GBSCC buys into the Austin-Healey mystique
Austin-Rover.co.uk Industry Editor, MICHAEL WYNN-WILLIAMS
Here’s one we made earlier. Back in September, Krish Bhaskar of the Triple A consortium announced its desire to produce a modern interpretation of the Austin-Healey, under the codename ‘Tempest’. It’s a dream of GBSCC, too, as its own plans to purchase the prestigious name have come to light.
THE Financial Times is reporting that GB Sports Cars is in final negotiations with Nanjing to secure the rights to the Austin-Healey name and bring back the traditional British hairy-chested sports car. There are no details yet but this would fill a yawning gap in the market.
The Mazda MX5 showed that after the demise of the MGB there was still a need for a traditional sports car but one that benefited from modern technology. The MG-F was really the British reply to the Japanese statement, rather than the natural descendant of the MG line. While the MGB had latterly been traditional only in the sense that it was an antique, the MGF re-introduced the eternal delights of sports car motoring along with the kind of accoutrements you would expect of a late 20th century automobile. The only downside to this was that ease of driving meant that any wimp could handle it, hence the cruel ‘hairdresser’ jibe.
The brutish, hairy-chested spirit lived on in the TVRs but at a high price. Nevertheless, their popularity showed that what was needed was something between the MG and TVR, an animal sports car at an affordable price. There are basically three routes that GB Sports Cars can take with Austin-Healey to achieve this. The first is to buy the basic SV design and bring it down to more affordable price. However, this vehicle was intended from the outset to be a sophisticated supercar and so it would be difficult to reduce costs without spoiling the nature of the beast.
The second is to bring the Viking project back to life. That project has been on and off the back-boiler for some time at MGR, and the intention was to use a shortened version of the X12 (MG ZT V8) floorpan, powered by the same family of V8 engines and clothed in traditional aluminium bodywork.
More likely is the third option, to install a more powerful engine in the current TF. Once this would have been the KV6 (once the space issues for the fuel tank had been solved), perhaps with the Sprintex supercharger option, but it seems that this engine might fall foul of the latest regulations. Whatever engine is finally chosen (a VAG-sourced engine being the most likely), making the Austin-Healey as a restyled, superpowered MG would bring the kind of manufacturing benefits to both models that Porsche enjoy with the Boxster and new Cayman. The Austin name would also resonate with the Austin brand if that were chosen to replace Rover.
The Financial Times article takes this story to be a good omen for Longbridge, a sign that progress is being made and investors lined up. Whether this is true or not is hard to say. It might suggest that the Qvale family are interested, as was rumoured, in helping MG return to the crucial US market. The inclusion of Austin-Healey further strengthens the economic rationale behind this. However, the real meat of MG remains the saloon car range and the long term viability of the company depends on their return. In the meantime, I think we can at least start polishing up our medallions and combing our chests in gleeful anticipation.
Nanjing finally issues a statement…
…and claims ZT and TF production will re-commence at Longbridge.
The MG ZT production line will remain in Longbridge, and production will be re-started, claims Nanjing.
You could own a little bit of Longbridge history…
AFTER months of silence, the new owners of MG Rover, Nanjing Automotive Corporation (NAC) has issued a statement to MG Rover dealers across the globe stating that production of the TF will re-start at Longbridge, as well as that of the MG ZT – a fact, until today, which was always in some doubt.
The letter, which originated from the company’s headquarters in China, has put a little more meat on the bones of the MG Rover story, although curiously, no mention of Fraser Welford-Winton’s Great British Sports Car Company (GBSCC) has been made. This is despite the fact shortly after the sale of MG Rover’s assets to the Chinese company for £53m back in July, GBSCC was announced as a strategic partner – and it has been widely reported that it would be running the operation in the UK, and overseeing the TF’s production.
The statement does talk about a strategic partner, and NAC’s need to find one – with particular regard to the European market. Why GBSCC wasn’t named, we have yet to find out, although it paves the way for the British venture to make its own announcements.
Ambitious timescales have been put on the operation, and it will be interesting to see how it all pans out.
NANJING AUTOMOBILE (GROUP) CORPORATION
331 ZHONGYANG ROAD, NANJING 210037, CHINA TEL: (025)83432417 FAX: (025) 83417873
Comprehensive Planning & Start-up of MG Project by Nanjing Automobile
A Letter to Dealers of former MG Rover by NAC
NAC is one of the earliest established automobile manufacturers in China, whose products cover vehicle products such as passenger cars, trucks, buses etc., parts such as transmission, steering gear, clutch, brake gear, front axle, rear axle, water tank, vehicle instrument etc. as well as other areas such as iron foundry, aluminium foundry and tooling etc. With the development of globalization in auto industry, NAC has established joint venture companies with Fiat Auto and Iveco in Nanjing, engaged in the production of passenger cars and light duty buses, as well as more than ten parts manufacturing joint venture companies with some internationally renowned parts manufacturers such as Valeo, Lear, Brembo and so on. Up till now, NAC has, through its wholly owned subsidiaries and the joint venture companies in which it is a party, produced a series of products with fairly good reputation in the market of China, such as Yuejin brand trucks, Fiat brand passenger cars and Iveco brand light duty buses.
It is a significant step taken by NAC in its global strategy to acquire the assets of MG Rover and Powertrain Ltd (MG Assets).
In light of the requirements for the further development of auto industry in China and that of the world as a whole, it has become the development trend of Chinese auto enterprise to extend the business out of China, to carry out independent development and to forge independent brands. After its successful acquisition of MG Assets, NAC is now undertaking the overall planning of MG project, of which, some part is already underway for implementation.
NAC has now decided to establish production bases of MG project at both Longbridge and Nanjing. On one hand, the production of some products with rather high cost if produced in the UK, such as engine, transmission and medium and low end vehicle products, will be transferred to China, where a mature supply chain with low cost will be set up step by step. On the other hand, with part of production facility retained in the UK, the original Longbridge site will be integrated to resume the production of MGTF sport car and part of high end products (including ZT and ZT-T). Meanwhile, by making full use of the prominent R&D capability and human resources in the UK as well as that of China, the Euro IV engines and a new generation of vehicles will be developed and then produced in both China and the UK in the near future. Then, the sales network of China established by NAC and the global sales network of the former MG Rover can be used to meet the demand of various markets in China, Britain, Europe and North America.
Through the implementation of this strategy, NAC will be able to promote its own brand image, cultivate independent development capability, establish global sourcing platform and sales network and develop two strategic production bases, which will, by making full use of acquired MG assets, giving full play to the advantages of China and Britain and sharing the development cost of new products between two sites, launch to the global market MG brand products characterised with market orientation, high technology and competitiveness, thus eventually achieving the strategic goal of MG project in China and the UK as a whole.
Currently, NAC is in the process of making detailed plan for the strategy implementation in the U.K. and China and has taken steps on some important strategic issues such as Longbridge Site integration and Euro IV engines development. On the other hand, NAC is also actively seeking for strategic partner aiming to operate the business in the UK by means of joint venture.
In the strategic plan made by NAC, Nanjing and Longbridge are indispensable to each other. Without the successful business in China, the supply chain and finished products with low cost will be impossible; While the sustaining and enhancing of the market share and MG brand in the UK and Europe will be totally contingent upon the success of the business in the U.K. Therefore, it is a key point in the global strategic plan of NAC to re-establish a new sales network based on the original one of former MG Rover.
In the current plan, the production will be resumed in the Longbridge plant at the beginning of 2007, when MGTF, MG-ZT and MG-ZT-T will appear on the market again through sales network in the UK and Europe. The products to be re-launched into the market will preserve the original British style, reliable and stable quality and robust power, and be sold with MG brands. Meanwhile, some other products like MG-ZS and MG-ZR will be produced by the company in China and then supplied to the market of China and that of the U.K. and Europe as well.
We believe, the global sales network of former MG Rover is actually a valuable treasure, and to make full use of this treasure is a key factor for the success of NAC in MG project.
On one hand, we appreciate the good faith and support of each dealer towards the former MG Rover, on the other hand, we really hope that when the models like MG TF is re-launched into the market, a renewed cooperative relationship would have already been established between the dealers and NAC. Before MG products are launched into the market again, we will try to maintain MG brand and sales network and promote the communication with you, sharing with you information like our progress in products modification and development.
Granted, it will take some time to integrate the Longbridge site and restart the production there, but we are firmly confident on our strategic plan, on the dealers of former MG Rover, and on a brilliant future where such co-operation will be desirable.
Fancy a couple of unique MG Rovers?
You could own a little bit of Longbridge history…
YOU could be the proud owner of one – or both – Rover 75/MG ZT Surefire Project cars offered by Bonhams at its upcoming auction at the Olympia in London on December 5. As can be seen, there are two cars, both S-registered, and with interesting chassis numbers.
The first, a Rover 75, is expected to go for between £10,000 and £15,000, and is based on a top-of-the-range Rover 75 Connoisseur, this unique vehicle was specially constructed at Longbridge as part of the ‘Surefire 1’ project to provide high-speed emergency cover for land speed record attempts. While the project’s MG ZT was kitted out as the primary high-speed fire tender, this Rover 75 saloon was modified to act as its support vehicle, conveying other members of the crew and additional equipment to the scene.
Both vehicles are powered by the Rover 2.5-litre V6 engine; but unlike the ‘Surefire 1′ MG ZT, the interior of which has been stripped out, this Rover 75 remains a luxurious four-seater, albeit one fitted with ZT seats upholstered in red/black suede leather, while air conditioning ensures that the occupants remain cool regardless of the temperature of their surroundings.
Additional equipment located within the cockpit includes fire extinguishers, an emergency glass-hammer and a Tempus VMDS (Vehicle Mounted Data Solution) computer system with dashboard-mounted touch-screen, enabling fire-fighters to access plans of premises’ constructional details and the materials and processes used therein while on the move responding to emergency call. The main processor (running Windows NT) is housed in the boot and there is a data download port at the rear. Additional emergency equipment installed includes a roof-mounted lighting gantry and illuminated message scroll bar.
Project leader Richard Baker envisaged that ‘Surefire 1’ would be self-financing via commercial sponsorship, and thus would be able to offer its services free of charge to any land speed record attempt. Over 40 British companies responded to the call, providing £240,000 worth of support. ‘Surefire 1’ has been linked to several world speed record attempts, including those of Don Wales (grandson of Sir Malcolm Campbell), Primetime Land Speed Engineering’s electrically-powered ‘e=motion’ and the ‘Quicksilver’ water speed record challenger.
Finished in Fire Engine Red with grey interior, the vehicle has covered circa 8000 miles from new and is offered with press release material, MoT to March 2006 and Swansea V5 registration document.
1999 Rover 75 Connoisseur ‘Surefire 1’ Support Vehicle
Registration no. S967 YOL
Chassis no. EXM001038
Engine no. 113821
The MG ZT is also interesting. ‘Surefire 1’ is based on an MG ZT 190 2.5-litre V6 saloon, extensively re-engineered to accommodate the latest state-of-the-art fire suppression equipment. In addition, the engine has been mildly modified to produce 211bhp and the suspension and brakes up-rated to track specification.
The interior has been stripped out and fitted with Recaro race seats and five-point harnesses at the front, and a full Safety Devices roll cage (air conditioning has been retained). There is a two-way radio for communicating with other support vehicles, in-cockpit hammer and fire extinguishers. A chequer-plate floor has been installed at the rear, which accommodates a 100-litre foam premix skid-mounted fire fighting system, located where the seats had been, together with associated reels/hoses and various types of hand-held extinguisher.
Although its level of performance had been envisaged primarily to provide swift assistance in the event of an emergency occurrence during a speed record attempt, ‘Surefire 1’ was also built with an eye on talking the world speed record for a fire engine, currently held (unofficially) by the Jaguar XJR that supported Richard Noble’s Thrust SSC project. Driven by Mark Medlicott at Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground on 23rd October 2002, ‘Surefire 1’ claimed a new world record, its average speed over several flying kilometre runs being 112.49mph (copies of the official MSA timekeeper’s sheets are available). Happily, ‘Surefire 1’ has never been called upon to respond to a genuine emergency, having only been used for training and demonstrations.
Finished in Fire Engine Red with red/grey interior, the vehicle has covered circa 10,000 miles from new and is offered with press release material, MG Rover Group correspondence, current MoT and Swansea V5 registration document.
2001 MG ZT ‘Surefire 1’ Fire Chase Vehicle
Registration no. S625 RNX
Chassis no. SARRJZLLEXM001038
Engine no. 113850
For more information about the auction, which also includes an ex-MGR development Qvale Mangusta, click on www.bonhams.com and selection the ‘Motoring’ despartment…
Longbridge – boulevard of broken dreams…
KEITH ADAMS, pictures by Raddogextreme and Oxygen Thief, used with permission
Old West Works number one has been cleared for some time now, and the glow of streetlights through the windows do little to alleviate the emptiness of the place…
THE silence must have been deafening once the production lines had stopped, and Longbridge’s line workers had filed out of the factory for the very last time. Who would have thought back in the Sixties when over 200,000 cars per year were rolling out of Longbridge, that less than fifty years later, the place would be a silent and empty shell, its only remaining fixtures poignant reminders of a happier past?
Longbridge has been in the process of being stripped for several months, now – the Chinese work parties moving in almost as the ink dried on the £53m contact to buy the factory and remaining assets from MG Rover’s administrators, PriceWaterhouseCoopers. As shown in last month’s news pages, JB’s photos clearly show that production lines are being crated up lock, stock and barrel, and heading down the M42 towards a new life in the far East.
However, nothing prepares you for these remarkable and moving pictures, released yesterday, and taken by Raddogextreme and Oxygen Thief of the Urban Exploration website, www.28dayslater.co.uk. They show how the inside of the factory looks today – and that although vast swathes of the its interior may have been cleared, there still remains enough of Longbridge to freeze-frame the moment in time when the production lines ground to a halt and the lines switched off for the final time.
All of these pictures were taken in parts of the Old West Body plant, Old West Works was used right upto the demise of MG Rover to store Rover 600/800 tooling brought back from Cowley. MG Rover was trying to sell these facilities to the Far East countries as well as Iran… Some of the pictures in the Birmingham newspapers show this production tooling has been taken on lorries – presumably to China…
It is clear that there is now no turning back for Longbridge – the only remaining question is how much of it will survive into the future?
Rover 75 Tourer bodyshells stand idle on conveyor from Body-in-white West Works to the Paint Shop (No 2) and are unlikely to move again, apart from being removed for scrap. Right now, they are a still-life monument to a car that died before its time…
Late-spec 75 Tourer is a discarded shell in the West 4 Basement – the sectioned car may have been chopped up for studio photography.
Y-plate Tata Indica heads the same Tourer as shown above. Perhaps it was a former MG Rover evaluation car, stripped for costing purposes…
Part of an old Mini overhead conveyor system that used to move parts of the floor pan around the old Body-In-White west works where the Mini Body was produced…
Digitally enhanced image shows this 75 Saloon was under the scrutiny of the Chinese for some reason. The MG Rover headed notepaper states: “Nanjing Auto to bring back this part”. That’s one more Rover 75 exported…
Rover 45/MG ZSs in West 4 Upper, the ‘Bren Gun Section’. Partially finished cars bathe in sodium tinged light from outside – production was never re-started during the administration period, and now they are lined-up awaiting their fate in the crusher…
Partially finished 75 body wearing its doors – this car never going to be completed now, but could possibly be a good source for parts. This is at the end of West 1 near the point where the conveyor leaves the West to go into the Conveyor Bridge and on to the South Work…
Metal mountain: this digitally enhanced picture shows Rover 45/MG ZS body shells awaiting the crusher.
Production, personnel or technical records in West 4 basement. The nearest boxes read ‘trade marks’, but all it’s now is history…
The day the line stopped – production counters wait in vain for cars that are never going to arrive…
Thanks to Gary Bushell and Tony Osborne for clarifications…