By RAY MASSEY, TRANSPORT EDITOR
Back on the road: MG's Chinese owners showed off the company's new sports car, the Icon, at the 2012 Beijing motor show
The iconic British MGB sports car that brought affordable sports car motoring to the masses is to be reborn in the 21st century – designed by Britons but built in China.
The new MG Icon was unveiled as one of the undoubted stars of the Beijing Motor Show and is a modern take on a much loved classic which is still seen widely on the road today. It was unveiled by the MG company which is now part of the giant Shanghai Automotive industry Corporation (SAIC) which also owns Rover following the collapse of MG Rover under the controversial stewardship of the ‘Phoenix Four’ led by John Towers.
Its British design team said they had taken cues from the original MGB to create a modern take on the sports car. Although the show model is a coupe, a soft-top roadster is also set to follow.
But the Chinese love of British sports cars carried through to the MG stand itself which proudly bore the company badge.
The modern-day take on the classic British sports car is expected to be launched in 2014
Interior: Although the model on show was a coupe, a soft-top roadster is also set to follow
Alongside mini-skirted Chinese girls were references to ‘Morris Garage’ from which the letters are said to derive, pictures of the company’s founder Cecil Kimber and a giant map of the United Kingdom painted as a patriotic Union Flag in red white and blue.
There were even photographs of Spitfires on the walls.
Insiders say the car is likely to go on sale around 2014 at a price of around £16,000. Although it will be manufactured in China, it is possible that some could be sent to the UK in kit form for final assembly at MG’s Longbridge factory in Birmingham.
Rear view: According to the car's British designer the rear haunches were inspired by the firm's 1955 model the MGA
The MG Icon project’s chief designer, Birmingham born Steve Harper, 53, who started as an Austin Rover apprentice and also worked on the MG Metro and MGF sports car during his 35 year career, said: ’MG in China is seen as a young person’s brand. It’s also a global brand.
'We didn’t want to create a retro car. But we wanted to show how the MGB would have developed had its production not been ended in 1980. It’s sporty, small but practical. 'There are two seats in the back if you need to take the kids. We’re showing a coupe. But why not a roadster?’
Pledge: Although it will be manufactured in China, it is possible that some cars could be sent to the UK in kit form for final assembly at MG's Longbridge factory in Birmingham
And Anthony Williams-Kenny, 37, who is global director of design for all of the Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC) said: ’We set out to create a modern car, not a retro car.
Southampton-born father of two Mr Williams-Kenny, who studied automotive design at Coventry University and worked himself for seven years for the MG Rover group at Longbridge, added: ’Since we took the covers off we’ve had so many people from around the world come up to us and say "we used to have an MGB". It’s struck a chord', he said.
Head turner: The car was one of the undeniable stars of the Beijing Motor Show
Sleek: An artist's impression of what the interior of the new roadster version will look like
Unlike the original the roadster will offer ample space for four and a generous boot
Heyday: The original MGB was launched as a soft-top roadster in 1962, with a fixed-head coupe following three years later in 1965. Production ended in 1980
The original MGB was launched as a soft-top roadster in 1962, with a fixed-head coupe following three years later in 1965.
It was built until October 1980 at MG’s factory at Abingdon in under the umbrella of MG, the British Motor Corporation and its successors, British Motor Holdings and British Leyland Motor Corporation. More than half a million were built altogether over the 18 year lifespan, of which more than 125,000 are the hard-topped MGB GT coupes.
Work on a successor for the MGB had been undertaken as long ago as 1968, but British Leyland had pulled the plug on that project by the end of 1970.
When the Abingdon factory finally closed in the autumn of 1980, British Leyland did not replace it. But second hand versions of both the GT and Roaster versions of the MGB continue to provide affordable sporty motoring for many and sell for between £1,500 and more than £9,000 depending on condition.
Cool customer: An advert for the MGB GT sports car taken from a British Leyland brochure in the 1970s