Blog : Ten years ago today

Keith Adams

MG TF was a very intelligent upgrade of the innovative F. And it was launched 10 years ago!
MG TF was a very intelligent upgrade of the innovative F. And it was launched 10 years ago!

It’s funny how the passage of time can sometimes take you unawares. Looking at AROnline‘s fantastic ‘Archive’ feature is a great way of keeping stock of the company’s past – and it was in one of those idle moments, that I realised that the MG TF is a decade old already! To me, it still looks fresh and modern, and appealingly buyable.

The TF was actually born through necessity. With the death of the Rover 100 in December 1997, the demand for Hydragas displacers dropped off considerably, making production of them – for the F only – no longer economically viable. Given that in the late-1990s, the MGF was still a popular and successful product, there was only course of action for Rover to take… to re-engineer it for coils. Chassis chief Rob Oldaker was charged with that, and in a nice gesture to the creator of Hydragas, sent Alex Moulton a letter thanking him for all he’d done for the company since the launch of the Mini in 1959.

As it happens, the creation of the steel-sprung TF ended up being caught up in the Rover sale débâcle of 2000, and thus it became an MG Rover launch, following hard on the heels of the ZR, ZS and ZT, and forming the linchpin of the Octagon’s 21st century relaunch under the Phoenix 4. Of course, there was a lot more to the TF than a set of four coil springs – the monocoque was stiffer, the styling was sharper, and the drive (for those sporty types) was a whole lot more focused.

And under MG Rover, it was properly developed too, with the addition of a 1.6-litre version in a sensible expansion of the range. Sales continued strongly right up until the moment MG Rover went into administration in 2005. In fact, in a statistic that MG Rover used to like telling the world, the TF was the UK’s best selling two-seater ragtop – something Mazda must have found highly confusing.

But then, the TF  did – and does – have heart and soul, even if it was built down to a price.

Don’t get me wrong, the TF is far from perfect. The driving position isn’t ideal, being too high for sporty types (although I like it), the ride was far too hard, and the interior didn’t feel sporting or special enough. But despite these niggles, as well as the quality and construction casualties of Project Drive the TF was a clever little car, and one that – to me – looks as good now as it did ten years ago. Not only that, but it’s visually a success, looking far more stylish than the car it was based upon – a successful facelift.

Funnily enough, the ride was put right in the final 2005MY cars built by MG Rover (which also developed a hood with glass rear screen), making those final few TFs as the ones to have.

Sadly, the TF ended up being a victim of circumstance. MG Motor UK reintroduced the TF LE500 in August 2008, but it was priced ambitiously and buyers weren’t forthcoming. And that was that. After a few examples were built, the company half-heartedly announced that the TF could have finished production. Shame.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I still think there’s plenty of life left in the TF, especially as the car is now in a state where it can be hand-built in batches. The idea of a £11K MG TF Sprite, sold with the barest of essentials, and an easy to insure K-Series – sorry TCI-Tech – engine without turbo, still really appeals. And given how quickly Motorpoint’s £10K pre-registered TFs have been selling, maybe just maybe, there’s a business opportunity for MG Motor UK. It would be the perfect feel good, low-priced  product for today’s depressed market.

And more importantly, is MG in China able to supply TFs in kit form?



Keith Adams
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  1. Hmm, low cost ‘wind in your hair’ motoring. Wasn’t that what everyone envisaged the F was for originally?

    Makes sense really, if the factory really is a CKD assembly operation, why not sell something that’s really cheap and easy to make and surely has amortised it’s costs a long time ago. As long as the engine works, and it drives well, and it doesn’t have stupid tacky cheapo Chinese tat trim on it, it should sell.

  2. Twice I have gone to buy a MX-5 but twice I have walked away, even from a 2 year old one with only 5000miles on. I just don’t “want” one if you get my drift, only considering for the reliability aspect.

    I am always drawn back to my MGF even though it has cost me a fortune to run. With early TF prices so low I may be tempted with a TF in 2012.

    I am with Keith, the TF still looks fresh today.

  3. SAIC could do alot worse than fitting their new 1500cc petrol unit into the TF, a new engine coupled with a few more styling tweaks could keep the car going for a couple more years until a proper replacement is developed. The 1500cc unit could also increase mpg figures and lower insurance premiums.

  4. Agreed – the MGTF has aged remarkably well and still has appeal. I could see a low priced (as opposed to cheap) TF being a great success. Its attraction would be stylish, relatively simple, British ‘wind in the hair’ motoring.
    I reckon the only reasons for the LE500’s poor sales were the high price and, as per the 6, a lack of advertising, awareness.

  5. I had no idea that the suspension change was out of necessity, very intersting.

    I remember SAIC stating that they were going to sell very ambitious numbers of TF’s, something which I couldn’t understand with an aging product and a dealer network that had long since gone. Were the TF’s assembled from Chinese kits, or were they largely Chinese cars with final finishing in the UK?

  6. The only reason I ask is that I’d be interested to know if the £9,995 price that they were being sold at was sustainable or whether it was simply distress selling to liquidate unwanted stock at any price. I would imagine that if it is, realistically, a Chinese built car then this might be sustainable.

  7. The first TF I saw was a Trophy yellow example in the dealer showroom when I was buying my first (used)Rover 400 in April 2001. Looked nice and at the time they were anticipating the launch of the ZR, ZS and ZT. How the MGRover world looked more promising ten years ago…

  8. The ten grand TFs were at Motorpoint, probably unsold stock. The MG dealer in Hemel had a couple in stock for about 18 months.

    Didn’t MG force dealers to buy the cars up front if they wanted to retain the franchise or something?

  9. in my opininon saic would do well to dump the mg6 and take more interest in the sports car division, the mgtf le 500 was built on old data and we had to rework loads of parts to fit chinese metals . Rework bodies and rework hoods and hard tops that just didnt fit and if you bought one im sure you found out.there is lot of potential with the mgtf but you could see that current processes were out of date as well as parts.the chinese need to be more sincere with what they produce and before they launch any thing make sure its right.they had the opportunity last 3 years and ballsed it up so nows the time in 2012 to start from scratch and put mg back on the map ,

  10. One of the biggest problems for the ‘old’ TF owners was that the ‘new’ TF had some critical mechanical differences, particularly around the suspension.

    I know this from experience, a common MOT failure was upper fron suspension arm bushes, which were NLA even at Rimmers and up until last year (2011) these had to be replaced as a complete unit. Now it is possible to buy repair kits but for a while the parts shortage for the TF made ownership of the car a risky prospect.

    I agree it is a car that has aged well, and I can see increasing numbers on the roads around here (although no ‘new’ ones, curiously enough).

    If SAIC had produced the TF alongside the MG3/ZR Streetwise they sold in their home market, MG would have been off the scene for much shorter time and wouldn’t playing such a hard game of catch-up. I know NAC originally bought the operation, but they obviously weren’t cash rich enough and things were held up until the SAIC merger/takeover.

  11. an old car now.. Back then it was a cash cow commanding 15pc profitability- which it was designed to do in the first place. A new car needs to take it’s place once it becomes commercially viable again but I get the feeling, as with the last MG two seater sports car, they just won’t get it..

  12. I have just bought a 2005 TF Spark 135 and I am really pleased with it. I agree with everything said above regarding the car’s visual and driving appeal. I am really looking forward to the summer to enjoy the cabriolet experience. Who cares if the roof has to be manually folded down or that many of the modern technologies, such as sat-nav, are not built in. The key thing is that it is such fun to drive.

    I’d recommend good second-hand TFs (and Fs) to anybody for some motoring fun.

    The prospect of reintroducing the TF in cut-down spec is a great idea and what better time to introduce the model than spring time with the summer months coming up.

  13. If The retarded Chinese sold the first batch of Chinky TF’s at £10k and not £15k, perhaps they may have actually sold, but Keith, it is now a very, very old car, that does not have a place in the market any more. Apart from the suspension changes, it is basically the MGF, which is now positively ancient in automotive terms. Perhaps, a modern re-skin of the old thing would be wise, and yes a smaller K series non turbo, with keep fit everything, and just a stereo. As they are using old MG names, perhaps use the Midget name?

  14. @Keith ‘ambitiously’

    A very tactful word. Mad would be my choice, on the cusp of the biggest recession we’ve had in decades, they launch a non essential car at £15k, yes it was loaded with extras but people weren’t all that bothered. It should have been punted out at £10k all along with nowt but the essentials.

  15. Marty B – comment 13

    Don’t see the point in a re-skin. The MGTF’s still appealing, relatively fresh looks are a large part of the argument for bringing back a low cost, minimalist version.

  16. “With the death of the Rover 100 in December 1997, the demand for Hydragas displacers dropped off considerably, making production of them – for the F only – no longer economically viable.”

    The cost of a Hydragas unit to MG-Rover? £20. Having a beautifully engineered, unique and effective suspension system? PRICELESS.

    The TF will always be a Poor Man’s F and I’ve owned and driven enough to know.

  17. £20? Each? Ouch.

    Is that before their manufacturer claimed that the drop from a million a year to 200,000 per year would double the price. And that’s from the horse’s mouth.

    As much as we loved the ‘F, MG Rover could not afford to retain Hydragas, and the coil-spring TF was a necessary step to take.

    And I think it was the right thing to do (sorry Alex).

  18. If these numbers are correct (no reason to doubt), a saving of 80 pounds on every car is something every car builder would not skip. Hydragas was a beautiful system, but it really only works in large scale production. That said, the ride in a TF is really not to my taste – even on a relative smooth motorway it shows a constant and firm pitch motion which is uncomfortable and tiring. I do not doubt it is fun to drive on lesser roads and the body does indeed show an impressive stiffness.

  19. The 1.6-litre engine was originally introduced in the MGF in January 2001 at the same time as when the limited edition Trophy 160 SE was announced.

    I must admit that I was very impressed with how the MGF had been facelifted. None of the steel body pressings from the doors forwards had been changed, only the moulded modular front bumper. This resulted in a much sleaker and more aggressive frontal profile for the MG sports car.

    Together with the redesigned rear wings and nootlid and a new rear bumper moulding, the exterior changes transformed the updated MGF (TF). It no longer looked effeminent and soft but now had a more assertive presence. Increasing the number of colourways for the main interior trim from two to four was also a welcome move (how I wish the Sandstone had been available on the Rover 45!).

    A great effort that showed that MG Rover Group’s design engineers had real skill in undertaking major design and engineering changes to their popular sports car in a relatively short time scale and on a modest budget.

  20. @ David Dawson, it is a 20 year old design now, which is beyond a joke for the life of a car design(5 years max nowadays), and that has always been the problem of BMC/BL/Austin Rover/Rovergroup/MG. Keeping cars in production way past their sell by date. The public aren’t daft, and wouldn’t buy a car that old in design terms nowadays. A complete re-skin, and a base model with something like a modern non K series engine (GM 1.4?), and a price of around £10k, and decent advertising, and a launch in late spring, but as we all know, SAIC haven’t a clue about the UK market, and we know it will never happen.

  21. It would only need minor mods to bring it back to market… An affordable, fun, economical car is what MG need to re-ignite the brand and their traditional core values. A sports 2 seater maybe considered as too ‘niche’ my MG’s new management but at least its not just another instantly forgetable me too saloon…

    Owner 2002 TF

  22. In theory, would it have been possible to licence the hydropneumatic suspension system from Citroen? Plenty of supply of spheres, LHM reservoirs etc.
    With the hydractive system, the suspension firms up for flinging it round corners, while still giving it a grand tourer ride on the straight bits!
    Rolls Royce / Bentley licenced the system (pre-hydractive!) years ago.

  23. Although the perceived complexity of Hydropneumatic suspension scares a lot of people off. In reality it’s a reliable and really quite simple system. Yes there are failures, but then coil springs snap too.

    The other issue would probably have been cost. If it was licensed from PSA then no doubt there would have been a royalty payment on each car, probably making it no more cheaper than continuing with Hydragas.

  24. So what’s wrong with a 20 year old design. The Land Rover is well over that,same with Morgan.As long as new technology is incorporated, I don’t see the problem ! Why do people keep up dating? snobery? How many Astras and Focus models are there.As soon as one is launched there is another 3 months later! Look at original Mini. lasted 0ver 40 untill killed off.Cant see new Mini lasting that long,already been updated.

  25. I always thought the MGF ok, that was untill a friend who owns his own garage, took me through a customers car in for a MOT on a ramp. It just reeks of amatureish kit car build quality! It is what it is. Two fromt 1/2’s of a metro crudely tacked together.
    He did however say it is a fair drivers car

  26. “It is what it is. Two fromt 1/2′s of a metro crudely tacked together.”

    True you have Metro subframes, and Metro front hubs complete with the remains of an outer CV joint (anyone thought of doing a 4×4 one?) Thing is though none of those bits really gave any problems and they worked, what would have been the benefit of developing all new subframes for it? At the time in 95 they were still churning out Metro’s so it made financial sense.

  27. I have had my ‘new’ TF LE500 for 2½ years now and its been perfect – I bought it as a dealer ex demo for a good price:) The design still looks fresh today and drives so well especially with the later suspension 🙂

  28. ‘properly developed’? no it wasn’t. The TF suspension was terrible when launched and it was a couple of years before it was corrected.

  29. What gets me is as well as the Mazda Miata sold in the US Market why wasn’t adapted for it? I am sure many of people would rather have the real thing then a copy..

    Look at the Kawasaki W650. A good looking motorcycle that really resembled the late 60s Meriden Triumph Bonneville more so then the Hinkley Triumph Bonneville.. The Hinkley Triumph is still selling and the Kawasaki?

    Its Heritage..The MG Brand has it. Look at all the MG, Triumph, Austin Healey,etc…clubs in the States? How many of the members would of liked to have a newer “sports car” as a daily driver?

  30. @ Tim Stoughton

    From what I recall from reading elsewhere (maybe even on here) BMW didn’t allow them to sell the MGF/TF in the States as it would be a better-priced competitor for their Z sports cars. A practice that I would say is possibly illegal these days under competition laws.

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