I DON’T know what it is about prototypes and concepts, but they’ve always fascinated me. There’s something about cars we were never meant to see that I find incredibly intriguing.
So, imagine my surprise and excitement when MG’s Ian Pogson offered to show me some hidden history at the plant. Ian joined the company back in the early Eighties, and has seen an awful lot of history unfold at the famous plant, from the arrival of BMW to being informed of his redundancy while in China, when MG Rover collapsed in 2005.
Today, Ian works for SAIC (Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp) and having spotted my obvious enthusiasm for the never-ending story of Longbridge, was only too happy to show me the cars.
For those unfamiliar with the Longbridge site, as well as the production lines, the plant also features a 300 seat convention centre. In years gone by it was used to showcase new models to the press but in recent years has been all but mothballed. This vast room is devoid of daylight and pitch black, but behind the stage lurks what I’ve come to see.
The original development prototypes for the MGF and the RDX60, a concept car that was very much MG Rover’s last-chance saloon.
The cars are dusty, dirty and a little mouldy but Ian and I set to work giving them a quick clean up, with Ian explaining each car to me. The three MG mules, codenamed PR1, 2 and 3 are all runners, with interiors plucked from the lines of other cars of the time. PR1 features a transverse engine and bits borrowed from a Maestro, PR2 is a rear-drive V8 built by Reliant and PR3 is the more familiar Metro-based car. For prototypes they’re surprisingly well finished, PR1’s interior comes straight from the Rover 200, while 3 is pure Metro. It’s not too hard to imagine this trio out on the open road. It’s a pity that they’re not part of a heritage collection, or on public display. The MGF was a huge success and these cars were the foundation of that success.
On the rear of the stage as if still waiting to meet the press sits the model concept RDX60. This was the car that would have replaced the badly aging ZS and 45 and would have drawn heavily on the Rover 75 for its underpinnings. I can see a lot of potential in this MG version, it looks a world away from the Honda-based model it would have replaced, the most striking similarity visually is with Vauxhall’s short-lived Signum. It’s the most frustrating car here, because it represents what could have been and the end of a company that could trace its roots back almost 100 years. In the end the company had run out of chances and we all know what happened next.
Of course we’ll never know how good the RDX cars could have been, or how bad, especially given the desperate cost cutting the company was implementing (not to mention the likes of the CityRover) it’s hard to imagine it reaching the highpoint of quality that marked the 75’s launch in 1999.
Still it was fascinating to see the cars and to wonder ‘what if’. And it begs the question: what do other manufacturers have hidden away, lurking in the dark, waiting to be seen?