There’s something strange happening here in the UK. Our best-loved sports car brand, MG, has returned – but the country seems indifferent.
Now, you’ll probably know that this ‘return’ isn’t as simple as it may initially sound. MG has been treated as badly as it’s possible to treat a brand since the 1970s; repeatedly allowed to fade away then resuscitated just when all involved were convinced it was dead and buried. And the latest comeback is in the hands of the Chinese super-company NAC, which neatly scooped up the remains of the bankrupt MG-Rover in 2005.
So, an oh-so-British marque in the hands of the Chinese. Does it matter? Bentley and Rolls-Royce are in the hands of the Germans, and enjoying unprecedented success. Until only a few weeks ago Aston Martin was Ford-owned, and as us much as us Brits try and kid ourselves that Ford’s as English as strawberries and cream, even the most delusional of us understand that really the great Henry Ford was born in Greenfield Village, Michigan, not Dagenham, Essex. Now, Aston’s in the hands of true-grit Brit David Richards – with Kuwait-based backers. Nobody has turned a hair.
But back to MG, and if we can’t rely on the great unwashed to get excited at the return of the famous Octagonal badge, the classic car marketplace must be buzzing with it, surely? Umm, no. My local paper has a recently-restored-from-bare-metal 1973 BGT for £2250. That’s ridiculous! Even given the highly favourable (to Brits) exchange rate, that’s only $4000, for one of the most useable sports cars ever made.
Sure, there are those who knock the MGB. It’s not exactly rare, is it, and it won’t set your pants on fire in performance terms. But it’s fun and its easy, and who ever turned down those two qualities when they’re available at a low price?
Even more remarkable is the MGB’s younger sibling, the MGF. Not heard of it? Well despite the success of the contemporary Mazda MX5 (OK, Miata to you) Stateside, and the age-old American love of the British sports car, the MGF never made it over the Pond.
Back here, the earliest MGFs are now over a decade old, but you’ll buy a good ‘un for about £2500. For that you get open top, two seats, mid-engined layout, neat styling and respectable performance and grip. See what I mean about MG prices?
Thankfully, the die-hards are keeping the marque alive, with enthusiastic support for every model of MG built, not just the obvious ones. But I reckon it will be at least three years before the typical car guy begins to take MGs (old or new) seriously again. The decades of maltreatment, from investment cuts that left the late-1970s MGBs wobbling and wheezing in the wake of their rivals, through the horrific badge engineering in the 1980s and ‘90s, to the dark days of MG-Rover’s failure, and subsequent 5000-plus job losses has been too much to bear. It’s been like watching a favourite Aunt falling down the stairs, not once but repeatedly.
Meanwhile, the Chinese are going nuts for MG. There are lavish ceremonies at international motor shows and events to show off the first pre-production TFs (the much-improved successors to the F) from the old Longbridge factory, now run on a very small scale by NAC. There’s a minor exodus of highly historic MGs to China, where NAC in particular has snapped up a handful for a new museum.
And there are the slightly comical slogans from unfeasiably enthusiastic Chinese executives, bouncing over the heads of the dead-pan Brits. “Get in and raise your heartbeat!” from chief exec Yu Jian Wei was my favourite. I agree with the sentiment, and can’t wait to see it happen again here. MG is a major part of our motoring heritage, and deserves a bit of support.
David Lillywhite is managing editor of UK-based Octane magazine, and has been writing for classic car and bike publications for over 15 years.
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