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In 1992 the RV8 was launched, a limited edition of just 2000 cars, but this was just a taste of what was to follow. Built at the Cowley plant, only a few miles from Abingdon, largely built by hand, the car was expensive ! £26,000. Not the true affordable sports car Cecil Kimber would have wished for ?
But Rover dearly wanted to re-introduce the MG as a high volume, two seater sports car. The interest created by the RV8 certainly must have made an impression on those men who decide what might be good a investment. So ! a brief was set and the call for designs went out.
Like all car makers, when you start a new project, you must have a code name. When it came time to pick a design there was a choice of three, code named PR1, PR2, PR3. I won't go into fine detail but it was the PR3 that was chosen, a mid engined car, what you and I now know as , the MGF. Incidentally the PR stood for "Phoenix Rising" but has more recently become affectionately know as "Pocket Rocket " !
Earlier I mentioned the RV8 which was built at Cowley, well along with a group of MG enthusiasts I visited the Cowley plant, mainly to see the last of the Maestro's and Montego's being manufactured. We also saw other new cars, the Rover 600 & 800 series being built and of course the RV8 assembly line. When the opportunity to visit Longbridge, and to see the MGF line came along, I naturally jumped at it.
The Visit arranged was actually split over two days, with over 40 names on the list, and with the Rover preferring groups of around 24 it made sense to spread it over a couple of day's. Word had got round about the trip on the Internet and a number of 'on line' MGF owners expressed an interest in the visit, so the dates were set, 8 & 9 July, the MGM Group members travelled to Longbridge on the first day ( Monday) with the F owners making the trip Tuesday.
Just Inside the main gate their is a reception area to report to, where you are then shown to a visitors room and supplied with free coffee or tea. The walls have a display of photographs and there was also a selection leaflets for you to pickup, including the 'Longbridge Factory Guide' Our tour was to be split into two parts our Guide explained, first a look at body's for the 400 series being assembled in 'CAB 1', and then we were to move on to another part of the factory 'CAB 2 ' where we would see the MGF being built . ('CAB' - car assembly building )
Longbridge is not so much a factory but a small town, and we were transported around the plant in a couple of mini buses. It covers an area not less than 375 acres and has 11 miles of internal roadway and nine miles of railway track. The electric consumption for one day , so the information booklet tells me, is equal to a small towns consumption of one week !
In 1910, the then Austin Motor Car Motor Company at Longbridge employed almost 1000 men. The Longbridge plant now currently has a workforce of around 16,000 men and women, though at one time it was double this. The workforce may have been halved but output has not. Every car that leaves the plant has it's new owner awaiting it's delivery ! If it has not been ordered then it does not get built, this is true of all Rover Group Cars, gone are the days of building cars in volume to then be parked up in a field somewhere awaiting a sale.
We were all eager to get to 'CAB 2' We finally got the first part of the trip over, though extremely interesting it was not what we had set out at 6.30am for. As we pulled up to the building, there were Several PR3's parked outside, several of them were marked up for export to 'Rover Japan', and for many of us we viewed a PR3 in Charcoal for the first time, in fact the day we were there, quite a few charcoal PR3's were coming down the line. Everywhere within the factory the car is referred to as PR3, all the box's and pallets containing parts had various numbers on the tickets, but in bold type there was always 'PR3', see I told you car makers like code names !
The MGF shares the assembly line with other Rover models, and the logistics of having the right part at the right place at the right time are incredible. The cars come down the line in a mixture of colour and trim level. If you placed an order with your dealer 10 minutes after you neighbour, then it is more than likely your car would come down the line 10 minutes after your neighbours ! Well that's certainly I how understood it from what our guide 'Big John ' explained.
We actually entered the building through the finishing area or the 'Rectification' area, more about that in a minute ! We walked along the line to a point where the 'associates' were working on the underside of the car fitting the braking system. The next thing we witnessed was the fitting of the engine, two men and 40 seconds later and it was in. A little strange to see an engine go in on the underside and pushed up into position, as opposed to the conventional lowering in !
As we walked we were actively encouraged to ask lots of questions, most were answered, others, well 'Big John' just pleaded blissful ignorance !!! At ground level the cars move along on two parallel conveyers, with the car moving in the same direction on both conveyers. At the end of one track the car disappears to an upper level and then comes back to travel on the second line , when it gets here it's on the home run. We had walked up the building on the outside of the line then came back down a middle aisle, now with cars to our left and to our right. Of course we were only seeing he final stages of the build. The body shells arrive by train from Coventry from the manufacturer 'Mayflower' They travel through the 'Body in White ' section ( Bare Metal to you and I ). Stringent test are carried out to ensure quality of body shells and panels. They are cleaned, treated and sealed before moving through to the paint shop. The paint shop has recently been refurbished at a cost in excess of 40 million pounds ($64 million) a substantial investment in it's own right. Once painted they are stored for just four hours before moving on to the assembly line. It is during this four hour period that logistic go to work, the parts for each separate car, arriving at the correct station on the assembly line (of which there are 214) 'just-in-time'. There are only enough parts on site to build cars for four hours at a time, so there is a steady stream of lorry's and trains bringing in new stock.
As the cars come off the line, it starts almost first time every time !, some adjustment is made to the steering wheel, ensuring it is on straight when the wheels are straight, before moving on for inspection at 'Quality Control.'
The car is given a test run on a rolling road, computer diagnostics go to work, and the tester awaits the all clear. Any faults that may be found are put right in the 'rectification' area. Then car is moved into an enclosure where it get a shower, not only to wash it, but to check for leaks !
Once the car is given the all clear it goes outside to await a transporter to be delivered to its new and proud owners.
"We were taken to the MGF line for a step by step guide to building the car of your dreams"
"I really enjoyed my day at Longbridge, our tour guides were both knowledgeable and entertaining. At no time were we rushed or made to feel as we were in the way !"
"I would highly recommend this trip to any car enthusiast, but be prepared for lots of walking , Longbridge is a very big place !"
For security reasons visitors are not allowed to take photographs and at the start of the visit you are warned explicitly that if caught taking pictures you run the risk of losing your camera and most certainly the film.