News : MG and Rover’s second life in the USA

MGF at Sebring

Had Rover’s return to the USA with the ill-fated Sterling 825/827 of 1987-91 been successful, it likely would have paved the way for the MGF, and possibly the R8, to come to America.

We know Rover Group and MG Rover were always thinking about bringing MG back to the USA. In 1990, a decade after the final MGs were sold in the States, the EX-E concept car shared space with Sterling on the stand at major US auto shows. In April 2005, in one of MG Rover’s last acts, a green MG TF was displayed by Powertrain Limited at the giant Society of Automotive Engineers conference in Detroit.

The MGF and Rover 200/400 (R8) would have been welcome additions to Rover’s US lineup. But, by the time the MGF came on the market, Rover in the USA meant Land Rover only, and because of the design of the Land Rover showrooms, which stressed off-road adventure, there was no place for a compact roadster.

Rover 216GSi in Pennsylvania
Rover 216GSi in Pennsylvania

It is also said that that Rover’s BMW bosses didn’t want the MGF in the USA because they feared it would compete with their own Z3. That’s rubbish. The MGF would have gone against Mazda’s MX-5 Miata, and perhaps four-cylinder versions of the Ford Mustang convertible, Toyota’s MR2 and several other budget sporty cars. The Z3 was more of a competitor in price and performance to the Mercedes-Benz SLK 230 and Audi TT.

However, now that it’s more than a quarter century since the MGF’s launch, we can finally start to understand the car’s appeal in the USA. The U.S. Federal Government exempts 25-year old non-complying cars from safety and emissions regulations, which means MGFs manufactured in the 1995-97 calendar years can now be privately imported to the U.S.A. and registered in most States.

And that is exactly what is happening.

MGFs in the USA

There are an estimated 100 MGFs now in the hands of American MG and British sports car enthusiasts in the USA, Many more MGFs are in Canada, which requires only a 15-year wait before non-complying vehicles can be imported there. The MGF, in fact, is rising quickly on the list of classic British vehicles coming to the USA, a list long dominated by the classic Mini Cooper, and various classic Land Rovers.

A bloke named Ken DeLeeuw keeps track of MGFs and other post-Sterling Rover Group and MG Rover vehicles in the USA. And earlier this month, he started a Facebook page called MODERN MGs in the USA which is already up to 16 members, many of whom have more than one MG or Rover Group vehicle.

I asked Ken, who replaced his TR7 and MGB with an MGF, (and now has three), what it’s like driving a modern MG sports car that many don’t know ever existed. He has a British Racing Green 1996 MGF which was originally sent to Canada in 2012 before coming to the USA.

MGFs
Ken DeLeeuw’s MGFs take pride of place in his garage

‘A lot of people are surprised that it is a ’96. They think it is a lot newer than that. I had a lady one time follow me home and ask, “What the heck MG is that?” and she has an MG. She was completely excited about the F.’

The question remains: would the MGF have been a viable competitor to the Mazda Miata and other non-luxury sporting cars in the USA? Though it is impossible to answer that definitively, we can safely say the MGF would have appealed to the very large US base of owners of classic British sports cars looking for a more modern machine. And it could have grown from there.

‘Anybody who owns an MGB and has a knowledge of MG would certainly like to own an F. It’s a Cadillac compared to the B,’ says DeLeeuw. ‘It’s a really nice riding car. It was made to compete against the Miata and I think it even outsold the Miata in certain parts of Europe.’

He also says the MGF’s lightweight, excellent handling, horsepower and optional air conditioning make it ideal for American roads. ‘The cars I have are not the VVC models, they are MPI and have 120 horsepower. If you look back MGBs and TR7s, 120 horsepower is a helluva lot more than they had. In fact, I sold my TR7 and B to pay for the F.’

Buying an MG in the USA: plenty of options

Prices for MGFs in the USA range from around $15,000 to $20,000 — but they have to be mechanically fully sorted to get full price. It seems there may be some opportunities for enterprising traders in the UK to source excellent condition second-hand MGFs eligible for export, install the latest and best headgasket kits and sell the cars to US buyers for a fat profit.

There are at two least MGFs for sale on eBay in the USA at the moment – and several more advertised elsewhere.

Moreover, as the population of MGFs in America grows, the potential to sell spares to USA owners will create a new market. Since starting the Facebook page, more and more MGFs and other MGR products have turned up in the USA. Says DeLeeuw: ‘I am finding new ones every day.’

Richard Truett

9 Comments

  1. The sweet spot will be MGFs for around $12500, but they will be as often from Japan as UK, but not until international shipping prices return to normalcy. There is already an established pipeline for “JDM” and several dealers in Japanese Domestic Market cars, so I really think that’s where most of us will get one. The $25000 MGF in USA will be a very short lived phenomenon. The scarcity of low mileage early cars that have crossed the 25 year mark go away year by year. The supply will increase more than demand. More and more cars to pick from in UK and Japan will mean better cars for us. I look forward to getting an MGF but not for $25000. The MG RV8 is too much money, but even they aren’t awfully priced. See duncanimports.com for two off-the-boat RV8s in USA for about $30k each, which is 22318 GBP. I don’t think I’ve seen an RV8 that cheap in UK?

  2. Thank you for this interesting article. I have one niggle, the statement

    “It is also said that that Rover’s BMW bosses didn’t want the MGF in the USA because they feared it would compete with their own Z3. That’s rubbish. The MGF would have gone against Mazda’s MX-5 Miata…”

    seems questionable. The three cars specs and performance are very similar and BMW owned MG. The three cars competed in the same segment and surely even BMW couldn’t fail to be aware that their product was the ugliest, slowest and most overpriced. MGF also had the sexier mid engine layout, it would have bled sales from Z3 in the US. The decision to market the car in only RHD markets would support the success of the Z3 which was built in South Carolina. (Hope the below formats OK)

    BMW Z3 1.8 Mazda Miata 1.8 MGF 1.8

    Length 4m 3.95m 3.9m
    Width 1.7m 1.7m 1.7m
    Wheelbase 2.5m 2.3m 2.4m
    Curb weight (Min) 1160kg 960kg 1060kg
    Configuration FERWD FERWD TMERWD
    Top speed 194km/h 203km/h 193km/h
    Acceleration (0-100 km/h)10.5s 8.3s 8.7s

  3. The MGF was not only offered in RHD markets. Plenty LHD MGFs were sold in Germany, France and other LHD markets.
    The MG TF Powertrain Ltd. brought to the USA in 2005 was LHD.
    BMW in USA is a luxury brand. MG would not have been. Sure maybe some people would cross-shopped the Z3 against the MG, but those people would be the exception.

  4. I understood that the MGF had not been designed to comply with US regulations by Rover and that Bernd Pischetsreider was furious when he found out. Same for the Freelander, but they managed to make that comply.

  5. With all due respect to differing opinion the explanation that MGF posed no threat to Z3 doesn’t pass the sniff test. You don’t build a demonstrator like MG E-XE with an ‘exotic’ engineering solution like a transversely mounted mid engine layout unless you are looking to go upmarket. If you want to take on MX5 (which, in design terms, was a frank homage to the classic British sports car formula) you build a fwdre car like an MGB . If you are BMW and you are launching the Z3 that’s a problem.

    One of the things that killed MG-Rover was the collision of MG-Rover’s plan for the company which was ‘let’s go up market’ and BMWs plan for the company which was ‘let’s buy ourselves a volume, producer we can bolt up to the bottom of our range.’ Hence the rover 800 debacle – a car literally designed to fall between to market segments – and the failure to market MGF in the US which was a market MG had once prospered in and one where the name still had cachet.

  6. Great article, It really does baffle me though, when manufacturers won’t make a type of car or won’t let one of their models be sold in a certain market for fear of loss of sales of another model they already make. It only works on the basis that the customer is so blinkered by your magnificence that they neglect to notice any of the competitor’s offerings and slavishly purchase whatever you have to sell anyway. For example, BL not putting a hatch in to the Allegro or Princess as you should be buying a Maxi if you want a fifth door. Not any thought given to the fact that if you didn’t like the Maxi (and many didn’t) you would shuffle off to another brand and be lost forever.

    • It was a strange marketing idea, especially as not many other manufacturers did the same. In the 1970s Renault weren’t afraid to have almost every model available as a hatchback, & even the 12 & 18 were available as estates.

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