Modernising classic cars is a fast-growing business with everything from the Jaguar E-Type to the Jensen Interceptor treated to a modern makeover and an Oxfordshire specialist is giving MGs the same treatment.
Frontline Developments started life in 1991 as a parts company for classic MGs, founder Tim Fenna setting out to improve the cars’ underpinnings with a view to providing a better driving experience.
Since then the firm has moved on to offering restorations with a difference, creating what is an effect an all-new modern vehicle from an original donor car.
The firm produces the MG Abingdon Edition and the MG LE50 in small numbers, delivering MGs that look like the originals but are state-of-the-art sports cars under the skin, with the performance to match.
The Abingdon Edition is a recreated MGB roadster while the LE50 takes the MGB GT into the modern world.
The MGB and MGB GT are the best-known post-war MGs and both enjoyed immense success during their lengthy lifespans.
The MGB was first unveiled in 1962 and more than half a million were produced at MG’s factory in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, until 1980.
The car continued to be produced at Longbridge in Birmingham when the Abingdon plant closed its doors for good.
It was later reprised in modified form as the MG RV8, with 2,000 vehicles being produced at Longbridge from 1993-95.
The fixed-roof MGB GT was introduced in October 1965 and it was produced until 1980. A hatchback designed by Pininfarina, it offered the versatility of a small estate in the style and shape of a coupe.
Frontline Developments, based in MG’s spiritual home of Abingdon, is producing both the Abingdon Edition and LE50 as fast as it can, though with an average build time of 800 and 900 hours and a small but highly skilled team producing them it concedes it is never going to enter the realms of mass production.
Frontline’s restorations see a donor car effectively rebuilt from the ground up.
The bodyshell uses reproduction British Motor Heritage panels that are exact replicas of the originals.
At the heart of both are Mazda-sourced engines, a 2.0-litre unit in the LE50 and LE50 Plus and a 2.5-litre one in the Abingdon Edition.
The more performance-focused Abingdon Edition produces 339bhp, will complete the 0-60mph sprint in 3.8 seconds and has a top speed of 160mph.
The LE50 delivers 226bhp and has a slightly slower 0-60mph sprint time of 5.1 seconds but an equivalent top speed. The LE50 Plus offers enhanced performance from the 2.0-litre unit and is two tenths of a second quicker from 0-60mph than the LE50 and delivers 253bhp.
The cars use modern technology throughout, combining suspension, braking systems, electronics and even computer technology to offer a refined modern driving experience in a historical package.
In addition all new hand-made trim is fitted, along with modern instruments and switchgear that look just like the original ones did.
Ed Braclik went from being a customer to a co-director of the firm nine years ago and has seen sustained expansion.
“I was having a car built and fell in love with the whole concept,” he said. “I ended up buying a half share in the business and never looked back.”
Frontline Developments’ recreated MGs don’t come cheap though, the LE50 has a starting price of £54,900 plus VAT, while the Abingdon Edition costs from £79,900 and Mr Braclik says it is easy to add up to £10,000-worth of specified extras, including such modern day luxuries as air-conditioning and sat-nav.
The firm currently creates between 18 and 20 cars a year at its base, the former Benetton Formula One headquarters.
Since he has been involved Mr Braclik says the customer profile has changed considerably, with a shift from diehard MG enthusiasts to successful people who want something truly unique which stands out from the mainstream - and more women too.
He said: “Our average customer is in their late 30s to late 50s, around 65 per cent are male and 35 per cent female.
“Five years ago the average customer was in their early sixties to mid seventies and 100 per cent male..
“We have seen a huge change in our customer base.
“A lot are people who have had cars like Maserati Quattroportes, Granturismos or Porsche 911s but want to have something that is just a little bit cooler.
“It is slightly more understated than going out and buying a 911. It’s not shouting out so loudly but still exclusive.”
As to why people like them Mr Braclik added: “MGs were very pretty little cars and have such an enormous following coming as they do from that sixties’ era of very pretty cars.
“The MGB was always the working man’s sports car and over half a million were built.
“Everyone seems to love them and if you’re driving one everyone waves, smiles or flashes their headlights.
“It’s that charming British sports car thing.
“What we’re offering is the same shape, the same style - everything. It’s jut that it’s a modern day sports car spec rather than a 50-year-old sports car spec.”
Frontline Developments’ trim shop is overlooked by a giant photograph of MG founder Cecil Kimber, a sign if any were needed of the dedication of the entire team to preserving the heritage of the historic brand.
And with no sign of MG Motor UK producing a two-seater, their range of reinvented classics remains the only way for the time being at least to get behind the wheel of an authentic up-to-date MG sports car.