MG Sports Cars

MG sports cars are the very definition of happy motoring and the profiles and pictures included in these articles explain exactly why. This archetypal British automaker traces its origins to the early 1920s and Morris Garages, an Oxford, England, establishment that distributed Morris cars.

With tweaked chassis and altered body panels, its customized Morris Cowleys were the genesis of a sporting inclination that led to the formation of the MG Car Company and a tradition of affordable sports cars that helped ignite America’s love affair with the form.  



Among the cars featured in these articles is the MG TC, the cheeky prewar roadster that captured the hearts of American GIs. They brought it back from England following World War II, exposing a broad new audience to the joys and tribulations of minimalist motoring.

Follow the MG story thought the MG TD and TF models of 1949 through 1955, which were only slightly more substantial successors to the TC but hardly less enticing for it.

You will also learn about the cars that describe a new classic period in the MG saga, the MGA and MGB. Their clean lines and perfect proportions represented the British sports-car ideal during the 1960s and ‘70s. And our article on the MG Midget reveals an even more accessible entrée into the British sports-car tradition.

So string up your driving gloves and enjoy the best of MG sports cars. We'll get started in the next section with the MG TC.


Americans fell in love with the MG TC, partly because of the classical-yet-playful styling and partly because of the car's personality on the road.

The MG TC seemed hardly the sort of thing to spark a revolution. It was already quite outmoded when announced in 1945 as one of Britain’s first postwar cars. It was only mildly evolved from MG’s prewar TA/TB roadsters, which themselves weren’t very different from the first Morris Garages car of 1923. But the TC, as later MG ads proclaimed, was “the sports car America loved first,” and things haven’t been the same since.

World War II GIs were the first Americans to discover the charms of sporting European cars, MGs included. And the TC was available factory fresh at war’s end, so a good many Yanks took one home, where they spread the gospel that getting there could be more than half the fun. Soon, sports cars began capturing America’s fancy -- if not many sales -- with the TC a symbol of the budding enthusiasm.



Still, these were very “foreign” cars to a people weaned on big engines, futuristic styling, and gee-whiz technology, and the TC was a frank anachronism with its flexible ladder-type chassis, crude solid-axle suspension, floor-shift gearbox and tiny (but tough) four-cylinder engine. Yet like Ford’s Model T, Americans loved this MG in spite of its faults, maybe even because of them.

As Road & Track founder John Bond wrote in 1956: “For a comfort-loving public [it] was wretchedly impractical; your spine was jolted, your knees bumped, you were hot in the sun and wet in the rain, you had no luggage space and only 54 hp --but for the first time in many a year you were driving a car. A person felt it was part of him, as quick and responsive to commands as a well trained mare, and for many a U.S. driver this was something new and wonderful.” And, of course, it looked terrific: classically “correct,” rakish yet elegant -- English decorum with wire wheels and cutaway doors.

The MG TC’s rakish looks and traditional-looking cockpit made up for its lack of horsepower for many drivers.

In retrospect, the TC was fortuitously timed for a postwar America with money to burn and time to spare. Who cared that performance was leisurely or that the skimpy top defied all operating logic? This was a car for sunny days and roads less traveled, one you drove for the sheer pleasure of it, not just to go somewhere. Old-fashioned it may have been, but the MG TC helped make driving a new American sport, and in the late 1940s, that was revolution indeed.


The MG TD was a British sports car built with the States in mind; more than 90 percent had lefthand drive.

Purists once bemoaned the MG TD as the beginning of the end for the classic British sports car. In fact, the TD was the inevitable first step toward a more modern postwar MG capable of earning serious money abroad, which in 1949 meant mainly the lucrative U.S. market. As marque expert Richard Knudson observed: “If the TC started the sports car revolution, it was the TD that fought the battle.”

It did so by improving on the TC without losing its charm. Styling, for instance, continued Edwardian themes: bolt-upright radiator, cutaway doors, flowing separate fenders, fold-flat windscreen, a diabolical top and side curtains providing casual weather protection at best.



Even so, exterior metal was all new, and although the inner body still relied on 1920s-style wood framing, the TD was a bit wider and thus roomier than the TC, if still quite cramped. It was also some 200 lbs heavier, and as power was unchanged, acceleration was down though top speed was up.

Two changes were instantly apparent: The TC had righthand drive only while the TD was lefthand drive from day one; and the TD had 15-inch steel wheels instead of stately 19-inch wires, a cost-cut that some enthusiasts deemed sacrilege.

Happily, those wheels attached to a stronger frame with the relatively startling advance of independent front suspension. This came from MG’s new 1949 Y-Series sedan, though with wheelbase trimmed to TC length. Another Chassis “innovation” was a kickup in the rear siderails allowing more wheel travel. That combined with softer damping, wider tires, the reduced height from the smaller wheels, and the new coil-sprung front to furnish a smoother ride and even tauter handling.

Power in the heavier TD was the same as the TC, although top speed was a bit higher.

If an evident concession to American tastes, the MG TD proved the most popular sporting MG yet, outpacing TC production by nearly 3-1 over the same four-year lifespan. Tellingly, more than two-thirds (precisely 23,488) were sold in the United States.

The MG TD was a favored “club racer” like the TC, so the “TD II” was a welcome mid-1951 development, boasting a larger clutch and oil pan, plus other minor but useful updates. MG also encouraged TD racers by offering various suspension and engine kits, as well as a short-lived 60-hp special, the “TD Mark II.” By late 1953, however, Triumph’s truly modern TR2 had MG looking to its laurels on the track and in the showroom. As a result, the TD stepped aside for an even more “radical” MG that would have those diehards grousing anew.


MG needed a new sports car to fight the likes of the Austin-Healey and Triumph TR2, but its owners forced it to update the aged TD.

What does an MG TF-1500 have in common with a ’57 Chevy? Not much, you may say. One was a small, stark, British Traditional roadster, the other a big, flashy period Detroiter with creature comforts galore and a plethora of body styles.

But consider: Both were basically extensions of existing cars given more power and updated styling to fend off all-new rivals. More significantly, each was the last and arguably the best of a kind. No surprise, then, that both have become the most coveted of their breeds, in part because each ended an era and not everyone liked what followed.



The TF succeeded the TD (MG skipped “TE” for sounding like “tee hee”) and was essentially a streamlined version of it. With fared headlamps, downsloped hood, raked grille, and lean-forward tail, it looked like what MG might have sold had not World War II intervened.

But the TF didn’t appear until late 1953, by which time the T-Series was way outclassed by new-design sports cars of similar price -- mainly the thoroughly modern Triumph TR2. Though MG coaxed 3-hp more, or 57 total, from its veteran 1250cc engine, the TF was no match for the 90-hp TR and was little faster than a TD, despite its smoother styling.

The MG TF had an old-world flavor that didn’t sell and old-school mechanicals that didn’t perform, though the 1500 is now the most sought-after of the T series.
The MG TF had an old-world flavor that didn’t sell and old-school mechanicals that didn’t perform, though the 1500 is now the most sought-after of the T series.

Then again, it was only a stopgap. MG had actually designed the T-Series’ eventual successor by 1952, when it became part of the big new British Motor Corporation. But BMC was soon occupied with another new sports car, the Austin-Healey, so the future MGA was temporarily shelved and the TF was left to meet critical press reviews and slow sales (6200 built). MG responded by installing a 1466cc engine with 10 percent more power and 17 percent more torque to create the MG TF-1500 of 1954. Though quicker than the 1250 TF by 2.5 seconds to 60-mph and 5-mph all out, the 85-mph 1500 still was no threat to the 105-mph Triumph.

No matter. This turned out to be a one-year holding action of no great consequence -- at the time. It’s a different story now, as MG TF-1500s command top price among postwar Ts, equal to and sometimes above those of the classic TC. Which only proves that the last can be first in enthusiast affections, particularly when it’s scarce to begin with.


A completely new model for MG, the MGA maintained a clean basic appearance throughout its life.

The MGA and MGA Deluxe brought MG into a new era. The T-Series never sold better than in 1952, but MG was already thinking about a replacement. A prototype was completed that year, only to be mothballed by managers refusing to allocate production funds. In a couple of years, though, the T-Series had reached the end of the sales road, so its erstwhile successor was hauled out of mothballs. The result was the very different MGA of 1955.

It was virtually all-new, starting with the chassis: a modern, massively strong affair with the basic TD/TF independent front suspension and all-drum brakes. Wheelbase was unchanged, but more space-efficient chassis packaging and a smooth new envelope body provided more cockpit and luggage room than any T-Series ever knew.



While the 1952 prototype carried TD running gear, MG had become part of British Motor Corporation by the time the project was revived in 1954, so the MGA was reconfigured around newly developed “corporate” hardware as fitted to MG’s latest ZA Magnette sports sedan. It thus became the first MG sports car to employ the BMC “B-Series” four-cylinder engine, its associated 4-speed gearbox, and a new type of hypoid-bevel rear axle. The powerplant initially chosen was the 1489-cc version with a rated 72 horsepower, just enough for a top speed around the magic “ton” (100 mph).

In appearance and body construction there was no comparison with the old T-Series. The MGA’s fully welded all-steel body had the same long-hood/short-deck proportions, but was lower and wider and looked at least 20 years newer. Instruments reverted from octagonal to circular, while the dash provided for fresh-air ventilation and radio installation. Separately adjustable seats returned to MG for the first time in years, and turn indicators were standard.

Body styles were initially confined to the traditional roadster, but a fixed-roof “bubbletop” coupe arrived within a year, boasting roll-up door glass and exterior door handles (both lacking on the roadster) plus a curvier windshield.

Fast, safe, and well balanced, the MGA was such an advance on even the TF-1500 that it could have come from another make. Though not quite as fast as the rival Triumph TR3 (see entry), it was prettier to most eyes and sold far better than any T-Series. In fact, just over 100,000 MGAs of all types would be built through 1962.

Along the way, the MGA was treated to gradual but perceptible improvements in displacement, power, and equipment. The introductory model (retrospectively known as 1500) was replaced in 1959 by the MGA 1600, with 1588 cc, 80 bhp, and standard front disc brakes. Mid-1961 brought the 1600 Mark II, with 1622 cc and 86 bhp, plus a revised grille that made the car look as if it had been “kicked in the teeth.”

The initial 1.5-liter engine of the MGA gave way to a 1.6 in ’59; it continued in Mark II models.

The hot Twin Cam variant had come and gone by then, but its suspension, all-disc brakes, and center-lock wire wheels were fitted to pushrod-engine 1600s and Mk IIs to create new DeLuxe variants beginning in late 1960. Except for superior braking power, they performed exactly as “non-DeLuxe” models. Most were loaded with extras rarely ordered on MGAs, and were pretty rare themselves.

Because weight seemed to rise in step with horsepower, late MGAs weren’t much faster than early ones (Twin Cam apart, that is) but all these cars were well loved by their owners -- and still are, come to that. The production figures tell the story; sales were truly excellent by European standards.

But it was time to move on again by 1962, the year that brought a new MG sports car destined to be even more popular and long-lived. Sadly, it would also be the last.


The MGA Twin Cam arrived in 1958 as the first dual-overhead-cam production MG.

The MGA Twin Cam was MG's much-anticipated, and valient, but ultimately unsuccessful, attempt at offering a more powerful version of the MGA. After so many years of old-fashioned MGs, the MGA of 1955 was like something from another world. And in one sense it was: an early product of British Motor Corporation’s brave new world of cost-conscious parts-bin engineering. Nevertheless, the A was an exciting, thoroughly competitive postwar MG sports car. Today it’s an honored classic.

The MGA served to introduce several components destined for many future BMC cars, notably a rugged new “B-Series” overhead-valve four-cylinder engine and associated four-speed gearbox. Features unique to the sports car included a massively strong new chassis, albeit with TD/TF-type independent front suspension. And -- finally -- there was an all-steel body with curvy, well-proportioned lines as modern as anything on the road.



Though tradition was served by the usual two-seat roadster, again with side curtains and an improved but still difficult top, a companion “bubbletop” coupe soon arrived with curved glass fore and aft, plus -- blimey! -- rollup door windows.

Early MGAs were 72-hp “1500s,” but 1959 introduced a 1.6-liter engine with 80 hp. Two years later, the 1600 became a Mark II with adoption of front disc brakes (drums continued aft) and more upright vertical grille bars. A stronger engine had always been planned, and it belatedly arrived in mid-1958 for special “1600 Twin Cam” models with standard all-disc brakes and center-lock alloy wheels.

Though cylinder size was unchanged from the ohv unit, the Twin Cam had its own alloy head with hemispherical combustion chambers and a high-for-the-day 9.9:1 compression ratio. These and assorted other tweaks added 28 hp, boosting top speed to at least 110 mph.

Performance was credible and the fun was back in the Twin Cam, although the car was plagued by poor engine reliability.

Unfortunately, the Twin Cam suffered serious knocking on ordinary fuel and, though a fierce performer when running right, it fast became known as a heavy oil-user. Add in a hefty $850 surcharge over comparable ohv models, and it’s little wonder that sales started poorly and got worse.

MG gave up in early 1960 at only 2111 examples, ironically just after curing the oil-burning and detonation problems. Leftover chassis were given pushrod engines and sold as “Deluxe” models. Of these, only 82 were “Mark I” roadsters and coupes; another 313 were Mark IIs. Overall, though, the MGA series was a resounding success, with some 101,000 built in seven years, more than double the number of T-Series MGs produced over two decades.


MG revived the Midget name on the rebodied 1961 Austin-Healey Sprite, though the Midget stood apart by dint of its vertical-bar MG-style grille, retained as shown here through 1969. See more pictures of MG sports cars.

The MG Midget had a heritage within the British automaker. MG’s first Midget was the 1928 M-Type. The name disappeared after the last K3 model of 1934, but the T-Series were Midgets in spirit. By 1958, MG was under the British Motor Corporation roof with Austin-Healey and producing the original A-H Sprite at its Abingdon factory. The “bugeye” proved so successful, especially in the U.S., that BMC decided to restyle it for 1961 and sell it in a second version as a new Midget.

Through 1971, the Sprite and Midget were built side-by-side as fraternal twins differing only in badges, grilles, and minor trim and equipment. The Midget then carried on alone through 1979. Basic design stayed the same throughout these 19 years, though there were running changes to engines, transmissions, brakes, suspension, top mechanisms, trim, and equipment. Of course, what applies to the Midgets also goes for the Sprites (badged simply as Austin Sprite in 1971 only).



Visually, the rebodied ‘61 Sprite/Midget was boxier and more conventional than the “bugeye,” its lift-up nose section replaced by fixed front fenders with integral headlamps, plus a rear-hinged hood. The tail was also squared up and given a conventional trunklid.

Sliding side curtains for the doors and British-traditional build-it-yourself soft top were retained, as were the central body section, diminutive 80-inch wheelbase, the willing little 948-cc four-cylinder engine, rack-and-pinion steering, coil-spring independent front suspension, and a live rear axle on cantilevered leaf springs, located by radius arms.

With all this, the new-design Sprite/Midget was much like its predecessor: a cheeky, high-revving little roadster that handled like a go-kart, wasn’t very fast, and had just enough room for two adults. Nevertheless, sales picked up in a big way, reaching 15,000-20,000 a year. This rate would be maintained (with many ups and downs) through 1979, with the U.S. taking the bulk of production as usual.

The cockpit on the MG Midget was spartan but serviceable.

Model changes began with the ‘63s, which received the larger 1098-cc version of the BMC A-Series four and 56 horsepower. A Mark III Sprite and Mark II Midget arrived in the spring of ‘64 with 59 bhp, taller windshield, wind-up door windows, and conventional semi-elliptic rear leaf springs. Fall 1966 brought the Sprite Mk IV and Midget Mk III with a more rugged, 65-bhp 1275-cc A-Series, followed in 1969 by minor styling changes arranged to eliminate virtually all remaining differences between the two versions.

With the Sprite retired after 1971, the Midget progressed to Mark IV form in 1974, identified by fully radiused rear wheelarches, plus a larger fuel tank and collapsible steering column, the latter prompted by U.S. regulations. Smog standards had stolen a lot of American engine power, so the Midget became a 1500 for 1975 via a drivetrain donation from the latest Triumph Spitfire. Flat-top rear wheelarches returned along with a jacked-up suspension to get the headlights up to U.S. regulation height, and a protruding black bumper/grille to satisfy new American impact standards.

The latter two followed MGB changes and reflected the apparent unwillingness -- or inability -- of troubled British Leyland to do more than meet the letter of U.S. law in the cheapest, most expedient ways possible. Thus, the Midget acquired a third wiper beginning with the ‘76 models to comply with another new visibility standard.

As the production figures show, these dreary changes plus steadily falling horsepower took a sales toll after 1974, though the Midget remained quite popular right to the end -- and likely profitable, what with tooling costs written off by the mid-Sixties. But BL was in desperate straits by 1979 and willing to do anything to increase its survival chances, even abandon sports cars. Thus, the last Midgets came off the line that autumn. A year later, MG’s historic Abingdon works would close forever.


Styling of the MGB, done by MG’s staff, was cleaner                                            than the MGA and looks right even today.
Styling of the MGB, done by MG’s staff, was cleaner than the MGA and looks right even today.

The MGB was remarkably long-lived, continuing without basic change through 18 years and over half a million units. Of course, its maker could hardly have imagined such longevity when launching the B in 1962 to replace the popular MGA, itself the first sports car to break 100,000 production. Yet even then, there was something in the B’s simple lines, stout mechanical heart, and rugged-yet-cheery character to suggest this MG would be a car for the ages.

The B was certainly that, even though post-1974 models were increasingly compromised in style, performance, and desirability by patchwork solutions to U.S. safety and emissions rules. Not that there’s anything wrong with a B GT, the neat hatchback coupe version announced in 1965 and sold through the bitter end in 1980. But without question, the 1960s roadsters were the purest and most satisfying of the breed.



Technically, the open B was a convertible, as it had wind-down windows (to the chagrin of many MG fans) and, eventually, a folding top fixed to the body. But as an MG, the B was definitely a sports car. It was also a better MG, with the marque’s first unitized body, and more cockpit space than the MGA despite a three-inch shorter wheelbase. Under the bonnet buzzed an upsized 1.8-liter “B-Series” four, which became smoother and stronger in late 1964 with a switch from three to five main bearings.

Styling of the MG MGB was how a ’60s sports car ought to look and feel, though the wood trim on this car is not original equipment.

Horsepower through 1974 was 95, delivered to a four-speed gearbox with available electric overdrive, making this the first MG capable of keeping pace with rival Triumphs. Steering, brakes, and suspension were also from the A and thus rather dated, but they made for foolproof handling and a surprisingly supple sports-car ride.

In 1967, the B was treated to a “Mark II” update featuring a new grille, synchronized first gear -- at last -- and MG’s first automatic transmission, a rare option with only about 5000 fitted. It then soldiered on with little change until its depressing “federalization” of 1975-80, which created cars even MG fans didn’t warm to. But early Bs still engender great affection, one reason lovingly cared-for examples remain a common sight today. That’s the way it is with MGs, and probably always will be.


The MGC, shown here in fastback GT form, was outwardly little different from the four-cylinder B. U.S. versions wore side marker lights and other required equipment.

The MGC and GT had a short run, as they were the last to arrive at Britain's 1960s sports car party and the first ones ushered out the door. By the mid-Sixties, British Motor Corporation had too many sports models for the number it was selling, and set about reorganizing the ranks.

The Austin-Healey Sprite had been cloned into an MG Midget twin at the start of the decade. Before long, the A-H 3000 was looking the odd man out at the Abingdon sports-car factory. This prompted a new project coded ADO51/ADO52 (ADO for Austin Drawing Office).



Its object was a successor for the “Big Healey,” which did not share body or chassis with any other BMC car. The plan was a six-cylinder derivative of the successful MGB to be sold in A-H (ADO51) and MG (ADO52) versions. But Donald Healey refused to have his name on a car he hadn’t had a hand in, so only the MG appeared.

Tagged MGC, it was cleverly designed to use as many components from the BMC bins as possible. Starting with the MGB monocoque, engineers installed a new front suspension with longitudinal torsion bars to accommodate a 2912-cc straight six. Though similar in size and output to the 3.0-liter Healey engine, this ohv unit was completely different: shorter, a little lighter, and allegedly more efficient.

BMC, then reorganizing its passenger cars as well, had devised it for transverse installation in the new front-drive Austin 3-Litre sedan, revealed along with the MGC, which used a tuned version. Still, this was a fairly long power unit and thus a tight fit in the B’s engine bay, and it made the C quite nose-heavy. Predictably, the C got the new all-synchromesh gearbox, heavy-duty Salisbury rear axle, and new automatic transmission option developed for the Mark II MGB, also released at this time.

The 2912-cc straight six was a tight fit in the MGC's engine bay.

Outside, there was little to distinguish the C from the then five-year-old B. Even their badges looked alike. The newcomer’s most obvious differences were 15-inch wheels (versus 14s) and hood bulges to clear the bulkier six-cylinder engine. Like the B, the C was offered as a roadster and GT hatchback coupe.

The MGC got off to a bad start with the British press, which judged its handling inferior to the big Healey’s, its steering too heavy, and its general feel sluggish. It had, wrote one, lost “the Abingdon touch.” Sales were also sluggish as BMC merged with Leyland Motors to form British Leyland, then picked up to about the same rate as that of the last Healeys. But the MGC never quite recovered from the press drubbing and disappeared after just two years.

Initially, final-drive gearing was perhaps too tall and the gearbox ratios on non-overdrive models weren’t as sporting as they might have been. But BMC changed this on the ‘69s, which felt livelier but weren’t actually faster. (One problem: a conspicuous lack of torque.) At the same time, reclining seats were standardized and pretty “Rostyle” wheels became an option to plain disc rims.

But the public never seemed to accept the C after its 1968 “character assassination.” The last one was completed in September 1969, just 26 months after quantity production had begun. Of the 8999 built, about half (4256) were sold in the U.S.


The MG RV8 put fresh and vintage MGB bodywork over a ’60s-era MG chassis.

The “R” in the MG RV8 stands for Rover, and thereby hangs this tale. In 1968, when the MGB was but six years old, its maker, British Motor Corporation, combined with Leyland Motors, home of Triumph and Rover, to form British Leyland. BL could do little right. By the mid-1980s, a string of unhappy cars and crippling sales losses had reduced a once-broad stable of makes to just Austin and Rover. By 1990, only Rover was left.

The beloved MGB was then a decade dead, but demand for replacement parts remained strong. One day, two British enthusiasts stumbled upon 1000 tons of original B tooling, including jigs and dies for making complete bodies. Rover was only too happy to sell, so the pair bought the lot and founded British Motor Heritage to serve dedicated B-keepers under Rover auspices. Meanwhile, the success of Mazda’s Miata had Rover pondering a return to sports cars. With retro roadsters hot and BMH established, a revived MGB was a natural.



Enter the RV8, in 1993, as an updated open version of the 1973-76 B GT V8, a low-volume Britain-only coupe model. Although the V-8 here was a 3.9-liter from the posh Range Rover, it stemmed from the same all-aluminum ohv Buick design that Rover acquired in the late ’60s.

Restyled body panels (save doors and trunklid) freshened the traditional B appearance, but the RV8 chassis was pure 1962 except for telescopic shocks replacing antique lever-arm dampers. Wheels, tires, and dash also were modernized, and the cockpit was swathed in leather and walnut worthy of a Jaguar. Unfortunately, expected 1990s features such as power assists and anti-lock brakes were conspicuously absent considering the stiff $40,000 price.

The RV8 cabin got more leather and wood than any MG ever had.

Predictably, familiar old B failings were now present in the fastest production MG ever. Autocar magazine was typical of the British press in calling the RV8 “an anachronism, albeit a strangely likeable one...easy to enjoy and even fun to drive in an agricultural, vintage manner.” But good value? Hardly.

Still, Rover had no trouble selling the modest 2000 RV8s it planned to build; interestingly, about half went to Japan. All had righthand drive, and this, plus the lack of several required safety items, precluded U.S. sales. The MG sports car had risen from the grave, and there was more to come.


The MGF car
The MGF, an MG for the 1990s and beyond, has the same two-seat roadster spirit as its best predecessors.

Many cars claim to be “all-new,” but the MGF truly is. Aside from two seats, folding top, and the hallowed octagon badge, it owes nothing to past MGs. It’s a sports car of and for the ’90s -- and one of the best around. Given MG’s sad state in the ’80s, the F is both a welcome rebirth and an unexpected revolution.

It originated five years after the final B, when MG limped along with just a few sporty sedans based on humdrum Austins. But Austin Rover hadn’t abandoned “real” MGs, and hinted as much with the 1985 EX-E concept, a stylish mid-engine coupe. Four years later, a new sporting MG dubbed “Phoenix Revival” was underway at the successor Rover Group.

Though this program considered front- and rear-drive layouts, mid-engine/rear drive was finally chosen for reasons of handling and image, with Toyota’s then-new MR2 the benchmark for performance, packaging, and refinement. Design work was mostly finished by 1992, when Rover was bought by prosperous BMW, thus assuring the new model’s future.

The result was a smooth compact convertible with an exceptionally rigid unit-steel structure and MG’s first all-independent suspension. The latter was effective but not entirely new, being evolved from the novel “Hydragas” spring/damper system pioneered by the hapless mid-’70s Austin Allegro sedan. Sideways behind the cockpit sat an upsized version of Rover’s new K-series passenger-car engine, an advanced all-alloy four with twincams and 16 valves.

The MGF’s styling is chunky, but packages comfortable seating for two and generous cargo room.

Unique to the F was sophisticated variable valve timing that improved horsepower from 120 on the base model to 145 for the uplevel VVC edition, which also boasted a nifty new electric power steering system (optional on the base model).

With performance, comfort, and quality virtually unknown to MGs, the F met with instant wide acclaim. Predictably perhaps, Britain’s Car magazine picked the VVC over the new BMW Z3 and front-drive Alfa Spider in a May 1996 showdown: “The MG gleefully attacks bends, tires biting, engine sizzling...[It] not only does the job better than its rivals here, it has actually redefined the job. It does brilliantly what a sports car should do.”

Alas, the F won’t do anything in America, locked out by U.S. safety and emissions rules. Happily, Rover is already working on the next sporting MG, which will come Stateside and could be even better than the F.

To learn more about MG and other sports cars, see: