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DISTANT RELATIONS Published: 2nd Nov 2012 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!


What The Experts Say...

Daryl Cramer of Pocket Motors (now known as MGF Reborn) near Poole in Dorset has been involved in MGFs since they were new and now deals in all types repairs and restorations and is booked up well into the autumn. He says the MGF (as against the shoddy made TF) is much maligned and will be a future classic one day, adding that owners – many ex-MGB fans – are now spending serious money on theirs to keep them out of the scrapper.

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How’s this for role reversal – when MG and BMW both launched their respective affordable roadsters back in the mid 90s guess which one was the most advanced and better received? Step forward the MGF.

Where as BMW (who owned Rover at the time, remember) simply slung a sports car body on its venerable Compact hatchback to call it the Z3, MG really went to town with its long awaited successor to the MGB, making it mid-engined and gas suspended. Fast forward some 15 years and both make extremely interesting and worthy alternatives to the now rather common Mazda MX-5 as a modern neo classic that doubles up as a daily driver and cheap, too. Fancy one – which one?

Which one to buy?

Modern vs retro roadster

When launched, such was the popularity of the MGF that long waiting lists soon had buyers playing over ‘book’ to jump the queue and at one point, used models were selling over new prices! That seems an age ago because now MGFs are worth shirt buttons and a reported 100 are being scrapped each month.

The Z3 was a clever reskin of the Compact, the entry level BMW. It was utterly orthodox and in many ways just what you’d expect a modern MGB to be… Good grief, there was even the Z3M, a modern MGB GT if ever we saw one!
In terms of choice the German offers a better spread with engines starting from an easy going 1.9-litres right up to a 231bhp 3.2 straight six, the modern MGC surely? What’s more with its long muscular bonnet and short tail there’s a real classical look about the Z3 that has weathered nicely.

The MGF amazed when it was launched in 1995, boasting a spec and layout that no MG before or since has bettered. With its K Series engine, mid ships and Allegro suspension it was a car the company could and should have launched decades before. Nicely styled and bang up to date, the shape has also stood the test of time well as has the cabin, although not in terms of stamina.

There’s only been two engines choices – 1.6 and 1.8 – but up to 160bhp is available plus there’s the option of two- types of automatic, including one with F1-style paddles. When the MGF morphed into the TF, it gained a new chassis with conventional springing although hints of a 2+2 GT and a hardcore speedster never came to fruition. But there was a cluster of special editions with better appoint- ments and some, such as Wedgewood, 75 Anniversary, Trophy and the TF’s Sprint, are becoming quite sought after.

What’s the best to drive?

Now here’s a surprise!

What a turn up of the books… would you believe it’s the MG? The F may be saddled with Metro subframes and its gas suspension but the British engineers did a remarkable job of turning it into one of the best and certainly most user-friendly mid-engined chassis ever. Unlike snappy Ferraris and even Toyota MR2s, the MGF (if on good, recommended tyres at least) is as predictable as a front-wheel drive hot hatch yet retains that darty agile feel only a mid ship enjoys. Also (if the hydragas is set correctly), its supple Elan-like ride means that this MG is no bone shaker either. Perhaps the only disappointment remains the electric power steering which is devoid of real feel. Fit uprated dampers and lower it and the MGF becomes a bril- liant handler, ideal for track days.

Is the spring suspended TF an improve- ment? In ultimate handling terms then yes but the harsh ride trade off may not be worth it for many. In fact it led to a softer handling kit being made an option.

So what’s wrong with ‘The Ultimate Driving Machine’ then? The answer is very little and 90 per cent of the time the Z3 drives very well, it’s just that the sports car was based on the original Compact chassis, a car that was never noted for its handling qualities. That said, some may like the old generation 3 Series rear end suspension and the ‘Sport’ models does improve matters.

Away from clipping apexes and playing Lewis Hamilton, the BMW redeems itself. Delightfully smooth engines, a beautiful gear change (that’s six-speeds on top models) and controls, first class driving environment and the unmistakable BMW feeling of quality will mean more to some than balls out driving qualities. In contrast the MGF feels cheap and the majority of cars on the market will now suffer from a loose, floppy gear change rotten handbrake (dodgy callipers) and flappy sunvisors.

With its choice of four and six pot engines, there’s a Z3 for all tastes and pockets. Our choice for its six smooth- ness as well as swiftness, yet also good economy, would either be a 2.0 or the 170bhp 2.2-litre upgrade launched on X-reg plates although there’s little wrong with the 1.8 and 1.9-litre ‘fours’ and they are as easy to run as a 3 Series saloon.

The K Series engine living behind the driver in an MGF has little to apologise for – well apart from head gaskets that is! Sharp and free revving, even the 115bhp 1.6 is no slouch while the 145bhp VVC model would keep a similarly-engined Lotus Elise in its sights. The MGF would be quicker still if MG hadn’t saddled with unusually tall gearing for a sports car. However this does result in an unusually relaxed touring gait and up to 40mpg on a gentle run.

If you’re after an auto then go for the BMW. The CVT and Steptronic types used on the MGF did no favours to its perfor- mance and can be horrendously expensive to repair if faulty. And they often are.

Owning and running

BMW will be the easier to run long term… You’d think that anything associated with the MG badge would be well served by the army of clubs and specialists and in the main you’re right. General service parts are okay via Rimmer Bros and David Manners, the problem with the F is a fearful high attrition rate due to its low residuals and increasing non-availability of factory parts; Hydragas spheres are obso- lete, for example. There is a kit to convert
an F over to conventional suspension but at a price of well over £1000 the conver- sion is worth more than many cars.

And that’s the problem – you can pick up an MGF for just a few hundred (and we know of one which was written off simply because the hood was vandal- ised…) with values still in freefall and the situation doesn’t seem to be improving. A blown head gasket with all the trimmings can cost anything from £600-1000. On the other hand BMH is reproducing OE body parts and there’s now MGF Reborn of Poole, Dorset (http://www.pocket-motors. a west England outfit that will restore an MGF to your specification for around £8000. Alternatively or you can go to the likes of Brown & Gammons and Luffield for late and nearly new TFs from around £10,000. Even new Chinese TFs are heavily discounted.

Z3s have no problems and parts can come from BMW, independents and the likes of high street GSF and Euro Car Parts. As the Z3 has no classic status dealer book prices rule which means an early ‘97 1.9 for around £2500 or a similar 3.2 M for double this – a bargain as it cost £40,000 new! The rarer fixedhead M coupe costs around £5000, the same price as ten year old 2.2 Roadster.

And The Winner Is...

Most won’t regard this BMW as a classic even though its as old as the MGF but in our minds its no less a candidate because the German’s credentials are as good. The MGF is a good car – the most advanced design ever seen in a mainstream MG. But while the speed is there the stamina isn’t and they have sadly slunk to banger status. So has the Z3 you can argue, but the fact is the BMW is a better bet and a good one is as worthy of the modern classic tag as any MX-5. Just try one.

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