Morris Garages had a long and beautiful history of roadsters, with the entire saga of the MG T-Types (TA, TB, TC, TD and TD Midget) from 1936 to 1955, and the later MGA and MGB. Cars to drive on small roads with your face in the wind, to travel with suitcases held by straps in the back, to enjoy without barriers…
In 1980, when production of the MGB at the historic Longbridge plant came to an end, MG as such disappeared. Just two years later the two magic letters reappear, but no longer as a roadster, but to “baptize” more or less sporty versions of the Austin Metro and Maestro, without excessive charm to put it mildly.
However, you see that the last thing that is lost is hope, in 1985 the British Leyland Group conglomerate, owner of these brands, presented the MG-EX, a prototype of an advanced sports car, at the Frankfurt Motor Show. It will never reach mass production. Shortly after, a prototype of a small roadster, called F16 based on the Austin Maestro (therefore a front-wheel drive), is manufactured. There are no funds to industrialize it and dust covers the project.
Austin Rover, a subdivision of British Leyland, in 1986 became the Rover Group, owner, among other brands, of MG. And in 1988 it was sold to British Aerospace.
The arrival of money to the firm opens a small window of hope. In 1993, the group presented the MG R-V8, an evolution of the B with an 8-cylinder V-shaped block and 187 HP transmitted to the rear wheels as tradition dictates. Two thousand examples were built and quickly sold despite their high price. In 1995, when production ceased, it already had a successor.
The PR3 project
Since 1990, work has been underway on a new roadster project with three alternatives. The first (PR1) is an all-in-one front, engine and traction. The second (PR2) is a front engine and propulsion to the rear wheels. And the third (PR3), a central engine and propulsion. It is considered that a drive does not fit well with the concept of a roadster, and on the other hand there is no means to develop a new front-engine and rear-wheel drive platform.
So PR3 is chosen. It is actually an ingenious and simple solution: “flip” a front-wheel drive Rover 100. Thus, from an “all front” you already have a rear-wheel drive with a central engine (located behind the only two seats) with a good distribution of masses front/rear (45%/55%). And reusing the Rover 100 platform and mechanics saves considerable time and money.
This future roadster was already, in 1992, tested in the utmost secrecy by some loyal customers of the brand. Their enthusiasm is such that, in December of that same year, Rover makes the decision to produce the new model. At the 1995 Geneva Motor Show, the public can already see it live.
The engine is the modern K-Series that appeared in 1988, in the Rover 200 and 400, with the displacement increased from 1600 to 1800 cc. And it is proposed in two variants: with simple distribution (1.8i) and variable distribution (1.8 VVC). The latter, close to the Honda VTEC system, allows an enormous gain in power at high speeds: 143 HP instead of 118. The suspensions have been especially cared for, with double wishbones front and rear and, instead of shock absorbers, the Hydragas system is chosen. , which interconnects the front axle with the rear axle and is also used in the Rover 100. The steering has variable assistance depending on speed, engine speed and the force and amplitude of the turn.
The MG brand is alive in the public’s spirit and the designers had to take this into account when creating the silhouette of their new creature: “you had to respect the heritage without being a slave,” said Nick Fell, project director. The proposal from the company MGA Developments was chosen, refined by the designer of the house, Gerry McGovern.
The new MG F is very well received both by the specialized press, which praises its excellent performance, a wise combination of (nuanced) comfort with good sensations, and by its clientele.
A healthy base invites more powerful engines. But in 1994, BMW took control of the Rover Group (when everyone was waiting for Honda) and does not want the MGF to offer more power nor does it want it to be exported to the North American market, which is very fond of British roadsters. BMW does not want rivals for its Z3.
In 1999, the MGF received a slight aesthetic update and incorporated a small 110 HP 1.6 engine as an entry-level version. But a year later, BMW announces the resale of the Rover Group, and MG sees the door open to increase the power of the MGF. Thus, in 2001, the limited edition Trophy 160 appeared (two thousand units) with 160 HP as its name suggests, and a more sporty image.
A wise evolution
This version marks the end of the MGF after seventy-seven thousand units produced, and the MG TF enters the scene, a name recovered from the fifties. It is a profound evolution in relation to FGM that seeks to solve its problems. Gone is the Hydragas suspension, replaced by a classic coil spring/shock absorber assembly. The monocoque increases rigidity by 20%, a key aspect for better work of the suspensions and, therefore, an advance in terms of dynamic behavior. Externally it is easily distinguished by a more aggressive front. It is offered with 1.6 engines with 115 HP, 1.8 with 135 HP, and at the top of the range the 1.8 with 160 HP. There is a 120 HP that is sold exclusively associated with a Steptronic continuously variable transmission.
The new model sells well but the MG-Rover Group is experiencing turbulent times, financial problems, regrettable management and bankruptcy arrives in 2005, which puts an end to the career of the MG TF. The Chinese company Nanjing (which later became SAIC Motor) repurchased the MG brand, as well as all the production machinery, and at the end of 2007, relaunched its production in China. But now sales are no longer going as well as before and in 2011 the adventure of the MG TF ends after 39,242 units.
When the MGF idea was launched, the conditions booklet stated the objective of “building the most fun car in the world to drive.” And the result is close to it. When driving on a closed track, at the entrance to the curves the car was easily placed on its supports with a fairly “mobile” rear end but without sudden loss of grip. And when accelerating, the front part was loosened, allowing the curve to be drawn with a correct trajectory. By forcing the situation, it ended up sliding on all four wheels progressively.
In street use, it was pleasant and very fun due to its maneuverability. A real toy to have fun on a lost road but also practical to use every day.
Which version to buy today
If we are lovers of classic British roadsters, both the MGF and the MG TF are a good option, but there are differences. The first is recommended for its versatile nature since it is comfortable and very usable on a daily basis. But the head gaskets, the suspension problems (the Hydragas spheres lose pressure), the tightness of the hood and the corrosion of the body are all there. The MG TF is less comfortable, but it has more character, transmits more sensations, the classic suspensions do not cause problems, and the manufacturing quality is superior. It also causes some cylinder head problems, but if changed correctly, the engine lasts a long time. And, speaking of engines, the 160 HP is recommended, but any of the others is totally acceptable.
In both models, regular maintenance is easy but important interventions at the engine level are complicated by its central position. As for parts, no problem: the United Kingdom is a paradise.
Today, in 2023, in the hands of the Chinese giant SAIC Motor Corporation Limited, the Cyberster, the future MG roadster, is announced, a story still in the prologue.