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The idea of an all-new MG sports car to replace the MG B was kicking around the halls of the Austin Rover Group as far back as 1985. A front-wheel drive, front-engined two-seater convertible dubbed the F16 was developed as a prototype, but ARG’s financial issues forced the new sports car concept to the back burner. That is, until 1989, when Mazda introduced their own interpretation of a classic British sports car, the MX-5 Miata. Needless to say, a modern classic was born…and it was not British!
Around that same time, a new division was created within the Austin Rover Group: Rover Special Projects. RSP would develop more unorthodox models, leaving Rover’s main designers to concentrate on saloons and hatchbacks. Three prototype two-seaters were built. Similar to the three concepts for the MX5, front-engined/front-wheel drive was considered, as well as the standard front-engined, rear-wheel drive. But the 3rd design, a mid-engined, rear-wheel drive layout was chosen as the production model. Stylist Gerry McGovern penned the exterior, giving the F’s front end treatment an homage to the post-1975 MG B “rubber bumper” grille. RSP also gave the new model Hydragas suspension, which, in the words of its inventor, Dr. Alex Moulton, “de-fidgets the car”; the suspension was interconnected between the front and the rear, and could be tuned to provide accurate response during direction changes.
Both 1.8 liter four-cylinder engine options, one with variable valve timing, received high marks from the automotive press upon their debut in 1995. As the first all-new MG sports car to be released since the B in 1962, buyers flocked to UK and European showrooms. Widespread expectations were that the MG F would re-establish MG in the US, but fears it would undercut sales of now-parent company BMW’s Z3 put a halt to that. A mild refresh in 1999 helped boost sales, and a name change reviving the TF nameplate came in 2002.
In 2005, however, the collapse of MG Rover Group ultimately resulted in a buyout by China’s Nanjing Automobile. Nanjing’s MG division kept the F model alive until 2011. MG is still active, producing hatchbacks and small SUVs for the European market.
Manufacturer: MG Rover and Nanjing Automobile Group
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Drivetrain Configuration: Mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive
Engine: Water-cooled, naturally-aspirated, 1.8 liter, four-cylinder, 118 HP
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Top Speed: 137 mph
Years of Production: 1995-2011
Production Numbers: 118,000 (total UK and Chinese production)
Original Cost: £15,300 GBP ($23,000 USD in 2002)