Blog : Last of the BMC bloodline

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Steven Ward

TF2

It is eight years ago this week (7 June 2005) that the last wholly-assembled and British-built car left Longbridge.  You could also argue that it was the last desirable and contemporary car to leave the plant.  The vehicle I am talking about was my somewhat special build MG TF.  You could say it was BMC’s final swansong.

Finished after lunch on June 7 2005, my TF was remarkable for no obvious reason aside from being the last one built.  You see, back when the factory went into administration, the assembly lines had been kept running by money provided by HBOS, which was in turn underwritten by the dealer network.

However, my TF was built using cash from what is believed to be John Tower’s own pocket.  This is what caught my attention at the time and what followed was a week of cat-and-mouse to ensure that I became the owner of the car.  Let me explain…

At the time, I was a Police Constable having left the MG Rover dealer network as I’d seen the writing on the wall so to speak.  In my spare time I was a concourse judge at various MG displays and as such travelled to many MG events.  I owned an MGF which I built up to be used for commuting, travelling and track days.  The ever helpful Mike Satur profited enormously from that car at the time!  It was properly sorted and I still miss it to this day.

I had also bought a MG ZR VVC some months earlier for my other half (see blog ‘Her Name Is Rio And She’s CRAP‘) and I’d ordered a 45 for my dad to replace his 416.  My in-laws had also taken delivery of a 75 Tourer (also blogged on here). I was utterly immersed in MG Rover just as much as I ever had been, despite leaving the Trade and realising the products were, well, past their prime.

At the inaugural Pride of Longbridge event, I led the cavalcade of modern MGs around Cofton Hacket in my BRG MGF.  There is an official video of that somewhere if you look. At this show, after a few pints of specially brewed Austin Ale, I got chatting to Roger Parker from the MGOC.  He tipped me off about these run-out cars being stored at the Phoenix MGR dealership in Coventry.  A dealership owned by the Phoenix consortium, which was officially opened by John Towers and which was built on Triumph’s Canley site.

The following day, I went to see what was there.  In short, there was alot of product there, mostly oddball stuff, but I clearly remember a full line of MG ZT 260 V8s.  I got chatting to a lovely girl who was rather upset that she was about to lose her job.  The staff at Phoenix Coventry were working their notice period as the dealership was about to close on the Thursday.

The girl in question had started her motor trade career at that site as the MGF specialist way back in 1995.  Remember when you had to be a select dealer to have a MGF franchise?  Remember too, how the car was placed in a special section of the showroom, similar to a separate boutique franchise in a department store?  Well, that was her job and it was all but over and she was understandably upset.

I could fully sympathise with her.  A dealer group I’d worked at had the same set-up and in 1998 I was a MGF buyer for them.  We chatted at length and I explained that, while I wasn’t in the market for a new car, part of me knew this was the last chance to buy a new MG.  She said the best value cars were the 260s, they just had to go.  However, my job meant a 260 was a big NO-NO.  They were getting a reputation as a getaway car around the country at that time and that was the last thing I needed.

Anyway, over ice creams, we looked at the MG TFs in the compound.  They were all very late cars with the revised suspension and glass rear screens.  Prices and specs were bandied about and we’d reached an agreement for a particular car if I wanted it.  The problem was I was working the nightshift for the next seven days some 230 miles away.  But where there is a will, there is a way.

TF3

Come the Tuesday at 7.00am, I came home from nightshift, got changed and persuaded my dad to drive me to Canley whilst I slept.  I met the same girl again and I’d bought her a gift of Champagne and glasses as its nice to be nice.  I’d decided to buy a new TF 135 as the clinching thought was that I shortly had to drive to Monaco for a wedding.  ‘Why not look the part?’ I thought to myself.

While chatting about the TF I was going to buy, I mentioned the stick I’d likely as not get over the colour back at work.  The girl knew I was still seriously into MGs and she told me that she’d just heard word of a special batch of MGs en-route to their compound which had been hand-built with Tower’s money.  They weren’t allowed to sell these cars, just the ones which owed HBOS money.  I now had the bit between my teeth.  What would it take for me to buy one of these cars?  She told me that was ‘impossible’, but I persisted.  Go away and come back in an hour she eventually relented.

The girl had seen the list of what was due in and on that list was a Sonic Blue TF 135 with full leather.  A chassis number so late as to be unbelievable and a K-Series engine number which suggested it had been specially built and/or blueprinted – if I really wanted this car, she could be very, very naughty and transpose the stocking lists so that what I was buying was a Tower’s-funded car, not a HBOS-funded car.  The only gamble was that it would arrive on site after she left the company…

The next trip down I took my old BL-trained motor trade boss down with me to ensure that paperwork and the like would be right as they’d be no second chance with a car from a closing dealership and a closed factory.  He knew Canley from the ARG days.

Well, as you can imagine, entering the premises of a business closing that day and one where there has been a Fire Sale of stock, the place was in chaos and the staff just didn’t want to know me.  They were working for nothing as the ever helpful girl had collected the commission and had left the handover to someone else.  We had, however, come prepared for all eventualities and were ready for battle.

For hours we hung around being passed from pillar to post and being treated ever more abrasively.  ‘You cannot have that car,’ they said.  ‘I’ve left a deposit, it’s mine,’ I insisted.  ‘How about we let you have a brand new 260SE for the same money?’

‘No.  I bought that TF, give me the paperwork’. They refused to accept my debit card for the payment.  No problem, I went and got a Banker’s Draft – not easy at a minute’s notice and so far from my home branch.  Plenty of ID and my ‘Platinum’ customer status helped.

Still the salesman refused to complete the deal.  I had to see the manager.  He refused to register the vehicle out of sheer devilment. ‘I’ve bought a Trader with me, with Trade Plates, I’ll take it as it stands’.

‘We don’t trade cars.’

‘You’re not trading it, I’m a private individual, and this is my agent for collection.’

He retorted, ‘I’ll need to see the trade plates, and the traders insurance policy on which it’s being driven.’

‘They’re here, check them.’

The final trick was the fact my paperwork didn’t contain the vehicle Validation Certificate, essential to register and tax the car.  This would mean I’d be attending my local DVLA Licensing office and become utterly stuck with this car, unregistered.  My boss clocked that sly manoeuvre at the last moment.  By now, enough was enough and I needed to get home in order to get to work for the nightshift.  I let rip at my treatment that day and the barriers to purchase and collection finally fell.

I got to the M1 where I pulled over into the first services and fell sound asleep.  The car was now mine, it was on its way home, job done.  I made that nights shift and told my story to all my colleagues.  Nobody could understand my passion for ‘a failed hairdresser’s car’.

Both myself and the car went on to win awards at MG events as I participated in everything I could attend.  We’d done the Highlander Run, the 10th Anniversary of MGF at Gaydon and we’d driven to my friend’s wedding in Monte Carlo.

However, crucially, I had returned the car back to the West Midlands and entrusted it to three blokes who became Vehicle Handling Solutions.  These monkeys were the Flightshed team of Chassis Engineers behind everything from R6 Metro, R17 Vitesse Sport and R8 GTi.  They’re more famous for MG ZT 260 and MG SV.  They fettled and adjusted my TF chassis to correct ‘Press Car’ specification – that utterly transformed the steering and handling of the car.

Further additions to the car’s specification followed around that time; it had transpired that a series of accessories had been ordered for a TF in that colour which hadn’t been paid for.  The nearby plastic supplier to MG-R, who also body-coloured parts for them had got in touch to say there was a Hard Top and a set of Chrome door handles for that car and would I want them at trade price provided I collected them from the factory?  I took the hardtop and declined the chrome door handles.  A set of OE lightweight alloys were the last purchases I made for it.

The final event we attended together was MG Silverstone Live! in 2006.  At this event a collector saw my car and read its history.  He made me an offer for the car, which I gratefully accepted and that was that.  The car was taken out of its daily commute and placed into an environment more fitting for its provenance.

I look back on that time in 2005 and then I look at yesterday’s sales figures for MG; 13 cars in May and wonder ‘where did it all go wrong?’

Keith Adams

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it up to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007.

Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...

Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.
Keith Adams

30 Comments

  1. Really nice story Steve. Your last question demands an answer that not many (if any) of us can answer. (Although a lot of us think we do).

  2. I love stories behind cars like this,from someone whom is i suppose a petrolhead.I ask myself why i revere BMC/BLMC/Leyland/ARG/MGR cars and i cant answer it anymore than the bereft and palpable heartbreak i felt when Rover closed for good.

    @1, I second that too.

  3. Where did it all go wrong for MG of now? Basically launching a car which resembles a Kia rather than an MG of old, using a none too economical 1.8 litre turbo engine, charging too much for it and having a tiny dealer network. Also it’s as Chinese as kung fu and is assembled from a kit. Much as I have tried to like the 6, it still leaves me cold.

  4. I genuinely believe that where a lot of it went wrong was – for technical or other reasons – MG TF production ended before a product was available to fill showrooms and keep interest. Given the amount MG loses every month, it seems unlikely that the PR coverage and benefits of producing a £9,995 MG TF “Sprint” model for 18 months longer, in simple, easy to apply solid paint colours and with basic spec (no hardtops, no electric windows unless leaving them in was the cheaper option, no EPAS, no AC, plastic rear windows if that were cheaper).

    Maybe the cars simply couldn’t have been sold. Any reason a TCi-Tech without the turbo would fail emissions? Maybe the production line was knackered and the last TFs were really left over shells.

    Either way, a fantastic tale. I admire your resilience to the appeal of a ZT260SE, I wouldn’t have had the determination faced with that. OTOH, I tried to buy a cheap ZT260SE and found the franchise impossible to deal with, shame I didn’t know about this dealer!

  5. Interesting tale with a nice nostalgia angle too. I remember “Sonic Blue” on the last MG & Rover’s – nice colour and you obviously don’t see that many now. It’s a bit similar to Ford’s “Vision Blue”

  6. A really interesting story, Steve and one that shows a real strength of character and determination on your part.

    However, “It is eight years ago this week (7 June 2005) that the last wholly assembled and British-built car left Longbridge. You could also argue that it was the last desirable and contemporary car to leave the plant.”

    What about the Rover 75 which I personally consider to be the last wholly assembled and British-built car to leave Longbridge? I also consider it to be the “last desirable and contemporary car to leave the plant”. Particularly its engineering. I wish I had been in a similar position back in 2005 as you were and with a reasonable degree of disposable income to play with, as I would have been homing in on a Rover 75, probably one of the rare V8s as a very occasional second use car.

    Instead, in late 2006, I acquired an unregistered MG ZR Trophy SE which would become the last diesel-powered example to be registered. A lovely car, especially in Ignition Blue pearlescent, and definitely not “crap”. I plan to keep it as it is reliable, still feels tight and is great fun to drive, not to mention economical – usually over 50mpg.

    Just out of interest, in there still a dealership occupying the premises of what was Phoenix Coventry?

  7. The 75 was a fine car,extremely solid in build,save for the plastic sill/aperture seal finishers whose clips always broke! Even now HGF is becoming a thing of the past with MLS and headsaver shims and black inlet manifold gaskets more or less curing the problem.

  8. Amazing how many lasts there were, in Dec 2004 I acquired the last solar red mk1 ZS in stock, (it was listed by Edwards of Stratford who were of cause owned by Phoenix by that time and had on their books all the remaining pre-facelift cars)
    It sat at Longbridge, I bought it via my local dealer and it was delivered with the next transporter load of ‘new cars’.

  9. @10 Darren… I remember Solar Red very well on the MK1 ZS. That colour was on my wish list when I was looking for a ZS to buy. I ended up with a 53 plate X-Power Grey example (still nice colour).

  10. I think the Citroën dealer I use now is on MGR’s Phoenix premises. Or maybe some of the staff there were former MGR sales… They’re a nice bunch, anyway.

  11. Never forget the beast that was the MG ZT V8, a future classic with an American V8 and 155 mph performance. I wish this had been kept alive after Rover went under.

  12. “I look back on that time in 2005 and then I look at yesterday’s sales figures for MG; 13 cars in May and wonder ‘where did it all go wrong?’”

    Reference your final comment Steven – I don’t think it’s quite a case of “where did it all go wrong?” but more “why is there so little visible evidence of the re-birth we hoped for back in 2005?”

    I like to think that the Chinese are still playing the long game, pretty similar to that planned in 2005. I don’t really know but why else would SAIC still have Longbridge open after 8 years? Not just for image on the home market, surely?

  13. Nice story!

    I’d have thought you’d have had a pint of Old Speckled Hen rather than Austin Ale… 😉

    Do think that there are still remnants of the old BMC at the luxury end – Land Rover are going from strength to strength, Jaguar are going steady having transformed their image, now seen as an aspirational ‘cool’ brand. And let’s not forget MINI, which for all the input of the mk1 had a bit of Rover DNA behind it (though the 5 speed midlands box did seem to be made of chocolate…)

  14. Glenn, the ZT260 is the V8 – Rover 75s got the V8 tag. So it does get mentioned at least 🙂

    IIRC the subframes, engines and some suspension/braking components for the ZT/75 V8s were sold off ‘fairly cheaply’ after the collapse, something like £3K for the whole set (I don’t recall if gearboxes were included but remember the brakes being on the assemblies offered). May even have gone for less for all I know.

    And I’m with you on the wasted legacy of the V8 75s, because had SAIC continued with the MG7/Roewe variations as LWB, they’d have had an interesting competitor for the market occupied by things like the Chairman W – RWD baby limos are popular. Chances are they couldn’t negotiate an engine supply deal, or maybe some of the intellectual property in the conversion wasn’t available, as much as there simply being a decision to only make the FWD ones.

  15. Just had a look at a V8 for sale circa £7k under 30k miles,full mot, service,full tank of fuel and delivered anywhere in the UK,sounds reasonable!

  16. Thank you, Steven, for the sort of ‘behind-the-scenes’ article that just wouldn’t appear anywhere else. This is why I LOVE AROnline.

  17. Great article steven..We were at a recent vintage car show and it full off MG”s “Wolseley”s Rovers/Jags etc What a fab era that was for the british car industry in those days gone by..Why Didnt SIAC Relaunch the Rover 75 Under the “Wolseley”Name? Instead o the stupid unheard off? Rowee name?(They own the wolseley name still) Ridic really the whole prob with the chinese ownership”s the sales marketing or lack o it..

  18. You, Lord Sward, Seamaster and I fought valiant battles with the grave-dancers of the classic MG community on the MGOC BBS when the argument was our MG Zs were not proper MGs and had no place in the club. You and Seamaster appear to have joined the grave-dancers that have moved on a generation, now strongly arguing that the current MGs have no place alongside your haloed products of the Rover Group and MG-Rover era. Ironic. The flight shed monkeys and Poggers have had as much involvement in this current crop of MGs as they had under previous MGs. It’s not hard to spot that when driving a Number 6. Come fight the battles again.

  19. @Johnny F

    Par for the course with any enthusiasts club.

    Citroen club: Xantia not a real Citroen as it was built under Peugeot, ZX not a real Citroen as it doesn’t have spheres..

    Ford Granada club: mk3 Granada not a real Granada as it is sold in Europe as a Scorpio and looks like a Sierra…

    Alfa Romeo club: GTV not a real Alfa as it is FWD and uses a Fiat tipo platform, MiTo not a real Alfa as it is a small citycar…

  20. I’m a Citroën elitist. I think the Xantia may actually be the most perfect Citroën of the modern era. And whilst we reminisce about DS and CX greatness, can you imagine the delight of a driver from those respective eras when presented with the ride quality, solidity, comfort, equipment and capabilities of a Xantia or even XM?

    The sad thing is when car marques don’t really progress in technological terms; the C6, bar some fripperies, was a backwards step for example. The Lion V6 diesel in an XM, with some double glazing… wow. I can only imagine.

    To be fair, I think that if you consider the 6 a replacement for the Rover 45/MG ZS, it’s a vastly more attractive and appealing car – lack of sexy compact V6 offering aside.

    Do people really reject the Mk 3 Granada as a classic?!

  21. “Just had a look at a V8 for sale circa £7k under 30k miles,full mot, service,full tank of fuel and delivered anywhere in the UK,sounds reasonable!”

    Rover V8 or MG ZT? Wish there had been a Rover V8 to try when I looked at the ZT 260, my main complaints were overly harsh suspension and a cramped pedal area.

  22. @ Keith Adams:

    Your views echo my own sentiments of why I stay clear of the whole MG scene because I happen to own an MG Maestro 2.0i and a MG ZR turbo-diesel. Both of which put on a smile on my face when I drive them. If I turn up to a Rover event in the MG ZR they welcome it.

    @ Wil M:

    As for the Citroen ZX and Xantia. The ZX was a highly creditable medium size hatchback and estate that had excellent build quality. The 3-door Volcane was a particularly memorable addition to the range, although the range is general was blessed with attractive styling and interiors. The Xantia may not have had the same degree of Gaelic charm, but its Active ride suspension was almost the Stuff of Formula 1 technology back in the 1990s.

  23. I would normally query why someone who is such an enthusiast would want to sell a car with such provenance.
    However, it seems you made as careful decision when selling as you did when buying, so hats off. It would have been sacrilege for it to have fallen into the wrong hands and end up being trashed.

  24. @ Will.
    Just a tiny point and not wishing to start a full scale debate but the FWD Alfa GTV has passive rear wheel steering thus making it handle like a RWD car and AROC support the car immensely – the camaraderie, respect and enthusiasm for the 916 is enormous and I’ve never heard any negatives from RWD Alfa owners in all the years I’ve been driving Alfas.
    History and clubs’ snobbism unfortunately can be fundamentally flawed. As Alfas were originally full-blown race cars then anything that isn’t presumably is not a proper Alfa. Alvis produced a front wheel drive sports car in the 30’s – who would be brave enough to say it was not a proper Alvis – no one in the Alvis Club hopefully!

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