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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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)