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MGF Published: 18th Oct 2019 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Fast Facts

  • Best model: MGTF 160
  • Worst model: MGF 1.6
  • Budget buy: MGTF 115
  • OK for unleaded?: Cat fed so unleaded only
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): L3920xW1630mm
  • Spares situation: Key parts are available new or used
  • DIY ease?: Generally good
  • Club support: Excellent
  • Appreciating asset?: Not any time soon
  • Good buy or good-bye?: An acquired taste
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A brilliant cheap-as-chips starter classic and yet a seriously fine driving sports car from MG that’s dead easy to own and run. And with over 10,000 remaining you’re spoilt for choice so there’s no excuse for buying badly

Listen to the bar-room pundits and you’d never touch an F or TF – or you’ll be liberally using the F word! But the reality is somewhat different because while costly engine and suspension problems can crop up, a well sorted example is just as much fun as when they arrived in the main dealer showrooms almost a quarter of a century ago to widespread critical acclaim.

While this guide encompasses the original Fit’s concentrating more on the TF as they are newer and consequently there’s far more to choose from although values are broadly similar for both versions as it’s condition which counts the most although all are a veritable bundle of brilliant fun for buttons if you buy right.


1995 the all new mid-engined, gas-suspended MGF is unveiled at the Geneva motor show in March, but it won’t be until December that the first UK cars are delivered, all with a 1.8-litre K-Series petrol engine in two states of tune; 120bhp and a more exciting higher revving 145bhp in VVC (variable valve timing) tune.

1997 the first of a long series of special editions is announced: the Abingdon. However, the first examples won’t be delivered until May 1998. There’s Brooklands Green paint, beige leather trim and hood, 16-inch alloys and extra chrome.

1999 the next limited edition appears in May, the 75 LE, commemorating 75 years of MG production. With black and red paint, leather trim and extra chrome, there are also multi-spoke 16-inch alloys. Just four months later, in September, a revised MGF is announced for the 2000 model year, with detail changes and a body-coloured windscreen surround. Also, the CVT-equipped Steptronic joins the range, with paddle-shifts and six fixed ratios.

2000 In July it’s time for another limited edition; the Wedgwood SE with blue paint, CD player, leather trim, extra chrome, boot spoiler and multi-spoke 16-inch alloys.

2001 In March MG announces new entry-level and range-topping editions of the F. Those on a budget can now buy a 1.6-litre model, while those with more cash to spend can indulge in the new 159bhp Trophy 160. By August it’s already time for the next special, the Freestyle – which would prove to be the last of the F specials.

2002 the F evolves into the TF in January. Multi-link rear suspension and revised steering give a significantly sharper drive thanks to the ditching of Hydragas in place of conventional coil spring/damper units. A restyled nose is the biggest change visually, but there are also bigger air scoops for the engine, new sill and wing pressings plus an integral lip spoiler for the tweaked bootlid. There’s a choice of 1.6-litre (115), 1.8-litre (135) and 1.8 VVC (160) models, the latter featuring variable valve timing. There’s also a CVT available with the 1.8-litre engine, named Stepspeed. It doesn’t take long for the first TF special edition to arrive though; by July the TF Sprint is on sale.

2003 there are two limited editions for 2003; the Cool Blue arrives in February then by October it’s the turn of the Sunstorm-badged version.

2004 the end of MG-Rover is nigh, but nobody knows it yet. In January the now sought after 80th Anniversary special edition appears, to celebrate eight decades of MG production, then, in July, the Spark limited edition shows its pretty face.

2005-08 MG-Rover goes belly up and the TF dies as a result but thanks to MG’s new Chinese owners, the TF goes back into production in August 2008 as the LE500 Limited Edition. Just over a year later, in September 2009, the TF135 is introduced alongside an 85th Anniversary special edition run of just 50 cars before production finally ceased in 2011.

Driving and what the press thought

MG may have been out of the sports car game for the best part of 20 years but it kept abreast with the changing times and the mid-engined MGF was a marvel and possibly the friendliest, safest mid-engined sports car ever to drive with gusto which had Autocar writing, “No other car with an engine behind the rear seats has ever felt this safe to drive fast”.

Any model, so long as it is well kept, is a joy to drive and even the flaccid (on paper) 1.6 is surprisingly perky due to its lower gearing and surprisingly superior torque figures out of the engine range. If there’s one flaw – 1.6 excepted – it’s the overall gearing which is too tall for sports car sprinting although it does result in restful cruising and potentially 40mpg economy.

The enthusiasm with which CAR magazine greeted the new MG bordered on the sycophantic. It pitched it against the Fiat Barchetta, Alfa Romeo Spider and Mazda MX-5. Starting with the MGF the monthly gushed:

“There had been hints of its ability all day: its ride quality on some of the worst roads, its solidity, its integrity. On that lovely road the MGF was magnificent. It handled the bumps and dips and troughs and camber variations with almost arrogant disdain. Its composure was never ruffled: body nice and flat, steering well damped, all wheels glued to the road, Hydragas suspension acting as featherbed to the biggest bumps but gripping the road with a will of iron. The MG threaded its way down that narrow road – compact, tidy, like a snake speeding through long grass, absolutely at ease at high speed.

“Oh the joy of driving a small performance car fast! A narrow, short car; a car you almost wear; a car whose engine is just behind your back, whose front bumper is just ahead of your toes, whose passenger door you can stretch out and touch with ease. And one so deliciously nimble, helped by that mid-engine configuration. “We all had a go, one after the other, all four of us, on that road, and we all came back in agreement. The MGF is not only Rover’s best effort in goodness knows how long, but it’s also the best small roadster ever made. A marvellous engineering achievement”.

The praise was well deserved and the F would go on to become the UK’s biggest-selling roadster for six years in a row. So expectations were not unexpectedly high when the F became the TF in 2002. While the interior was barely touched (it didn’t need to be in all honesty), the bodywork and suspension were comprehensively overhauled.

CAR was almost as positive with the new TF as before.“The suspension doesn’t feel like Hydragas has just been dumped, because the TF just feels like a MGF always should have. Over many years the linked reservoirs were developed to such a degree that the MGF handled pretty well. Yes it did have substantial body roll and an annoying tendency to flop about a bit when pushed hard. It also allowed that toe-out, which meant it had a tendency to rein in any throttle-induced attitude adjustment.

“Now the TF is more responsive to what you do with your right foot, as well as to what you do with the steering wheel. So now we have a conventional set up but a much more intuitive drive”. Forget the MGF – it’s T time”. However, the press wasn’t quite so kind to the Chinese relaunch cars, criticising their high prices plus the fact that little had been done to refresh an ageing design in the face of increasingly stiffer competition although the looks were always universally admired.

The later this MG the better although early TFs, while impressing with their handling, universally disappointed with an unduly harsh ride, so much so that MG came up with a ‘Comfort’ handling pack for those who found the going too hard; later TFs were subsequently revised with an improved set up but even so the earlier F remains the more compliant.

Classic caring

It’s an MG, which is a byword for easy-peasy owning and running. The sports car is a bit of a parts bin special; Metro subframes and suspension (MGF), K-Series engines, Rover 800 front brakes and a Powertrain transmission which was also fitted to the Lotus Elise. The electrical gear and switches are all BL/Rover. Access to the mid mounted engine is quite fair and a head gasket change is a DIY proposition although the head ideally needs to be skimmed if the gasket failed – it’s worth renewing it as preventative maintenance, along with the water pump and drive belt, not forgetting the VVC belt which controls the variable valve timing, which may be beyond the ken of some DIYers. Wise owners fit a low coolant warning kit from Brown & Gammons, which tells you if the level is dropping. They’re £168 apiece and easy to fit yourself.

However, the key problem with major repairs on the engine or gearbox is an acute lack of access; the rear subframe has to be dropped along with the powerplant and transmission for serious repairs. As a result, a slipping clutch isn’t costly to fix on a DIY basis as you can buy a three-piece kit for £200, but there’s so much labour involved in fitting it that a specialist is likely to charge £600. Leaking or failed suspension sphere can be overhauled and the Hydragas replaced by fluid. Scrappage rates are high which at least ensures a good spares supply.

The plastic rear window of the F can get scratched or damaged, so many F owners fit a TF roof, or simply a TF window into their existing hood. However, the TF’s heated glass screen is noticeably smaller than the F’s plastic item. An F hood costs £300-£600 depending on spec while an equivalent original equipment TF item is nearer £900.


In completely standard form, as long as an F or TF is in good condition, there’s no need for any significant changes because the car is so well sorted. The best ‘mod’ if you can call it that is to have the car set up and serviced by an MGF expert. For instance, on the majority of Fs, the Hydragas suspension will require re-pressurising and penny to a pound the geometry settings will be all tack-tock meaning any suspension mods (and there’s several, including an all new coil over conversions for MGFs from Mike Satur) will be meaningless. And start off with a good quality tyre that suits the MGF/TF best as many brands don’t. Again, a good specialist will advise.

As the K-Series did great service in early Lotus Elises, there’s plenty of tuning potential but if you want to go a bit crazy you can fit a Honda 2.0-litre VTEC engine, complete with a supercharger if you fancy it, to take the power up to 350bhp.

If you’re aiming to drive your F or TF hard, such as on track days, you might find the brakes fade – although in normal use they’re fine. You can fit a big brake kit for £700 for the discs, callipers and pads. You might also want to improve the standard cooling (very advisable), with aluminium radiators available for around £100 apiece; the same goes for the air-con radiator, which can also be uprated.

Other than that there are lots of ways that you can personalise your F or TF, including chromed roll hoops, different alloy wheels, fitting a wind deflector or fitting some new seats, maybe with leather trim and heating elements. None of these add to resales but make the car more desirable.

Values and specialist view

Kevin Marks runs his Lincolnshire-based Trophy Cars (, specialising in both MGFs and TFs, of which there’s 3800 and 6500 left respectively. Selling some 250 per year he comments: “Apart from the newest examples which are still depreciating, values are much the same as they’ve been for years”. He continued, “The numbers are still diminishing but demand isn’t, yet you still don’t need to spend a fortune to secure something good. The problem is that good cars are in the minority, with many owners thinking their MGs are in better condition than they really are”. Marks is constantly travelling the country to root out the best ones for retail.

Condition is the vital factor rather than model or spec but Kevin says don’t bother with VVC cars unless you need the added (upper rev range) zest as they are dearer to run, tax and insure.

For example, it’s not unusual for someone to ask for a TF160 even though they’re just going to clock up a few low-speed miles each year – but up to 4000rpm the TF135 offers the same performance as the TF160. The latter costs more to insure, maintain and buy yet buyers gravitate towards them because they’re told to – even if a TF135 would make more sense.

“The same goes for the F with its Hydragas suspension, which is supposedly unreliable. But it’s not and you can get everything to keep the car as good as new, even if not everything is available on a new basis”.

Marks says you need to spend between £3000-£4000 for a good car: “There are still lots of low-mileage cars out there, especially where the later LE500 and TF LE are concerned, but these latest editions are the ones which are still depreciating as they’re still relatively new. The key is to buy the best car that you can afford; there’s a huge variation in terms of both condition and value of the cars out there, so you have to shop around a lot before buying”. Colour schemes can significantly affect this MG’s saleability however.

Workshops will generally quote £1500 to fix a failed head gasket so the car gets scrapped – but Trophy Cars will repair a failed head gasket for as little as £595 – and this price includes a replacement water pump as well as a cam belt.

Each car Trophy Cars retails will have this all taken care of together with a full service, a fresh MoT and worthy warranty “to take all the hassle out of it” and given their lowly prices, this is how we’d buy this MG every time.

Marks reckons the MGF and later TF will gain classic status – one day: “I think we’re still 10-15 years away from the best examples of these cars fetching significant money, but it will happen, once they start to be completely restored”.

We have reliably owned

Contributor Chris Adams is a dyed-in-the-wool MG fan, owning an MGB GT and a Y-Type saloon, he added an MGF for more daily duties. He found a British Racing Green 1998 MGF sitting on a local garage forecourt without any documentation to prove the gasket had been changed but what swayed him was that it had just 50,000 miles on the clock, had spent its entire life on the south coast and looked pretty clean and tidy for its age but still required the usual fettling these cars require but it’s the perfect modern to go with traditional MG classics, especially after fitting a second-hand hard top. “Fortuitously, MG foresaw that people might want a hard-top so all versions come pre-fitted with rear catches to secure it in place”, he says.

Editor Alan Anderson ran a 1999 1.8 for four years and the cooling system didn’t give an iota of hassle once! However, the car, bought for £1400 from a mainstream dealer, still required new cooling pipes, a suspension re-gas and a full geometry relign. Adding Spax adjustable dampers, sports exhaust and Yokohama tyres completed a cheap fun sports car that he recommends to anyone after a serious and seriously inexpensive classic.

E-type man buys TF for fun

Former Motor magazine Road Test Editor and successful racer Gordon Bruce has driven and owned some of the most desirable cars ever – his personal stable currently includes a Jaguar E-type, Porsche Cayman S and Range Rover Sport. These have recently been joined by a TF 160, as he fancied some cheap summer fun, didn’t want an MX-5 or BMWZ3, and has enjoyed a long association with the MG marque.

He confirms that owning a TF entails coping with jokers asking “how much do you charge for a cut and blow dry, and where do you keep your curlers”. But, after two months of fettling and driving his poor man’s Boxster, Gordon’s decided the enjoyment justifies the insults. And what’s not to like, as it’s a rust- and leak-free, three-owner example that’s covered just 62,500 miles from new. Bruce’s bolide came complete with: a freshly rebuilt engine; new brakes, tyres, exhaust and battery; and excellent hood and interior, all for under £3000. In fact, the only matters that separate it from a notably dearer one are a few patches of bird-affected paintwork and excess tappet noise on start-up, for which fellow owners recommend Wynn’s additive. The purchase was meant to be a temporary one but, even though the summer season’s coming to an end, Gordon finds he’s in no rush to sell!

What To Look For

Transmission tribulations

Unless you desperately need automatic steer (well) clear of MGF/ TFs lacking a clutch pedal. There’s not much demand for cars with the quirky Steptronic and Stepspeed transmissions, and survivors are getting ever rarer with barely a handful now left. These weak transmissions cost as much to fix as the entire MG is worth, so when the gearbox fails the car is often broken for spares. This is a problem that still afflicts Fs and TFs in general, with garages sometimes reluctant to work on them due to their complexity.

Manual gearboxes may be notchy when cold and the change on early F can feel loose, but a whine in fourth or fifth gear spells their imminent demise. Tightening the linkages to give a tauter feel can snap them – you have to use modified more precise TF items if needed. Clutch hydraulics fail and a swine to bleed properly; some mechancs leave the reservoir cap off overnight with car jacked up at a kilter to assist air removal.

Rumbling driveshafts when cornering suggests worn wheelbearings. New driveshafts cost £180 each, or a specialist will charge £400 to do the job. The hubs are Metro sourced and sometimes these also wear giving rise to rear-steer requiring replacement as a result, not with new ones as they aren’t available anymore, so you’ll have to resort to used parts.

Do you need to use the F word for the gasket blowing K-series?

This is the bane of the MGF. The K-Series engine’s head gasket is a weak spot, but cherished cars can rack up 150,000 miles. The key is to ensure the coolant level is maintained; the powerplant’s small coolant capacity doesn’t help. Fixing a blown head gasket costs around £600, but you must fit the later, reinforced gasket. Any engine that’s been rebuilt should automatically have had a stronger multiple layer head gasket fitted.

If the engine is covered in oil or coolant, suspect the worst. Check that the lubricant and coolant haven’t mixed by looking for white emulsion on the underside of the oil filler cap, although this could be caused by condensation if the car hasn’t been used much, so also check for emulsion in the coolant tank. TFs seem better served as all bar the earliest versions are fitted with a Pressure Relief Thermostat.

The cam belt needs changing every four years or 60,000 miles; check this has been done, and also that the tensioner and water pump were replaced at the same time. If the belt, tensioner or pump fail, the head will be wrecked; a full kit of parts to do the job yourself is only £150.

The VVC system is generally reliable but a rattle from the driver’s side suggests it’s on the way out. The variable valve control kicks in around 4500rpm and you feel the engine take on a different character. If sportier aftermarket camshafts are fitted, this is disconnected by the way. Poor running or misfire may be due to failing coil packs, not helped by water getting to them via the engine’s vent.

The F’s radiator is in the nose, with two steel pipes running the length of the car to supply coolant. Over time these pipes corrode, and if they suddenly fail there’ll be a catastrophic coolant loss. Some owners fit stainless steel pipes instead; they’re a straight swap and cost the same as their mild steel equivalents. Penny to a pound that they have already been replaced by now and certainly should be a part of preventative maintenance.

Cooking on gas

According to leading MGF specialist Brown & Gammons (01462 490049), one of the car’s handling problems was caused by incorrect filling of the Hydragas system at the factory. Many early Fs also suffered from poor handling and pulling because the subframes were mal-aligned or damaged. See that the ride heights are correct (368mm +/- 10mm); the system is replenished with Hydrolastic fluid not gas. Spheres deteriorate and leak and used replacements are becoming ever harder to come by. Any MGF will have to be almost concours to warrant converting to conventional suspension as the job easily runs into four figures.

Gas or steel suspended, all models should feel nimble, with precise steering, a supple ride and sharp handling. If not, the suspension bushes or subframe mountings have probably had it. A specialist charges £500 to renew all the bushes and another £350 for fresh mountings. Other wear points are the ball joints, anti-roll bar bushes and shot damping, particularly at the rear. If uprated suspensions have been fitted inspect the suspension turrets and bulkheads for stress cracking.

Most Fs have power steering; it’s reliable and precise, but misaligned sensors can cause pulling to one side. Fixing this is more costly and timeconsuming than simply replacing the rack; your best bet is to fit a TF item, which is a straight swap. Available for £180, the TF rack has 2.8 turns between locks instead of the F’s 3.2, and it offers greater feel too. The brakes are fi ne but handbrakes are usually rubbish! Virtually every MGF/TF will succumb to this, due to rear brake callipers seizing. According to specialists, stripping them and freeing up the mechanisms is only a short term fi x and a new unit is the best solution.

Tyres have also been contentious issue as only certain brands (Toyo, Yokohama and latterly budget brand Falken) remain recommended. Any MGF or TF running on a hotchpotch is bad news and points to penny pinching elsewhere.

Looking good?

There shouldn’t be significant corrosion anywhere despite the MG’s advancing age. Cared-for cars should be solid, thanks to a paucity of rust traps and decent factory applied rustproofing. However, you must check the wheelarches, floorpans and sills where they meet each rear wing, the latter on the F only as the TF doesn’t have this seam. New sills are available from BMH and Moss holds a good stock of other panels.

Check where the front wings meet the sills, the front of the wheelarches and the back of the side air intakes. The rear shock absorber mounting points can split, while the front and rear subframes can suffer from corrosion and accident damage. New MGF front subframes are £420 each, while the rears are no longer available, so you’ll have to look for a good used one; TF items are both available at around £330 each however. Look for corrosion in the trailing arms, wishbones, the bootlid seam that runs across the top of the central brake light and the front wings around the side repeaters. Talking of lights, MGF headlamps are getting extremely hard to obtain.

Insider dealing

As with all soft tops look and smell for damp. The MG isn’t watertight although TFs can fare worse in the footwells. Sometimes the culprit of a wet cabin may just be a failed gasket where the heater air intake enters the car. Check the electric windows; they can get stiff and are usually expensive to replace.

Three Of A Kind

Mazda MX-5
Mazda MX-5
It’s easy to see why this is the world’s best-selling sports car. You get a fabulous retro modern driving experience with reliability and surprising usability – for very little cash. We’re now on the fourth generation model; the first two could rust pretty badly so you need to buy with care, especially where modified cars are concerned. But all MX-5s offer the same virtues, so buy according to your budget.
Toyota MR2
Toyota MR2
Three generations to choose between – all eminently affordable – the MR2 has never caught on as a classic. All are mid-engined but it’s only the third-generation car which is a true convertible – and it’s also the most compromised of the lot in terms of practicality as there’s no boot space at all. But if you want a sports car that’ll just keeps working and is like a budget Elise look no further.
As MG went all modern, its once parent company, BMW, steered the conventional route with what looks a bit like a miniature Big Healey. Based upon the 3 Series Compact floorpan there’s a wide choice of engines to suit all budgets; the sixes are the real powerhouses but the vivid 2.2 ‘four’ more than suffices. As smooth and easy as any normal 3 Series to drive and to own and all are very good value.
Classic Motoring

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