Why I love the MG TF

Keith Adams

A busy week… First a trip to Longbridge for the first UK drives of the MG6 and, as you’ll no doubt have read elsewhere, the UK press has come away impressed by what’s been achieved by the lads at Longbridge – they’ve undoubtedly done what they needed to and created a car at or near the top of the class dynamically.

Mind you, they do like to tinker at Longbridge. I met up with Ian Pogson, Chief Engineer – After Sales Engineering, whilst there – Ian’s the chirpy Blackpudlian turned Brummie with whom I’ve been corresponding for years over this and that so it was good to put a face to a name. The day turned out even better when Ian gave me a personal tour of the site and introduced me to the people directly responsible for the way the MG6 drives. It’s not often you get that level of access to a car manufacturer.

Anyway, before I left, Ian offered me a drive of the company’s MG TF 85th Anniversary edition, promising that I’d be impressed with just how well this version handles. I must admit that my experience of the open-topped MG has been far from extensive: I’ve driven plenty of Fs and absolutely love the Hydragas set-up, but felt that the early TFs were a massive step back from what Alex Moulton and the Longbridge Hydragssers achieved…

However, it’s been good to experience this 2009-registered MG TF, one of what must have been the final batch to run off the line at Longbridge. Having seen the way the car has been built, I’m happy and confident to describe it as a ‘hand-built’ British sports car.

I drove the TF down to Goodwood on Thursday and have to say that it has really grown on me – which is saying something, as I already liked it a lot. I left AROnline Towers at 5.30am and, despite it being dark and cold, I lowered the hood (a five-second operation) squeezed down into the cold leather and set-off… the lovely thing about the K-Series (I don’t care what they call  it now), is that it warms up quickly and so, by the end of my high street, the heater was pumping out hot air.

Actually, by the time I hit the (stationary) M1 near Milton Keynes, I was glowing from a nice drive down the A509. It’s a good road for the TF as there are countless sweeping bends, nicely sighted, and beautifully surfaced while, at that time in the morning, it’s not choked by 40mph articulated lorries. My first thoughts were that the steering was beautifully weighted and full of road feel, while the turn-in and high speed body control were first rate. It doesn’t feel like a balls-out sports car, though, and that’s down to the ride, which is almost MGF-like in its absorbancy.

All in all, this incarnation of the TF feels mature and well-sorted and it seems almost tragic to me that, at the point they perfect the product, they stop making it. That said, it could be argued that after being in production (in TF form) since 2002, they bloody well should get it right. At Goodwood, the car cartainly attracted attention although, with the stripes and flowery alloys, it’s a bit Marmite, with some people loving it (like me) and others hating it.

Living with the TF has been surprisingly simple – and, just like I did with the MG6, there have been a couple of moments when I’ve found myself thinking to myself that I could actually own one of these. Dangerous indeed, but it’s true. The MG TF seems to fit me like a glove – I can get in and out without looking too undignified; the view out is fine; the controls are just about perfect for me; and the equipment pack is missing nothing essential other than heated seats – even then, the K-Series engine makes up for that deficiency perfectly.

The other important attraction for the TF for me is this – it has soul. I’ve never felt anything other than admiration for the Mazda MX-5 as an engineering exercise, but it simply leaves me cold. It’s a bit of a default choice for those who are afraid to get their hands dirty, whereas the MG TF (and F, of course) is a warts-and-all alternative, which oozes the personalities of its Designers and Engineers. That’s why I love ’em.

On the way back from Goodwood, I drove through Olney and passed the old Souls dealership there. Outside, there’s an unsold TF LE500 in black with black wheels with a £11,999 sticker on the screen. I was tempted. Very tempted… A good job the place was closed…

More TF updates as they happen.

MG TF 85th Anniversary at Goodwood
Keith Adams


  1. I’ve never been a fan and, to be honest, it’s just not my type of car. However, I think that it would be a shame not to continue limited production to keep the MG sports car alive until they come up with the replacement. Interest might be revived as the MG6 gets buyers’ attention. Where are all the middle-aged lady divorcees??? The TF was their default choice for years!


  2. Is it me or has the MGF’s styling weathered far better than the TF’s? I’ve never been able to narrow it down but I reckon the TF front end makes the car look very spiky whereas the MGF looks squatter and has more purpose. It looks like someone has put a body kit on the TF, inspired by Max Power magazine whereas the MGF looks much more organic. However, I have driven both and they are great fun. I would have loved to see a limited run of the proposed V6 Coupe version that was announced at the end of MGR’s tenure – that would have been a sort of modern day AC 3000ME.

    MGFs crop up all the time during the winter for less than a grand in the classifieds or eBay etc and it is so tempting. It will have the inevitable blown head gasket and hydragas problems but that’s no worse than trying to sort out rampant rust in the castle sections on an MGB! Been there and a got the T shirt plus gnarled and blooded knuckles for all my trouble.

  3. I own a MGF and drive it everyday all year round. I’ve owned it for eighteen months now and it has sent me bonkers at times with the amount of problems and niggles BUT I love it! I intend to keep it for as long as I can because, as you say Keith, it has bags of soul and character.

    I’ve repaired most of the problems with the MGF myself and I’m certainly no mechanic. Mind you, the dreaded Head Gasket failure was left to a specialist.

    I’ve always wanted to try out one the lastest MG TFs, just to see how they compare to my old F… Reading your article makes me want to buy one. 🙂

  4. I don’t understand why MG Motor UK are ceasing production – they must realise that the reason for the poor demand is not the product but the fact they have hardly any dealers.

    Surely, if SAIC Motor are serious about significantly expanding their MG Dealer Network in the near future, then where is the sense in axing the TF now? All the more so as there isn’t even a replacement on the horizon. Yet more hopelessness from the Chinese lot pulling the strings at what remains of Longbridge it would seem…

  5. There has been mention in the press recently about an eventual MG sports car from the new MG. Meanwhile, the MG website includes the TF in the model range alongside the MG6 and states that ‘no decision has been taken as to whether a further production batch will be commissioned’. That seems unlikely though, if they can’t sell them for £10,995. A pity… What chance a halo effect from the publicity surrounding the MG6?

    I always had a thing for the Fiat X1/9 and kept meaning to get one but then the supply of decent ones more or less dried up. I mustn’t let that happen with the TF!

  6. @Jonathan Carling
    I think the recent sale of TF bodyshells by Rimmer Bros may give a clue as to what the future holds for the current TF – regrettably.

    I am sure they could make more, though, if demand was high enough. The problem is that the TF was not popular in China so it’s not a top priority for SAIC Motor…

  7. They must have really improved the TF suspension in the later revisions and I suppose it’s my regret that I drove an early one not long after driving an F.

    @Simon Woodward
    I’ve got an F which cost WELL less than a grand, right now. More on that one later. I can’t wait to get it MOT’d – it’s a project but the head gasket hasn’t gone and it’s a VVC too.

    I prefer the F’s looks to the TF’s and prefer the hydragas suspension by miles but wish that the hood quality and rust protection had been better (I’m slowly mopping out this neglected one and the roof means it’ll live in the garage until I get a lucky hardtop find – they cost as much as the car on eBay!). What I particularly didn’t like on the TF was the bootlid – I didn’t mind the front, but the back looked awkward.

  8. I have never driven an F, but find my TF a pretty competent car even if it is only a 1.6/115.

    A lot of people say that the F is far superior but, unless you find a minted one, you are probably looking at most of them being ‘projects’ as owners decide they are not prepared to spend any more cash to keep them on the road.

    @Richard Kilpatrick
    Good luck with the project, Richard – especially with the hard top!

  9. @Paul T
    I kind of found mine by accident. I didn’t want another car and couldn’t justify it – I am loving the total “lack of mental space” the C3 takes up.

    However, how many times can you drive past a car clearly abandoned on someone’s drive (i.e. abandoned emotionally/financially, not physically) and not ask? I then had this thought:

    “I could spend £2k on an MGF from a dealer. The damn thing will probably go wrong, blow a headgasket, etc. and I’ll have paid enough to care about the money but not enough for it to be worth fixing. What if that MGF’s got a blown headgasket? What if it’s scrap money? What if I then had the upgrades done, but had still spent next to nothing on the car? Well… then I’d have an IMPROVED MGF AND have spent less overall for greater peace of mind. I MUST ASK!”.

    My last on-the-road Cabrio was a Golf Mk 1. A paragon of reliability and that’s why the car stood me at £2,500, ran up £1k in new clutch/replacement gearbox/knackered suspension bills, then suffered failed steering and still needed £500 worth of replacement, hard-to-DIY roof whilst being almost undriveable. It became a £500 Jeep Cherokee and, frankly, I was relieved to be rid of it. I ignored everything on the Jeep , drove it for thousands of miles with dented panels, rattly insides and so forth…

    However, if Keith reckons it’s interesting enough, I’m writing up the MGF for AROnline so no spoilers (other than it turned out to be a VVC). 😉

  10. @Wilko
    Here is a thought: can’t MG Motor UK make a limited number of TFs with something a bit more fruitier, like a KV6, under the bonnet/boot,? After all, ARG did with the MG RV8.

    I reckon that, until Longbridge is up to speed making their own cars rather than kits, it would be a great way of bolstering the skills base in the Engineering Department, rather than final assembly.

    Remember Jaguar did this at Halewood with the last of the Escort vans in order to prepare them for making X-TYPEs – if you look back at AROnline’s Blogs section, there was an article about this last January or February.

    The limited run of MG TF models from the last couple of years probably haven’t sold very well due to a lack of awareness and a limited Dealer Network. However, as the new generation MGs get established then surely – despite its age – TF sales would pick up again and build a foundation for the launch of a replacement, rather like the MG RV8 did for the MGF.

  11. Richard Kilpatrick :
    @Paul T
    I kind of found mine by accident. I didn’t want another car and couldn’t justify it – I am loving the total “lack of mental space” the C3 takes up.

    However, if Keith reckons it’s interesting enough, I’m writing up the MGF for AROnline so no spoilers (other than it turned out to be a VVC). ;)

    Absolutely! Bring it on…


  12. MG TFs are just the sweetest thing. I’ve been in love with them from day one. They’re the last of the great BMC>Bust run. I still, despite the grief I’ve suffered from them over the years, go all romantic at the thought of one.

  13. Aye. The airbag light’s on and the driver’s doorhandle has lost a clip from its mechanism. That doesn’t bother me in the slightest though. Heritage…

  14. I have had my TF for a couple of months now and haven’t had a car that makes me just want to go out and drive, like it does.

    I liked the F and TF for years before buying one but fears of appalling reliability and build always put me off.

    The TF is by no means precision built and engineered but just lacks that final attention to detail that a bit more cash and thought would have provided.

    Mine feels so far like a relatively sorted one and has been a joy to own, to drive and to run – touch wood – and certainly good enough to make £10k for a new and further-developed TF seem like the steal of the century.

    The TF’s a proper BL car in so many ways – a terrific car when sorted but dogged by its reputation amongst the public at large.

  15. Just imagine if MG Motor UK did this:

    Stripped out MG TF. Plain colours only. Hardtop as an option.

    £9,995 OTR, cheap finance.

    Oh, and as an extra option:

    12 month material and build warranty only, no carpets, no airbags, no liability, only offered in red, white and blue (with a limited run of XPower Grey with green alloys), but the 1.8 Turbo engine – £9.995 ON THE TRACK.

  16. Well, as I run both an F with a Steptronic ‘box and my wife has TF 85th Anniversary like the one Keith took to Goodwood, I feel qualified to comment on the qualities of both.

    I find that the Steppie is an easy daily drive and fairly cheap to run – mine had the old HGF at 60k but now we are at 86k – it’s comfortable and fits me like a glove. The 85th is an entirely different animal – the steering is sharper, the suspension harder and it has an entirely different purpose and stance. It is sharper into and out of corners, more stable and purposeful in its ride and handling.

    The Steppie’s box is almost always set to manual when I am driving it and it performs well, giving me 38+ mpg, which I consider quite reasonable for its age and performance. The 85th gives us a little more – usually at around 40mpg – but the difference is hardly worth worrying about. I suppose that’s down to the fully manual box and how it feels and performs differently to the Steppie. Driving it, you will immediately miss the buttons on the steering wheel which change the gears in the Steppie, but you quickly adjust to the manual version, even if you occasionally find your thumbs pressing fresh air as you grope hopelessly for the buttons that aren’t there. I suppose that you pay your money and make your choice…

    I reckon that, comfort-wise, the F has it but for driveability, it has to be the 85th for me and, at the end of the day, what do you have this type of car for?

  17. Simon Davies :
    I reckon that, comfort-wise, the F has it but for driveability, it has to be the 85th for me and, at the end of the day, what do you have this type of car for?

    Enjoying day to day driving – which, when I drove the MG TF, was in the Scottish Borders, so the need was not only to devour those amazing roads (my RX8 would let me get from Hawick to Carlisle train station in 45 minutes), but to deal with the state they were in. The early TF I drove actually made me feel sick at slow speeds on bad roads whereas, at 60mph, it came together and felt like a ballsier, more solid X1/9. From me, that’s real praise, as I hold the X1/9 as a benchmark of “intuitive” cheap sports cars.

    I couldn’t live with an early TF day to day, whereas the F did, and now I have another, does impress.

    The revised TF is, apparently, better so I might like that a lot more. The mad thing is I live near Longbridge, I’m a car nut, I’m a PR/journalism type with a lot of pro camera kit and a fair bit of experience, yet I’ve never approached MG to do anything fun with them!

  18. I have recently acquired a 2000 Wedgwood SE. I hadn’t intended getting another sports car, but this one became available and I took it for a drive – need I say more.

    I must admit it does tempt me and I take it out at least a couple of times a week. It does very well on the Isle of Wight, where I live, the twisty roads suit it down to the ground. I was surprised at how well it cornered, I have something to compare it against – a 1987 Reliant SS1 1600 which corners like a train on rails. The F is a more civilised car, with the hood and hardtop fitting much better, and my local garage, who were a BL Dealership are quite happy to work on it, and they still have a Hydragas pump. I’ve only found one person who is prepared to do any work on the SS1, as I’m beginning to find it difficult to get under a car when it proves necessary.

    The F has put the smile back on my face again, I feel rather as I did in the ’60s driving my Frogeye MkI Sprite.

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