Aston Martin celebrates its 100th anniversary with a radical one-off concept car
MG Frontline LE50 review (2012 onwards)
What: Frontline MG LE50
Where: Oxfordshire, UK
Date: December 2011
Price: £50,000 (depending on spec)
Available: 2012 (limited to 50 examples)
Key rivals: Eagle E-Type, Morgan Roadster, Porsche Cayman, Caterham Seven, Audi TT, MINI Coupé
Summary: Frontline Developments' MG LE50 is a brand new MGB with 215hp and modern suspension - is this the best of both classic and modern motoring worlds?
Gallery: Frontline MG LE50
We like: great fun, certainly different, fast, exclusive, extremely well executed
We don't like: some may be put off by the lack of modern safety kit
What, you may be wondering, is an MGB GT doing on MSN Cars? Well, for starters this is in fact a brand new one. And for mains it's just about the coolest thing we've driven all year - this is the Frontline MG LE50. It is awesome.
Frontline Developments is a small firm specialising in tuning classic British sporting metal - including complete car builds. About 10 months ago it decided it wanted to do something to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the MGB in 2012, and the LE50 is the result.
Using brand new British Motor Heritage bodyshells, a 215hp Mazda MX-5 engine and bespoke specification running gear, the LE50 is the MGB brought thoroughly up to date - in a manner that's both sympathetic to the original yet entirely potent enough to give many a modern performance car a serious surprise.
Considering it's handcrafted to a high standard, limited to just 50 examples and endorsed by the current classic MG licence holder, even the £50,000 asking price seems reasonable. We want one.
With its chrome bumpers and period Dunlop wheels, the Frontline MG LE50 looks deceptively unassuming. But this is a big part of the appeal, for beneath the mild mannered style of the authentic bodywork lurks considerable capability.
With a new air inlet arrangement, changes to the cam timing, specific exhaust system and custom Omex engine management, the 2.0-litre MX-5 engine goes from stock 160hp to a snorting 215hp.
Mounted as far back in the engine bay as it will go to optimise weight distribution, the 2.0 drives the rear wheels via the MX-5's six-speed manual gearbox. In a car that weighs little more than a tonne soaking wet, this is a fabulous combination.
174lb ft of torque means you need do little more than tickle the throttle to despatch slower cars on the motorway, but the gearbox is so sweet-shifting and the engine so immediately responsive every gear change becomes a pleasure, and literally any excuse to drop a cog or two will do.
This is intensified by the noise - comfortably muted at cruise, it becomes a cultured, gutsy roar whenever you properly go for it, closing in on the 7,800rpm redline with a triumphant yell, alerting the surrounding traffic to the reality that they're about to be outdone here.
This disconnect between the LE50's outward appearance and its actual abilities is an immense joy - you can sense the eyes popping as you rip past people in something that looks so innocent yet is so clearly anything but.
Even on a cold, damp and very miserable December day, the car delivers strong traction. The unverified but scientifically calculated 0-60mph time is officially listed at 5.1 seconds; honestly, it feels capable of closer to mid-4s on the road.
Similarly, we don't doubt it'll top out near to 160mph - the front valance has been subtly adjusted to reduce high-speed lift, incidentally; even thrown into MSN Cars' most modern of environments, this is a very fast car.
Ride and handling
All that performance would be downright scary if the LE50 didn't also go round corners. Fortunately, Frontline has been in the business of tuning MGs for nigh-on 20 years, and apparently knows what it's doing.
British Motor Heritage now reproduces the MGB's once revolutionary monocoque bodyshell in its entirety; for the LE50, Frontline takes one of these, seam welds it for strength and rust prevention, then outfits it with its best suspension spec.
This includes aluminium wishbones at the front and a multilink arrangement at the back tasked with the difficult job of controlling the live rear axle that Frontline has to retain for type approval purposes.
On top of this there are adjustable dampers front and rear, unique spring rates and anti-roll bars, plus an electric power steering system - although this and a quick ratio steering rack are in fact optional. So you can have your LE50 au naturel if you wish.
We'd probably keep the power assistance - although it lacks true feel the weighting is well judged and it makes the car easy to drive, an important part of the 'grand touring' brief Frontline has set out to fulfil.
It isn't going to match the torsional rigidity of a modern sports car, and the initial body movement as you turn into a corner is quite soft. But this sensation only lasts a moment, and as your confidence grows you soon forget to worry about it.
Simply put, it feels very right, very quickly. And although you have to be wary of the total lack of electronic driver aids, the LE50 absolutely seems to relish being driven hard - the damping keeping the car exceptionally well controlled even when challenged by the worst British road surfaces.
Although you will probably find yourself driving round drain covers at more pedestrian speeds, the ride is never actually harsh or crashy. And while the travel in the brake pedal - caused by the type approval need to retain the original pedal box - takes a little getting used to, actual stopping power is fine.
The LE50 comes as a two-seater as standard - and although you can have rear seats if you wish we rather like the elegance of the luggage deck. Creature comforts, meanwhile, are hardly lacking.
For despite the use of authentic Lucas switchgear, this is all hooked up to modern hardware, including optional air conditioning, heated seats and even a heated windscreen.
Stacks of sound deadening and a powerful JL Audio stereo system can't quite mask the wind noise - inevitable when making a 50-year-old bodyshape go far faster than intended - though developments in this area are ongoing.
Smiths dials recreate the original design but with bigger numbers and digital internals, while the standard of trimming throughout the cabin is excellent. Alcantara and Wilton carpeting dominate, and it's all finished in-house.
Safety and economy
Safety is the major stumbling block, we suppose. The LE50 achieves such low weight - it's actually slightly lighter than the original due to the modern components - because it is based around a 50-year-old car design.
As such there isn't much in the way of structural crash protection; there are no airbags and no traction or stability control systems to get you out of trouble. But don't let this last put you off unduly.
Despite the weather and the time of year we experienced no stability or traction issues on the road whatsoever, so driven in a responsible manner there's no reason to be worried. The available limited slip differential helps control the rear end in more extreme applications of the throttle, too.
Frontline has provided no economy or emissions figures. It's not that kind of car.
The MSN Cars verdict
There are just 50 opportunities to buy a Frontline MG LE50, and although the company will be able to build you something similar from scratch in the future it won't come with the anniversary cachet, and is likely to cost considerably more.
They're being sold on a first come, first served basis, and at the time of writing customer car number one is already in preparation (it's going to Miami) and well over 100 customer test drives are already booked in. Again, there will be just 50 examples.
It's been a long time since we've driven something so evocative that also offers such superb and modern usable performance - this is classic British motoring minus the drawbacks and plus an immense sense of surprise and delight.
|Need to know|
|Top speed (mph)||158|
|Ratings out of five||Frontline MG LE50|
|Ride & handling||****|
|MSN Cars verdict||****|
related stories on msn
Latest Cars videos
On the road with the landmark Lambos for special golden anniversary drive.
Date 13/05/13, Duration 4:26, Views 8971