like assembly processes to make sure that the transition from hand build to production line build was a painless as possible.
“Interesting building and very un-assuming to look at but the things that came out of there were most interesting. Even some of the Rally cars started life in there! One of the first Streetwise cars emerged from there on a very windy day completely covered in camouflage and driven somewhere so that I could get homologation pictures of it with another couple of colleagues. It was a proper Ace Ventura driving moment, arms and heads out of the cars to see where we were going! Then it rained and we got soaked, but we got the pictures.”