Spring is coming, and so your thoughts are turning to a sports car, obviously. May be there’s one waiting in the garage for The Great Awakening, or may be you’re now taking the first steps into the sports car/CC experience. But which to choose? A roadster? Ancient or modern? Let’s look at two of the options.
In the modern corner, the MG TF 135 and in the ancient corner, a 1965 MGB roadster, previously seen on CC of course. There are some major differences, but also some very striking similarities.
Both cars were built by MG, obviousliy, one from 2002 to 2005 and one from 1962 to 1980. Both cars feature 1.8 litre 4 cylinder engines, borrowed from contemporary mainstream BMC or Austin-Rover saloons, driving the rear wheels. Length, width and height are pretty close – the newer car is 2 inches longer, a fraction of an inch taller, has a 2 inch longer wheelbase and is about 4 inches wider. The newer car is around 20% heavier, at 2400lb at the curb, much of which will be due to either additional creature comforts or passive safety equipment.
The MGB was, maybe still is, the archetypical British roadster. It was built around BMC components, notably from the 1958 BMC Farina saloons, best known for the Morris Oxford and Austin Cambridge. Being linked back to a Morris saloon makes it a typical MG, of course. Power came from the 1.8 litre B series engine, later seen in the Austin 1800 and Morris Marina, driving through a four speed gearbox, often fitted with overdrive. The rear suspension was basic leaf springs, the front by coil springs and wishbones. The styling was completed in house, but a link to the BMC saloons and their Pininfarina style can be seen. Production lasted until 1980, when the historic MG factory at Abingdon closed, and, in all, over half a million were built, including the attractive MG BGT coupe version.
The MG TF (reprising a famous old name of course) was a development of the 1995 MGF, the first new MG roadster for over 30 years. The MGF came as part of the Rover Group’s almost golden period of the early 1990s. You may not always look at it that way, but from 1989, Rover had given us the 200 series hatchback, the related 400 series saloon and the larger 600 series saloon, all based on Honda platforms, the full size (for Europe) 800 series (aka Sterling 825) was still doing reasonable numbers and had had a classy restyle (coming soon to CC), the Austin Metro had been transformed into a Rover by the K series engine, Land-Rover were leading the European SUV market with the first and very capable Discovery and there was a new Range-Rover as well. All in all, it was the most attractive, balanced and competitive product range the business had had, for well, at least 30 years and maybe since before the BMC merger in 1952. It was doing well enough to be attract BMW to buy it, after all.
By 1995, of course, the sports car had been restored to its place following the diversions of the 1970s – exemplified by cars like the Triumph TR7 and Fiat X1/9 with their roll-over proof styling and roof configurations. Open cars were back, and MG needed to be there. Of course, an MG roadster would have to share as much as possible with its saloon counterparts, the market would probably prefer rear wheel drive, and, of course, the Rover family only had front wheel drive, transverse engined platforms to work with.
Rover therefore did the obvious thing, and took the drivetrains from the Rover 218 and placed it, transversely, in a mid engined position, driving the rear wheels, through a five speed gearbox. Suspension, for the MGF was, of all the configurations you might imagine, the Rover Metro’s Hydragas system. The front and rear subframes were in fact modified Metro items, effectively making this car was the last gasp of the Issigonis/Moulton Hydragas system, working through the Metro’s unequal wishbone geometry, supplemented by conventional dampers.
A tidy, compact body by Gerry McGovern (now Director of Design at Land-Rover) with a folding roof by Pininfarina completed the package. The engine was a 1.8 litre version of the K series twin OHC 16 valve four cylinder, including an option with variable valve timing, which was one of the first European examples of variable valve timing.
The car was capable of around 120 mph, and 0-60 in 9.2 seconds. In Britain, at least, the press reaction was broadly positive, with the caveat that the car was a little “softer” than perhaps the MGB had been 30 years earlier.
Disappointingly for MG, the car wasn’t to be sold in America – accounts differ over whether this was a decision by BMW to avoid conflict with the new BMW Z3 or whether Rover understood they did not have either the distribution network or the resources to meet American emissions and safety standards. But you can make a pretty good guess – this car’s development pre-dated the BMW takeover and BMW were still giving Rover significant autonomy in 1944 and 1995. Remember, also that Rover’s marketing and PR people wouldn’t let the Company’s directors tell the media how much it had cost to develop the MGF, because it had been done on an absolute shoestring, and you can probably make a guess.
The MGF was built at Longbridge, Birmingham, not MG’s traditional home at Abingdon, alongside the Rover saloons and hatchbacks whose engine it shared and sold respectably, predominantly in the UK and other traditional British sports car markets, such as Japan, New Zealand and Australia. Mainland Europe sales were not substantial. Total sales were around 75,000 in 7 years, a rate that the MGB had easily beaten.
BMW passed MG-Rover to a management buy-in team in April 2000, and just two years later a significantly revised car, known as the MG TF, was launched. The key difference was the use of conventional springs and dampers in pace of the Hydragas units, with a substantial stiffening up of the suspension settings, effectively addressing the “too soft” point. One factor in this change was that the MG was by then the only car in the Rover stable using Hydragas, and unit production costs were therefore rising sharply. Sharper steering, stronger brakes and wider tyres added to this evolution. A new nose and headlights, a revised rear quarter, rear deck and rocker panel completed the make over.
The new MG-Rover company eventually failed in 2005, and production of all the cars in the UK appeared to have finished. The feature car was actually registered in 2006, as stocks were sold (there are even some 2007 and even 2008 registrations around). Beyond 2005, the assets of MG-Rover were purchased by Nanjing of China, now part of SAIC. SAIC resumed final assembly of the car, then known as the MG TF LE500, in 2008 and around 500 were sold before the curtain finally came down in 2011.
The MG F and TF are fully accepted into the MG enthusiast community, and make appearances at classic shows and MG events on good numbers, often alongside older cars. As an example of an attractive car assembled from the available component sets it had much in common with the MGB; similarities are clear.
The cars had the same size engines (in fact, the bore and stroke dimensions of the new were within 1mm of the old), the dimensions were close, and the accommodation was comparable. The performance of the newer car was stronger, unsurprisingly, the road behaviour undeniably better, even after allowing for generally improved standards, and Pininfarina had an influence, at least, on both.
But also, the quality was still not there – the K series engine was notorious for head gasket failure, the MG F still leaked and the interior was certainly built down to a price.
And there are differences too; in contrast to the MGF’s twin OHC 4 valve per cylinder configuration, the MGB had a plodding OHV valve engine borrowed from a dull saloon, albeit with twin carburettors. It gave its maximum torque at 3000 rpm, the variable valve MGF revved to 7000 rpm and gave 40% more power, and had significantly better handling and (very good in fact) roadholding.
But perhaps the MGF’s biggest problem was not the contrast with the MGB or the mid engined configuration, or even the slightly characterless original styling, but something else, something that can be seen in the background in some of these photographs. The Mazda MX-5 (Miata) came to Britain in 1990, and quickly showed that roadsters do not need to be British to be popular. The cars were sold for very comparable prices, and the accommodation was similar, although the Mazda had the advantage of a larger boot. The Mazda had Japanese reliability and a leak free hood. Crucially, it also had a sharper driving experience, which MG aimed to match with the MG TF.
So, ancient or modern, take your pick and enjoy – I’d back either as a first classic – but for a daily driver, it’s got to be the MX-5.
I’ve read quite a bit about the last golden days of MG-Rover, to the point that I regard BMW’s takeover in the same light as Daimler’s takeover of Chrysler. Same old problem: German ego making one wonder why they bothered buying the respective car company in the first place. And an ability to lose their way in ownership of the buyee very quickly.
And I really wish the TF had come to America. It would have sold. The question, of course, is would it have sold in enough numbers, year after year, to be viable?
The MGF enjoyed a brief period of high visibility and popularity here in oz, then all but vanished. You’re right about the MX5; not only did it set too high a bar for the MG, it also reminded us how woeful our own Ford Capri was.
I like that red ragtop, nice to see a different colour that still works, but for an MG I’d take a non twin-cam A or a chromey MGB GT.
The OZ Crapi was only a mild restyle of the Mazda 323 Cabriolet done very badly.
There was a one-make racing series for a while, the cars are mostly in the hands of MG Car Club members now it seems. The MGCC is hugely active in motorsport.
While I like the colour of the new MG, I prefer the older MG for its personality. Its more attractive than the new MG. If only the the quality justified the price of the car.
In each and every case, newer cars, regardless of OEM, do not have the character of the cars they replace. Chrome, steel bumpers, bright trim, nice grilles, etc.
Case in point above. The newer MG doesn’t look like an MG but like something else – I can’t quite place it but could be a mash-up of a Porsche/BMW/Del Sol. Certainly no relation at all of the original.
However, I wouldn’t have an old car for a daily driver in place of a contemporary model – new cars are more comfortable, safer and much more efficient and by comparison almost maintenance-free for a long period of time.
Now, having said all that, I have never heard if the newer MG was a good car or not. I’m sure it was better than the original.
For the record – I absolutely hate Alteeza lights! At least that’s what those tail lights remind me of!
Sorry, I’ve never been able to by that “older is better and has more character” argument. If anything, its just a sign that the speaker is getting old and ossified himself, and unable to adjust to the modern world.
Taking your statement to the logical conclusion, there’s no way anybody should bother with an MGB, as there are still TA’s, TB’s and TC’s around. All of which are superior in their age, and have much better claim to being “true” MG’s.
If anything, we tend to have an knee-jerk reaction that anything that was around during our teen years is automatically better than any other year of that make. Which ain’t necessarily true.
I was going to refute your post here then I realized you’re prolly right .
FWIW , MG TC’s were slow and handled atrociously ~ _dangerously_ in fact if you tried to drive them fast .
Easy to flip over .
ZERO comparison between any older MG as they got progressively better and staying on the road in fast corners although none ever handles really well out of the box .
They’re just ‘ different ‘ ~ I like to drive my 42 year old pickup over any new one , one guy here really like driving his ’72 Pinto Station Wagon , I car I am *extremely* well versed in as daily driving and I like those too .
I was born 8 years after the last MGB was built (not counting the V8 revival in the 90s) yet I think the MGB was much better looking. I also find the MGB better looking than the TA, TB, and TC.
I just think late 50s to early 70s styling cannot be matched, it was the absolute peak across the globe. Cars could be shapely and organic back then without looking like they were spewed out of an injection molding machine, which is exactly what the TF looks like.
I didn’t know they still made MGs. To me it looks more like a Honda S2000 or a Toyota MR2.
I have the same issue with the difference between old cars and new cars, or as I like to say, the “modern” version vs the “original” as they are not really comparable. For me it’s not just the cosmetic difference (which IS a big part of it) but the functional difference. Car makers go to absurd lengths to insulate the driver from the driving experience. And for a sports car, the driving experience is what it’s all about. It’s supposed to be FUN. Having driven a couple of late model Miatas, they are to smooth and quiet for me. I suppose the suspension could be stiffened up, and the exhaust replaced with a louder one, but they would still have that over refined feeling.
About half the year (in the winter, spring, and fall) I drive a 50 year old car on a nearly daily basis. I would not take off across the country in it, but it is perfect for local driving. I absolutely love it. No emissions inspections, at the moment no drivers seat belt (seat belt laws don’t apply to it because of it’s age) no electronics, 4 wheel manual drum brakes, manual steering, no ABS, no airbags. There is no carpet, headliner, or any kind of insulation in this car, so you hear and feel everything. Engine noise, exhaust noise, wind noise, tire noise, and being 50 years old, it has it’s share of squeaks and rattles. To me that’s part of it’s character. Big chrome bumpers, no plastic anywhere, steel dash. It is in total contrast to a modern car, which has tons of stuff it doesn’t need, and is missing most of what it does need. New cars are designed mostly by the govt., while they had very little input into car design 50 years ago.
Now you’ve got my attention, JYD! I’m doing something similar despite there being cheaper, and perhaps smarter, options. So tell us more, what is the beast?
Considering the numbers of folks who buy VWs with their “spotty” quality rep and the numbers who bought Korean cars in the late 90s, there should be enough of a market for the newest MG.
BWM bought many of the British marques for the value of their names….at least that’s what they said 25 years ago. It is now considered that BMW really wanted Land Rover to closely study their 4WD/AWD engineering.
Nan Jing has been producing a small hatchback that “picks up” from the old MG 200 series hatchbacks and has even sold it in Europe for the past year or two. British…..snobbery? Zenophobia? being what it is, the Chinese MG has been pronounced as a decent effort by British car mags, but not as good and certainly not better than the original British versions were.
I seem to remember Nan Jing also built a few of these roadsters, though I’m not 100% sure of that.
Nice; nothing wears wire knock-off rims like a classic Brit sports car or sedan. My ’67 MGB also had those cool amber turn signals, but I’m not sure that’s how it came off the boat for the US market. That “hood” (top) is a different color than my black one, how many other colors were there altogether?
BTW, mine supposedly had the high-compression engine, 98hp IIRC.
Prefer the older MGB, for it’s iconic classic style… Especially, like the 1963-72 chrome grille.
Although, the newer TF looks pretty sporty, and probably has better reliability…. Those RICER tail lights are horrendous, kinda like they were taken from the Fast & Furious parts bin.
At least the new TF, looks alot better than the last gen Toyota MR2(MRS)… That car looked like a welfare version of a Porsche Boxster.
Gotta love, how the Mazda Mx-5… Is shown, in the background, like saying “You guys only wish.” Lol
the tail lights on the MG TF shown are aftermarket additions
Thank goodness, Roger…
Well, that explains why the owner lost points at the last MG auto show. LOL
Styling wise, the original wins by a mile. No, make that a light year. The new one has that same generic look all new cars seem to suffer from. There is no mistaking the original MGB for anything else. And it’s absolutely beautiful.
As far a newer 2 seater convertible sports cars, IMO the Pontiac Solstice takes the cake and walks away with it. But stupid GM dropped it, seemingly without even realizing what they had.
GM was not only stupid for dropping the slick Solstice… they were stupid, for dropping Pontiac, all together.
WHY they kept GMC, and have TWO truck divisions to compete with each other… is beyond me. They already have capable trucks with Chevys.
GM should’ve kept Pontiac as it’s division for NEW ideas and performance models.
Now, it seems like they’re relying on Cadillac to be the “innovator” when it comes to hot performance AND luxury models. So, I guess Cadillac is working “double-duty”, nowadays.
I gather they kept GMC because they pointed out to the auto taskforce that it made a lot of $$$, plus the Buick dealer network would have pickups to sell
Nice MKI MGB .
I had a couple MG’s , a ’52 TD and a ’67 B-GT I rebuilt from end to end .
Decent Sports Cars , being one has to remember Sports Cars back then weren’t _Race_Cars_ .
Good for daily driver use but in the end , poor handling at speed for me.
I also had an MGA Roadster in 1973 or so but it was an abandoned car so I shoveled it full if dirt and planted flowers in it..
Something about the MGB always makes me wish for a Healey or Triumph or Alfa instead…or an MGA, which has some visual zing the later car lost.
I kind of like the new one, but I’d probably be just as happy with a Toyota Spyder. Proving I’m not a true roadsterista, I guess.
Did not know the later MG even existed. Was I sleeping.
Learned a lot about wrenching when I owned my 64MGB. Altogether not so pleasant an experience. Replaced it with a 67 Chevelle. Much better.
No, you’re just an American, and anything British besides Jaguar and Land Rover had pretty much disappeared from these shores by 1990.
Its not just the cars. Many American motorcycle enthusiasts are convinced that Triumph motorcycles went out of business somewhere in the early to mid 1980’s, and the bikes that showed up in 1995 had nothing to do with the ‘real’ company and were just a badge-engineered Kawasaki. Yes, I put up with that story for about the first five years after buying mine. Totally missing that the new company is a direct lineage to the old, and Triumph only missed a couple of model years (1990 definitely, 1985 I think) since WWII.
If you like Motocycles , *do* try a modern Trumpet ! you’ll be well pleased .
My buddy bought an Orange Daytona and let me ride it ~ WOWSERS what a hoot to ride ! gobs of power , easy to ride , handled well , didn’t leak , squeak or break….
Every so often I look at the ” new ” Bonnevilles and think ‘ maybe…..’ .
But no , I have too many Motos now .
They’re top notch though .
If you want a “real” vintage British motorcycle, or at least as real as you can still get, look at a Royal Enfield. I did not like the new Bonneville, it sounded and felt like a Honda to me. Way too smooth and quiet. I bought a new 2013 RE B5 about a year ago, and am still very happy with it. Unfortunately the new models come with EFI and a cat con exhaust. I got a regular exhaust from Enfield, no cat, and it sounds a little better and weighs about 10 pounds less. A place called Hitchcock’s in the U.K. sells a complete carb conversion kit, with a genuine Amal carb. It works as good as the EFI, and should probably last forever. It can be tuned by replacing jets and turning screws. No electronics. Those two mods make it about 99% the same as a real vintage bike. Of course it comes with vintage bike limitations, it requires a lot of maintenance, and you have to treat it carefully. I limit mine to 60 mph. That may not seem like much from a 500cc engine, but this is an ancient design air cooled, pushrod, long stroke engine. It has a wonderful feel and sound at 55-60 mph.
Still see a few TFs around,another nearly car but the Mazda was a better car.
I’ll bypass both and take an MG RV8, please. Maybe we’ll have a CC on one of those someday? Might be difficult, though–just checked Wikipedia and there were only 2000 built and about 1500 of those went to Japan. The style of the old car (though sadly lacking the chrome bumpers), updated bits and parts.
The MGF/MG TF, though…I do like it in principle. But the shape just never did anything for me. It doesn’t have to be a revival of the original by any means, it just seems a little too…jellybean. And I think it looked better pre-refresh! Just my opinion of course. Still a shame we didn’t have them here.
try this one
Great write-up. Long time MG enthusiast here, and I can appreciate both of these cars. But my current MG is much more traditional (ancient?)… a 1952 TD. About 55 HP and a light car, but a combination of many factors keeps performance down compared to these much newer MG’s. TD top speed is 75-80 mph, but it is really much happier cruising at about 45 (speed isn’t the point with these cars… and when I want speed, I get my Challenger out). The one thing my TD might have in common with both cars in the article is it leaks a few fluids. Not bad, just enough to be annoying (and prove that something’s in there). Still, mine is very reliable, easy to work on, and great fun. Very anxious for spring.
I know it’s a typo, but it’s pretty funny or Fruedian ” BMW were still giving Rover significant autonomy in 1944 ” Probably on account of by 1944 Rovers were bombing BMW plants.
Something else Rover & BMW had in common: they both built some of the earliest jet engines, e.g. the experimental PowerJets W.2 & the BMW 003, used operationally. Rover, who traded their jet biz to Rolls-Royce in exchange for the Meteor tank engine (a derated Merlin), went on to build turbine cars, as Chrysler later did.
I always thought a mid engine MG would be a fun car though when I asked an owner about hers she went on to say it wasnt just headgasket issues that kept cropping up it was the worst car she’d ever owned. There are a few circulating locally but for popularity the Eunos/Mazda MX5 definitely wins there are tons of them roaming the roads here.
When the MGF was introduced, its styling was felt too owe too much to a bar of soap, and it suffered the opprobrium of being a “hairdresser’s car” – ie not hairy-chested enough.
But the press did like it. Car magazine got some stick for the cover shout line, which was “MG F-ing marvellous”, or words to that effect. You can do it in an MG, as they used to say.
I don’t think much can happen inside the Midget.
Location reminds me of the Royal Crescent, but it doesn’t look like housing.
Pretty certain it’s Park Crescent at the top of Portland Place, just below Regent’s Park.
You can’t do much in a Midget. He’s probably just explaining to the meter maid that he’s waiting for the AA to come and tow him away.
Here’s an MGR-V8, which I am strangely drawn to, despite it being neither fish nor fowl, but some sort of hybrid:
These are nice, probably because it has a strong resemblance to the old models.
CC effect: I saw an MGR-V8 driving home from work yesterday, parked under a railway bridge in Esher.
I’d pick the MGB simply on the basis that both the newer TF and the Miata are way too cute looking. Hair dresser styling has pretty much kept me away from modern sports cars as a whole
The newer MG is intriguing for the mid-engine configuration and its Hydragas suspension. The Miata proves reliable need not be dull but the MGB to me is a head-scratcher. As I mentioned elsewhere, why do you design a cutting-edge unit body and graft on the same old prewar boat-anchor mechanicals? The engine and suspension were outdated on introduction.
Cost is the most likely answer, they had to share them with the sedans, plus the MGA Twin Cam experiment did not go well. I wonder if there is a reason why they used two 6-volt batteries instead of one 12-volt?
The MX5 is the right answer really, I know a guy who bought an MGB for his wife, now it is too hard to get into, too heavy to drive, to loud, etc. There are a few MG F’s around but not many MG TF, I think the writing was on the wall by that time plus they were a lot more expensive than an MX5.
Cost was a two edged sword for the British car and bike makers.On one hand it kept the price of the finished product down and also stifled development.My brother had a BSA A65 with 2 6 volt batteries.
Actually I can think of one excuse for 2 6V batteries, at least in the MGB: Given the location behind the seats, it was better balanced than with one battery. But then, lacking a passenger means you’re unbalanced anyway.
Pre Vietnam war you mean the MGB used then current BMC powertrains 1960s the previous model had a twin cam engine that proved unreliable the prewar engine was the XPAG
For a daily driver that could be taken anywhere, the Miata is the obvious choice, if you don’t mind driving such an ordinary car. It also has 10 times the aftermarket of any other 2 seater convertible sports car. I would own one if I could get in and out of it without serious pain, which is only going to get worse.
If you want a serious sports car, get a 427 Cobra replica. These are not afflicted by the “over refined” issue late model cars have. It’s one car that will still give you a serious thrill ride. They cost as much as a new Corvette, but will provide many times more fun
Meet the new boss, (not the) same as the old boss.