MGF Prototypes : First and last

Keith Adams
Originally posted 26 March 2011

MG PR prototype - this became the F we know and love
MG PR3 prototype – this became the F we know and love

It was strange seeing MGF prototypes PR1, PR2 and PR3 for the very first time on a recent visit to Longbridge. I had seen them in the pages of David Knowles’ excellent MGF and TF book as well as on the pages of this very website but had never really appreciated the huge differences between the three cars nor, indeed, how prescient – nay brave – Rover’s management was for plumping for the mid-engined car over the more obvious choices available at the time.

My first thought, on seeing the three cars, was just how the front-engined FWD M16-powered car seemed the obvious one to go for – especially given the critical (if not sales) success of the M100 generation Lotus Elan. PR1 certainly looks conceptually similar to the Elan and would probably have been a damned sight more muscular thanks to the M16-Series engine under its bonnet (see image in the Gallery below).

The RWD PR2 looks the most anachronistic of the PR trio, even if it would have delivered the most thrills for old-school drift-loving drivers. However, in the era of the Mazda MX-5, this would have probably brought little new to the table and may well have suffered in comparison, unless it had a V8 under the bonnet – and then it wouldn’t have been the affordable sports car the company was looking for.

The mid-engined car, PR3, initially to me anyway, looks the least desirable. It’s tiny and almost toy-like compared with the other cars – it looks like a bit of a pudding basin – and yet it was chosen for production. That suggests to me that this was a decision made on two overriding factors – potential parts commonality with the R6 Metro and its sheer dynamic brilliance (it must have been to seduce the bosses out of the RWD car).

However, they made the right choice – especially once Steve Harper re-packaged the F16-based concept into something you’d actually want to see on your drive. Would you have made the same choice?

I also had a quick look around the TF Coupe concept, first shown in 2004, and am amazed to see how well it’s stood the test of time. That car would still appeal as a latter-day MGB GT replacement (in terms of evolution, it’s much the same thing – a coupe based on a roadster). Indeed, considering the TF Coupe’s styling genesis looks something like this:

Gerry McGovern (original F16)
Steve Harper (production and packaging PR3)
Gerry McGovern (to MGF with the front and rear lights)
Peter Stevens (to TF)
Peter Stevens (Coupe treatment)

…it’s amazing how well it looks today. I want one.

[Editor’s Note: Our apologies for the poor photography –  put that down to poor light conditions, no tripod and the sheer surprise factor of seeing these cars. We will take a proper set of pictures in the near future.]

Keith Adams


  1. Was the TF Coupe a runner and was it fitted with the KV6 engine?

    I hope these cars get some TLC soon – I’d love to see them at a car show or in a museum one day.

  2. I like these pictures, although it’s a shame to see these cars so full of mould – especially the one with the R8 dash as it’s so far gone. Were these runners or just static prototypes? It would, as Simon has said, be nice to see them cleaned up and doing the rounds at shows – if possible, under their own power.

  3. The TF Coupe is as pictured in the motoring press here in the US. That’s the model which was supposed to be built at a facility in Oklahoma – a story that I didn’t believe even in 2005.

    The evident filth of the interiors and use of off-the-shelf parts would suggest to me that each ran. They’re cute but, while I’m a sucker for pop-up headlights, the final version was better.

  4. A quick check of David Knowles’ excellent MGF and TF book (Chapter 2, Page 45) confirms that PR1, PR2 and PR3 were all built as running prototypes so, if they are each still intact, MG Motor UK or some other custodian of the cars should be able to restore them to that condition – inclination and resources permitting.

  5. Where should these cars end up? Well, having spent a day at Gaydon yesterday, a whole stand dedicated to these evolutionary models would sit well – someone please ensure they find a safe and secure home! Some TLC and they’ll be real crowd pleasers. It was interesting to see Monstro and R8 dashboards in these prototypes.

  6. The mould on the trim isn’t hard to clean off. They’re only plastic trim and a wipe down with a rag and some Dettol gets rid of it in seconds. A quick going over with a Vax would sort the seats out. It’s when you actually get green moss and algae on them that they’re really knackered.

  7. I’m sorry if I’ve missed something, but I’m intrigued that MG Motor UK had an RDX60 there and on display.

    On that showing, and with apologies for raking up the past, but I really like it. The RDX60 has a great stance at the back and an intriguing half-way-between-GM Europe-and-VW Golf feel to it. Had the RDX60 got to market and, if that was indeed the shape of the car chosen, I think it could have sold well.

  8. I would love to know where these cars are and whether private viewings can be arranged if they are not on public display.

  9. @Julian Mildren
    Our apologies if the above article did not make the location of the MGF PR1, PR2 and PR3 prototypes clear. All three cars are at MG Birmingham (formerly Longbridge) and are not, in so far as we at AROnline are aware, currently available for either public or private viewing.

    • Hi last yr went to mgf 20 at Gaydon on the Sunday we did a run to the mg centre at longbridge.
      Managed to see the cars in the flesh.
      Kept in a room at the back forgotten about sad to see them left like that .

  10. Clive Goldthorp :
    @Julian Mildren

    Our apologies if the above article did not make the location of the MGF PR1, PR2 and PR3 prototypes clear. All three cars are at MG Birmingham (formerly Longbridge) and are not, in so far as we at AROnline are aware, currently available for either public or private viewing.

    What other prototypes and design concepts does MG Motor UK Limited still have at Longbridge, not to mention actual milestone cars? Does the company, for example, still have the 5 millionth Rover (a 75 saloon) and a 1978 SD1 3500 finished in Midas Gold? Does MG Motor UK Limited actually own all of these prototypes or have some been borrowed from the British Motor Industry Heritage Trust?

    Admittedly, there are few questions to answer here, but there are many enthusiasts out there who care about the long term preservation of these bygone era vehicles and would potentially like the opportunity to view them at some point.

  11. They made the right decision not to go for popup headlights. Given mid-late 90s legislation which banned them, cars with them suddenly looked dated (Probe, mk1 MX-5, mk1/2 MR2)

  12. @15 Will M. Bear in mind that the PR1, PR2 and PR3 running prototypes were very much engineering-led projects, with each contractor being given a GRP copy of the 1987 ‘MGF-16’ styling model, by Gerry McGovern. By the time of the ‘PR’ work, in 1989-90, both aesthetic tastes and legislative parameters on things like pop-up headlights were all shifting. Having said that, all three contractors were keen to impress their client and so they each did a very good job, even allowing for the fact that their brief wasn’t really to ‘style’ these prototypes to the extent that a design studio would have done (and of course, later did – both in house, RSP and Rover Group, and external – e.g. MGA and ADC). The original PR3 is neat in as much as it was considerably smaller but this was done extremely well; PR1 was the closest to the original MGF-16 and was a favourite with some of the designers, as the body shell virtually popped on a moderately altered Maestro floorpan. The PR2 was a little less well proportioned (with the nose stretched to accommodate the V8) but was a hoot to drive. It is good that they all survive (along with PR5/DR2) and kudos to the people at Heritage and Rover who authorised their stay of execution. A less enlightened management would have sent them to the crusher…

  13. what a lovely car that MG TF Coupe, i saw him or is it her?? on the AutoRai in the Netherlands live I think it was 2004… still looking so good after 10 years now, please SAIC make a new one 🙂 with V6 power…

  14. I fitted a hard top to my F and in my opinion it looks better for it..
    Now I seen the TF coupe , I have to say that the TF coupe looks superb !
    Cant believe it never went into production…

  15. Imagine if small sports cars were back in fashion, it’s easy if you try. No more tin roofs, above us only sky.

  16. That silver TF Coupe was fitted with a four cylinder engine, even though the contemporary PR guff would have you believe it was a KV6.

  17. Agree on the resemblance to the Ford Australia Capri. I don’t suppose the story is well known in Europe. It’s not the RWD Capri you know over there, but a FWD roadster which was bravely developed in Australia’s rather small car industry. Based on Mazda 323 mechanicals with an eye on the U.S. market where it was sold as a Mercury. Unfortunately the styling a bit too slab sided and ordinary, plus it hit the market about the same time as the MX-5 against which it had little chance. I’ve never driven one and admit to a general dislike of all things FWD – my MGF is my third mid engined car. There is still a small Capri following in Australia, with some meticulously maintained examples about, but overall it flopped. I suspect a FWD MGF would have had a similar commercial fate.

  18. 22)

    If a FWD MG was built earlier a few years prior to the MX5 (say around the mid-80s), it wouldn’t necessarily be a complete flop and could have worked as a stopgap prior to being replaced by the mid-engined MGF.

    Especially given that the FWD MG was supposed to be based upon Maestro running gear and powered by the 2-litre M16 engine, which at least in theory would have made it much cheaper to build in comparison to the FWD Lotus Elan.

  19. @22 to some extent, it is possible that the Ford Capri built in Australia stemmed from the aborted attempt by Ford to acquire Austin Rover in 1985. Bob Lutz wanted the MG name and it is quite feasible that, had history worked out differently, we might have seen the car that eventually appeared as the Ford/ Mercury Capri in 1989, but as an MG instead. This car also used Mazda components; the 1989 debut was the same year as the MX-5/ Miata…

  20. The PR3 looks a touch Scimitar SS1 – much prefer the ‘F’ that finally emerged.

    The TF Coupe is great. This and the 75 Coupe should have taken the place of the X Power SV and RWD 75, I think.

    On a more general note – Why do BL>MGR prototypes always seem more interesting, more emotive than any other?

  21. @8 — definitely should have gone with the FWD one. I was put off the TF by two things, the first being the Mr Blobby styling and the second being the mid-engine. Of those, the mid-engine and lack of access to the oily bits was a real killer for me.

    Failing that, they should have gone with a conventional front engine / RWD.

    I ended up with a Mk1 MX5 which I kept for many years and which was mechanically totally reliable.

  22. @26 completely disagree with you. I own an F and access to the oily bits isn’t too bad. Yes it’s a bit fiddly, but the rear hood bow is only clipped in, then a few bolts and you’re on the engine.
    FWD would dynamically have been too much of a compromise. Not really sporting enough to work right, for that type of car you really need RWD.

    As a general comment I disagree with the idea that front engine RWD would’ve needed the V8 (that could’ve been an option), however the T16 turbo would also have done well and then replaced by the KV6 when the T series was finally pensioned off. The difficulty being that it would’ve been an entirely new platform.

    The FWD on the other hand probably would’ve been R8 (or R3) in origin in production form.

    IMO they chose the right platform, just a shame that to get the increased capacity, they had to change the block on the K. Despite the King K article it is very apparent that the head gasket issues on the K series started with the damp liner block.

  23. At the Alex Moulton weekend a former Rover employee commentating for the drive past of his MG said there were 9 prototype cars clocking up test miles, the budget was so tight, only 3 hoods were available, being shared out over the 9.

    Also stated ex Vauxhall stylists were involved, Vauxhall having closed down their studio in UK, the stylists formed their own independent company.

    Th electric power steering was a first, Mitsubishi had developed the system and were extremely keen to apply the technology, they engineered a sample steering rack in a week according to the commentator

  24. I’m sure I saw these and the RXD60 at Longbridge on one of the recent “Thursday” factory tours. They had a few specials still lying around including a special mini, to celebrate The Queen’s Jubilee (1977 I think.)

    Shame they were just lying around no special care being taken, perhaps with the redevelopment of Gaydon, discussions can be had!

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