For most of the 1980s, MG was used as a badge to designate a high performance variant of a Rover car, in a manner similar to how Abarth was to FIAT. However, all that came to an end in 1995 when the MG F went on sale.
When the car was designed, the Rover Group who owned MG were themselves owned by British Aerospace (from 1988 to 1994). Rover were then sold to BMW in 1995 just before the MG F was launched, so BMW had no input into the design and building of this particular model but they were responsible for diverging Rover Cars and the MG brand into a separate entity from 2000 onwards. It was this new MG Rover brand took over the building of the MG F and the launch in 2002 of the updated MG TF.
2005 saw the collapse of MG Rover but it was bought out by a Chinese manufacturing operation, Nanjing Automobile, who were then responsible for the resurrected production of a very slightly revised MG TF which sold until 2011.
This car was aimed at the Lotus Elan and the Mazda MX5 – Rover took it personally that the Japanese could sell a car in huge numbers that followed their MGB design and wanted back in on that action. Their offering was initially launched with a 1.8 litre 16v engine in two forms – the basic tune produced 118bhp (87kW) while the VVC version with variable valve control produced a healthier 143bhp (107kW).
Unfortunately, Rover opted to use their K-series engine that had been designed for a front engined car, therefore when this engine was slotted into a mid-engined design, cooling issues quickly became a factor. The engine overheated regularly and the MGF became known for head gasket failures as a result of these cooling issues. What really hurt MG F sales was Rover’s complete refusal to offer any assistance to customers who suffered these issues.
The car also suffered from the adoption of Hydragas suspension – this was the same suspension setup used in the Metro and was ill suited to provide decent handling in a mid-engined sports car.
1999 saw the introduction of the MG F Mark 2. A slight facelift was coupled with a new 1.6 base engine offering 110bhp (82kW) that didn’t exactly light the world on fire. A more powerful 160bhp (119kW) Trophy model was also launched at this time – this was more like it. The Trophy completed the 60mph sprint in 6.9 seconds!
However, the Trophy was only sold for a short period of time. That seems a strange move to me, I would have thought that the Trophy was the version that should have been launched at the beginning … Instead, 2001 saw the addition to the range of the Stepspeed with a CVT transmission. This transmission is highly susceptible to failure if not maintained meticulously and is better off avoided.
Despite all the above marketing missteps, poor engine offerings and serious design flaws, the MG F sold well – 77,269 models were built plus 799 limited editions.
2002 saw the MG F replaced with the heavily revised MG TF.
First to go was the Hydragas suspension – the MG TF was brought into being because production of the Rover Metro ceased, resulting in MG Rover’s demand for Hydragas units drastically dropping which meant that the cost per unit on a Hydragas component rocketed. Management decided enough was enough and called for the MG F to be reworked to adopt traditional steel suspension components.
This new double wishbone setup resulted in better handling, much more in line with the car’s expected behaviour.
The next issue to be tackled was the cooling – the air intake grilles along the side were altered, ostensibly to allow more airflow. This was not the complete success it was expected to be and to this day several aftermarket solutions are still employed to address this (the fitting of a new thermostat or a strengthened head gasket system being two of the offerings).
A new face with different headlights, grille and bumpers appeared and the rear was updated to match.
2005 saw the introduction of a better suspension setup along with, finally, a heated glass rear window. But the market had moved on and in 2005 MG Rover collapsed.
In 2007, the MG TF LE500 was brought to the market. This was produced from knock down kits bought by the Nanjing Automobile company and updated with leather seats, a wind deflector, a hard top, a better media system that understood MP3 formats, rear parking sensors and front fogs. Unfortunately the marketing department again followed on from their predecessors and got it wrong – the car was too expensive and did not sell well.
This led to a new attempt – the TF135 and a limited (50 car) edition called the 85th anniversary. Neither of these caught the public’s imagination either and production ceased in 2009.
What to look out for on an MG TF
As per usual, there are a few things to watch out for
- Ensure all the electrics are operational
- Check the head gasket has been upgraded to the better aftermarket solution
- Check the coolant levels – if low, walk away as this is a sign of head gasket issues or an owner skimping on the day to day running and maintenance
- Check that the plastic rear window is still clear and can be seen through
- Check the roof folds smoothly – the frame can bend if put under too much pressure
- If a hardtop is present, check that the rear window heater switch and relay have been installed too
- Check the power steering works smoothly when turning in both directions – the manufactured EPAS system can fail and load up on one side.
- Issues can occur with the Security Control Unit (SCU) leading ultimately to an un-driveable car. Symptoms include windows not moving and the horn failing.
- Look for a full service history as these cars are temperamental when not serviced properly
MG TF 160 (2004) – Vital Statistics
|Power||118 kW (160 bhp) @ 6900rpm|
|Torque||121 Nm (165 lb/ft) @ 5000rpm|
|0-100 km/h (0-62 mph)||6.9 seconds|
|Maximum speed||220 km/h (137 mph)|
|Fuel consumption (average)||7.5 l/100km (38 mpg)|
|Fuel type, tank capacity||Petrol, 50 litres|
|Engine||Rover K-series 18K4K,|
Variable valve control,
|Cylinders and valves||Inline 4, 16v|
|Transmission||5 speed manual transmission|
|Drivetrain||Rear wheel drive|