The MG RV8 reintroduced the MG name on a sports car, after a break of more than ten years.
In 1979 MG celebrated 50 years of production at its Abingdon factory, with a week-long party that culminated in a massive parade through the streets of the town on Sunday 9 September.
The following day, in one of the worst cases of industrial bad timing, British Leyland announced that MG B production would cease and the Abingdon factory would close in mid-1980.
Although the MG brand was revived on the Metro in May 1982 (see Issue 6) it would be another decade before the famous octagon would again grace the front of a sports car.
The model that would eventually bring the MG marque back to its spiritual roots would in itself only be a short-run model to reintroduce the concept and mark time before the release of the MGF.
From the moment of the announcement of Abingdon’s closure, MG enthusiasts and dealers had tried to show the BL upper management that what they and the general car-buying public wanted to see was another MG sports car.
This was supported by various market surveys into what the MG marque meant to the average consumer. Management, it seemed, was slow to heed the message.
By 1984 tentative steps were being taken, with a number of concept cars appearing over the next few years. The AR6-based Midget didn’t get past the mock-up stage, but the mid-engined EX-E supercar was shown at the 1985 British Motor Show and received a tremendous reception. However, EX-E had only been intended as a styling exercise and to illustrate what BL was capable of with its new direction and new technology.
With the amount of interest shown EX-E, a more viable prototype, the front-wheel-drive F16, was put together. But a lack of interest from upper management meant the project didn’t go any further.
The following year, Graham Day was appointed as BL’s new chairman by British PM Margaret Thatcher, with his primary role being to bring the company back into profit for the purpose of privatisation.
One of his first acts was to rename the company the Rover Group, to reflect the move up-market into the higher profit but lower volume car market, aiming squarely at BMW and Mercedes.
Of the MG brand, Day told Car magazine in 1987 that he felt it was “under-exploited and under-developed and allowed partly to change character over the past five to eight years.”
1988 was a big year for Rover Group, and thus also for MG. The company was sold to British Aerospace, for £150 million. Included in the deal was the subsidiary British Motor Heritage, which had been supplying many replacement parts for cars formerly built by Leyland and its predecessors since 1975, and through licensed Heritage specialist dealers since early 1980.
In 1987 BMH acquired the original tooling for the complete MGB body shell and set up a new factory at Faringdon, about half way between Abingdon and Swindon, to make it. It was launched at the National Classic Car Show at the NEC in Birmingham in April 1988, when a complete car was built up around a new shell. The body shell sold for £1,521 and BMH’s new Executive Director, David Bishop, felt if one car could be built, then why not others.
Other MGB enthusiasts felt the same. During a visit to the then new facility, several UK MG Car Club V8 Register members asked about the possibility of a V8 roadster body shell being made available to cater for the growing number of MGB roadsters being converted to V8 power.
Previously, BMH management had rejected the idea, maintaining that the body shells were only to provide a ‘service replacement’ for the owners of existing rusty MGBs. However on this occasion, it was admitted that consideration was being given to producing a V8 body shell, even though this specification had never been developed at Abingdon.
Bishop took the idea of building complete V8 versions of the MGB, using the Rover all-alloy V8 engine, to BMH’s Managing Director, Peter Mitchell, who was in favour of the idea.
Despite all these goings on, it was not until Mazda launched the MX5 in 1989 that management at Rover really sat up and took notice. The styling of the MX5 was unashamedly based on the classic British sports cars of the 1960s, epitomized by the MGB and the Lotus Elan.
Suddenly, there was an urgency for MG to bring out its own affordable sports car.
Work began on prototypes for what would eventually become the MGF, but as this car would not be ready for sale for four or five years (eventually being released in March 1995) the company wanted something to reintroduce the MG sportscar to the market, and to remind the public of the great success of the MGB, as a precursor to the new car.
So it was that David Bishop got the green light for his idea, which became known as Project Adder – in reference to the 1960s AC Cobra, which combined a classic British sports car with American V8 muscle.
The budget allocated to Project Adder was a mere £5 million. This turned out to be adequate, given that it was essentially based on a body shell and engine that were already available and had been proven to work previously. The bulk of the cost would go into modernizing the body, suspension, hood and interior trim, as well as prototype build and testing.
Given that the Adder concept was envisaged essentially to reintroduce the MG marque as a sports car maker ahead of the proposed MGF, which had itself been allocated £40 million, the budget was appropriate.
Two prototypes were built using brand new Heritage MGB roadster body shells. The first, built by Styling International in Leamington Spa, was fitted with a fuel injected 3.5 litre Rover V8 engine from the Land Rover factory at Solihull and was based on a left-hand-drive US spec roadster. At the time, Rover was still selling cars in the US, though sales were declining rapidly, and it was envisaged that Project Adder would revive the MG name in its former largest market.
These hopes were dashed in 1989 when Rover withdrew from the US market; although Land Rover and Range Rover continued there.
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The BMC Experience Issue 13. Apr-Jun 2015 Magazine
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