Events : MG Motor UK Longbridge Visit

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Mike Humble

By now, I should be over those horrific events of 2005. Most people that worked the trade knew in their heart of hearts that MG Rover could not survive long term. Any journey to Birmingham that involves using the A38 Bristol Road fills me with dread as you head northbound through the suburb of Rubery towards Longbridge.

The lack of smoky chimneys and grubby looking buildings that once filled the skyline of the B31 postcode district, are a permanent reminder that its all in the past. Personally, I knew it was all over about a month before the official news was announced for reasons I won’t go into right now, but who would have thought that what was once Europe’s largest self contained car plant would fade away from the horizon?

I first visited ‘The Austin’ way back in 1988 when working as an apprentice in the motor trade, if you thought the place was pretty big in times just before the Phoenix Four rose from the flames only to crash and burn again, then let me tell you – Longbridge was so big and so full of activity, by the time your tour was over – you were almost deaf and your feet were sore from the walking.

You left feeling tired but also proud of what you saw, forget about rumours of bloody mindedness and slap dash quality – Longbridge was home to some of the proudest and capable engineers who were salt of the earth belt & braces people. There has been a few opportunities to re-visit in recent years but I have declined, opting to remember the halcyon days instead.

If you are expecting to see raw car production like this view from 1990 at Longbridge – You will be deeply saddened.

Recently, I wrote a piece regarding my opinions of MG Motor UK and a story regarding a seemingly unhappy owner of an MG6, so when another opportunity arose to visit the plant, I chose to tag along. For those who remember Longbridge for good or bad, the sight of a huge new college where a massive staff car park resided or a new housing estate in the place of the old office complex – is a very emotional sight.

The gargantuan West Works body assembly plant is also a memory along with the conveyor tunnel over the top of the Bristol Road and yet pulling into the visitors car park off Lowhill Lane, the sight of the former CAB1 building greets you while reminding you its far from being all over.

The legendary ‘Elephant house’ now features a showroom and is also home to the ‘Cecil Kimber’ technical training college – named in homage to one of the true fathers of the original MG Car Company. We are greeted and ushered into the auditorium where we are shown a photo gallery and given a talk of a condensed history of Longbridge – its all very tear jerking for any BL or MGR fan.

A re-creation of Lord Austin’s office (not quite the same as the original location I once saw) is there looking most authentic in a slightly spooky and dark environment. We move on to a room filled with a few legacy models, notably the five millionth Rover which was a monogram edition 2.5-litre Rover 75.

But what we really wanted to see was some car production, but sadly, the closest we were going to see was a part of the original plant that was chock full of MG6s. The atmosphere was strange, it almost felt like your dad showing you round his place of work on a Saturday when you were a kid – far from feeling like a weekday Thursday afternoon- erm, which it was.

From there we were shown round the design office where some styling models resided and other manufacturers parts were hanging from peg boards in a kind of quality assessment project – oh and there was also a 3D printer that resembled a Klix vending machine from the future. The sheer lack of headcount onsite was overwhelmingly difficult to accept – it was all very strange.

A sizeable batch of MG6 models wait silently on the line.

Within next to no time, we found ourselves back in the showroom and one further thing caused me to stop and think. Were any of the group formally invited by the sales team upon our arrival? sadly not. The sight of almost 20 people wandering around a showroom on a weekday would have most sales execs almost fainting with glee.

Yet I kind of felt were almost ignored by the desk staff – and If I had ever been caught eating crisps and sandwiches at my desk in full frontal view of the punters (of which I witnessed), my sales manager would have hit the roof and probably me too. After reminiscing to one or two others about the plant tours of days of old lasted half a day where you were ferried around the site in a pair of Sherpa minibuses, at the end of this tour – I almost wanted to cry with emotion.

And even so I have found it difficult to really post anything meaty or attention grabbing in this blog, I have a better understanding of what the game plan is with MG. The diesel is here and the new MG3 is not far behind and they have confirmed it will also be assembled in Longbridge, but I have said it before and will say it again – I know this… you know this… but the rest of the populous need to know this if the brand and its UK future are to be secured.

The MG6 seems to be a solid well engineered car and I expect the same of the MG3 yet I still have deep rooted worries about the viability of the brand and the dealer network mainly due to awareness – or rather the sheer lack of it.

The MG6 Diesel – The quality of the installation and engineering is most impressive to the eye. MG are more than confident it will go the distance.

Yes I am glad we still have something left of the brand and yes I do truly believe that with the right direction and some badly needed passion and vigour, the MG brand will survive in the UK. Sadly in this country, MG is an enthusiast brand and equally as sad is the fact that many enthusiasts tend to have deep pockets and short fingers when it comes to purchasing a brand new car – and it is here that marketing needs to be addressed.

Everybody knows about the heritage and history of MG,  but its the future that everybody needs to be educated about – a car and a brand for all people that sells on merit and capability rather than just being the last remnants of our motor industry bought on a patriotic whim.

The diesel powered version seems to be a deep rooted quality installation and looks purpose designed for the MG6, a quick glance gives you an impression of a Honda Accord/Rover 600 under the bonnet which is no bad thing. MG’s engineering boss Ian Pogson took time out to chat to me at length about the engine, he tells me it’s okay and I certainly believe him when he reassures us all it’s good solid stuff that will go the distance – all it needs is other departments there to do their job and reassure the buying public – Or are they simply not allowed to at the moment?

Come on MG – let’s go to work!

Mike Humble

Upon leaving school, Mike was destined to work on the Railway but cars were his first love. An apprenticeship in a large family Ford dealer was his first forray into the dark and seedy world of the motor trade.

Moving on to Rover and then PSV / HGV, he has circumnavigated most departments of dealerships including parts, service and latterly - the showroom. Mike has owned all sorts of rubbish from Lada to Leyland and also holds both Heavy Goods & Public Service Vehicle licences, he buys & sells buses and coaches during the week. Mike runs his own automotive web site and writes for a number of motoring or commercial vehicle themed publications

41 Comments

  1. Tut tut – eating crisps at the desk.
    Amazing how things have changed – i can remember as recently as 1998 (Launch of the Peugeot 206 from memory) still being allowed an ashtray at your desk!

  2. A factory full of cars nobody has heard of…And staff there with a ‘couldn’t care less’ attitde, probably because they know before long their P45 will be in the internal mail

  3. With that, and getting Year 6 pupils to knock out press releases, the future is not looking very rosy.

    Doesn’t seem like the Chinese over-bosses realise how shoddy the British PR and Sales operation is. Might as well be operating out of Portakabin on a piece of waste ground for all the professionalism that seems evident.

    Waste of engineering talent if the publicity and sales machine is as much use as a fart in a hurricane.

  4. On a slightly different note, I work for a house-builder – we are re-developing a housing estate nearby the Longbridge plant, so I pass through Rubery and Longbridge every week. What I find alarming is how total the removal of ‘The Austin’ has been, and how the area is now unrecognisable as the once beating heart of the British car industry. Very depressing…….

  5. This story highlights why I have lost interest in what comes out of Longbridge these days. For me the appeal of Longbridge was always the Rover marque through models such as the 75 and the older R3 and R8 generation 200 Series. I even had a soft spot for the Metro in its various guises and the original Mini. MG seemed to be less defined and over-valued in comparison to Rover, while the rose-tinted nostalgia and ‘put-the-name-on-a-pedestal-at-any-cost’ mentality of the MG scene and MG publications, has alienated a lot of potential customers.

    Add in the dire marketing and promotion of the current team at Longbridge (I realy do believe it is time to get rid of all those involved in this area, starting at director level), and lack of ability to recognise that European buyers are more sophisticated than their Chinese counterparts, and I really have lost all hope for the future prosperity of this flawed brand.

    Rover sadly died and took the brunt of the negativity associated with the events of 2005. However, I certainly don’t see MG as a worthy substitute for it. Indeed, some of the qualities I associated with the Rover marque are more evident in current Land Rovers.

  6. “Indeed, some of the qualities I associated with the Rover marque are more evident in current Land Rovers.”

    Bang on! With the added bonus that, just like the Rover originals, they are actually built in the UK too.

    I take absolutely no pleasure in seeing the inside of the Longbridge plant used as a warehouse for already completed cars.

  7. Interestingly, I see from the MG Motor (UK) website that the “factory” tour now consists of:

    “Visitors will have the chance to understand the history of the site in a presentation, a visit to Lord Austin’s office (maintained in its original form), a look around the MG Museum and a visit to our state of the art Technical Centre.”

    A visit to the Car Assembly Building is no longer part of the tour. I think it’s now very apparent why that is.

  8. Inspiring words from the Engineering Chief there – the new Diesel Engine “is OK and will go the distance”! – Perhaps this could be MG’s version of Vorsprung Durch Technik

  9. From the MG Motor facebook page of some months ago it was stated that the assembly building visit would be on the factory tour once construction was finished (to install the line to finish final assembly of the MG3). It was also announced that the cars for the first continental western European sales (Benelux, Scandinavia, etc.) would be assembled at MG Birmingham.

  10. Longbridge seems to have gone the way of other industrial & manufacturing premises these days. In NE England most of our shipyards, dry docks, coal mines and some schools are now replaced by endless houses, houses and more houses. Yet the Government says we need to build more houses!

    Perhaps we should give more time for MG to get re-established at Longbridge (with the MG6 & 3) but they need to keep up the effort before the general public forget what MG used to represent in bygone days.

  11. @9 Richard. Yes, like the MG6, they are likely to do minimal “final finish assembly” of the MG3 at Longbridge. It seems to be useful, to not only circumvent the import duties that the completed vehicle might otherwise attract into the EU, but it also gives them a tenuous reason to describe it as being “British Engineered”, whatever that means….

  12. @ 10 Hilton “they need to keep up the effort before the general public forget what MG used to represent in bygone days.”

    I fear that that point has long passed in the minds of the bulk of car buyers.

    Don’t get me wrong, I proudly drove a new MG Maestro 2.0EFi in the late 80’s and loved it but, for the bulk of the contemporary car buying public, it’s a badge that’s been done to death trying to resurrect too many otherwise unsuccessful products over many several deacdes. Even the superb use the MG badge to provide us with gems like the MGZT will have now been largely forgotten by the buying public.

    For the MG brand, it’s already about 25 years too late.

    Looking on the bright side, the brand equity of Land Rover and Range Rover had probably never been higher, while Jaguar is still highly respected.

  13. So true Chris

    Sadly.. the brand is far less valuable than many people may think, though its still more viable than Rover was. But there again, most of the ‘cheapening’ for want of a word or brand dilution of the Rover marque was done by MG Rover themselves if the truth be really told.

    Talking to people in the trade on a regular basis, they see MG as no real threat whatsoever – why? Simply because the trade see it as amateurish and half cocked.

    Not meaning to sound like a scratched record, there are some VERY talented guys up in B31 and whatever opinions may be about the ‘6’ – it’s not a bad car at all, in fact it’s 8/10ths of the way there to being a belter. It just needs a touch more polish and a severe kick up the @rse regarding visible presence and PR.

  14. I really wish I could get excited by new MGs, but flatpacked cars from china, with virtually no UK content? I find it very underwhelming.

  15. @ Tigger:

    “Don’t get me wrong, I proudly drove a new MG Maestro 2.0EFi in the late 80′s and loved it but, for the bulk of the contemporary car buying public, it’s a badge that’s been done to death trying to resurrect too many otherwise unsuccessful products over many several deacdes. Even the superb use the MG badge to provide us with gems like the MGZT will have now been largely forgotten by the buying public.”

    I still own an MG Maestro 2.0i which always puts a smile on my face because of its raw power delivery and all round fun factor. If it had been called the Austin Maestro GTi instead I would have still been drawn to it because for me, the delight of the recipe was in the ingredients used, not the badge on the radiator grille.

  16. I disagree David, the MG badge did wonders for the Metro back in ’82 and also made the ‘sporty’ maestro a far more attractive package than ‘Austin Maestro GTI’ moniker would have achieved.
    Remember the sporty R8’s? GTI/GSI- brilliant cars but too anonymous to Joe public, they should also have sported the MG badge.

    But that said, I believe the MG badge should only be fitted to present and future cars deserving of it, normal run of the mill models should not be known as MG’s as this will dilute the brand’s sporty reputation.

  17. @12 “Looking on the bright side, the brand equity of Land Rover and Range Rover had probably never been higher, while Jaguar is still highly respected.”

    As well as JLR……if the Chinese want to know how to revitalise a once respected top selling British car brand……they only have to take a short drive down the motorway to the MINI Plant in Oxford, (via Hams Hall and Swindon) to see that complete cars can still be built on a production line in the UK and successfully exported worldwide, with the right long term investment and inteligent marketing using a brands past heritage.

  18. Probably the best MG’s of all time was the Z cars,but apart from a few bespoke cars from way back all they were was tweeked rebadged cars,so what if they are chinese cars with MG badges stuck on,to me that makes them an MG car,chinese or not,lets face it the MGB was a dog of a car to drive regardless of what romance was imparted on it-its a shit car.You speak of wasted engineering talent-wake up pal thier talent is being utilised alover the place,uk isnt the ground zero of this firm no more they sell alover the world.

  19. I have been and had a look at the MG 6 and its a nice car how ever some of the plastic’s used in the interior are of a cheap type you will not find the same quality of plastics that you got in the rover 75. It more on the level of a chevy . Which is a shame as it could be a good car. I personally like the saloon but there is no automatic
    No diesel I know one is one the way but they could have added a diesel with a dsg box and that would have made the product more appealing they Need to improve the plastics soft touch come on china you employed British staff now learn that the British car buyers like quality materials.

    I have noticed in china they offer wood or wood effect and a two tone interior beige and black we need some of this in the UK lux and sporting that what we want if MG did this I would leave my soda and buy one come on MG

  20. @21,I have retored a few and recently sold one,so i think i can deduce that they are not all they are cracked upto be,on speaking terms with most of the lads at moss in manchester.They are shit and drive shit.

  21. It’s hard to believe how British MG are almost unknown while the rest of the world recieves proudly “British” MGs. Even here at Colombia they announce the MG as “a British Icon”! (And that helps to put a luxury tag for the cars).

    By the way, I tested an MG6, 1.8 turbo and Tiptronic gearbox. Nice car, with easy response at city driving and able to be driven hard at mountain roads.

  22. Ah, I apologise . I realise now that the half million new MGB purchasers ( of which I was one 3 times over in 1964, 1972 and 1978 ) were all wrong, and Francis Brett was right . By the way, I still have the 1964 car and of my 7 classics it is still the favourite to drive

  23. Now now Francis / Christopher.

    In the words of George Turnbull in the Marina development film “lets keep an open mind on this shall we?”

    Francis, though he prefers the Broadsword to the Rapier, has a point to a degree. The MGB was an ideal car in it’s day but by the time the plug was pulled in 1980. they were so hopelessly outclassed on every conceivable level, it was embarrassing.

    As an everyday driver, an MGB fills me with dread and horror. The scary low down seat, ineffective (when standard) brakes and the god awful heater that fails to overcome the draughts. The lumpy B series engine is one of my all time favourites, but just like the Leyland Leopard PSV chassis, sounded 8x more powerful than they actually were, though I love the solid wallop of the bottom end grunt.

    But after all, its a classic car and you get no better comforts with most other motors of this era or level of technology – so one has to make allowances for that.

    His point (francis) about the “Z Cars” is a fair one, the ZS & ZT are both really capable cars that impress even more when you consider they were cobbled together for the same money you would find under the Sofa.

    But to bring things around again: your average heritage MG owners (with a few rare exceptions) will have no interest / desire / spare money to consider purchasing an MG6 or MG3 and I again direct towards my closing thoughts..

    It’s the present & future that MG must look towards and embrace. Remember what Henry Ford once said kids:

    “History is more or less bunk. It’s tradition. We don’t want tradition. We want to live in the present and the only history that is worth a tinker’s damn is the history we made today”

  24. Well I agree about the heater ( and also the fact that by the end it was very dated )! Brakes I’m not so sure about. My survivor, the 1964, has no servo and a wonderfully hard pedal, which provided you push hard enough are remarkably effective . Equally I find the driving position ideal probably because I have a long body and short legs , and i like a vintage position close to the wheel. The one real criticism I make of the car is that it does produce a lot of backdraught at speed . But for its era it was a remarkably good car , with very acceptable mid-range performance and best of all, utter dependability . Just one other thought: when in the mid 1990s I had a series of Mercedes SLs , the car that immediately came to mind when driving them was the B!

  25. I agree, the MGB was a good car for its day and cheap to own and run. Maybe if British Leyland had invested more in MG in the seventies, this could still be around as a successful producer of sports cars.

  26. They sound nice and are torquey but they are dreadful to drive,another mans like is another mans dislike.Out of all the MGB’s the RV8 was the best sorted even if it did have Porsche 911 headlights!a million people bought the cortina in each mark and they handled like a trolley jack,so blind follow the bland as they say.

  27. Chris Baglin @ 3 –
    ” Doesn’t seem like the Chinese over-bosses realise how shoddy the British PR and Sales operation is.” I think the word ‘shoddy’ is a bit harsh. Surely, the Chinese are ultimately controlling the size, activity of the British PR operation – they do hold the purse strings, make the stategic decisions as to which markets to focus on most.

    Francis Brett @ 19 –
    ” but apart from a few bespoke cars from way back all they were was tweeked rebadged cars ” . Your tone, too, seems rather harsh, Franicis, but I agree with this bit. So what if they are Chinese cars, tweaked and with MG badges stuck on. So many MGs have been tweaked versions of more humble models – including my current wheels! Also, the 6 is not just a Chinese car tweaked a bit. The base car had a lot of British input in its design.

    Overall, I think there is too much negativity – the slow rate of progress (in UK, Europe, anyway) is hard to understand. I still think, however, it’s all part of a bigger, longer term plan. They know what they are doing. If wanted, there is no reason why MG cannot be re-born in a JLR fashion.

    I do have to agree though, Mike – The Elephant House staff are remarkably dis-interested. I visited at last year’s POL and could not believe it when I was virtually ignored.

  28. @29 Not too harsh david!,the zeds i revere,even Tickford MG meastro turbos-which i have seen destroy cosworth sierras!
    An MG is a MG is a MG,the abingdon plant was relatively strike free for years and while making the MG didnt seem to lose money on them,but they are not my bag,ive restored a few and have thrown a few grand across themand been to the odd show,but you could not compete with the doctors and such like that blew upwards of £30k on them,but they was still a crap car to drive,in a way MG was let down in the bigger picture of the BL fiasco,to me,the zeds are what a true MG should be,a enjoyable drivers car,with prowess and poise,thats an MG to me,if any good came out of the terribly saddening tale of BMW/Rover and MG/Rover/P4 then its got to bethe zeds,arethe abingdon MGB’s an important car in history? 100% so but i would never want to own one again.

  29. 29, even IF SAIC have a long term plan (which i wouldn’t dispute) that is surely no excuse for the sort of utterly dreadful press release featured elsewhere on this forum in the past week? Or for that matter the sort of sales staff attitudes referred to above?

  30. @31 – You are right – although SAIC will be controlling the overall budget at Longbridge (PR & otherwise) this does not justify or explain a seemingly un-enthusiastic sales staff.

    Viewing the bigger picture – The lack of visible progress since 2005 is frustrating at best. In world terms, however, there has been progress. What we entusiasts find so frustrating is the lack of UK activity, presence. Let’s just hope that the diesel 6 and the 3 will start to change things….

  31. On the other hand, if staff at Longbridge sense a lack of commitment from SAIC maybe this explains THEIR lack of interest….

  32. Longbridge, as a manufacturing plant, is an irrelevance, it helps to sell MGs in China and the far east, because with the UK factory, they can emphasise it’s Britishness in the adverts (Modern Gentlemen and all that). People need to move on, maybe it would be easier if the whole site was bulldozed 🙁

    Longbridge isn’t the British car industry though, Cowley, Solihull, Castle Bromwich, Halewood, Washington etc are all doing quite nicely.

    @5
    “Indeed, some of the qualities I associated with the Rover
    marque are more evident in current Land Rovers”
    Um, that probably because Land Rover is the direct descendant of the original Rover company, owning Solihull the Rover factory. Further, Gaydon the BL/Rover Group technical centre went to LR after the sell off, so much of the team that developed the 75 probably worked on the Evoque, for example…

  33. Thank you Mikey, for putting that so well.

    As the owner of a current Land Rover I’m very aware of the extent of its connections with the genuine remains of the old Rover Group and always struggle to understand why the news from the much more significant JLR is dwarfed by the news from SAIC on this site.

    I would have to agree with you about the best fate for the remains of Longbridge, it was very sad to see MGR go under, even sadder to see it as it is now.

  34. SAIC could shut the place in the morning and just say “british inspired “when punting the motors back home,china isnt MG’s only market so who cares where they come from outside of the UK or china?
    SAIC could recruit engineers and designers from any place they want they have the ackers to pay for them,they have along term plan and theywont split,maybe in ten years longbridge is gone or it will be assembling cars CKD or otherwise.Blow off JLR all you want (is it ok that Indians own it?)they deserve the success,but once the ill winds of the oncoming economic nightmare really takes hold would some of us still rejoice the owners of JLR if a plant shut here “on a streamling of resources basis” while the new chinese plant is full steam ahead.Some folk may think longbridge is nothing of significance,but the folk whose wages from the place feeds the kids and keeps a roof over thier heads would beg to differ.

  35. I shall let you work it out for yourself just how few people are employed in manufacturing at Longbridge from the photographs and the reports above. While you’re at it, book a tour of the Castle Bromwich Jaguar factory and the Land Rover ones at Solihull and Hollywood and count the staff and watch the cars being built from sheet metal, supplied from Tata’s UK plants. One day soon, you might even be able to see the inside of their newly built Wolverhampton engine plant.

    I don’t care that much who owns them, just as long as they are well run; I do care if they are genuine manufacturing operations, using UK parts, or whether they might possibly be methods to circumvent EU tariffs for essentially Chinese built cars.

    While you’re at it, look into how low our import tariffs are when compared to the Chinese ones, then look at how the likes of Jaguar have to joint venture with a relatively little known local company to even be allowed access to their markets. Do you remember how well they joint ventured with MG Rover to get access to the European markets? Or did they very cleverly buy the most important IP rights for a pittance, during remarkably one sided negotiations with complete amateurs from MGR, then pick over what else they needed from the receivers, while 6,000 genuine manufacturing jobs were lost?

  36. @37,well two of the steel plants they closed over here recently wont be supplying any sheet steel to JLR,the jist of my post is every job is important be it longbridge,JLR or a shitty machine shop down a backstreet,Jaguar have had boom years before as well.

  37. I agree, every job is important, even if it might only involve unpacking, prepping for sale and (occasionally) marketing imported cars, either at SAIC/MGs Longbridge warehouse, Citroen at Slough, Kia in Walsall or VW in Milton Keynes, amongst many others.

    Perhaps it might be time to move on from the “Made in Britain” tagline of this site too…

  38. Hmm, and i thought spamming wars’ were a YouTube thing XD

    I think ‘Mark Evans'(whom restored a 1974 MGB Roadster from the chassis up) would disagree, along with the majority of UK and US buyers which owned / still own ’em.

    Whilst the claim MGB’s don’t handle well is utter nonsense, it certainly is true that by the 80’s the car was seriously overdue for replacement (if only the ‘MG-RV8’ had come along 15 years earlier with all round Disc’s & state of art suspension), although Leyland’s Favoritism for Triumph was mainly to blame for that.

    Personally (as someone whom grew up during the Austin-Rover / Rover Group / MG-Rover era) i don’t see why SIAC didn’t / doesn’t market the 6 saloon & 3 hatchback under the Austin Marque (which SIAC owns the rights to), and reserve the MG Marque for more powerful / agile versions thereof?

    After all Longbridge was/ always will be the home of Austin, from it’s inception a Mass Market Car producer, & mostly of Front Wheel Drive Cars, which both the 6 & 3 both are.

  39. @Mike Humble: A interesting & informative Page, regarding a rather saddening aspect of British Motor Manufacturing.
    Whilst i’m ambiguous about how SIAC’s marketing / badging these cars, it would be good to see this venture turn out well, although to be honest i have my doubts.

    Can’t say i agree with Henry Ford though, not least because his’s the same mantra “New Labour” would later use whilst in power (“Forward not Back”).

    Churchill as compared said:
    “The Further Back in History one Looks, the Further Forward one is likely to see”

    A much wiser philosophy in my opinion, as history’s mistakes & pratfalls (which BL certainly & unfortunately was) are as important to know & take note from as it’s success stories, otherwise how will we ever learn?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*


WordPress spam blocked by CleanTalk.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.