The last MG left the Abingdon factory in 1980 and the withdrawal of the classic marque from the North American market was a blow from which many motoring enthusiasts would never recover. Despite the demise of the MGB and Midget, the staff at the newly reorganized Austin Rover group spent much of the decade attempting to breathe life into a new sports car that could replace – in spirit if not resemblance – the storied MGs of the past.
The design studio at Canley, under Roy Axe, was eager to develop a concept that could form the basis of an actual production car. While most designs rarely reached beyond the form of sketches, an MG Midget concept designed by Gerry McGovern was a potential winner resembling an open-topped Honda CRX. The resemblance was so strong that one magazine claimed that the car was based on the Honda and that a return of the Midget was imminent.
It was another car, however, that created the biggest stir when the MG EX-E concept made its debut at the Frankfurt Motor Show. A true concept designed to stoke the fires of desire in potential customers, the EX-E was stunning in both design and execution. During a period when such concepts were disfavored by senior management due to their expense and disconnect with actual production cars, the EX-E resembled a more modern Ferrari 308 (and the later Acura NSX) and was inspired by the General Dynamics F-16 (as was the NSX).
The final prototype was one of three concepts that were intended to showcase what was possible from Austin-Rover. With a powerplant from the MG Metro 6R4 and featured a V-6, 24-valve, four cam design that could make around 250hp and 225lb/ft of torque in the expected state of tune. The exterior panels were to be injection molded polypropylene and the idea of plastic panels bonded to an aluminum frame allowed the car to be assembled in separate modules to reduce costs and construction time.
The exterior styling was expertly performed by Gordon Sked and Gerry McGovern and achieved a commendably low 0.24 CD that would have been unmatched by any of EX-E’s contemporaries. The interior was styled by Richard Hamblin and Gerry Newman and was meant to evoke the cockpit of a modern fighter plane (though it also resembled the cabin of an Italian exotic).
Although the MG EX-E was lavished with praise and there were enough customers out there to presumably support production, the project failed to proceed due to a lack of funds and a lack of support since such an exotically styled car would have been deemed a frivolous project for a company owned by the state (and one that was due to be sold to private industry). Unfortunately, the MG EX-E was doomed from the start, but had it entered production it would have scooped the NSX and perhaps have formed a halo around the veritably stillborn Sterling in the United States.
By Johnny Oversteer