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MGF

MGF Published: 22nd Sep 2015 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

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Chris Adamson finds cheap MGFs far too tempting to ignore. Will he regret it?

It was national Drive It Day, it also happened to be my birthday and it was chucking it down with rain – that was the day that we decided that while classic MGs are fine for sunny days something more modern was needed to combat the unpredictable British climate.

Because the forecast had been inclement, although a deluge of biblical proportions wasn’t mentioned, our 1972 MGB Roadster had been left at home tucked-up in its nice warm garage and it was the 1952 YB saloon that was getting a soaking – with some of it making its way onto us.

We discovered that the sunroof on the YB is designed just for that – sunshine and not precipitation.

It may come as a surprise then to discover that our choice for MG number three was an MGF – yes another sporting soft-top and not exactly your first thought for a winter run-around but we chose it because we wanted to continue the sporting MG theme, have the flexibility to use it all year round and take advantage of the occasional sunshine.

Another consideration is that there are thousands out there (MG built 67,000 of them) at almost pocket-money prices. You can pick an MGF up for anything between £500 and £3500 as the MGF has yet to achieve the status of an appreciating classic, but it will happen one day.

They are relatively inexpensive to insure as many specialist classic insurance companies will take them on as ‘cherished’ cars – I now have all three of my MGs, which span close on 50 years of production, on the same policy. The major difference to our classics is that the Chancellor wants his pound of flesh – or more like £230 pounds – a year in road tax.

HEADS YOU LOSE

The MGF was superseded by the TF in February 2002 which grew slightly and underwent a nose job (which gives it a more masculine appearance) and switched hydragas to a conventional coil-over front suspension and a multi-link rear set-up. Talk about the MGF to almost anyone who knows a bit about cars and the first thing they will mention is the head gasket – or rather its regular habit of failing.

The problem is mostly down to the gasket material used and there are reports of them going at just 80 miles although some have done in excess of 100,000 miles without a hint of a problem.

Normally, anyone buying an MGF is advised to check if the head gasket has been replaced or otherwise budget for a replacement, which can cost anything between £500 and £900.

However, there is no guarantee that once replaced with more modern materials that the gasket won’t blow again – as a friend who bought his TF at the same time as us with a replacement head gasket discovered when it failed within the first 12 months…

So I was taking a bit of a gamble when I found a British Racing Green 1998 MGF sitting on a local garage forecourt without any documentation to prove the gasket had been changed! What swayed me was that it had just 50,000 miles on the clock, had spent its entire life here on the south coast and looked pretty clean and tidy for its age.

So to overcome the need for an expensive gasket change I have been relying on prevention rather than cure. But to be certain, the first thing I did after purchasing it was to have it checked out by my local MGF specialist. I know them pretty well so they let me have a good poke around underneath and in the engine bay and on the whole it was good news.

We discovered that the radiator was showing signs of wear and perhaps a leak, so that came out and in its place went an aluminium unit. At the same time we replaced the steel cooling pipes that run almost the full length of the underside of the car from the radiator at the front to the engine.

Because the cooling system is exposed to the elements and vulnerable to damage we also opted to replace the original pipes with stainless steel as they aren’t much more expensive.

Finally, as a belt and braces tactic, we replaced the standard anti-freeze with a specialist product called 4Life that’s been around for decades. It costs three times the price of conventional anti-freeze but works at a much wider temperature range so should keep the engine cooler in summer and warmer in winter and it can stay in the engine for up to 10 years compared to the two-year life of anti-freeze.

It also has a clever trick in that it is coloured pink which turns yellow if any gases start finding their way into the cooling system – the first sign that the gasket is failing – so a regular check should spot any problem before it becomes serious. The suppliers also tell me that if you drain the 4Life when it is yellow and leave it, the gases dissipate and the colour changes back to pink ready to be returned to the system. I should also mention that you can use Evans Waterless Coolant to similar good effect.

THE SOFTLY-SOFTLY APPROACH…

One of the best features of the MGF, which can also be its Achilles heel, is the hydragas suspension – this uses hydraulic fluid and nitrogen gas in the displacers. The system pairs the front and rear wheels nearside and offside and is relatively simple to top-up. Most owners seem to agree that the hydragas offers a significantly softer and smoother ride quality than the conventional set-up used on its successor the TF, which has a harder quality.

The problem is that the hydragas displacer units are no longer available and if they fail the only solution is to replace it with the suspension layout used on the TF – this is perfectly possible but it is going to set you back between £800 and £1000!

Another problem area is the wishbone section of the front suspension which can be attacked by corrosion – fortunately this is a relatively simple operation to change and I have had this done on mine and at the same time replaced the ball joints which are rather prone to wear.

Because of its mid-engine layout, access to the engine for servicing can be a bit of a pain – for example the cambelt cover is in two parts; one that has to be undone from above and the other from below which means the car is forever being raised and lowered during a routine service.

Better news is that all the parts are readily available and relatively cheap so it shouldn’t break the bank to keep an MGF on the road.

One of the few optional extras is a hard-top and after one winter (with a few leaks from the fabric top which will cost between £500 and £700 to replace), I went out and purchased a matching colour second-hand one locally (prices range from £250 to £500 or £1300 to £1900 if you want to buy brand new).

Fortuitously, MG foresaw that people might want a hard-top so all versions come pre-fitted with rear catches to secure it in place – the front using the same locating points as the soft-top. MG also buried under the parcel shelf cover, a factory fitted heated rear screen connector (both hard-tops and later soft-tops come with heated glass screens). So all you have to do is install a switch on the dashboard in one of the blank spaces (the connector is already there) and a fuse in the fuse box where a vacancy was purposely left.

This is a relatively simple DIY task. The only problem, is deciding which MG to take as we have three!

 



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