The unique MG supercar that races down under

The story of an obscure British supercar that got a second lease on life in Australia

1y ago

In the early 2000s the British motoring industry was taking heavy hits. Several patriotic brands working together in the ill-fated British Leyland days were now split up and owned by foreign companies. Initially BMW acquired pretty much the entire catalog of British brands in 1994.

They kept Mini for themselves and sold Jaguar and Land Rover to Ford in 2000. In that same year a group of British businessmen known as the Phoenix consortium bought the remaining parts of the Rover group for the symbolic price of just 10 pounds. The new owners of the now dubbed "MG Rover Group" set out to kick the brand back into life. Mainly with the addition of several performance cars based on pre-existing Rovers branded as MG's.

2001 saw the launch of the MG ZT, ZR, and ZS and the entry into several types of motorsports such as rally, touring cars, endurance racing, and even a speed record attempt at the Bonneville salt flats.

MG's racing effort proved to be relatively successful in bumping up the brand's image

MG's racing effort proved to be relatively successful in bumping up the brand's image

But MG wanted more. A bonafide supercar was still missing in the line-up but making one from scratch would take several years. Instead they made the financially bold decision of acquiring a small Italian company by the name of Qvale. Their single model, the Mangusta, would function as a backbone for the first MG supercar. That car would be launched just 2 years later as the MG Xpower SV

Initially the car was received rather well. Critics praised the generous handling characteristics and ample performance. But there were a few problems, some more severe than others. The chassis for example was sturdy but was still made out of steel. The high-tech all carbon body prevented the car from weighing as much as the moon, but it still tipped the scales at 1540 kg.

Said high tech body was also not always that waterproof and build quality wasn't all that consistent either. The SV was a decent car but for a whopping £75.000 people expected more. It was more expensive than its direct Porsche and Maserati competitors but it lacked all the prestige those brands brought with them.

A quicker version came in 2004 to hopefully bump up the sale numbers. The bigger 5.0L V8, producing 385 horsepower, propelled the new SV-R to almost 300 km/h. Under the motto "better late than never" one SV-R was prepared to go racing in early 2005. Not a single model had been transformed or modified for the racetrack yet despite MG being adamant it was built with racing in mind.

JP motorsport, together with Peter Lloyd racing, entered an SV-R in the VdeV endurance championship as a privateer effort. They didn't get full factory support but MG kept a close eye on their project. After all, The new generation of GT racing under GT3 class was on the horizon.

The first round of the season was in Spain on the Jarama circuit. It was to be a massive test session as the car arrived at the JP motorsport workshop with just 3 weeks to go. Despite the SV-R having an integral roll cage, which sits inside the A and B pillars, they still had to add diagonal strengthening beams and door protection to be able to pass the strict FIA safety norms.

The first outing of the racing SV-R

The first outing of the racing SV-R

In almost stock form, the SV-R took to the grid for a 4-hour endurance race. 90 laps later under the excruciating Spanish heat the car finished 34th out of 44 competitors and last in class. Not an excellent result but the team wasn't aiming to be competitive anyway. Lots of time was lost in the pits. Not due to mechanical problems but to inspect the car for any potential teething issues.

The fact none were found made the team look forward to further developing the car with potential backing by MG. Except that opportunity never came. Just one month later MG Rover went bankrupt. The sole racing SV-R ended up being the second to last MG supercar ever built. Only 87 cars were completed and delivered to customers.

The brand might have gone but the sole racing SV-R in the world didn't. It soldiered on in a few small scale club races on its home soil. Further developments however never came. No point in turning it into a full-fledged GT3 car when there isn't a dealership left to buy it from.

With several years past since its creation, it was looking like the SV-R might finally retire from its short and uneventful racing career. However, that was until the Howell family stepped in. They already owned quite the collection of MGs. The rare and obscure SV-R would fit right in. Neville Howell found the vehicle in 2010 and made a deal with the owner. And in 2012 the car was finally on its way to its new home. Australia.

The Howell family's plan was simple. Instead of storing the car away as a collectors item, they decided to give it the love and attention it so desperately needed. Upon arrival it was clear they had a solid base to build upon but a major overhaul was needed. They spent the next couple of years carefully preparing the car for its second lease in life.

Rhys Howell next to the only MG SV-R in the Southern Hemisphere.

Rhys Howell next to the only MG SV-R in the Southern Hemisphere.

By 2019 the car looked like it had never done before. A completely new engine fitted with 8 stack injection, which results in a hood bulge because of its generous size, was now coupled to a new holinger 6-speed sequential transmission. The relatively stock suspension had been replaced by Penske shocks and springs.

Together with a modern Motec ECU and an aggressive aero package, courtesy of Topstage, transformed the car into the racing machine it was always meant to be. Three generations of the Howell family have worked on the car which made its long-awaited debut in round one of the highly competitive MG Racing Australia championship at Sandown Raceway in March 2019. Rhys Howell was the designated driver and tasked with further developing the car.

The high temperature, even for Australian standards, made the SV-R's debut a trial by fire. Several mechanical gremlins plagued the car all weekend long. Despite this the team was happy with the performance as Rhys put the car on Pole in its debut race. An impressive feat for a brand new car that hadn't turned a wheel in anger for years.

The rest of the season was quite tumultuous as further teething issues prevented the car from coming into its own on several occasions. Development is still on-going as of right now but the current Pandemic has delayed the next appearance of the SV-R.

Rhys has driven a GT3 Spec Reiter engineering Lamborghini Gallardo on several of Australia's racetracks and even competed in the Bathurst 12 hours with an unusual but ridiculously fast Cobra Daytona Coupe. While the MG isn't as refined as those yet, he's adamant that with further development the SV-R is bound to surprise some people.

Rhys, together with his father Andrew and Grandfather Neville, still aims towards making the SV-R the fastest MG in Australia. If their dedication and the early signs of speed are anything to go by I think we won't have to wait long to see the SV-R become just that.

The all MG competition isn't to be underestimated.

The all MG competition isn't to be underestimated.

Many thanks to Rhys Howell for generously answering some of my questions surrounding this unique race car. It's not often that I get to write about an obscure car that still races around today. His feedback has been fundamental in the creation of this article. Make sure to check out his Facebook page to keep up with the development of the SV-R

Also take a look at the MG Racing Australia page for more unique and interesting MG racing machinery.

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Comments (5)

  • considering the SV was £75K back then and they are still selling for 50K in the UK, i think they have held their value alot better than the cars around them at the time.

      1 year ago
  • Seen one in the metal. Pretty much the only car from the 2000s that could out TVR TVR in terms of crazy aggressive appearance - despite the Punto headlights!

      1 year ago
  • Love the car, glad to see one racing as it should, poweer!!!

      1 year ago