By on January 25, 2019

MG marked a return to its roadster roots after a long slumber with its 1990s F model. Wanting more, they developed it into today’s Rare Ride, a TF from 2003.

The MG brand had been on a long hiatus ever since it stopped production of the (now) classic MGB convertible after the 1980 model year. After that year, MG was reduced to what was basically a trim level, used to denote the performance variants of models on offer from the Austin Rover Group.

MG’s status changed for the better in 1993, with the reintroduction of the RV8 model; a limited edition and V8-powered version of the old MGB. Austin Rover dusted off the MG production line and built some new old convertibles from 1993 to 1995.

The MGB’s short-lived reincarnation was in preparation for something new — the F. The model was developed during a trying time for Rover Group, as its owner, British Aerospace, was in the process of finding an interested buyer to take over its automotive assets. Said interested buyer was BMW. By the time the F went on sale, Rover was under the control of the Roundel. The year was 1995, and customers outside North America could head to their local Rover/MG dealer and buy a brand new MG.

Mid-engine and rear-drive, the F was a departure from past MG models. The company hoped to participate in the early ’90s Roadster Revival, competing with cars like the Mazda Miata and Lotus Elan.

The F remained in production through 1999, at which point it was lightly revised into a Mark II version. Sales continued through even more troubles at Rover Group, as BMW went about breaking up its entities. In 2000 Land Rover went to Ford, and MG and Rover went to Phoenix. Production continued on the original F through 2001, bringing us to the revised TF for 2002.

Redesigned and reworked to a considerable extent, the TF ditched the complicated hydragas suspension of the F, replacing it with a more conventional coil spring suspension. The engines received changes as well, and, with new air induction and camshafts, produced more power than previous versions.

Power was provided via 1.6- and 1.8-liter engines, all of inline-four variety. Base 1.6 models generated 114 horsepower, while three different versions of the 1.8-liter engine managed between 118 and 158 horsepower. While most versions came equipped with a five-speed manual transmission, the most basic version of the 1.8 could be had with a Stepspeed CVT.

By most metrics, the MG TF was competitive and successful for a roadster offering from a small manufacturer. But changes in ownership for Rover were again on the horizon. After just over three years in production, Phoenix found itself in bankruptcy. MG Rover stopped production, and the company again changed hands.

Nanjing Automobile Group purchased MG Rover’s assets during the bankruptcy action, and started building the TF once more in 2007. The company moved manufacture from Longbridge in the UK to its own factory in Nanjing.

Longbridge was not left out for long, as in 2008 Nanjing started producing the TF in the UK once more. Workers at the Longbridge factory assembled roadsters from CKD kits built in China. The UK production venture was ultimately unsuccessful, and just 906 TFs were built there. The TF would remain in production in China through 2011.

Today’s Rare Ride is a 2003 TF, located in Mexico. With a very low 6,200 miles on the clock, it asks $10,452.

[Images: seller]

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23 Comments on “Rare Rides: South of the Border Waits an MG TF From 2003...”

  • avatar

    The RV8 was an very updated MGB, revised bodywork and drivetrain. Think they only came RHD.They still fetch good prices in UK and Japan.

    The big problem with the MGF was the K series motor, head gasket failure was very common at fairly low mileage. BMW and Phoenix dropped the ball on that but Ford corrected the problem on the Freelander which used the same motor.

    • 0 avatar

      I wonder why BMW didn’t use one of their own engines? The contemporary M42 is a very good engine for a 4-banger. A bit goofy with some oil seals but no major weaknesses.

      • 0 avatar

        Probably didn’t want to make it into a proper Z3 competitor

      • 0 avatar

        @ Gedrven & scott25

        Two reasons:
        1) Although it debuted on BMW’s watch, the F design would have been in the pipeline well before BMW acquired Rover/MG.
        2) Not only would the car have had to have been adapted to accept the M42, the M42 itself would’ve had to have been modified for transverse installation.

        Based on my extremely limited knowledge – basically Wikipedia and one friend’s having had one – the K-series can be OK, assuming the head gasket and cooling issues are addressed by a good mechanic using good parts. See the paragraphs six through 10 (they’re short) of this section:

      • 0 avatar

        @scott25 and Featherston:

        BMW did that with Land Rover and Rolls Royce: chucked whatever British oil dispenser they found while peering down their noses, and installed their own M62 and M73. I don’t know whether the BMW-era LR and Rolls were designed around the engines or not, but for a cheap roadster I could see them balking at a redesign. Sure, the TF probably competed with Z3 sales (also E36 iS models), while no BMW short of an L7 competed with Rolls, but they seem to have had no such misgivings with an X5 competitor. Or with Morgan, though that’s definitely a car with a different purpose than any BMW.

        • 0 avatar

          “but for a cheap roadster I could see them balking at a redesign”

          Agreed. BMW may’ve done a cost-benefit analysis of modifying M42 for transverse mid-engine duty *and* the F’s chassis to accept it and said, “Nein, not worth it.” It wouldn’t have been a moon shot in terms of engineering difficulty, but I’m guessing it would’ve been more difficult than the Land Rover and Rolls-Royce projects, and for a car with significantly lower margins.

          That’s not to excuse the head gasket issues. It sounds like the bean counters let the engineers get 85% of the way there in deploying the K-series drivetrain in mid-engine form. Though in fairness to the bean counters, there probably was a scarcity of beans at the time.

  • avatar

    “The model was developed during a trying time for Rover Group, as its owner, British Aerospace, was in the process of finding an interested buyer to take over its automotive assets.”

    I believe that’s a nice way of saying that when a British car is developed in trying circumstances that you should toss this thing like hot potato and run as far away as possible!

    And given the shine on the plastics on this MG, I think I can hear it rattling over every bump from here. But overall, not a bad looking car, and it would have been interesting to see how this would have done here. It was such a different time for the industry 20 years ago – oddballs like this stood a chance to make it.

    Although I’m still trying to wrap my mind over the whole mid-engine MG concept…

    And how did you find this car? I see the Mexican plates – take a trip or just stumble across it? Good find!

  • avatar

    I saw my first one of these in Bermuda and sort of fell in love with it, in a forbidden fruit sort of way. Always liked the mini Maserati Coupe GT front end style and dual exhaust through the bumper. If it were legal to import that would be a fun one to take a chance on.

  • avatar

    Forget the MG, I want a closer look at those 2 third generation Chevy C/Ks. Looks like late eighties grills, or maybe a custom upgrade.

    • 0 avatar

      Looks like the grilles that were used on US market Suburban and G series vans (late 1980s through 1991 on the ‘Burban). That Suburban remained in production south of the border through 1996.

  • avatar

    Cute, but by all accounts the build quality is dreadful.

    Oy, why did car interiors go from clean shapes with awful materials, to hideous shapes with decent materials?

    I hear of Canadian imports (including “imports” that keep their Canadian plates for a while), but not Mexican ones. Is it particularly hard?

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    For the man who likes the MR2, but thinks Toyotas are far too reliable to be interesting…

  • avatar

    You would be the hit at your local British Car Meet if you showed up with this.

  • avatar

    Nice! A Rare Ride that I’ve been in. Well, an F rather than a TF. A colleague in my company’s London office had one, and she took me on a day trip in it. Per ExPatBrit’s comment at the top, hers had had a head gasket failure pretty early on. The second head gasket seems to have been more sound, FWIW.

    The stereotype that the Brits love convertibles is true. Collectively, my friends in a rather small office owned the aforementioned MG F, a ’95-’06 vintage Alfa Romeo Spider, and a Peugeot 307 CC.

  • avatar

    I’ll never understand how the British were so adept at producing car designs that could stand the test of the time, and remain in production for 10-20 years without looking particularly dated or aged. Of course there are exceptions, like the XJS…

    There’s a few of these and a surprising amount of MGFs (mostly from Japan) kicking around north of the border. They all seem to come out of the woodwork for British car shows in the summer. I think there were 5 or 6 of them at the big show in Burlington I was at a couple years ago.

    An MG Xpower SV would be a good nominee for a future rare rides. Or even a ZT which has a surprising collector appeal.

  • avatar

    BMW actually had a bit of a problem with this car as road test after road test in the UK saw the mighty little mid engined MG tear apart the BMW Z3 on performance and handling grounds. It was the top selling sports car in the UK throughout most of its history. Mazda launched a new MX5 when this car was getting dated and yet the plucky little MG stayed ahead I. The sales charts. The K series engine let it down for sure. But once fixed it stayed fixed for some reason.

    Had BMW thrown some support to Rover they could have fixed the K series engine (as the Chinese later did) and tweaked it enough to make this a monster success internationally. BMW bought Rover but hadn’t got a clue what to do with it. MG was a prime example of where they got things wrong

    • 0 avatar

      That’s because the Z3, while still a BMW, was a front-engined Touring (lacking the power to be Grand) car with a suspension left over from the E30. The MG was a mid-engined Miata, a purpose-built sports car with modern footwork. The Z3 was better built, probably a lot more refined, and had a far nicer interior.

      Had BMW stolen the MG, replaced the engine and interior, and called it a Z2…

      • 0 avatar

        If BMW has actually listened to Rovers management team MG would have been a global sensation. They didn’t. The also didn’t listen to them when they said the Rover 75 would flop at home because it was too retro for its home market.

        Interestingly Ford made the same mistakes at Jaguar. British management got a lot wrong, but they knew what would sell. Oops

  • avatar

    I’m curious about that little oil temperature gauge near the radio. Like, why?

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    didn’t a Royal (not the baseball kind) have a serious crash in one of these?

  • avatar

    Used to live in the UK as a little boy and when went back with my 10 year old son we rented an MGF for two weeks. Great fun quite fast and got many smiles. Plenty of room for the two of us and our stuff and under the right circumstances should have done quite well in US. Never drove its competitor Miata but have driven an MR2 and the MG was better car by quite a bit.

  • avatar

    Used to live in the UK as a little boy and when went back with my 10 year old son we rented an MGF for two weeks. Great fun quite fast and got many smiles. Plenty of room for the two of us and our stuff and under the right circumstances should have done quite well in US. Never drove its competitor Miata but have driven an MR2 and the MG was better car by quite a bit. Re Royal it was Charles in a Range Rover

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