I had planned to write a blog post about motoring this evening, but one with a happier start than this post now has.
As I sat down to start writing the news came through that Top Gear presenter Richard Hammond has been involved in a serious car crash while attempting to break a land speed record as part of a Top Gear film shoot.
Information is still sketchy, but it would appear he was either driving or riding shotgun in a jet powered car doing 280 MPH when it flipped over. He’s currently in hospital in Leeds after being airlifted from the scene at a disused RAF airfield just outside York. Here’s hoping Hammond comes through this in one piece – get well soon!
The original point of this post was to talk about car manufacturing in the UK. With the collapse of MG Rover, the closure of Peugeot’s Ryton plant and question marks over the future of Aston Martin, TVR, Caterham, Jaguar, Land Rover, Rolls Royce and Bentley as UK-based car manufacturers, the once proud British car industry is all but finished.
It would appear that only Honda, Nissan and Toyota have kept faith with the UK, with the UK operations of all three standing as examples to the world of how to run a car factory – efficient, profitable, producing world-class cars and home to happy workers (hopefully).
I am pleased to say that we can soon add one more to that list – Nanjing Automotive. This Chinese car maker bought the remains of MG Rover following its collapse – the production lines, the robots, some of the remaining stock, intellectual property to several very good cars and the most valuable thing of all, the MG name and logo.
As far as I am concerned, MG is and has always been among the greatest sports car brands ever created, right up to the end. If we look at the last line of MG cars, we see three excellent cars, and one OK one.
The MG TF is a fantastic two seater, it is fun to drive and as a bloke, you can drive one without having your sexual preferences brought into question. The MG ZR started life as the already good Rover 25, but with redesigned bumpers, interior, and the addition of sports tuned engines and suspension it became the best hot hatch on the market.
The MG ZS was the sporty version of the Rover 45, itself a rework of the Honda Civic. Due to Honda reclaiming the plans and equipment needed to build it, we will not be seeing this one again, which is no massive loss. Both the Rover and MG versions were OK cars, but not life changing.
The MG ZT is a remarkable car. Take a Rover 75, itself an awesome piece of machinery and quite possibly the best car BMW ever bankrolled, retune the already impressive V6 and V8 engines, add sports seats, suspension and other touches and you have a car that not only looks like a retro classic, it can leave most mass-market sports cars for dead.
Now under the ownership of Nanjing, the company is going to use the MG mane and these cards (minus the ZS) as its way into the European and UK car markets.
The first announcement from the company confirmed that the MG TF will be put back into production, only this time built in China using the machinery the company has stripped out of MG Rover’s Longbridge factory and shipped to China. Component kits will then be shipped back to Longbridge where a small team of engineers would assemble the kits for the UK and European markets – with anticipated sales of 20,000 a year. It’s not groundbreaking, but its another car put together by the hand of British man, and I’ll take it.
However, news that is even more fantastic has emerged – the company is going to put the MG ZT back into production, and they will MAKE it at Longbridge, not just assemble it in this country but actually fabricate parts here as well.
This is a major win for the UK, and shows a real vote of confidence in the country and the West Midlands. It also means that a superb car in the form of the ZT/Rover 75 will be back on our roads in increasing numbers within a year.
As someone with a real soft spot for Rover and MG cars, and as someone who only buys cars that are built in this country (Three Rovers, a Peugeot built in Coventry and briefly, a Jag built in Liverpool), it is good to know that in a few years time when I look to replace the 75, there will be decent, well-priced British-built cars on the market, with a respected brand on the bonnet as well.