The Carchive: The MGF

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The ticket machine has spluttered out a cheap-rate fare and the windswept platform is bare. In the distance approaches a clanking, decaying locomotive and a rake of moribund, down at heel coaches. Let’s board the train of weary discovery and take a trip along the buckled rails of motoring past.
Welcome back to The Carchive.
Last time we lurched across the Atlantic to see what General Motors had to offer us if we wanted a Canadian Market T-Platform. This week we’re heading forwards in time to the Mid Nineties, where Central England was stirring with the sound of celebration. The MGF had arrived.

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“MG is back. With a vengeance. Not only for all those who remember the best-loved sports car marque in the world and yearned for its return. But also for any driver who seeks an affordable, open top British sports car for the 1990s. Their time has come”
Following my time behind the wheel of the MG6 I thought it timely to revisit a point in fairly recent history when MG went through something approaching a renaissance- the release of their first all-new sports car since 1963.
This was one of the few periods in MG’s history where the octagon badge was worn exclusively by a sports roadster and not in widespread use adorning gussied-up Metros (although there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that…Mike), Maestros or Rover 25s.
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“On the MGF 1.8i VVC, the revolutionary new Variable Valve Control system give a breathing capability that woul delight a Grand Prix driver”
There couldn’t really have been a more appropriate engine for the MGF than Rover’s famous K-Series screamer, a car which lent life and vitality to any car it was installed in, as well as above-average chances of overheating and head gasket failure.
Mind you, Rover group can’t be accused of having not made the effort. Plumping for a mid-engined layout was going above and beyond the call of duty. Being that the last product to wear the octagon, the RV8 was basically a warmed over MGB with an updated Rover V8 and lashings of walnut and beefskin, to release such a radical model deserved a fair degree of back-patting.
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“The heritage is evident in the treatment of the curveceous bonnet, exposed headlamps and the design of the grille. But the styling of the MGF is utterly modern; a form that is sleek, purposeful and well balanced.
Rover Group also resisted the temptation to be too reliant on retro trinketry, too. The MGF was pretty up-to-the-moment in terms of looks, outside and in. Of course, contemporary reviews were tempered by previous exposure to ’80s show cars like the MG EX-E, to which there was a marked resemblance, and it’s true that Japan could offer tiny mid-engined cars like the Honda Beat which were somehow more crisp to behold. The cruellest of reviewers branded the MGF‘s appearance as “bland”.
I think that’s a bit much. I think going any more radical would have narrowed the car’s appeal, as well as causing it to prematurely date. As it is I think the MGF looks better now than it did even then, with its purposeful air intake gills and its kicked up tail it’s only a set of contemporary wheels and tyres away from being saleable today. Plus I love the irony that the grille is closer in appearance to the lambasted facelifted “rubber-bumper” MGBs than the adored chrome grill pre-75 machines.
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“At the wheel of the MGF, controls come to hand like second nature, making driving fluent and effortless”
Inevitably, this being Rover in the ’90s, there was a degree of parts-bin raiding and the cabin wasn’t short of components borrowed from else where in the range, some of which were sourced from models as lowly as the Metro, or Rover 100 as its title became after promotion.
Nevertheless it was undoubtedly a sporty place to sit, with such features as “traditional ivory” dials, including auxiliary gauges set into the centre console in the way of yore. You sat low, surrounded by a high waist line and chunky centre console. You were very much installed and waiting for action.
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“look, touch, feel, enjoy!”
If a girl was to wear a T-shirt emblazoned with this slogan she’d be in no end of trouble. In this context, though, it’s entirely appropriate. The MGF was a car that genuinely did delight.
OK, in absolute terms it was nowhere near as sharp and focussed as the Lotus Elise, but if it were it would have alienated an awful lot of people. It was set up in such a way that was unlikely to be heaped with praise in magazine reviews, but more likely to appeal to that large swathe of the population who weren’t motoring journalists.
Today, the MGF is adored by enthusiasts but equally neglected by the rest of society and are often found available for peanuts. One day I’ll get brave and pick one up for myself. Until then, at least I have the brochure.
And the 1:18 model.
(All images are of original manufacturer publicity material photographed by me. Copyright belongs to one Reginald Chittingdon of 27, Huntsdown Way, Grangeheath, Beaconshire. Or possibly SAIC. No idea)

About RoadworkUK

RoadworkUK is the online persona of Gianni Hirsch, a tall, awkward gentleman with a home office full of gently decomposing paper and a garage full of worthless scrap metal. He lives in the village of Moistly, which is a safe distance from London and is surrounded by enough water and scenery to be interesting. In another life, he has designed, sold, worked on and written about cars in exchange for small quantities of money.

0 Comments

  1. Thank goodness the clock matches the instruments. It’s well known this was the Scylla and Charybdis upon which the British automotive industry foundered in prior decades.

  2. Much to my surprise I just found out that (over here in Germany) MGFs are even cheaper than the notorious Chrysler LeBaron convertible. There must be a reason for this. Maybe electric issues.

    1. And the world famous ‘K Series’ head gasket failure, exacerbated in the MGF by the larger volume of ‘colder’ radiator water causing the thermostat to be ‘fooled’ into closing when the engine is already hot, thus causing repeated cycles of localised overheating. Google, MGF HGF, or see http://www.mgf.ultimatemg.com/hgf_diagnosis.htm

      1. OMG. That makes this car a no-go. For a moment I even considered buying one at that low prices, because I really like its looks.

        1. Once replaced with the later headgasket design, and with the thermostat altered they are quite reliable. The ‘K’ series is by quite a long way (100 or so kg) lighter than any other similar capacity engine and SAIC in China is still making very large numbers of the latest derivative of it,( since they bought all the tooing in the collapse of Rover). Future engines from other makers will no doubt copy its ‘clamped together’ post tensioned design philosphy as they chase similar weight reductions
          Go on, buy an MGF, join the local MG Owners club and own a sports car that isn’t an MX5: but that handles just as well and with a better ride. And reflect on what would have happened if the MGF had been sold in the USA. Which would have happened if BMW hadn’t been concerned about the success of their new ‘Made Only in America’ Miata competitor,( as the Z3 started out). Despite it’s HGF problems the MGF is vastly better than the lumpen Z3 which is by a fair distance the worst car BMW ever made.

          1. Well, IMHO, the X6s are misguided, like the GTs, but they try and make the best of what they are. The Z3 was just cynically bad, deliberately less good than it could have been. All those years after the Z1 introduced the ‘Zentrum’ rear axle assembly they brought back the old E30 semi-trailing arms -and it was ugly and slow and in EVERY SINGLE WAY, not as good as the Mazda MX5 which had been out a while. Uglier, slower, worse handling, worse riding, poorer build quality, more expensive to buy and service, poorer seats, etc etc.
            No wonder they tried to throw it upmarket with bigger engines, to make an ‘Austin Healey’ to Mazda’s ‘ MGB’.
            Whereas the MGF is a mid-engined MX5 with HGF.

          2. The problem for the MGF was that the W30 MR2 Spyder/MR-S existed.
            http://www.motorstown.com/images/toyota-mr2-roadster-04.jpg
            I had one of these, and I reckon it trumped the MGF on so many levels as a mid engined drivers car. Sharper and more capable than the MX5 in many ways, though perhaps less fun due to higher limits, which meant you always felt the chassis could shrug off another 50bhp making it feel more underpowered than an MX5 despite superior power to weight. In fact, I sold mine to an MGF owner who really felt they were getting a major upgrade.
            Ironically, early examples of these cars had their own engine issues that were much more catastrophic than mere head gasket failure. They also were a little too impractical in many ways with hard to use luggage space and nowhere to put your full size wheel if you had a flat other than the passenger seat or your non-plussed passengers lap. (suddenly luggage racks don’t seem daft), so it too is also overlooked.
            The other real irony with this car is that it was so good, it ended up being unfairly compared with the Lotus Elise here as the price differential would be smaller than in the states (still not inconsiderable but a little stretch at the time would have put you in an older Elise). Damned by faint praise. People saw it as second best, rather than realizing that a conventional steel body monocoque car was punching above its weight against a car with much more exotic construction.

          3. The K series was a great engine, lightweight and revvy, let down by some cheap details like the HG and plastic dowels instead of steel. Like Rover1 says, there are remedies to most of the engines issues. Some of it stems from it originally being designed as a smaller capacity engine (up to 1.4), and when they upped the capacity, some of the early 1.6/1.8 blocks didn’t have the same level of reinforcement as later ones, though even there, some reckon the issues are overstated.

        2. To me, the link Rover 1 posted just shows that one can manage it – drill the holes into the thermostat, and enjoy British mobility in a car that’s rare on the Autobahn.
          I’m some dude on the interwebs without any liability, so you’d better follow through with my suggestion.

          1. You can go on the forums and see what other guys on the internet say and check for some sort of consensus from people that are informed. 🙂

  3. Well, after picking one up for £150 (a steal even here) I can report that they’re brilliant little things. Nice and revvy, much faster than you’d think and really well controlled in the corners. The ride on ours isn’t so great, but given that it’s at 150k miles without a shock replacement I’m fairly certain that isn’t how they’re meant to be…

      1. Doh, should have scrolled down.. never had many issues with MR-S rust, even now you can find fairly solid examples compared to MX5s of the same vintage. The only thing that rusts really is the sub frames

      2. Citation needed. The MR2 has some serious undercoating straight from the factory, and after running one as a four-season car in Boston for four straight winters, it came out very well.

      3. The MR2s we get here are ex JDM, maybe the USDM cars are better rustproofed. Japanese cars in Europe don’t have the best reputation for rust proofing-compensated for by Japanese cars more reliable mechanicals.

        1. Mine was ex-JDM! The main problems were an engine and gearbox that both crapped themselves, bodywork was minty though.

          1. You are of course right. Given a choice between a Toyota and a matching anything else, the sensible thing is to take the Toyota. But there’s always room to take the leftfield choice.
            The Mustang II was sold in Europe despite being priced like a 504 Coupe or a BMW and some people bought it.:-)

          2. The sensible choice in this case would have been the Mazda in hindsight… 😀
            I think including purchase, that car cost me €20k over the course of its life, which I don’t like to think about now they’re going for €2k

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