One of the last proper British sports cars just so happens to be the cheapest and the most readily available. We reckon the MGF is a cracking buy
Power comes courtesy of Rover’s K-Series engine, which, despite its reputation for chewing through head gaskets, is actually a very sweet unit. It’s best to avoid the 1.6-litre engine, as it’s a tad lethargic next to the 1.8-litre versions. The latter two came with either 118bhp or 145bhp in VVC (variable valve control) guise and, though neither are brutally fast, they’re certainly swift off the mark and very happy to rev.
Like any twin cam engine, it’s no surprise that the MGF needs to be worked to get the best out of it, but it’s rewarding. The gear shift is short and sharp, but it can be a little notchy until the engine is up to operating temperature.
Spot-on weight distribution makes for crisp responses and there’s plenty of grip in the dry. Like most mid-engined cars, the MGF has a sting its tail. Push it too hard in slippery conditions and it can bite back with sharp oversteer, which you have to be quick to catch.
For the most part, it’s very easy to live with and makes a superb, everyday starter classic.
Power (bhp@rpm) 118bhp@5500rpm
Torque (lb ft@rpm) 120lb ft at 3000rpm
Top speed 123mph
Gearbox 5-speed manual
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
BODYWORK & CHASSIS
A hard-top is a worthwhile addition and can add to the value of the car. It can conveniently hide a dodgy fabric hood, though – ask the seller to remove it so you can inspect underneath. The plastic rear window can crack and go opaque over time, but it can be brought back to life with a chemical treatment. At the same time check out the main body of the hood for damage.
Pat the carpets in the footwells to check for water ingress. If you come across any damp then don’t automatically assume that there’s a hole in the hood, as the heater box seal can fail and cause water to leak into the passenger footwell. Check inside the boot for damp too, as early cars suffered from poor seals at the back.
The door glass often falls out of alignment. Window guide stops are renowned for failing, particularly on older cars, which can lead to poor sealing and often water ingress. Later cars were also fitted with wider door glass seals, which are much more effective at keeping water out. This has been retrofitted to some older cars and, while not essential, is worthwhile.
Walk round to the back of the car and look at the brake lights when the engine is running. If they remain on of their own accord then the brake light switch needs adjusting or replacing. It’s not fatal and is easily fixed, but the switch itself is a pain to get to.
It’s no secret that Rover K-Series engines are renowned for head gasket problems. If a car has been well maintained or if it has had the head replaced – properly – then there shouldn’t be any problems. Either way, the usual check for a creamy residue on the inside of the oil filler cap is still the best method. Keep an eye on the engine temperature during the test drive and leave it running for a couple of minutes after you park the car. The fans should cut in to keep the engine cool.
Inspect the coolant reservoir and see if any oil has made its way in, which is a sign of problems with the head. Make sure that the fluid itself is in good condition, too. Clean, red OAT coolant signifies a caring owner and means that head gasket problems are less likely in the long run. Also check out the hoses, as these can rot and leak.
Being a modern classic, the MGF has its fair share of electrical luxuries inside, so try them all to make sure they work. The SRS airbag light has been known to remain on permanently, and, though it’s usually just down to a loose wire under one of the seats, it could mean that the airbag and seat belt pre-tensionsers have packed up.
Though the MGF is a low-slung sports car, the ride shouldn’t be overly hard – or soft. If it is, then there may be problems with the hydragas suspension system. The fluid pressure may have been released, which can significantly alter the ride and handling and not always for the better. Ideally you want a car that is sitting properly on its suspension.
The tracking can be knocked out of alignment easily, so it’s not unusual to find cars running on wonky tyres. Have a good look for even tyre wear. MGFs should only use the specified tyres. Check handbook.
If the handbrake warning light stays on after you’ve released the lever then the cable has probably stuck, which is a common gripe. This isn’t a huge problem and is easy and cheap to fix.
MGF prices have officially bottomed out, so there’s no excuse not to chuck a modest amount of cash at one and bag a really tidy example. There’s always the worry of a head gasket failure, but this usually happens in the first 20-30,000 miles of the engine’s lifetime. With that in mind, a 40,000-mile car with a watertight service history and either a replacement head or evidence of meticulous maintenance would be our choice. There’s no reason why you couldn’t pick up such a car for £2500 or even less.
The F is a fantastic starter classic for those not quite ready to take the plunge into proper old car ownership. The only real snag is that access to the mid-mounted engine is limited, which slightly hinders the potential for novice tinkering/maintenance, but the MGF at this price is just good value.
A Mazda MX-5 might be the obvious choice as a modern classic drop-top, but the only hint of patriotism about it is that it closely resembles a Lotus Elan. When the MGF arrived in 1995, it kept the old-school formula of good weight distribution, a modest – but rev-happy – four-cylinder engine and a soft-top.
It was every inch the proper British sports car, although the mid-mounted engine was a more modern twist, which proved handy for spreading the weight evenly.
The F became immensely popular, and if individuality is your thing, then it’s not for you. However, if you fancy a sports car but don’t want the hassle of scouring the country for an immaculate example then the MG is right up your street.
Excellent parts supply, a wealth of specialists and the fact that you can find one on most forecourts are all part of the F’s appeal.
Set aside £3,000 and you can have your pick of the finest examples around, too, so it’s easily one of, if not the most affordable drop-top in existence.