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.
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?’
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