News : February 2007

MG Streetwise scooped

By CAR Online

I thought the Streetwise had died with Rover… what’s this MG version doing?

Your eyes aren’t deceiving you. The Chinese company that bought up the remnants of MG Rover, Nanjing (NAC-MG), is expanding its Anglo-Chinese range of cars with an entry-level car modelled on the Rover Streetwise. Yes – the same Streetwise that was a mildly warmed-over version of the 25, launched in 1999.

Recently shown to NAC management, this MG-badged Streetwise has reportedly been greeted warmly. Especially as demand for smaller cars is set to explode in China in the coming years.

This looks exactly like the Rover Streetwise though. They haven’t changed much, have they?

As these pictures reveal, the MG Streetwise differs from its former Rover counterpart in badging only. In all likelihood, this car was produced in Longbridge before MG Rover went into meltdown in April 2005.

The process of dismantling the Rover 25/MG ZR production line had already started in 2005, with the intention of going to Shanghai (SAIC), but when MGR went into administration taking the ill-fated joint venture with it, those plans went into abeyance.

Following NAC-MG’s purchase of the production facilities in Longbridge for £53m, it’s believed that the entire 25/ZR line now resides at the new factory in Nanjing.

So why launch such an old car in China?

Well, Nanjing’s current small car is even older than the 25 – it’s based on the 1984 SEAT Ibiza, hardly cutting-edge tech and completely unsuited to the company’s ambition to expand its worldwide presence. So the MG Streetwise would fit nicely into the model portfolio.

Production of the MG7, the reborn 75, is ramping up in China, and the K-series engine (in four- and V6-cylinder guises) is already coming off the line. The MG Streetwise would share its engine with the TF2 roadster, and could be in production in late 2008 if the final go-ahead is given [although our latest unnamed source suggests that the 25 line could now be in production as early as May this year – Ed].

There will be no Chinese version of the Rover 45/MG ZS, as Honda ensured any production facilities at Longbridge were removed before the arrival of Nanjing in August 2005.

China’s Focus set for Britain

By CHRIS THORP, AutoExpress

Although development is still ongoing, the 450 is likely to eventually be offered with a 1.8-litre turbocharged petrol engine as well as a 2.0-litre diesel motor

Rover’s return is gaining pace! We have already seen how Chinese firm SAIC has recreated the 75 and 25 with its new badge Roewe – now Auto Express can exclusively reveal the company’s first Ford Focus rival.

Hidden away among a convoy of Roewe’s disguised 750 saloons, this prototype of the family hatchback-sized 450 was spotted in Sweden completing its first twilight test. But while its siblings are remakes of familiar ex-Longbridge models, it’s obvious this car will break fresh ground for the ambitious firm, which has privately admitted it is committed to making waves in Europe from 2009.

A spiritual successor to the Rover 45, this new machine is expected to follow on from design work begun by MG Rover before the firm folded. Under the skin, the car is based on a shortened 75 platform, and it has appeared so quickly because it’s taken advantage of development which MG Rover had already carried out on a replacement model for the original 45. But SAIC hasn’t done this alone. British engineering experts have also had a hand in the car’s evolution, specifically through spin-off firm Ricardo 2010 Consultants Ltd, created to work with the Chinese on developing new models.

Made up of hand-picked experts, many of whom were employed by MG Rover, the 2010 consultancy will soon be taken over entirely by SAIC. However, it’s the link with Ricardo that gives us a further clue to this prototype’s identity. While the vis-ually distorting lines and chequer effect are intended to distract the eye, the distinctive pattern is a regular Ricardo disguise. This – coupled with the fact that the vehicle is rolling on Rover 75 wheels – is further evidence that it is a Roewe.

Several other revealing details are also clear to see. The four-door body has a high waistline similar to the Honda Civic’s, and while the rear is heavily cloaked, you can still see a distinctive split exhaust pipe.

Expected to be offered only as a saloon, the fresh model’s interior is set to break new ground for China’s car industry. Quality is anticipated to rival that of European competitors, with an emphasis on the traditional Rover strengths of luxury and comfort. Thanks to the extensive input from British engineers and with many miles of European development driving still to be completed, the 450’s dynamics should also be up to the job of matching many rivals on the UK market.

A Euro IV emissions-compatible 2.0-litre diesel unit is being worked on, and it’s thought that a turbo-charged 1.8-litre petrol unit based on Rover’s K Series will be offered as well. Producing around 150bhp, it’s hoped that the motor will boast a competitive blend of performance, fuel economy and refinement.

It’s not yet known exactly when the compact family saloon will go on sale, but it is tipped to make an appearance at one of next year’s top international motor shows. Roewe is expected to launch in the UK at around the same time.

Meanwhile, MG will also re-appear under the ownership of Chinese firm Nanjing. For the latest images of Roewe’s 750, take a look at, the manufacturer’s official website.

MG TF undergoing final testing in China

By ASH SUTCLIFFE, China Car Times

FOLLOWING the recently NAC-MG affirmation that Longbridge would be central to the company’s global strategy, and that production of the popular TF model is to resume imminently, it now looks like the model is actually already being built, writes Ash Sutcliffe.

According to the recent announcement, Nanjing plans to build a domestic industrial base, and use the Longbridge factory as a means to open up international markets. According to these spy photos, NAC-MG may have already implemented the TF plan. In China, the left hand drive model has already passed homologation tests, and can go on the market at any time. Also the British versions can also enter the markets in the UK.

Reports in China suggest that the new car has already undertaken extensive testing, although these models depicted in the pictures have already attracted criticism for their outdated detailing…

Does the ‘0001’ signify this is the first car off the line?

A line-up of MG TFs spotted in China – is it already in production there?

Land Rover Defender remains in production

Customer demand for the Defender, today, saw a substantially revised new model for 2007 roll off the production line at Solihull. Land Rover employees were present to celebrate this important milestone which marks the continued success of the iconic model which began life in 1948.

The new model goes on sale this spring and will feature significant upgrades to enhance the ownership experience and meet forthcoming legislation. The extension to the long life of Defender, which has been in production in various models since 1948, will preserve more than 750 jobs at the Solihull factory where it is produced alongside the Range Rover, Range Rover Sport and Discovery 3.

Annual production of Defender has remained consistent at around 25,000 units in recent years, with much of the demand coming from large contract orders. For example, the Italian energy distribution company, Ente Nazionale Elettricita, recently placed an order for over 900 Defenders. Since its emergence, nearly 60 years ago, the original Land Rover has carved a heroic path through some of the world’s remotest regions and it’s estimated that around two thirds of all Land Rovers are still in use.

“Defender remains a significant contributor to the business as well as an enduring symbol of Land Rover’s 4×4 heritage,” said Phil Popham, Land Rover’s Managing Director. “Its simple concept hasn’t changed fundamentally over the years, but it remains as relevant as ever. Defender continues to play a vital role for emergency services, aid workers and farmers around the world. As we grow Land Rover we’re not forgetting our core values and our traditional customers.”

The Defender name was introduced in 1990 but the model is a direct descendant of the original Land Rover introduced in 1948. Production of Defender and its predecessors has passed 1.8 million.

Commenting on the introduction of the model updated for 2007, Paul Cope, Manufacturing Director at Solihull said; “The introduction of Defender 07 Model Year is recognition that consumer demand remains very strong for this iconic model. The 2007 Model Year with its new design enhancements, will ensure that Defender remains a key contributor to the success of the Solihull manufacturing site. Our manufacturing team is absolutely dedicated to increasing customer satisfaction by making the 2007 Model Year Defender, the best Defender yet.”

For more information on the Land Rover range go to

New dashboard is an ergonomic improvement, even if it loses most of the legacy switchgear from the BL parts bin…

Harry Webster


Picture: Ian Nicholls

THROUGHOUT the 1950s and 1960s, Harry Webster, the technical director of Standard-Triumph, would often ask his development staff for an experimental car which he could use over the weekend. They were accustomed to such requests. He would not merely be planning a trip to the golf course – but a there-and-back dash from Coventry to Turin in Italy. It was the best way, he insisted, of keeping in touch with his styling consultants.

Webster, who directed Standard-Triumph’s engineering efforts from 1955 to 1968, witnessed the company’s decline in 1960, saw it rescued by Leyland Motors, then blossom in the 1960s. Much of the recovery was due to the launch of attractive-looking new cars like the Triumph Herald, Vitesse, TR4, Spitfire, GT6, 2000 and 1300 types. A mechanical engineer who liked to get involved in styling, and a driving enthusiast who supported active race and rally programmes, Webster was inspirational, and popular with his work force.

Henry George Webster was born in 1917 in Coventry, the centre of Britain’s motor industry, and educated at Coventry Technical College. Joining the Standard Motor Co. as an apprentice in 1932, he moved into the technical engineering department. Between 1940 and 1946 he was involved in Standard’s aircraft engine manufacturing work, but there after returned to his first love – the design of motor cars.

From 1948 he became the Chief Chassis Engineer of a company whose main product was still the Standard Vanguard. He was much involved in transforming an ugly duckling prototype of 1952 into the TR2 sports car of 1953, and from that time the Triumph marque became dominant. TR sports cars sold hugely all round the world, and the company took up racing and rallying with great success.

Webster then set up the company’s links with the mercurial Italian stylist, Giovanni Michelotti, for whom he had a warm regard. On one occasion, having called in to the Turin studio on his way back from holiday, he became so involved in the shaping of the Herald that he forgot that he had neglected his wife and daughter. Hours later, he returned to the outside world, to find them fast asleep in his car.

Webster’s managing director at this time was Alick Dick, who along with him, and with George Turnbull and Martin Tustin, began to promote the design of more advanced new Triumphs. Innovations included the all-independent suspension of the Herald, which could also out-turn a London taxi cab, a new twin-overhead-camshaft ‘Sabrina’ engine for racing at Le Mans, and the exciting styles penned by Michelotti.

After the Leyland rescue of 1961, Dick was ousted by Sir Donald Stokes, but Webster’s reputation was such that he became vital to the reborn organisation. It was his personal drive which persuaded Leyland to back the Spitfire and the elegant 2000 saloon (cars which hurt their deadly rivals at BMC and Rover much more than they would ever admit). More than most other top engineers of this period, Webster enjoyed driving far and fast, and was an avid sketcher of all things mechanical.
With race-modified Spitfires, he also satisfied an urge to take Triumph production cars back to the legendary Le Mans 24-Hour race, where they not only won their capacity class, but came close to humiliating their British and French rivals. This was always done with enthusiasm, for when the race was at its height, Webster was usually to found on the pit counter, missing little, and storing up knowledge for another occasion.

Soon after the formation of British Leyland in 1968, Stokes moved George Turnbull and Webster to Longbridge to re-shape the sprawling Austin-Morris business – which was drifting with only a limited forward programme. Cut off from his old stamping grounds in Coventry, Webster found it difficult to inspire engineers who had been used to a different style of management. With much interference from above (to which he was not accustomed), with labour unrest all around, and with large financial problems always looming, there was never the same empathy.

In 1974 therefore, an approach from Automotive Products of Leamington Spa, to become their Group Technical Director, heralded his final move within the British motor industry, where he remained until retiring in 1982.

By this time the classic car hobby had burgeoned across the world, and many of the Standards and Triumphs which Webster and his team had inspired were once again famous and much admired. He was much in demand, not only for interviews and reminiscences, but to attend events which featured ‘his’ cars. A man who had never previously courted fame, and who had always passed all credit to his colleagues, he found it difficult to become a figurehead, indeed an icon, for these cars.

At this stage Webster, who was essentially a modest and pragmatic man, could not easily accept that the job of work he had done for so many years could inspire so many enthusiasts As he later wrote to a colleague: ‘Can you imagine a product planning proposal of the 1950s and 1960s saying that: ‘Finally, in making this proposal, I expect to receive an avalanche of greetings on my 80th birthday” …. After all, I was only doing my job.’

The Standard-Triumph movement, however, would not him slip into obscurity, nor forget the marque which had been killed off in the 1980s. After the Coventry factory had been demolished for redevelopment, he was proud to be asked to unveil the commemorative plaque on the site, which is all that now remains of an expansive period.

Kept busy in retirement – a group of his Standard-Triumph colleagues encouraged regular re-unions, and golfing occasions, until old age carried off most of them – by the early part of the new millennium, he was the surviving figurehead of that once proud and independent company.
Webster married Margaret (always known as Peggy) Sharp in 1943. Both she, and their daughter Jean, predeceased him.

Harry Webster, C.B.E., M.I.Mech.E, M.S.A.E, automotive engineer, was born on May 27 1917. He died on 6 February 2007, aged 89.

More pictures emerge of the MG7

Spotted testing recently in, Nanjing, the home town of the new MG 7, this pre-production prototype clearly shows that few changes have been made to the existing design. Unlike Roewe’s 750, which features an all-new rear end and tweaked interior, the MG 7 appears to have made its transition to China untouched.

The profile and front-end shots now reveal that there are no appreciable differences between the MG7 and Rover 75, barring the badging. We hear that the standard models will be marketed as the MG7, while the more sporting model will be called the MG7Z – with the intention being the ‘Z’ title will be used much in the same way that AMG is for Mercedes-Benz, or MTech for BMW. We’re still waiting for the sporting model to appear, probably sometime before the model’s official launch.

The car is due for official launch (alongside the MG TF) in April to co-incide with the 60th birthday of the Nanjing car company, and it will go head to head with the Roewe 750, trading heavily on the car’s British roots. Meanwhile, SAIC car prices have been confirmed – starting at £15,150 for the 2.5L Classic model, and rising to £17,800 for the top of the range Aristocracy version.

Picture: China Car Times.

Keith Adams

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