MG Rover was on a losing streak from the moment it was created from the ashes of Longbridge when BMW walked out in 2000. But not if the firm’s diesel engine development programme was anything to go by…
It’s easy to look at the fruits of MG Rover’s five year life and conclude that there was little in the way of real development happening within the hallowed walls of Longbridge. But just because the only tangible new cars to hit the market place were effectively badge-engineered models, like the MG Z cars, CityRover and XPower SV supercar, doesn’t mean that more significant work wasn’t going on behind closed doors.
Take the guys from Powertrain – the engine department that was being run from the Flight Shed in Longbridge. They were aware that they needed to produce more than just the K-Series petrol engine, if the company was to survive. The most pressing project was to ditch the BMW diesel engine used in the 75 – not because it was substandard, but because MG Rover had to buy it from the Germans, and it was proving rather expensive. The answer was to replace it with something home grown.
Given that Powertrain’s budget was miniscule, it seems amazing to think that the staff could afford to think in those terms at all. But not only did they come up with a project that was founded on the makedo- and-mend mindset, but it was ambitious, too – and targets were set to beat the all-conquering BMW M47 power unit on power, torque and refinement. So in 2002, the G-Series engine (or Galileo as it was also known) began development. Based heavily on the outgoing L-Series unit that powered the 25 and 45 (which wasn’t known for refinement), the G-Series featured common rail fuelling and a number of detail improvements.
The brand new Siemens engine management system was allied with the very latest injector technology, and majored on refinement. It might not sound like an exciting recipe, and in the early stages of development, it suffered from tremendous NVH problems, but the engineers diligently and methodically dialled them out. During G-Series production, the engineers put together an excellent package. Tucked under the bonnet of an MG ZR evaluation car, it was very quick and responsive. It was also a major step forward over the L-Series in terms of refinement. By the time they’d installed it in the Rover 75 with the proper acoustic shielding, it was quieter than BMW’s M47. Quite an achievement for an engine built for peanuts.
Performance figures were impressive in punchier versions from a range that encompassed 83bhp, 104bhp, 113bhp and 128bhp units. In top spec 16-valve guise, it pumped out 158bhp. Yet, MG Rover management wasn’t at all encouraging of the good work taking place at Powertrain – half way through the programme, company boss Kevin Howe ordered engineers to halt G-Series development. His reasoning was that there was no future in diesels – but the engineers knew better, and cheekily continued their development under the radar. Several months on and there was a change of mind at the top, so the guys carried on as normal, with no real loss of time.
When, MG Rover fatefully closed its doors in April 2005, the G-Series was a mere eight months from introduction. Tooling was completed, and deals had been struck with the Indian manufacturer Sonalika to use the new engine in its upcoming SUV. That deal survived the end of MG Rover – and it remains in production today, which stands testament to the good work that Powertrain put in during a severely taxing time.
Of course, Powertrain’s invisible achievements will never fully be appreciated –and that’s a crying shame. Now tainted as they are by the K-Series engines that are renowned for chronic head gasket failures, the boys in the Flight Shed should be proud of what they achieved with their very own diesel engine. Given a little more time and commitment from MGR’s management, it could have shown its old masters in Munich that us Brits still have a few engineering tricks up our sleeves – and not just the ability to slap badges on other manufacturer’s products.