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.
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.
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.
‘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.’