By ALASTAIR SLOANE



A Malaysian-built replica of the classic MG TD sports car from 1950 is to go on sale in New Zealand next month, priced from $49,995. The TD 2000, the modern version of the two-door roadster British company MG built to gain a foothold in the post-war United States boom of the early 1950s, is based on the original but uses Toyota components.



"I see the TD 2000 being a rival for the likes of the Mazda MX-5," said the car's importer, Roger Phillips, who includes Lotus among his stable of niche sports cars. It retains the original styling, but in all other areas is thoroughly modern.



Two TD models will be available: the entry-level 2000 Sports at $49,995, and the premium 2000 Silverstone, costing $59,995.

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Auckland-based Phillips wrapped up the deal to import the TD 2000 at last month's Sydney Motor Show. I took it for a drive in peak-hour Sydney traffic and drivers were waving and making room for me to join queues. A couple of them wanted to know what it was.



The rear-drive TD 2000 is powered by a fuel-injected 2-litre Toyota engine, developing 96kW (130bhp) at 5600rpm and 180Nm of torque at 4400rpm and mated to either a 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic gearbox.



The front suspension is an independent set-up and the rear uses a live axle with leaf springs. Chassis is steel and the body fibreglass.



Steering is rack and pinion with 3.5 turns lock-to-lock. The TD 2000 is 3744mm long, 1590mm wide, 1450mm high and has a wheelbase of 2420mm. Ground clearance is 122mm and kerb weight 910kg. Fuel tank capacity is 61 litres.



Standard features include wire wheels (the original TD had drilled steel wheels), walnut-burr dashboard, waterproof mohair soft-top and integrated roll-over bar. Options extend to stainless steel luggage rack, air-conditioning and wooden steering wheel.



The TD 2000 began life in Australia in 1989, where it was called the Roadster and built by the Marshall Car Company, using Nissan components and original MG jigs, dies and moulds.



Around 75 were sold quickly, but despite favourable reviews, interest was limited and so was the car's future. The company that owned MCC ran into financial strife early in 1990 and put the car arm up for sale.



It was bought lock, stock and barrel soon after by TD Cars (Malaysia), owned 70 per cent by Malaysian investors and 30 per cent by Australians.



Although an economic crisis in Asia was of concern, TD Cars was confident it could eventually sell the car in the world market. It continued to assemble the TD 2000 in Melbourne until 1998, when it modernised it and signed a long-term engine and transmission deal with Toyota. Soon after it shipped the entire manufacturing plant to Malaysia. But not just for nationalistic reasons, said TD Cars' managing director Edward Teo, a long-time industry executive in Malaysia.



"The country has a mature automobile manufacturing industry which started from the 1960s. The workforce is skilled and there is a well-established and competent network of component suppliers.



"They supply not just to domestic factories but also to major manufacturers around the world, so there is a world-class quality standard."



In November 1999, the first Malaysian-built TD 2000 was unveiled, under the eye of technical director Roland Funk, a former engineer at Volkswagen in Germany.



Commercial production began in March 2000 and the following November TD Cars signed to distribute the TD 2000 through Malaysia's largest motor group, Berhad.



In May 2001, the 100th car was built and the first export model shipped to Britain. A month later exports to Singapore began and, later, Australia. Then came markets in Taiwan and Japan.



TD Cars plans to sell 80 per cent of production outside Malaysia. Future markets include Britain, India, China, South Africa, Europe, the Middle East and other southeast Asian countries.



"This is a classic sports car with modern engineering and safety features," said Teo. "We believe those who yearn for the pleasure of the earlier eras of motoring will find our TD 2000 very appealing."