To be perfectly honest, when I was driving this car, I hadn’t realised quite how much it costs. Probably for the best, because had I known it was nearly £96,000 I might not have enjoyed chucking it around the Oxfordshire countryside quite so readily. And since this stands as one of my drives of the year, that would have been a shame.
None of the previous paragraph is an exaggeration. So you almost certainly already have a number of questions, including what on earth is a 1960s MG roadster doing in City A.M.? Why does it cost nearly £96,000? And, is it possible I might have lost my mind? Let me explain.
In the manner of Singer in the United States and Eagle in East Sussex – which build deliciously updated versions of classic Porsche 911s and Jaguar E-Types, respectively – Frontline Developments of Abingdon-on-Thames has a long-established business making older British sports cars go ridiculously fast. MGs in particular. The Abingdon Edition driven here is the latest and greatest example.
There will be just 25 of these cars, which should give you a sense of the exclusivity – especially in the context of a genuinely global client base. But more importantly, this is not some ropey restoration project. Instead each one is built up around a brand new bodyshell, undergoes a four-week painting process and is trimmed to Bentley-level luxury.
Motive power is an engine and gearbox combination more commonly found in the current Mazda MX-5. That doesn’t sound too invigorating, given the price, but as with so many things about this car, appearances are artfully deceptive. When the engine leaves Mazda’s factory (in a crate – these are also brand new) it makes do with a mild 160hp. The extensively upgraded Frontline version has 304hp. In a tiny convertible weighing under 900kg, that’s enough to see 0-60mph take just 3.8 seconds. Which, for the record, is very, very fast indeed.
To make things even more interesting, there are none of the electronic driver aids you’d naturally expect to find in a modern car. Instead you get a big set of custom brakes and a surprisingly sophisticated suspension re-design. The result is a firm ride with a huge amount of intuitive feel and control – hence the chucking about mooted earlier on. Don’t think for one moment this isn’t a serious performance machine; it has the raw pace to embarrass a great deal of 21st century alternatives, and the cornering ability to really leave them with dust in the eye.
That the Abingdon Edition also looks so quintessentially classic is all part of the charm. By removing the original roof, Frontline has cleaned up the lines to the extent this MG now appears as visually arresting as a period Aston Martin, with only the bonnet scoop and ground-hugging stance hinting at the hot-rod reality. Until you fire it up, anyway – at which point the gloriously raucous yet remarkably cultured exhaust note conspires to give the game away. That screaming noise at speed? It’s your passenger.
On the inside there’s a similar vibe, as authentic switchgear fronts modern components and an options list that runs to heated seats, air conditioning and satellite navigation, if you want them. The incongruous combination of old fashioned two-point seatbelts and a speedometer that reads to 170mph may frighten or delight you, but there’s no doubting the quality of finish. The boot is enormous, too.
It’s a special car, this. Exclusive, exciting and extremely well sorted – for me, and I suspect many others, the Abingdon Edition represents a hugely compelling idea, beautifully executed.