MGF MG TF history

27 Nov 2014 | Author: | Comments Off on MGF MG TF history

The cars. MGF/TF development history

The MGF was an appealing mid-engined sports car that showed genuine engineering flair when it was launched #8211; thanks to the use of VVC and Hydragas suspension.

Adding icing on the cake, it was developed on a shoestring, used countless carry-over parts from the Metro and 200/400 range, and it proved a commercial success. So much so, that the Chinese company, Nanjing, decided that re-launching it in 2007 was too good an opportunity to miss.

MG comes full circle

DURING the 1980s Austin Rover was very keen to see that the MG marque would not drop out of the public eye. With the plethora of saloon models and the active involvement in motor sport, there was no way that the company would allow customers to forget! Of course, the only problem with this plan was that in the mind’s eye of the average customer, MG spelled convertible – and no way would tuned saloons with red seat belts fit the bill.

Austin Rover was working on proper MGs, and had been since 1984 with the AR6-based MG Midget, but of course, these early projects were well out of the public eye. What the company really needed was a way of announcing to the world, their sporting intent for the marque.

MG EX-E: re-invigorating the marque

That is where the MG EX-E came into the story.

In the closing months of 1984, the decision was made to build an all-out MG sports car prototype with the sole intention of being displayed at international motor shows and reminding people that Austin Rover were a forward thinking company with ambitious plans for MG. The new concept would also give the company the opportunity to show off to the world what BL Technology had achieved in terms of construction techniques and aerodynamic packaging. The styling team, newly headed by Roy Axe were also given the chance to flex their creative muscles; Gordon Sked and Gerry McGovern would both very publicly make their names because of the success of the new MG.

It was Austin Rover’s chairman and chief executive Harold Musgrove that ensured that the car was premiered at an international motor show rather than Birmingham – his reasoning being that Austin Rover needed to re-establish their image on the continent – and so it was: on September the 14th 1985, a raiding party from the Midlands stormed the Frankfurt motor show with the startling MG EX-E.

What set the MG EX-E as being particularly significant was the fact that the Canley styling studio had moved the MG name forward in one massive step – the styling was radical; being ahead of its time featuring a cab-forward stance and like the ECV3 before it – a drag co-efficient of 0.24Cd. The MG EX-E also boasted a structure design that was similar to the ECV3, comprising of a bonded aluminium skeleton clothed with plastic external panels.

The concept allowed for a very lightweight car, but it was extremely expensive to employ in a production car – and the reticence of the company to commit to this in a production car was echoed in Gordon Sked ’s comments: #8216;It is a structure we are currently proving and clearly we wouldn’t risk the car if we weren’t confident in the system.#8217; This slightly evasive comment was somewhat at variance with the motor show PR-speak, which hinted at a production run. Sked again: #8216;We have put a lot of thought into how it might be put into production#8217;.

The engine dipped into the more exotic end of the Austin Rover Group’s parts bin: interestingly, the decision was to use the compact and light MG Metro 6R4 engine in a fairly mild state of tune (250bhp) hooked up to its four wheel drive transmission.

The hi-tech theme was carried into the interior as well. Much thought was expended on how to optimise dashboard ergonomics, and the solution that the Canley design team was certainly startling. The main instrument cluster was presented in digital form (as was the fashion in the mid-1980s) using fluorescent red LEDs.

Above that – a head up display was projected onto the windscreen, which would show engine revs under hard acceleration and road speed when cruising – the idea being that only relevant information was relayed to the driver. Austin Rover even gave this system a remarkably self-important name: the “Reflex information monitor”. Despite the title, the system certainly had benefits – especially so, considering priority warnings would also be relayed in the same way.

All in all, the MG EX-E looked like a remarkably exciting concept car – and the frisson of excitement generated by the merest possibility of its production certainly had the desired effect of boosting the image of MG no end. Roy Axe certainly received much praise for the design his studio had produced, and he summed up his pride in the EX-E by saying, #8216;it’s nice to see a real sports car#8217;.

Once the glare of the motor show lights had faded – work continued back in Cowley on a road going MG convertible – and one thing was for sure; it would not resemble the MG EX-E in any meaningful way.

F Takes a bow#8230;


Gerry McGovern#39;s MG F-16 was the first MG project to follow hard on the heels of the EX-E. This delicious convertible looked reasonably similar to the eventual MGF but it was actually front engined and front wheel drive. The body formed the basis of the later PR1, PR2 and PR3 prototypes – and therefore, can be considered the point at which the #39;F was born.

Between 1985 and 1989, work on a neat little front-engined two-seater convertible, called the MG F-16 showed that many within Austin Rover were keen on re-entering the sports car market. The reasoning behind the car was simple: MG as a marque was ripe to be exploited, and what better way to do it than to develop a new sports car; something to finally replace the MGB?

Although, the F-16 was never much more than a rolling design study, fashioned in the sidelines, it certainly softened management#8217;s attitude to the idea of a new MG-badged sports car. All the designers were extremely keen to follow through the concept; especially their director #8211; Roy Axe.

The background to why the development of this car never really gained momentum throughout the last half of the decade can be put down to uncertainty over the company’s finances, the failure of the mid-range saloons on the market – and the government’s keenness to farm out Rover to private sector. The new MG convertible was not regarded a priority in Rover’s forward planning and although the F16 was advanced enough to have been mocked-up as a full-size prototype, management approval was not forthcoming.

However, the idea never went away and given the right climate, a 2-seater MG convertible would make a return. After the sale of the Rover Group to British Aerospace in 1988, the climate began to look more favourable, and many within the design team did believe that the F-16 concept could make the leap to production reality. in 1989, there was finally light at the end of the tunnel and thanks to the improved financial position of Rover, the MG idea began to gain momentum right the way through the company. The pivotal moment in the gestation of the MG F came later in 1989, when the Japanese launched their modern interpretation of the Lotus Elan.

Upon seeing the Mazda MX-5 for the first time, Gordon Sked knew that the designers had been right all along in pushing for a new MG convertible. It was obviously a bitter-sweet moment for him, and he has been quoted as saying that the MX-5#8242;s announcement made him feel like crying.

There was an obvious reason for this #8211; work on the F-16 had been underway at Canley since 1985 #8211; and had the company given the project its blessing, they could have had the car (or a derivative of it) on the market before the Mazda ever saw the light of day. Thanks to the MX-5, the world had now changed #8211; for the better #8211; but it meant that any manufacturer who launched a mass-market 2-seater convertible subsequently would undoubtedly be accused of jumping on the MX-5 bandwagon.

However, the MX-5 had appeared and following the critical acclaim it received in the press, Rover management had no doubt that they needed to produce an MG to compete in the same market. The Mazda#8217;s sales success in the months that followed backed that up#8230; The MG was on!

From concept to reality

The final piece of the MG F jigsaw was the formation of Rover Special Products. The raison d#8217;etre of this division was simply to take on Rover Group projects that were considered too marginal for the mainstream design teams to consider working on.

RSP was manna from heaven for the new MG, simply because it allowed for much in the way of flexibility during the design process without actually taking too many resources away from the mainstream design team, who were busy working on upcoming Rover saloons and hatchbacks. As a result, the project was given some direction, and a commitment to production looked much more likely. An overall designation of, #8216;Phoenix Revival#8217; (or #8216;Phoenix Route#8217;) was assigned, and in an exercise to work out what was the best route to follow in devising the new car, three subsequent MG convertible prototypes would be given PR designations.

Under the direction of Rover Special Projects division, the PR3 project was designed and developed by Steve Harper, during the first months of 1991. The design theme, inspired by the TWR XJR15, was first sketched in the January of 1991, and then developed over the next month, in which time, the distinct shape of the MG F was soon established. Full size clay modelling began in March, and the ‘red car’ was first shown to Rover management that same month.

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