It's A Shame This Mid-Engined, AWD Sports Car Of The 80s Never Happened

The MG EX-E promised to be fast, pretty and stuffed with technology, but it never progressed from the concept stage

Remind me later
It's A Shame This Mid-Engined, AWD Sports Car Of The 80s Never Happened - Car History

The car you see here might look like an early concept for the Jaguar XJ220 or perhaps something to do with the first-generation Honda NSX, but don’t be fooled. It is - believe it or not - an MG.

That being said, there is a link to the XJ220: the ‘MG EX-E’ also borrowed a V6 engine from the Metro 6R4. In fact, much of the sports car’s guts were derived from the Group B rally machine, with that naturally-aspirated 3.0-litre V6 powering all four wheels.

The power was brought down from 400bhp to a more modest 250bhp, but the MG EX-E - with its injection moulded polypropylene body panels - wasn’t exactly heavy. 0-62mph was said to be possible in under five seconds, with the top speed estimated at around 170mph.

It's A Shame This Mid-Engined, AWD Sports Car Of The 80s Never Happened - Car History

The man behind the car - British Leyland’s design boss Roy Axe - owned a Ferrari 308GT4 at the time of the EX-E’s inception. He saw no reason why a Britain company couldn’t build something similar, giving birth to a fascinating project that just wasn’t to be.

Reading a list of the technology intended for the EX-E, it’s clear the car would have been very much ahead of its time. It was to have electronically-controlled adaptive dampers which operated by varying hydraulic pressure, a front and rear suspension lift function, and even active aero.

Also on the menu was remote central locking, and buyers would even be given a personalised data card for each driver that remembered things like seat and mirror positions. And this was in the mid-1980s.

It's A Shame This Mid-Engined, AWD Sports Car Of The 80s Never Happened - Car History

All of this technology and performance potential was wrapped up in a stunning, oh-so 1980s body penned by Axe and a group of designers that included a fresh-faced Gerry McGovern, now Land Rover’s Design Director. The most distinctive feature? We’d argue it’s the forward-leaning glass bubble canopy.

Axe once listed the General Dynamics F-16 as inspiration for that design feature, which may well sound familiar. Honda NSX designers Ken Okuyama and Shigeru Uehara had the same idea, which is probably why the two cars do share some vague visual identity.

It's A Shame This Mid-Engined, AWD Sports Car Of The 80s Never Happened - Car History

The EX-E looked fantastic, was going to be stuffed full of technology and was fast enough to give a Ferrari of the day a fair amount of bother, so why in the hell didn’t it happen? Money is the answer.

Austin Rover boss Harold Musgrove was happy to commission a concept at least - a full-size fibreglass model which was revealed at the 1985 Frankfurt Motor Show. It quickly won fans, but that wasn’t enough - the 1980s was a turbulent period for Austin Rover (not that proceedings settled down much the following decade), which at the time of the EX-E’s birth was a UK government-owned company.

There were concerns about how it might look to taxpayers if the Austin Rover was chucking a load of money at an emotional project like a mid-engined sports car, so the EX-E never progressed further than that Frankfurt show car. Company bosses wouldn’t even apportion enough budget to make a running prototype.

And so, the EX-E remains a curious, forgotten concept parked up at the British Motor Museum in Gaydon, leaving us wondering what might have been.

Sources: Motor Sport Magazine, AR Online, Hemmings