In the Spotlight – Frontline Abingdon Edition {{favouriteCount}} Quantity of Likes

30 Mar 2018

“Eighty-five grand for an old MG?!?!” – that’s what a few people said when we spoke about this car. To be honest, it got a bit boring having to explain just how wrong they were every time, but it also appealed to my inner (okay, outer) car geek to be able to explain in great detail just why the Frontline Developments Abingdon Edition is worth every penny of the asking price, and indeed why it’s quite possibly one of the best cars I’ve driven in the last 10 years.

So lets get the technical stuff out of the way first – this isn’t any old MG. In fact, there are so few parts on it remaining from the original MG that it’s not even called that by insurers. Frontline start with an old MG, but then it’s stripped down to its bare chassis, which is then fully reconditioned. They then take the bodyshell and chuck it in the bin. In it’s place comes a brand new seam welded shell from British Motor Heritage – so completely straight, rust free and millimetre perfect. The panel gaps are all identical around the car, doors close with a satisfying clunk and the lines are smooth and clean – certainly not like anything that came out of the Midlands in the 1960s. The only cars and companies I can think of that are similar to Frontline’s ethos are Singer with their re-imagined 911’s and the glorious Eagle E-Types.

It wouldn’t really be fitting to add the old MG engine back in that glorious new engine bay either, so in goes a 2.5 litre Mazda-sourced four cylinder engine mated to a six-speed Mazda gearbox which drives the rear wheels through a mechanical limited slip differential. Of course, Frontline don’t just drop in any old engine – it may be supplied by Mazda direct, but it’s then tweaked to their own requirements. There’s a billet crankshaft, billet conrods solid lifters, forged pistons and variable cam timing to start with, then they bolt on some very tasty 50mm throttle bodies and have it all running via an Omex engine management system. The result is a staggering 285bhp (though it can run up to 315bhp in race spec) and torque is up to 241lb/ft – consider those specs for a second in the context of a modern hot hatch like a Golf R which is broadly similar and is a pretty fast car. Then consider that the Golf weighs 500kg more than the Abingdon. Half a tonne. Yep, the Abingdon weighs in at just 897kg – an absolute featherweight that when combined with the incredible powerplant gives it incredible performance.

0-60mph is dispatched in just 3.8 seconds (that’s as fast as an Audi TT-RS Roadster) and it’ll top out at 160mph (that’s faster than the Audi). Those figures are impressive of course, but they don’t even come close to explaining just how fantastic this car is to drive – more on that later though. Of course you wouldn’t really want all that power with the original suspension, so Frontline have developed aluminium suspension uprights, tubular wishbone and adjustable coil-over dampers at the front, with the rear getting a model-specific 6-Link suspension system. Stopping duties are taken care of by billet alloy brake callipers – 4-pot at the front and 2-pot at the rear – while the front gets ventilated discs. Those new brakes sit behind a set of lovely alloy wheels styled to look like old pressed steel items, complete with three-ear spinners.

With all that work going on under the skin you’d be a little disappointed if they left the old interior the same, so luckily that gets a revamp too. The whole interior is retrimmed in beautiful soft Connolly leather which in this car was a stunning shade of burgundy. The seats look like old office chairs in shape, but when you sit in them you realise they are incredibly comfortable - there’s loads of back support and a raised front squab ensures your legs are supported too. There’s only a lap belt which is disconcerting at first, but frankly with no rollover protection the belt is the least of your worries if things go wrong! There’s an integrated JL Audio stereo system with a bass bin, Radio, CD, USB and iPod connectivity with Bluetooth and hands free, along with electric windows and remote central locking. As with any car so bespoke there are of course a lot of options which include air conditioning, integrated satnav and one that this car had and I’d say is essential – heated seats and windscreen. I can tell you that with no roof on a 6 degree brisk UK Spring morning the heated seats kept me very toasty even on the first of two settings!

So finally onto the driving experience. When you sit in those lovely seats it all feels very ‘period’ with the dials ahead of you and toggle switches all lined up. Give the key a turn to the right and thumb the Bakelite starter button though, and you’re quickly reminded that this isn’t the 1960’s. There are a couple of turns before it catches life and the deep, bassy rumble invades your senses giving you a hint that there’s something fun about to happen. You pull away and notice a couple of things within the first few hundred metres – firstly that it’s incredibly easy to drive with a nice clutch, easy bite point and sensitive yet progressive throttle and secondly that it’s no pig to steer, that’s thanks to the power steering system Frontline have fitted. I will say that as I pushed on the steering felt just a tad too light for my liking, though the trade-off at lower speeds is well worth it.

When you get to the first straight and get the chance to make throttle meet carpet, your entire world gets turned upside down for a moment. I have to talk about the noise first because it is incredible – there’s that bassy rumble that you feel as well as hear at all revs, but there’s also a lovely growl from the intake and those throttle bodies. But the exhaust plays more than a little part in it too, with a raspy snarl whenever you bury the throttle that continues right the way up to the (somewhat surprisingly high) 7500rpm redline, at which point it is almost the scream of Thor when he stubs his toe. That throttle is razor-sharp too – it only takes a few minutes for you to realise how annoying the little inch of dead travel in a modern car’s accelerator pedal is.

The gearbox is a gem too, allowing you to snap through the gears with ease and precision. If it weren’t for my gigantic Size 12 clown feet I’m sure heel-and-toe would be a dream in this car as well. But the way this car goes down a country lane at speed is the biggest surprise I had when driving it for a day. The fact that it is physically so small and slim means you can place it wherever you want on even the thinnest of roads, which inspires confidence, but then you add in the huge amount of front end grip and direct, feelsome steering and you can throw the Abingdon into a bend with verve and it’ll grip, then you just gently feed in the power to exit cleanly, or plant a bootful of throttle to exit with a half turn of beautifully progressive opposite lock that is as easy to control as it is to apply.

With no roof (a full roof or rain-saver are both optional) giving you full wind in the hair (or scalp in my case) experience, you point the Abingdon Edition from corner to corner, enjoying the beautiful handling and sonorous exhaust and intake noises and honestly if the weather is dry, sunny and clear I can’t think of any reason why you’d stop. It is without a doubt one of the most enjoyable cars I’ve driven in my career.

 Christian and I did a little bit of filming on the day as well, so you can hear the glorious noise all for yourselves! (The car, not my voice. For that I can only apologise…)

And the Frontline Abingdon Edition is available in the competition for just £3.95 a ticket until midnight on Sunday – get your tickets right here!