MGF

This guide provides a background to the MGF and MGTF and covers some of the issues specific to MGFs that a prospective buyer should consider when viewing a car.

The oldest MGFs are now 20 years old and accordingly the condition of any car will vary depending on levels of usage, maintenance, and quality of repairs. It is strongly recommended that you consult an expert if you are unfamiliar with these cars, or at the least ensure the car is professionally inspected.

This information is provided in good faith as a general guide to purchasing an MGF. It covers common issues, but is not intended to be exhaustive, and buyers should exercise sound judgement when considering technical matters.

History

The MGF was originally released in the UK in 1995. When development commenced, the Rover Group was owned by British Aerospace, but when the MGF finally went into production Rover had been bought by BMW.

The MGF was the first all new MG sports car since the MGB of 1962 and as such there were high expectations of it. At the time of launch, only one version was available, being the 1.8i. In 1996, the VVC version was introduced, which featured a Variable Valve Control version of the 1.8 litre engine and some minor trim changes.

The car remained relatively unchanged until 2000, when the Mk2 MGF was released. Interior and exterior trim was changed, and two new versions were introduced - a base 1.6 engined model, and a 1.8i Stepspeed version featuring a steptronic CVT (Constantly Variable Transmission) automatic gearbox.

In 2001, a high performance model called the Trophy 160SE was introduced, with uprated engine, steering, suspension and a spoiler kit. This car was only in production for a year.

The MGF ceased production in 2002 and was replaced by the TF. The body shell was significantly face-lifted, and the suspension completely changed from the Hydragas system to a more conventional coil-over telescopic layout. The engines were also modified slightly, along with some trim changes. There were four models in the TF range – refer to the Appendix for details.

The timeline in Appendix 1 shows the changes in the MGF during its production run.

Which MGF to buy?

1.8i or VVC?

The majority of MGFs in New Zealand are the Mk1 versions, being 1996 - 1998 models, and most are ex-Japanese imports. The key decision to make in this market is whether you want a 1.8i or a VVC. The key distinguishing factors between the models are as follows:

1.8i VVC
Engine Power 118bhp 143bhp
0-100km/h 8.5 secs 7.0 secs
Top Speed 193 km/h 210 km/h
Wheels Six spoke Five spoke
Seats Cloth Leather/Cloth
Power steering standard No Yes
ABS standard No Yes
Passenger airbag standard No Yes
Red line 6,750 rpm 7,250 rpm

Note that although the power steering, ABS and passenger airbag were initially options on the 1.8i, most cars do in fact have these fitted. A car with ABS brakes will have the ABS unit located under the bonnet on the driver's side – it has a number of tubes connected to it. To check for a passenger airbag, look at the panel on the dashboard directly in front of the passenger - if it has “Airbag” written on it then the vehicle has a passenger airbag.

The VVC was intended as the higher performance version of the range. However, the nature of the variable valve control system is such that in city driving there is no noticeable difference between the versions. Below 4000 rpm the power difference is not significant, as shown by the acceleration figures. Above that, the additional power of the VVC is readily apparent, as the engine will willingly rev right up to the redline with a continuous surge of power, which is quite addictive and excellent for overtaking. In comparison, while the 1.8i is a willing and capable engine, it runs out of breath as the revs get higher. There is no real difference in handling or braking between the two versions.

VVC engines have “VVC” engraved on top of the plenum chamber (this was deleted on Mk2 & TF versions). It is important to ensure that the car you are looking at is in fact a VVC, as some 1.8i cars may have had VVC wheels or seats installed. Note that there are no badges to distinguish the models, except for the MGTF 160, which has a TF160 badge on the rear of the car. Also the eighth character of the VIN code will be a 'T' for a VVC, and a 'G' for a 1.8i or TF135 version. The VIN plate is found at the bottom of the windscreen on the left hand side.

The VVC does have a few extras such as the half leather seats and slightly beefier looking wheels. It really comes down to personal choice - if you are a particularly enthusiastic driver, the VVC is certainly the one to go for. Those mainly driving around town and less concerned with ultimate performance will find the 1.8i quite suitable.

It is interesting to note that the pricing is currently not significantly different for second-hand versions between 1.8i and VVC. When the cars were newer there was a notable difference in used values, but this seems to have lessened as the cars have got older.

Mk1 or Mk2?

At present there are fewer Mk2 models in New Zealand, as these cars were not sold new in New Zealand in any quantity and used examples from Japan have not yet come to New Zealand in the same numbers as the Mk1.

The key differences in the Mk2 were a change in the design of the wheels, the installation of clear front indicator lenses instead of amber ones, the painting of the windscreen frame in body colour rather than black, and a redesign of the centre console and door trims. The instruments also received a new font, and a height adjustable steering column was introduced. The stereo was changed from two to four speakers, and new seats were installed. The colours both inside and out were also changed. The mechanical changes were fairly minor, with a double skinned fuel tank and some changes to the power steering. The head gasket was also changed around this time and the gearbox linkages were changed to improve the shift quality.The Mk2 is very clearly a better car than the Mk1, though the driving differences are relatively insignificant. The exterior does look a little more up to date, and the inside is brighter. The seats are a little higher, which results in a less sporty driving position, however this is more than compensated by the adjustable steering column, which significantly improves legroom for taller drivers.

The Mk2 is obviously newer and commands higher prices, which will affect your buying decision.

MGF or MGTF?

The TF represented a significant change in focus for the MGF. The F was designed as a very usable everyday sports car that would be at home in city driving, the supermarket car park and on country roads. However, the TF was introduced following MG Rover’s sale by BMW to Phoenix and accordingly its design was a result of a new MG philosophy, aimed at improving the driving focus of the car. Accordingly, the TF is a sportier and more focused drive, which has its positive and negatives.

The exterior of the car received a significant facelift, with new front and rear bumpers, sill panels and boot lid. The new front bumper and spoiler were designed to improve the motorway stability in crosswinds, which had been a criticism of the F. This changed the soft, rounded lines of the MGF to give a somewhat harder and more aggressive appearance.

Under the skin, the facelift hid significant additional bracing installed throughout the shell, which improved torsional rigidity by around 20%.

The engines remained the same K series units with the capacity unchanged, but with changes to the intake system, throttle bodies and porting profiles. This increased power and improved throttle response, resulting in an increase in power for the VVC (now called the TF160) from 143bhp to 158bhp, and the 1.8i (now called the TF135) from 118bhp to 134bhp.

The biggest change from the F to the TF was the suspension, in order to produce a car with tighter and more responsive handling. The modifications were quite extensive, and involved changes to the body shell to accommodate the new components. The MGF's Hydragas system was replaced by a completely new suspension featuring coil spring units. The steering rack was changed and the power assistance adjusted to offer more progressive changes in assistance with speed changes. The brakes on the TF160 were enhanced to 304mm with four piston calipers at the front, and changes in brake bias for all versions.

As can be seen from the information above, the changes from F to TF were quite extensive. In most ways, this resulted in a more focused sports car that is more responsive and more fun to drive. However, this focus on providing a more intensive driving experience resulted in the TF being slightly harder to live with. Compared to the F it has a much harder ride, stiffer gearbox and harder clutch. It is by no means difficult to drive and on a winding road it is a lot of fun, but day-to-day, an F is a slightly easier car to live with.

Your decision to buy an F or TF may depend partly on budget, but it is suggested that you drive both to determine which you like the most.

What to look for when buying

Mechanical

Engine

All MGFs and MGTFs have the Rover K-Series engine. This engine commenced production in 1992 in 1.4 litre form and has been used in many Rover and Land Rover vehicles, including the Rover 100, 200, 400, 600 and 800 series, the Rover 25, 45 and 75, and the Land Rover Freelander. In the MGF, it was enlarged to 1800cc. It is an all aluminium engine, with double overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder. All MGF’s have fuel injection.

The engine was an advanced design when first released, and has shown itself to be capable of clocking up high mileage. It is a particularly economical engine, and in the MGF (assuming a reasonable style of driving) a full tank of fuel should allow anything from 400 - 600km of motoring.

Despite its inherent soundness, there are a few areas where the K series engine in MGF form has shown weaknesses that need to be checked when purchasing a car. The first and most critical area is the cooling system. Being mid-engined, the MGF has a front mounted radiator with long coolant pipes running under the car carrying the coolant to the engine. It is extremely important that the coolant has been changed at the recommended intervals and that the system has been correctly bled when the coolant has been changed in order to avoid air locks. The coolant level should be half way up the expansion tank in the engine bay - if the coolant level is lower or the coolant looks in poor condition, view the car with suspicion! It is also important that the radiator is in good order, the metal coolant lines under the car (and the hoses) are in good shape and the electric fans are working. Any problem in these areas can cause overheating, which frequently leads to failure of the head gasket.

There have been many suggestions for ways to avoid head gasket failure and just as many suggestions as to why it happens. When viewing a potential purchase it is critical that the car has been correctly serviced, that the coolant level is correct, the coolant in good condition, and that the temperature gauge does not go above halfway. Normally, the gauge will sit just below the centre and does not generally move. The engine has quite a low volume of coolant and therefore it warms to operating temperature quickly; however the low volume means that keeping the level right is very important. Rover introduced a revised head gasket in 2000, and any car that has suffered head gasket failure should have had the revised gasket installed. More recently, Land Rover introduced another revised gasket which some owners are using.

The K Series engine has belt-driven camshafts, and the belts should be changed either 5 yearly or at 100,000km. If the belts break, the pistons and valves will contact which results in expensive repair work. It is therefore important to ensure that the cam belts have been changed at the correct intervals. This is a relatively time consuming job given the restricted access in the MGF engine bay.

During 1998, MG issued a service recall to ensure that the bolts holding the camshaft belt pulley bolt assembly were correctly torqued. At worst, failure of the bolts will cause major engine damage. However, a check can be performed quite easily by a knowledgeable garage to ensure that the bolts are correctly torqued and located. This is a relatively simple check that should be performed on any MGF.

Beyond this, there are no specific weaknesses in the MGF engine. However, as when buying any second-hand car, it is important that all the regular checks are performed. Getting a compression test and cooling system pressure test are important, as is checking for oil or coolant leaks and reviewing the service history.

Gearbox

The MGF and TF have a five speed manual gearbox. The Steptronic version has a steptronic automatic gearbox, though these cars are relatively rare.

The manual gearbox has not suffered from any specific problems, however ensure that the gear change operates easily with no graunching or sticking. The linkage between the centrally mounted gearbox and the gear lever can stick or even break, so if the gear change does not operate smoothly the linkage could be the cause of the problem.

For the steptronic gearbox the gearbox oil is used to lubricate and to drive the pulley system that governs the gear ratio that is being used. This oil must be changed every two years and it MUST be the oil specified in the owners handbook, which is 'Esso EZL 799'. Use of normal auto transmission gearbox oil will result in transmission failure at some stage.

Suspension - steering – brakes

The MGF has fully independent suspension with double wishbones front and rear and anti-roll bars front and rear. This is damped by a Hydragas suspension system instead of more conventional springs and dampers.

The suspension is strong and reliable, and delivers excellent handling with a very good ride compromise. The key matter to check is that the ride height has been correctly set. The suspension height generally needs resetting about every two years, and is done by a garage using a Hydragas pump. Most MG Rover dealers have these, as do some specialist garages. Some cars have had gas let out in order to lower them, which does little for the handling and results in the car scraping on every driveway and speed bump. With the suspension correctly set, the car will handle significantly better than with it set too low. A simple way of checking this is to measure the distance between the centre of the front wheel and the top of the wheel arch. This should be 368mm (+/- 10mm). Note that this check should be performed on a flat surface, and at least two hours after the car was last driven. A very few cars have been correctly lowered using lowering knuckles, however the effects on handling are debatable.

If the suspension height or wheel alignment is out, the front tyres will often show premature wear on their inner edge.

The suspension suffers from wear and tear as any other car does, so a drive will reveal any clocks, knocks or rattles that may indicate wear in bushes and other components.

The TF reverted to a more conventional coil spring over shock absorber layout, which gave the car more responsive handling at the detriment of the ride. As most TFs are still relatively young, no major issues have arisen, however once again the usual checks should be performed for wear.

The steering on MGFs and TFs is quite unique – it is an electric power steering system, i.e. the power assistance is provided by an electric motor rather than the usual hydraulic system. The motor offers a variable degree of assistance depending on road speed, providing more assistance at low speeds and less at higher speeds. The system is generally reliable; a road test should determine if the assistance is working correctly.

The brakes on both the MGF and TF are strong and reliable, with no major vices. The usual checks for juddering, vibration and squeaking should be made.

Bodywork

The bodywork of the MGF is very strong and well constructed. The panel fit of the car is extremely good and the original paint finish was to a high standard. There are no major areas of structural weakness or corrosion, however there are still a number of areas to check.

Firstly, ensure that the paint finish is good and that the panel fit is good. Doors should all fit very well and should open and close easily. In particular, check the fit of the front and rear bumpers. The fit around the guards and bonnet should be tight and uniform; if not, the car has likely had either panel changes or accident damage.There have been some instances of cars suffering from corrosion in the sill area. These have mainly occurred in the UK and have been superficial only, however check the sills for any signs of visual corrosion.

It is also important to open the front boot, remove the spare wheel, and check that no water has gathered in the base of the spare wheel well. If it has, check for leaks and ensure no rust has started.

As with any convertible, it is critical to check the condition of the soft top. The top on MGFs was very high quality and has shown itself to be durable, however check it for wear and any binding spots and also ensure that the mechanism rises and lowers freely - sometimes the frame can stick half way down. Also check that the zip for the plastic rear window operates correctly, and ensure that the window itself is clear and free from fold marks. Folding the roof without either unzipping the rear window or folding it correctly can lead to marks, or at worst case tears, in the window. Replacement windows are relatively economical to install.

Interior

The interior of the MGF Mk1 is relatively plain, though well designed. The materials have not proven to be particularly durable, and high mileage or neglected cars often have interior trim that appears very well worn. In particular, the piping on the edge of the seats can wear, carpet in the foot wells can become threadbare, and the door trims can show scratching. Most of these items can be easily checked visually, however a car with a well worn interior may indicate that it has not been particularly well looked after.

A further important matter to check on the inside of the car is to ensure there are no leaks. The key spots to check are the seals between windows and soft top, the bottom of the door mirror mountings, and the foot wells. The hood seals (being the seals between the windows and the hood) are particularly important, as leaks can indicate a number of things. The windows are susceptible to being out of adjustment, which can lead to leaks. Furthermore, the plastic stops that govern the window travel can become worn, which results in the windows travelling up too far and compressing the hood seals. If the window stops are replaced after a period of pressuring the hood seals, leaks result. The cost of replacement seals is relatively significant so it is important to ensure that the seals are in good order and adjustment of the windows is correct.

If you are looking at a Mk1, you may also spot that the handles that adjust the door mirrors are either missing or broken. These are simple to fix and the parts are readily available.

Japanese Imported MGFs and TFs

The majority of MGFs in New Zealand are imported from Japan. There are no significant differences in specification between Japanese market and NZ new MGFs, however there are some issues to be aware of.

Many MGFs were purchased as second cars in Japan, and accordingly many have very low mileages. However, it is important to ensure that the car has been correctly maintained, particularly in regard to the cooling system. If the car has service documents, ensure they are up to date (this may require a Japanese translator!) and if it does not, consider having the car looked at by an expert - or allow a budget for subsequent checking and rectification work. There have been some cases of written off and repaired MGFs being bought into New Zealand, so take care that you are buying a genuine and well looked after vehicle.

Modifications

All MGs through the ages have been modified by their owners, and the MGF is no exception. There are a variety of companies in the UK offering performance enhancements, handling kits, exterior changes and interior improvements. We do not express a view on these as many come down to individual taste, however if you wish to personalise your MGF there are a number of different options available. However, be aware that performance and handling modifications often offer little change for a high dollar outlay. The standard setup of the MGF is extremely good and is more than sufficient for road use.

Conclusion

The MGF and TF were the best selling convertible sports cars in the UK during their period of production. They are a well designed car that is very suitable for everyday use as well as enthusiastic weekend driving. They are well built and practical, and can handle city driving as well as long distance touring.

The range in price for MGF/TF is now significant, with earlier cars offering exceptional value for money - however it is important to ensure that a potential purchase has been well looked after. Get yourself a good example, and you will be assured of many years of very enjoyable motoring.

Please refer below for Timeline of MGF History

Appendix 1

Timeline of changes

Year Event
1995 MGF 1.8i launched at the Geneva Motor Show
MGF VVC version launched later in 1995, though most VVCs were not on the road until 1996.
1997
Design of hard top and soft top changed, along with window seals (late 1997)
1998
MGF “Abingdon” Limited Edition version launched, with special green paint, chrome detailing, and tan leather interior. Note that all Abingdon models have VVC wheels.
Power steering now standard on all models
1999 MGF “75” Limited Edition model launched, in Mulberry Red or Black, with different wheels and interior detailing. UK market only.
“Steptronic” model introduced with semi-automatic gearbox
2000
MGF Mk2 model introduced. External changes comprise new colour range, new wheels, clear front indicator lenses, body colour windscreen surround. Interior redesigned with new centre console, new seats, 4 speaker stereo, electric mirrors, new switchgear, new door trims and revised colour scheme. The heads gasket was changed for a revised design at this time with a number of other minor mechanical changes.
2001 MGF Trophy 160SE introduced, with a VVC engine uprated from 143 to 158bhp, lowered and stiffened suspension, body kit, revised interior, and 4 pot front brakes.
A new base model MGF 1.6 was introduced, with a 1.6 litre K series engine and slightly despecified interior and exterior trim.
2002 MGF replaced by the MGTF. Body stiffened and facelifted with new bumpers, sills and boot lid. Interior remains substantially the same. Engines uprated with new induction and exhaust systems to increase the power output, gear linkages changed, suspension changed from Hydragas to coil over telescopic layout, electric power steering revised.
2002-
2005
Numerous limited edition models are released, being the Sprint SE, Cool Blue SE, Sunstorm LE, 80th Anniversary LE, Spark SE and Vintage Racing SE. Of these, only the 80th Anniversary LE was sold new in New Zealand, and is distinguished by its special upholstery and badging. A number of zero mileage examples (all in silver) have been imported from Japan.
2003 Pressure relief thermostat (PRT) introduced to assist in preventing overheating.
2005 The 2005 model year TFs feature revised suspension to improve the ride, revised interior switchgear, different badging, new wheels, and a glass rear window in the soft top. Note that relatively few of these cars were built before MG Rover went into receivership (approx 600-700 cars).
April
2005
MG Rover goes into receivership and volume production ceases
July
2005
The final cars, built from components on site, leave the production line.
August 2008 Production at Longbridge resumes using parts manufactured in China by SIAC. A limited edition run of 500 of the MG TF LE 500 initially, with the cars being available for sale from 1st September 2008

Please note this is intended as a general guide only and does not list every minor production change during the cars life.

Appendix 2

The body colour code is found on a rectangular plate riveted to the body behind the ABS unit under the bonnet on the left, facing the car, or where the ABS unit would be if your car does not have ABS brakes.

Colours

MGF
CAQ Nightfire Red (2)
CDM Mulberry (LE75)
CDX Copperleaf Red
CMV Morello Purple
COF Flame Red
EAC Volcano
GUF Alumina Green
HAM BRG Metallic (2)
HFF BRG Pearlescent (3)
HYF Brooklands Green
JBH Wedgewood blue (MGF SE)
JRJ Tahiti Blue
KMN Amaranth
LVD Charcoal Black
MNX Platinum Silver
NAL White Diamond (2)
NNX Old English White
PAK Black (LE 75)
MGTF
CBT Nightfire Red
CMU Solar Red
FAR Trophy Yellow
GDH Calypso Gold
GUF Sienna Gold
HFF British Racing Green Pearlescent
HFN Le Mans Green
IAC Sunspot yellow
IAT Chagall
JFM Royal Blue
JFV
Trophy Blue
LEF
X-Power Grey
LQW Anthracite
MBB Starlight Silver
NDJ
Dover white
PAK Black
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