The MGTF has been at the centre of developments with MG since they bought the brand. Its return to production has attracted much media attention in the UK, it seems this is the MG-Rover closest to the heart of the nation, fitting then that this is the car that spearheaded the MG brand re-launch in the United Kingdom. The TF, now 15 years old, was the first car to be constructed for customers by the Longbridge factory since the collapse of MG-Rover. While in China this car is the first locally produced sports car thatís actually good to drive. Given this carís been launched on to two very different markets, it seems fitting to discuss its development in sections, starting with neither China or the UK.MGTF, reborn in the United StatesThe MG TF coupe was to be an exciting part of developments for the brand in the US
In July 2006 NAC announced that MG would make a revival, lead, in part, by itís attractive and strong selling MGTF. The surprise news was that the car would not only be produced in Nanjing, but also Longbridge (news which made many MG-Rover fans very happy) and, most out of the blue, Oklahoma. Itís not the first time the car has made an attempt at getting to the United States, Rover Group plans to sell the car there were put on ice, probably thanks to BMW wishing to protect the newly launched Z3, but officially due to homoglation issues. Now the prospect was revived, a letter of intent was signed by NAC-MG, Oklahoma Sovereign Development, LLC; Davis Capital, LLC. the State of Oklahoma, the City of Oklahoma City, and the City of Ardmore, who pledged together to bring more than $2billion to the table, so the press release claimed. The plan was to begin producing a range of MG cars, first of all the TF and TF coupe, followed by a range of sedans. Such a press release was always going to cause a stir with the fans of the brand, and rumors began spreading a pace. At this point in time Longbridge production was still to be set in stone, and the Times struck fear into the hearts of those hoping for a Longbridge revival with a story saying that US production would account for most of the western production. Looking at the figures, that statement made some sense, the press release talked of production figures of 16,000, easily enough to satisfy demand, with Longbridge having produced only 11,000 TFís in 2004. However the rather mad part of the plan was that they intended to do this with just 550 employees, including R&D and Management staff. Later the same month, MG quelled fearís by confirming they were committed to UK production, and talked of numbers of 4,000 per anum, they also stated the MG US plans were still very young, it was easy to see who was the more reluctant of the parties here. While NAC focused on getting an entire factory built in China, little news surfaced for the US, and in March 2007 Duke T Hale, the lead man of the deal resigned from his position, in the same month that NAC officially opened there new factory in Nanjing. The project was never officially proclaimed finished, but we can only assume that the deal went sour, MG will have to wait Ďtill another day to return to the US.MGTF, chinaís first proper sports carThe TF caught attention at itís launch in China
Sports cars are a rare thing in China, with only a few domestically produced Hyundai Coupe type vehicles (probably with less impressive driving ability) your main option is foreign brands. That was until NAC-MG put the MGTF on the market. Still a respected performer in Europe 10 years after itís launch, the car was sure to find a niche in the Chinese market, all NAC-MG had to do was launch it.
While Roewe was grabbing attention in China with itís massive marketing campaign for the 750 launch, NAC MG were getting off the ground, building an entirely new factory to house the tooling they had transported from Longbridge after their acquisition of MG-Rovers assets. Meanwhile armed with a very limited (if any) experience of developing cars, NAC began testing MG-Rovers of various descriptions around China, including MG-Rovers little sports car. While the USA deal was falling into oblivion in March 2007, MG had their big launch conference in China revealing the MG7 and MGTF that were to be built at itís new factory. While the MGTF was getting a great deal of interest in a market devoid of affordable roadsters, it was the MG7 that launched before, quite some time before, it was the car that had the mass market appeal in a saloon orientated China.
Pricing was eventually announced after much speculation, more than a year after the MG launch press conference, and dealers began taking orders. Reviews talked of British heritage when testing the car, and the tradition of light-weight sports cars, praising the handling ability direct controls. This was a car out on itís own on the Chinese market, the nearest rivals in ability miles off in price, but itís perhaps fair to say the TF in China was at no point as cheap as it should have been. The current price stands at just over £23,000 for the manual transmission model, and £25,000 for the auto, a lot of money (nearly two Roewe 750ís can be bought for the price of the Auto), for which you can only have the 1.8 naturally aspirated engine good for 0-60 in 8.2 seconds. Perhaps this high price is the reason the TF has seemingly struggled to find buyers in China, despite the apparent interest. Meanwhile the TFís nemesis, the MX-5 has also come to China, but at £28,000 itís unlikely to pull many more sales than the MG offering. Perhaps China isnít ready, for a ĎBritish sports carí, or perhaps it is indeed just the price, in any case, the price doesnít look to be about to change, MG is putting emphasis the MG6 at present, rather than the range that NAC gave the brand.MGTF, returning Longbridge to actionThe TF135ís style pack brought a few additions to the car
The first months of 2007 were full of rumor on the subject of NAC-MG, the small Chinese company were talking big production figures from factories in China, North America, Britain and even Russia. As youíve already read, Chinese production didnít start Ďtill 2008 for the TF while Oklahoma never really got off the ground, as for Russia, that single rumor never seemed to develop into anything. Back in the homeland of NACís recently acquired brand there was vague hope around Longbridge as recruiting began once again for the factory, starting the year with 110 employeeís and figures of 12,000 cars leaving the factory by 2010 floating about, it all sounded good. A few test assembly TFs were assembled right at the start of the year, but with no solid plans for other models 12,000 sounded somewhat off the mark. More off the mark was the talk of 50,000 cars per anum from unknown sources a few months later, reports suggested the MG3, MG5 (the aborted resurrection of the MGZS) and MG7 would be sold in Britain, what seemed certain in these reports though, was that MGTF production was to be resumed shortly. May 2007 saw NACís changes to the TF officially unveiled, the car featured a new front bumper and re-designed clocks (apparently an MG-Rover design) as well as a few minor trim changes. Three cars, the first of which sporting the Orange paintwork that would become the signature of the LE500 model were lead in a procession around Longbridge to an expectant crowd. June saw the LE500 officially debut at Silverstone International, an MG race meeting, appearing pretty much the same to the Orange model rolled a month earlier. The car got up close and personal with fans of the brand, and NAC MG called the response to car at the event Ďfantasticí, with sales due to begin in summer, everything looked set to go.
However just like it was in China, things seemed to tail off between the start of 2007 and the same time next year, after SAIC had taken over the brand. Clearly deciding that MG needed the TF and indeed UK production to give a decent chance for MGís re-entry into the European market, a new head of UK production took the reigns, and promptly set the production start date for September. A month later dealers started taking deposits on the car, and the price for the limited 500 run LE500 model was set at £16,399 (very reasonable compared to the pricing of the Chinese version), and by September, cars were indeed reaching both dealers and customers. Sales were initially strong, but with the onset of the financial crisis, and winter, sales slowed dramatically, despite a £344 reduction thanks the temporary decrease in VAT, at the time of writing there are still cars left unregistered
. Meanwhile Autocar got their hands on the car to review it, despite scathing aspects of the car such as the outdated interior, they concluded ĎSo while itís a dinosaur in many ways, the LE500 is still a beguiling little car, one that you learn to like for lots of irrational reasonsí, you can read the full review here
. As the review notes, the changes to the car over what was leaving Longridge in 2005 were are limited, aside from the cosmetic upgrades the main change was the N-series engine, with itís completely redesigned top end to cure that old Head Gasket Failure gremlin and meet Euro IV emissions regulations.
The TF story continued despite the reported lack of sales, NAC MG (UK) as it was known, changed itís name to MG Motor UK, and followed the name change up with the launch of two new models, nearly two years after the procession of new TFís left Longbridge. The TF 135 (£13,511) and 85th Anniversary edition (£15,664) debuted at the MG Heritage Festival. The 135 took the entry level position, costing just £11,511 in conjunction with the UK scrappage scheme
, while the 85th Anniversary edition offered Blistein suspension, Eibach anti-roll system, special graphics and trim and new alloy wheels in the style the MG6 turbo. You could also spec the TF 135 with those wheels, as well as leather seats and new wing mirrors, as part of the optional style pack costing £600. The 85th Anniversary had a production run of just 50, while the 135 would later finish production at 155 units, leaving Longbridge to wind down and prepare for the MG6.MGTF, a somewhat confused Chinese addition to itís historyA new journey indeed, and one far from without incident.
The MGTF certainly hasnít experienced a smooth ride in life, it started life in 1985 as small internal project from designers pushing for a new MG soft-top, but didnít receive a proper development until the launch of the MX-5 pushed for it in 1989. Upon launch in 1995 the car received positive reviews and while battling the MX-5 throughout itís life the car did manage to pull strong sales, throughout a massive crisis for the brand in 2000 and into itís new life as the TF in 2002 (read more about the F/TF under Rover/MG-Rover here
). As seen above, the hope for the car after NAC had acquired it was great, yet the car has failed to live up to those rather tall expectations. The coupe version, shown as a concept
under MG-Rover and proposed for production in the USA by NAC, never materialised. In China, despite being much regarded by many, it doesnít appear to have translated into sales, the fact that SIAC have not given the car the new MG siver/black branding could be taken to suggest that the cars being distanced from the brands new efforts in China, we can only wait and see. In the UK the car was again much hyped, amongst enthusiasts at least, although the car initially saw decent sales, the financial crisis hit them hard, and with the production of the car on ice, pending enough further interest in the car, itís possible that the last UK MGTF has been built. Itís sad that the car, which was still a bestseller in 2005, hasnít quite made it, but the fact that it wears silver and black badges, and MG6 style alloys, at least suggests the car is respected as part of the Ďnewí MG in the UK. At this years Goodwood festival of speed an MGTF sat between two MG6í on the MG stand, given that near enough 15 years separate the basic design of the two cars, the fact that the TF did not appear an outdated relic compared to the striking new car, is to my mind a great achievement in itself.