Ian Webster has created this interesting-looking homage to sporting MGs past and future. AROnline spent some time talking to the freelance automotive designer and found out what made him want to show SAIC Motor an alternative vision of the future.
How old are you and what do you do for a living – an Engineer or Designer perhaps?
I’m a 45-year old British Designer with an optimistic perspective and a character that strives for perfection in an imperfect world.
I’ve been surrounded by design all my life, having grown up with a father who was a renowned Textiles Designer. My passion has always been for cars and, although I thoroughly enjoy working in other fields, I find that I’m always called back to the automotive world. I’m a graduate of the celebrated automotive design course at Coventry University and went on to work for a couple of the big corporate manufacturers and several of the small independent ones.
Some years ago I wanted to manufacture as well as design products and decided to create my own range of loudspeaker designs. This was back at the end of the 1990s when the world of hi-fi was dominated by foil-wrapped MDF boxes. As someone who enjoys music, I knew that this was an area that would benefit from some fresh influences and so I brought my knowledge and skills from the automotive world and created designs that are a delight for the eye as well as the ear.
These designs have had much impact on the market and you can still see their influence today. Today, I provide freelance design work for both the automotive and product design sectors and continue to be passionate about all forms of good design.
What prompted you to develop this concept car… and is this your first-ever concept car?
I relish a challenge is the honest answer – and this is quite the challenge as I’m sure you’ll agree. With so much interest in the sports car market at the moment it felt like an appropriate time to create a concept design for a modern MG sports car.
It was important to me to provide a design that could be used as a stepping stone for the future design language of the marque and be pointing to the future as well as referencing the past.
My aim was to create a design that would be able to go head to head with designs such as the Mazda MX-5, BMW Z4 and Fiat 124 Spider etc.. It would have been relatively straight forward to create a retro design, but I believe that this approach can quickly lead to design stagnation in later models as they become stifled in rigid design language dogma.
In my opinion you also need to create a design that looks as if it could trace its design DNA back to those original designs, but with 30-50+ years of evolution – look at, say, an Aston Martin DB5 compared to a DB7 or DB9 for example.
It was critical, then, that I understood the spirit of the MG marque and this is where it began to get very interesting. I was both surprised and encouraged by the welcome and support I’ve been offered by the MG community as I conducted my research.
I was surprised and encouraged by the welcome and support I’ve been offered by the MG community as I conducted my research” – Ian Webster
The views and opinions about what are the building blocks of the MG marques DNA are probably the most diverse and sometimes opposing of all the motoring enthusiasts – but, if you listen hard and research well, then you can begin to form an outline of what makes MG special, so that you can instill this spirit into your new design.
I remain immensely grateful to Andy Harris and others from the local MGOC for their input and enabling me to make contact with the Designer of the original MGB, Don Hayter.
With hindsight, I think that I would now describe the car as an MG concept design and not an MGB concept because some people have expected a retro design due to the association. I think it would be more appropriate to call the concept the MGE GT (due to C being used already and the negative associations of the letter D).
I think it’s important to create a concept that is right for now (or, indeed, the near future), it means that you can set up a current design language and then this can be evolved itself to produce some conceptual designs for the future, in a similar way to say the Rolls-Royce Vision, Mini Vision, Porsche Mission E etc., etc.. You need to have a current sports car design language line-in-the-sand for your marque before you can go shooting off into full blue sky thinking, in my opinion.
Was there an MG in your family history and, if not, what prompted your interest in the MG marque?
Yes, I have always had a soft spot for MG due to my mother owning an MGB GT when I was a boy. Even back then, I was incredibly passionate about all things automotive and I could probably have drawn the car from memory if required.
Might you be inclined to buy a classic MG, based on your research and what you learned about the marque?
Following all of my research and time on the project the answer is a resounding yes. My first choice would be a Frontline MG because I think Tim Fenna and his team have produced a fantastic evolution of the original MGB design.
If I wasn’t able to afford the budget of a Frontline MG then I would go for a MGB GT V8 in the UK and a MGB convertible for the US. I adore the MGA and some of the older cars but the MGB always pulls at my heartstrings due to those childhood references.
What is it – in your mind – that enabled MG to be such a special kind of car between the 1930s and 1980 when the Abingdon plant closed its doors?
One of the joys of this project has been discovering the rich and varied history of this little gem of a motoring marque. With a rich and enviable racing history that includes being the first non-Italian winners of the Mille Miglia in 1931 and a whole collection of record land-speed breaking designs.
The road cars too had an impressive pedigree and each one had a special quality in its own right, ranging from those early cars that you would take to the track and race and then drive home, through to the designs such as the TA Roadster driven by ace Spitfire pilots such as Douglas Bader.
MG was also right at the front of the golden age for the British sports car through the 1950s and 1960s where half of all MGs were exported to the US. I think it’s fair to say that this is a very special marque and one that deserves a great sports car in the range to spearhead the drive into the future and give a sense of flair and drama back into the range.
What are your fondest memories of talking to Don Hayter? Are there any elements of his that you made sure to incorporate in your concept?
Firstly, I am very grateful to Don and his wife Mary for providing the opportunity to speak with him. Our contact was relatively brief due to Don being quite unwell but he managed to pass on some nuggets about the original MGB design and, if you watch this video, you can see him talk about the side profile referencing the EX181 record-breaking car (above) – which became my starting point for my design.
Imagine you are standing next to a life-size version of your concept. Now, starting with the nose of the car and moving toward the rear, tell me why you designed the MGB GT as you did – inside and out?
For me it was important to get the underlying form right to begin with – if you get the basic form and proportions right, then all the visual cues that you add later will only enhance the design and not attempt to divert the viewer from a lack of balance in the design.
The key to this design is the reflection of the past while looking to the future, so we look to echo a feature from important MG cars in the past – and, for me, that key component is the wing profile of the body from the record-breaking EX181 and the original MGB design.
I’ve always found that the MGB has an almost timeless quality due to a simplicity of line and elegance of form. There’s an almost aeronautical feel to the basic form and I thought this was due to Don’s time in the aviation world, but found out that it was actually due to development boss Syd Enever telling Don to use the MG EX181 land speed car as reference when creating the new MGB.
I decided early on that the echo would be provided by incorporating a highlight running through the side profile of the car that echoed the wing profile of those earlier designs.
I adopted a decent-sized wheelbase to provide seating for youngsters in the rear – a must for anyone who’s sat on the bench seat of an original MGB GT.
I avoided the current leaning for bulges and scallops and kept the design as clean and simple as possible – this just feels right and in keeping with the elegance of form of MG designs. You can clearly see the side highlight in the images referencing the tapering wing of the EX181 and the door handles fit flush, as you would expect on such a clean form.
Those headlights reference the past with the chrome bezels and they look circular if you view the car head-on. The lamps are a definite nod to the current MINI because the Mini and the original MGB are both cars of the same era and both had the same sort of distinctive chrome-bezelled round headlights.
It became clear early on in my research that the chrome grille was an important feature for many MG enthusiasts and I have to agree – it’s just so much more characterful than a plastic molded affair.
I decided that the rear of the car should be open to a larger degree of migration from the cars of yester-year and, right from the outset, had an idea that a small duck-tail aesthetic might give the ideal balance to work with a tapering wing side profile. The rear lights are a massive departure from anything before and help to define a new design language that can be taken into the future.
Living close to Goodwood, we are lucky enough to see Spitfires quite regularly and the references to those MG-associated planes can be felt beyond the clean lines – just look at the side vents that are reminiscent of the Merlin engine exhaust ports. You may find the air intakes reminiscent of the Spitfire gun ports and those wheels were inspired by a rotating propeller. The tapering canopy helps again with that link between car, plane and record-breaking specials and just looks so right integrated with the rest of the form.
The interior has been kept clean and simple, which I believe is right for such a car. Good quality materials and some quality detailing make the driver feel cocooned in the very modern British environment. There is an interactive screen that hides in the dashboard until needed, so that you can concentrate of enjoying the driving pleasure of the car.
Overall, the car looks like it wants to be driven and has a genuine MG spirit.
I believe you placed a four-cylinder engine in your concept. Why that engine, instead of something more exotic?
The four-cylinder would be intended as the base model with a V8 model being for the top of the range models. Naturally, I had the US market in mind when I was thinking of the V8 engine. There’s nothing like the sound of a V8. A good-looking, lightweight body with a burbling V8 would be a real treat for all us MG enthusiasts. The V8 would see the evolution in the aesthetics with the introduction of the bonnet bulges and vents into the design that would give it a more muscular appearance.
As I’ve already mentioned, I think it’s important to get the core design right before you begin adding these components in the more extreme models. This way to have a design that looks good from the base model to the top of the range and everyone feels that they are getting value for money.
What material did you choose for the exterior of the body, and why?
The car could be produced in the traditional way – alternatively, I think that the new iStream® production process devised by renowned F1 Engineer Gordon Murray would be ideal for the design.
Do you believe the new owners of the MG name will ever build a sports car?
I think that there is great potential for an MG sports car and the Chinese owners of MG are in the business of making money, so if they can be shown that a sports car can be profitable, then don’t be surprised to see them heading in that direction.
I think that SAIC has rescued MG from the point of oblivion and they have turned the marque back into a creditable brand once more. It’s understandable that MG has not been interested in sports cars of late and is currently concentrating on the popular and lucrative crossover market.
In my view one of MG’s weaknesses from a design perspective has always been an ongoing dependency on its corporate parent.
However, the Vauxhall GT Concept has the potential to provide an attractive opportunity with much reduced risk. AROnline’s own Clive Goldthorp and the well-respected MG enthusiast and historian David Knowles have both speculated that MG could work with GM to provide a joint platform for the Vauxhall GT Concept design and an MG sports car such as the one I have created. A similar venture was used to create the Mazda MX-5 and the Fiat 124 Spider.
I believe that GM would be interested, so it’s just up to whether the owners of MG can be tempted into such a deal. As the automotive world moves more towards autonomous driving then the world of fun-time weekend driving should begin to open up again.
As you may have noticed, I have given the project much thought and it would be critical to the success of the car that it was available as a convertible (especially for the US). The concept took this into consideration right from the brief and I’m sure that you can see how easy it would be to create a convertible design that evolved from this coupe format.
The other point that you may not be aware of is that the design language was also created with the ability to produce a varied range – this would, most importantly, include a crossover design for the current popularity and therefore profitability of the brand.
It’s been a wonderful project to work on and I’ve met some marvelious characters along the way. The project is now ready to move to the next stage and it would be tremendous fun working on a clay model of this design and watching it evolve into something very special, if this was a design moving to production.
I’d like to say a big thank you to all those MG enthusiasts that have contacted me with such positive feedback about the project.