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The F-Word Published: 9th May 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!


Fast Facts

  • Best model: 160 Trophy
  • Worst model: Any auto version
  • Budget buy: 1.8i
  • OK for unleaded?: Yes
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): L 3910 x W1780 mm
  • Spares situation: Improving, no worries
  • DIY ease?: Reasonable
  • Club support: Usual MG levels
  • Appreciating asset?: GIven time...
  • Good buy or good-bye?: Still underrated
Roomy, cockpit but steering rake may be too high for some Roomy, cockpit but steering rake may be too high for some
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No, it’s not that expletive - and this modern MG is a worthy successor to the MGB that a lot more enthusiasts will swearing by...

Pros & Cons

Name, design, safe mid-engine handling, value, VVC pep
Can be unreliable, lots of poor examples, head gasket woes

The MGF is the sportster the car MG fans had to wait nearly 20 years for. It was just about worth the wait though and the car is fast taking the place of the evergreen MGB in classic car circles, especially among younger enthusiasts. And rightly so we reckon because thanks to its advanced mid-engined design, crisp K-Series engines and a civilised cockpit – it’s everything you could wish for in a modern MG without all the fl at cap hang ups. Stylish, precise handling, quick yet civilised and with prices so low, isn’t it time that you mentioned the F word without apologising for it?


A le mans style sportster was considered

Launched in 1995 (starting off as a Project Phoenix in the late ‘80s), the ultra modern MGF was a world away from the antiquated MGB. Mid engined and using a development of the Allegro’s novel but noteworthy Hydragas suspension system (also used on the Metro, incidentally) plus an electricallyoperated power steering option, the F was all home grown without a trace of Honda or BMW about it.

There were strong heritage links to the MGF. Mayfl ower Vehicle Systems was created to manufacture the body, a company that in 1991 bought out Coventry based Motor Panels; an outfit that in turn had past links with the likes of Tickford and MG since the 1920s! Powering the F was the vivacious Rover K-Series engine, stretched to 1.8-litres. In standard tune it yielded 120bhp but in ingenious VVC form (Variable Valve Control) 145bhp was the order of the day, which enthusiasts will know is the same output as the old 3-litre MGC engine. The MGF was a hit right from the start and used prices actually exceeded list values as waiting lists quickly grew to make the MG the UK’s top selling sports car. This was despite the fact that the base 1.8i lacked power steering and anti-lock brakes, which was almost a given back then. Power steering was standardised for 1998 cars, which also saw the infl ux of special editions such as Abingdon, SE and Freestyle (see What to Look For section for fuller details) while come 2000 a light revise freshened it up, boasting a more traditional wood-trimmed cockpit.

Mechanically the big news was a clever CVT (constantly variable transmission) concept called Servotronic that also allowed manual changes when desired. A meaner, higher tuned Super Sports derivative boasting almost 200bhp was mooted at the time, but lack of funds kyboshed the idea. Instead in spring 2001 new Trophy versions were launched along with new engine tune. The flagship VVC now pumped out 160bhp, but sensibly MG also now offered a sweet and swift 111bhp 1.6-litre. A l s o H y d r a g a s suspension was modifi ed; on the top 160 Trophy ride height was lowered by 20mm, competition-style springs and dampers were fi tted in tandem with the gas suspension while AP racing brakes were also installed.The CVT transmission was upgraded to accept semi-automatic steering wheel-mounted buttons just like F1 cars used and was named Stepspeed.

In February 2002, after 42,000 UK sales, the MGF was no more. In its place came the similar-styled TF (a name dating back to the1950s roadster) with a new nose and – chiefl y – an entirely new chassis that did away with the Allegro underpinnings in favour of good old strings and shock absorbers. Now residing in China the TF has just started to resume production and we’ll be covering the TF more fully in a later issue.


MG may have been away from the sports car scene for almost 20 years, but it certainly kept abreast with the times and knew what modern enthusiasts demanded. What about that Allegrosourced suspension? Don’t laugh – retuned, it works well with this mid-engine layout, giving an amazing ride for such a serious sports car. Another surprise is the MGF’s user-friendliness for such an extreme chassis. Mid-ship chassis layouts can be quite unforgiving when pushed hard through corners, but this isn’t the case with the MGF, which is predominantly a safe understeer-prone car and not at all tail happy. That said in many ways the MGF’s ‘safety fast’ feel is its undoing because the two-seater seems more a vivid tourer than raw roadster. Performance from the crisp K-Series engines is good (even the entry level 1.6 is unexpectedly livelier than you’ve give it credit for); it’s just that the MGF can feel a tad lazy due to the high gearing (22mph@1000 revs)
employed; thankfully the much zippier VVC has slightly lower gearing to make better use of its rev-happy nature.

On the other hand outstanding fuel economy is always on the cards with some owners reporting almost 40mpg on a gentle run. The best performing MGF is the 160bhp Trophy - the least enjoyable are the automatic CVTs, especially the sequential-shift Steptronic that was easily wrong-footed and sapped the 1.8’s power. It’s not a good set up, quite frankly. Unlike the latest Toyota MR2, for a midengined sportster the MGF is extremely practical, being roomy and (save for a too high set steering column rake) comfortable. But perhaps best thing of all for genuine fans of the Octagon badge is that the F looks and feels like a real MG should!


Tired examples can start from around £800 while essentially decent cars can be found from as little as £1500, but both will usually be hiding expensive problems, possibly having been run ragged on track days. The sensible money seems to start around £2500-3000 for a private sale closer to £4500 from the trade for last of the line examples. We’ve seen some tuned/custom cars advertised for a fair bit more but you really don’t have to pay that much.Buyers do seem to be deterred by mileages over 50,000 though, so a well-cared for car with 80-90K on the clock could stick around long enough on the forecourt for a cheeky offer to be accepted. Of the special editions only the Trophy 160 offered better performance, so don’t pay a premium for the others unless you particularly like the trim. And remember, there are lots of MGFs around, so take your time. With luck you’ll fi nd somebody who is still convinced you can no longer get parts for the cars, leaving you to take a bargain off their hands.


There’s shed loads you can do to tune and improve an MGF, the limit is your desire and pocket. Increase in engine power of around 180bhp for the 1.8 is available while there’s numerous suspension and brake upgrades available, either via the aftermarket or simply converting the car to Trophy spec, which for typical road use is a decent compromise. For many owners just getting their MGF ‘right’ could well suffice. The car is very susceptible to chassis geometry errors and a proper alignment check and adjust by a specialist could reap rewards, plus also ensuring that the Hydragas ride height is to spec. Putting engine tuning aide, we’d spend our money on keeping the unit in one piece! Keep the engine as cool as possible by ensuring the system is okay and replacing any substandard parts, such as radiator (try an uprated type from the likes of Radtec), coolant pipes and hoses. A special ducting kit has been devised by Mike Satur (01709 890555 www. which for 39.95 allows more air into the engine. Sadly it can’t be fi tted to models with air con. A special water level sensor kit from Brown & Gammons is £90 well spent, too. So to appeal to younger buyers, there’s plenty of bling available, from Lexuslike rear lights to custom interiors, special roll bars/ windbreakers, quick stick shifts… The list goes on.

What To Look For

  • Okay so sports cars are designed to be hot stuff but sadly the MGF’s early reliability left many enthusiasts boiling – with rage! Build quality wasn’t good and the car gained a justifi ed reputation for unreliability.
  • Rust shouldn’t be a major worry but the F can suffer around the sills, boot lid rear wings seam, subframe and trailing arm regions and the front suspension.
  • The suspension geometry needs careful setting up, ditto the Hydragas gas suspension system, which is a known leaker. Many early Fs suffered from poor handling and pulling to one side; some cars were even returned back to the factory for expert rectifi cation. Check the tyres for uneven wear and see that it steers straight and true – if not then probably the subframes are mal-aligned or damaged. Try a few cars to gain a feel of this MG if you are at all uncertain.
  • See that the ride heights are correct (368mm +/- 10mm). According to leading MGF specialist Brown & Gammons (01462 490049) one of the car’s problems was caused by incorrect fi lling of the system at the factory, which led to wonky chassis alignment. B&G charges between £65 85 for a tracking alignment and adjustment, which can transform the drive. However, if the suspension is leaking (quite common) and needs reconditioning and re-pressurising it can work out a lengthy and pricey exercise, so don’t dismiss the job lightly.
  • The K-Series’ biggest failing is head gaskets and the car naturally runs some 30 degrees hotter due to engine location. Replacing it on this mid engine design is a sod but well worth doing as a service item. In fact, the cooling system needs to be almost over serviced (replace any suspect, aged or blocked pipes) to keep it sweet and if you are unsure of the integrity of the head gasket (look for signs of recent work and fresh gasket edges), then have the unit professionally pressure-tested. Incidentally, improved as well as Land Rover Freelander head gaskets are available.
  • K-Series engines should be sweet and sharp if in good order but hard use can make them noisy beasts, especially the camshafts. It’s not a cheap repair but can bag you a bargain as a result – plus as the head has to come off you can tackle the head gasket as preventative maintenance.
  • Still on head gaskets and overheating… take the car for a good hard run and watch the water gauge which should sit no higher than mid way. If the head is damaged a new one is usually needed, costing around £300-400 depending upon other parts needed.
  • Once you’ve bought your F, splash out £90 on a special low coolant warning light kit from specialists like Brown & Gammons (01462 490049), keep a regular eye on the pipeworks (especially the metal ones underneath the car), replace the antifreeze on time and all should bode well for the future.
  • The variable valve timing system on the hotter VVC-unit has been known to call time due to a tensioner fault causing the belt to pop out. There was a recall on this – but was it done? Belt replacement is critical on all K-Series engines along with worn pulleys, including the water pump one. Specialists usually charge a reasonable £200-500 for the job, depending on whether a major service is also carried out at the same time.
  • The MGF uses a curious but desirable and effective electric (rather than hydraulic) power steering system. Although it can feel a tad light at speed it’s generally reliable. Early non-assisted cars (such as early 1.8is) should prove to be a few hundred quid cheaper to buy but will be harder to sell on. It’s generally a durable set up although if the sensors fail, it can be expensive to right.
  • Talking of expense, few people like automatic MGFs. The F1-style semi-auto can prove to be fussy and jerky in action. If you are in doubt have the car checked by an expert. A new ‘box costs the thick end of £3000 fi tted, by the way!
  • Cockpits use stock Rover switchgear. The hood follows MGB tradition by being low cost and of simple construction. A replacement costs the best part of £400 but you can renew the (zipped) Perspex rear screen for around £160 if it is aged or cracked. The later TF hood is a better fi t.
  • Don’t be too upset if the standard issue tonneau cover is missing; it’s a fi ddly affair to use anyway. The stylish optional hard top (which cost £1000 new) turn up for around £400-600 second-hand, or you can buy alternatives from Brown & Gammons costing from £899-£1275, depending on colour and spec.
  • All versions boast central locking, alarm/ immobiliser and electric windows. The VVC version adds anti lock brakes and power steering as standard. Special editions – common to the standard MGF and the VVC – worth owning are the Abingdon (comes in BRG with beige leather trim and hood, 16inch alloy wheels – 350 made), 75th Anniversary (also leather clad, launched in ‘99), Wedgwood Blue SE (unique alloys, chrome door handles, wire mesh grille, ash grey fascia, leather trim and CD player) plus the winged Freestyle.
  • Despite the demise of MG in 2005, parts supply is pretty okay plus there’s strong after market and specialist back up (think Xpart, Rimmer Bros, MG Mania, MGF Centre, David Manners, Brown & Gammons and others) along with a growing internet fan base ( This means that running an F shouldn’t pose any major worries and parts supply from China is also improving.

Three Of A Kind

Based upon the old 3 Series Compact of the 1990s, the Z3 is an often overlooked modern classic yet it’s a very nice classical feeling tourer with good performance and refi nement. Engines span from an easy going, easy owning 1.8 to a master class 3.2 straight six, making the latter a modern Healey, both in looks and in spirit. While US built car isn’t as quality make as other BMWs, it’s miles better than the MG.
Mazda MX-5
Mazda MX-5
This is the car that’s shaking up the classic car world and overtaking the MGB, both on the road and off it. A shameless copy of the original Lotus Elan but it’s a brilliant car and a true sportster that despite three generations on still remains true to its original blueprint. Fine build and strong durability mean it’s an easy car to own and keep plus there’s also a dedicated race series if you want to have some real fun.
Toyota MR2
Toyota MR2
On paper this baby Ferrari has it all; mid engine layout, great styling and the usual top notch Toyota build quality. And yet the MR2 has still yet to catch on. One of the reasons is their tendency to rust (pre Mk3) but a good one represents excellent value for money. Mid-ship chassis is sharp and needs skill; Mk1s best as Mk2 was spoiled. Later Mk3 has shades of Porsche Boxster look about it


The MGF has a heck of a lot going for it – not least exceptional value when compared to an overpriced MGB or TR. Along with the Triumph MR2, BMW Z3 and of course the Mazda MX-5, the F is the epitome of the modern classic sportster aimed for the younger classic car enthusiast who doesn‘t want to become a member of the flat cap brigade. That said the MGF still has the something of a real MG about it, so you can enjoy the best of both worlds – so long as you get a good one.

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