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Unhinged: MG, Beware Of False Icons

Simon Charlesworth April 24, 2012 No Comments on Unhinged: MG, Beware Of False Icons

I know it’s neither hip nor trendy to admit to being an MG enthusiast, but then that’s probably part of the reason why I am one.

Unhinged: MG, Beware Of False Icons

So you’d think that I’d be happy about SAIC keeping the badge alive. Well, I’m not and it isn’t because I’m a contrary bugger – it’s because I feel that they don’t know what MG is about. However, in fairness, not a lot of people do.

Many regard the company as a joke – associating it with tired old Russet Brown rubber-nose MGBs, ruined by idiotic legislation and peppered with rust. Cars superseded by Austin-Rover’s Metro, Maestro and Montego range which, in the past and before Eighties nostalgia was allowed, I dismissed – with tongue in cheek – as “insults to the badge”.

Yet look into the company’s Pre-War race and record-breaking activity and it is phenomenal – giant-killers with tiny screaming supercharged OHC engines. Post-War, was it any wonder that Abingdon became the base of BMC Comps and Special Tuning, whilst MG still broke records and enjoyed motorsport success. Despite being controlled by corporate overlords who neither understood nor appreciated the company, the Abingdon gang still pushed the engineering boundaries with the MGA Twin Cam, the MGC GTS and even engineering the fuel-injected O-series for the MGB (instead it found its way under the bonnet of the SD1 Rover 2000).

So when MG’s current owners started tapping into this history and getting it wrong, it deeply annoyed me because ever since Abingdon closed, it has been harder to accept each successive generation of ‘MG’ as being an MG.

My nose was initially thumped out of place by the MG Six TV advert, which featured a Leylandised MGB roadster with a fake British numberplate. Why wasn’t the MGB a pretty MkI, why didn’t they shoot the ad in Britain (the scenery is worthy of an Austin Powers spoof) and why resurrect a name which was coined for six-cylinder models? That though was just the beginning.

Unhinged: MG, Beware Of False Icons

Successive car shows have featured MG stands bearing the legend ‘Morris Garages’, which is where the initials originally come from – but, when founder Cecil Kimber declared ‘MG stands for nothing but itself’ it ceased to be mentioned. Not content with plundering the Magnette name, they’ve now unveiled the ‘Three’ and the ‘Five’ – which are more BMW than MG. Drink in styling which is far more GM than MG, plus the return of the black octagon last used during the BL dark ages, and it all leaves an unpleasant taste in my mouth.

As you can see, I was so cheesed off, I was almost out of cheese – but then they unveiled the MG Icon SUV, which is so unbelievably wrong I’m now suffering from a calcium overdose.

According to reports, this Stupendously Ugly Vehicle which resembles an unfortunate looking lovechild after a Nissan Juke got its wicked way with a Mini, features design cues from the MGB and MGA. Er…

Well, despite my octagonal anorak collection – all I can see is the MGB radiator grille, the MGA front wing/waste and sill line, and possibly a caricature of the MGB’s rear lights. In reality, this pseudo soft-roader bears more Porsche 911/Cayenne/ Panamera and Renault Wind cues than anything MG. Proving, once again, that I’m right in not giving a monkey’s about modern cars when they look so clumsy and lead-footed.

Of course it’s very easy for me to sit here and pontificate about what SAIC should do with MG. My problem is that I remain convinced that Rover missed out on utilising MG during its partnership with Honda. Especially after recently interviewing MG designer, Don Hayter, who (post MG, worked closely with Honda on the Triumph Acclaim) said: “I was most impressed with Honda, they talked our language – they were good people”. This could have, no wait, should have been a great partnership.

The other day, in the WC reading room, I was tucking into a Motor sports cars group test – the Midget was there, as too was a Ginetta G15, FIAT 850 Coupé, Triumph Spitfire and Honda S800 fixed-head. The Midget won in most areas, apart from the engine, which went to the S800’s little roller-bearing screamer. Mentally transplant that Honda engine into the Midget, and you’re back where MG started – where MG belongs – building nimble sports cars with a slightly doolally engine.

After interviewing Mr Hayter, I couldn’t help but ask his opinion of the current generation of SAIC cars – the Six/Magnette – and I can still remember his reply: “It’s just a car…”

The world is still crying out for a mass-produced, affordable MG sports car. A front-engined rear-drive machine that is small, attractive, fun, with just enough grip and powered by a small twin-cam screamer. In return for Honda’s input, they would have been in possession of a great sporting marque and Acura wouldn’t have been necessary in the US. Come the here and now, and such a car would be a true bargain and I would certainly have one parked outside.

Given so many marques have gone and some remain wobbling on shaky ground, a new Midget – a true MG icon scaled to our roads and with tax-friendly C02 figures – would have made far more sense than this flabby monstrosity.

Luckily though, I am fortunate to still be able to enjoy my old 1969 one instead. Now, where did I put the keys…?

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