MG SV – Frankenstein’s Sports Car

The MG SV (and later SV-R) is the oft forgotten pinnacle of MG Rover’s sporting intent. It’s birth was anything but a formality. With the backdrop of the parent company pulling the plug, it’s a miracle anything was produced at all, let alone with the ambition of the SV.

BMW had sold Rover (and MG) to the MG Rover Group in the year 2000. It had been financially disastrous for BMW, even selling the company with a £500 million bank balance to keep the company running.

The MG SV

With this temporary increase in budget the MG Rover group immediately increased the range of cars by rebadging some Rover models as MGs (like the MG Metro years before). This created the ZR, ZT and ZS models, designed to appeal to younger buyers with more powerful engines and sportier suspension. Under the group 170,000 cars were sold in 2001, a record for the organisation and just a year after BMW had moved on.

MG had long been associated with Motorsport since its inception in 1924 and so, Le Mans, British Touring Cars (MG ZS) and The World Rally Championship (MG ZR) were just some of the race series entered to help forge the MG brand as a worthy Motorsport brand.

In the road cars department, the only purpose built MG was the MG TF. Everything else was a badge engineered Rover. MG wanted a “halo” product to better represent what MG stood for. MG also had ambition of going further upmarket too, so a serious sports car was needed. With no Rovers to rebadge and the new budget burning a hole in its pocket, MG Rover Group started to look for opportunities.

Members of the MG Rover Group admired the work Peter Wheeler had done with TVR, creating various rear wheel drive sports cars at relatively low cost. This proven formula was something MG had the brand to carry off.

One of the consortium owners Nick Stephenson was contacted by Bruce Qvale, the owner of Qvale Modena SpA about a potential distribution deal to sell his sports car the Qvale Mangusta in Europe. Stephenson thought the platform could be rebodied as the new MG sports car and so MG Rover Group bought Qvale cars for £7 million in early 2001.

De-Tomaso & Qvale Backstory

The Qvale Mangusta itself was based on the De-Tomaso Biguá. The Biguá was in keeping with De-Tomaso’s practice of using big Ford engines in Italian bodied sports cars. The modular Ford V8 was used, which made selling the car in America easier – this was also a key market for MG. The chassis was designed by Enrique Scalabroni an ex F1 designer. He’d created the chassis to be super rigid to compensate for the Mangusta roofless design.

Bruce Qvale and his company were brought in to help develop the new Biguá with the understanding that the car would be sold under the De-Tomaso brand. After some disagreements, Bruce Qvale decided to sell the car under the Qvale brand after $30 million had already been spent on development.

After Qvale had sold the company and design to MG Rover Group, work started on redesigning the odd looking Mangusta. Peter Stevens had already designed the ZR, ZS and ZT models, so was lined up to create the SV. Presented at the Frankfurt motor show as the MG X80, the car received a lukewarm reception. Stevens reworked the design and even found inspiration from the Fast & Furious film! The car was then renamed the MG Xpower SV.

MG SV Production Problems

Production couldn’t hit the 10,000 units figure MG Rover Group wanted because the Qvale factory was designed for low volume. There wasn’t time or knowledge to improve this so the plan was changed to make the MG SV a low volume sports car, with a higher price instead. The target production was intended to be 120 cars a year for a 4 year production run.

An example of the complicated production involved the carbon fibre bodywork produced in Britain, flown to Italy to be fitted to the chassis, then the whole thing was flown back to be finished at Longbridge.

The list price ended up being £65,000. This was down from the £100,000 first estimated, but still higher than the Mangusta (£40,000).

Marketing Hype

The production problems made the MG SV expensive to produce. A bigger 5 litre V8 model was planned which would form the basis of the MG SV-R model and would come in at an absurd £83,000. A deal with Roush was put together to enable the Ford V8 to come equipped with different states of tune. The supposed 1000 bhp nitrous oxide injected version of the MG SV was all but marketing myth and was concocted to get some favorable press coverage. These aftermarket upgrades seemed slightly desperate.

In basic spec, the SV and SV-R were very expensive and up against performance benchmarks like the Porsche 911 and BMW M3. Not only that, but another British company had its own muscle car undercutting the competition. The 328bhp 5.7 litre V8 Vauxhall Monaro was available from £35,000 in 2004, undercutting the MG SV by a significant margin. While it didn’t have the purpose built chassis and carbon fibre bodywork, it offered cheap performance and a distinct alternative to the German brands.

The Monaro was fitted with General Motors LS1 V8, which had a range of modification options, from increased displacement to supercharger setups. This made future performance enhancements easy to do.

Vauxhall’s plan was far less risky, just import some big Holden V8 cars, rebadge them as a Vauxhall and sell them cheaper than the competition. In some ways you have to admire the ambition of the MG SV project.

Unfortuately one of the key issues was around selling in the North American market. It was considered the best market for the MG SV, but there was no dealership network so selling it there would be almost impossible.

The MG SV on Top Gear

Like a lot of unsuccessful British sports cars, the SV was a great car. It was unfortunately hampered by its expense, when typically it was a brand to undercut rivals.

The finished SV ended up a curious mix of bought in technology, a sprinkling of Rover 75 switch gear and a surprisingly underwhelming American V8. The bodywork, all vents and aggression was impressively all carbon fibre; in an effort to distract Porsche buyers. Sadly this didn’t persuade many away from the usual brands.

Now imagine if MG Rover had scrapped the expensive carbon fibre bodywork, upped the performance and dropped the price. It might have stood a chance.

The SV turned out to be MG’s swansong as the company revealed massive losses in 2005 and was later taken over by Nanjing Automobile and all production was moved to China. 

MG Xpower SV
Engine:4601cc V8
Power:320 bhp
0-60:5.3 Seconds
Top Speed:165 mph
Price when new:£65,000
Production:2003-2005

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