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?