MG "F" - The Dilemma

In the May edition of EM I wrote an article extolling the virtues of the MGC. How come then that I now also own an MGF? Like many MG enthusiasts I have had a ‘remote’ interest in the ‘F’ since its introduction in late 1995. However, I have never had the intention of actually buying one. I drove a VVC in 1989, it was a hot day and with the top down I remember enjoying the experience. Getting back into my MGC Roadster I knew I owned the more enjoyable car, but was I just biased thinking that? That was my only ‘flirtation’ with an ‘F’ until February this year when I unexpectedly became an ‘F’ owner.

 

The ‘F’ has now been around for 11 years, much has been written about the car and opinions have been formed based on its reputation; because of the well-known problems many prospective owners are wary.  Also, dare I say ‘F’ Owners are considered to be on the fringe of the MG fraternity?  This reputation, amongst other things, has led me not to seriously consider becoming an ‘F’ owner.  The car’s problems are well documented.  Number one on the list is, of course, the ‘K’ series engine fitted to the ‘F’.  There are not many ‘Fs’ that have clocked 40,000 miles with the original head gasket.  The Rover Centre in St Albans tells me that they change at least three ‘K’ series head gaskets per week!  In contrast a Mazda specialist would probably change a head gasket every five years.  The head gasket is clearly a problem and a cause for anxiety for the ‘F’ owner.  The problem has been tackled over the years and the current up-rated multi-layer gasket and steel dowels go some way to solving the problem, but even so with this modification the ‘K’ series gaskets can, and do, still fail.  Another problem with which early ‘Fs’ suffer is an intermittent petrol smell.  This is borne out by the numerous references and solutions offered on ‘Google’.  Type in ‘MGF Petrol Smell’ and you will be amazed at the response!

 

What I have written so far is based on hearsay and not personal experience – well not until February this year when I became the owner of an MGF.

 

Why did I eventually succumb and buy an MGF?  Certain factors are implicit and compared to a ‘B’ or ‘C’ it has to be accepted that the ‘F’, having benefited from 40 years development, is the superior car in a multitude of ways.  For example, most have power steering, ABS brakes, air bags, electric windows and of, course, the hood can be erected in seconds. You may argue ‘if  that’s what you want why not buy an Astra convertible and also have reliability’?  But you wouldn’t have an MG and in my view the ‘F’ is the prettiest small sports car ever made and at the current silly prices is an absolute bargain.

 

I am an opportunist, never able to turn down a bargain and when the opportunity to buy an ‘F’ for silly money was presented to me in February this year I could not resist.  My nephew had purchased the ‘F’ new for his wife in early 1996.  I had seen the car at family gatherings but had never actually looked at it closely.  On a visit to my house earlier this year my nephew mentioned that he had bought his wife a BMW X5 and that her ‘F’ was sitting in his garage in a sorry state.  He just wanted it out of the way.  “How come”, I asked?  Last year he had taken a 3-month break and back-packed around the world and on his return in August 2005 had been asked by his wife

 

 

 

2

 

to ‘re-commission’ the ‘F’.  This he did, and having started the engine he forgetfully left it running for several hours.  The outcome was predictable and inevitable!   

The engine seized and dropped a valve, the rocker box cover and inlet manifold melted and with the sump full of emulsified sludge the engine was clearly beyond economical repair.  We negotiated a price and settled on £1000.  At this price I was convinced I could not go wrong.   Was this a spontaneous and foolhardy decision as I had not at this point closely inspected the car?  After sleeping on the deal I had reservations.  Did I really want it?  Had I acted too hastily?  What would I actually do with the car?  The car was duly transported from Southport to my house in Wheathampstead (Herts) where I anxiously made my first detailed inspection.  Firstly, I noted that it sported a factory hardtop (E-Bay value £500) had four new tyres, unmarked grey leather seats and had every conceivable extra, including twin air bags, power steering and ABS and with only 34,000 trouble free miles on the clock.  The colour was not to my liking (Amaranth) but my wife loved it!  The paintwork was  unmarked and the wheels had not been scuffed or kerbed.  Even the hood and rear window were ‘as new’.  My concern turned to elation as I had, in effect, bought a top-of-the-range MGF for £500, albeit with a blown-up engine!  That had to be a bargain!

 

I intended to purchase a reconditioned or second-hand engine and do the transplant myself but my wife was not too happy with me crawling under the car at my advanced years.  I arranged for the Rover Centre in St Albans to do the work for me.  A 30,000 mile engine was located and fitted.  Prior to fitting, the head gasket was replaced along with the cam belt, tensioner and water pump.  The water pipes and all other pipes were also replaced.  Thanks go to Andrew at the Rover Centre, St Albans, for courteous expert advice and service.  I can confidently recommend this company to all MGF Owners.

 

The car had now cost me under £3000 and on collection (after the repair work) I was anxious to test drive my new acquisition.  Would I like it?  I was completely taken by surprise at how well the car drove – it felt tight, no rattles and was a delight to drive.  Do I like it?  I absolutely love it!  At current prices a good and well sorted MGF is the best pound/smile on the market today.  If you decide to take the plunge and buy an ‘F’ be cautious, ensure that the engine work has been recently done and is well documented.  Have the cooling system components checked and replaced if found necessary.  If there is no evidence of this essential work having been undertaken on any prospective MGF purchase, allow £1500 for this work to be done. Incidentally, Andrew at the Rover Centre told me that the ‘K’ series engine will do high mileage and that he regularly changes head gaskets on engines that have done in excess of 100,000 miles with no sign of wear. Buy a ‘sorted F’ and you will love it. 

 

Is it better than a ‘C’?  ‘Better’ is possibly the wrong question as opinion is subjective.  The ‘F’ has benefited from 40 years development and this is very apparent when driving the car. The ‘C’, on the other hand, is relaxing to drive with remarkable torque and high speed cruising ability. For example, for any given speed, there is a feeling that I am travelling far faster when driving the ’F’.  I enjoy both cars

 

3

 

 

and will say no more except that I initially insured my ‘F’ for 1500 miles per year, have now increased it to 3000.  I will possibly have to increase this even more!!

 

Is there a petrol smell?  Answer – occasionally.  Strangely this is not consistent and the source of the problem is very hard to detect but can be significantly reduced by

dropping a couple of  Magic Tree air fresheners in the petrol tank compartment. I did this on the advice of my mate Steve and it works!!!  This winter I will probably fit a new petrol tank as porous petrol tanks on early MGFs are a known problem. For peace of mind I will also design and fit an alarm system to detect if the coolant level drops significantly, if undetected leading to engine  failure. This ‘early warning system’, in conjunction with AA recovery, could well save major engine damage.

 

I have now joined the MGF fraternity and yes I do acknowledge all MG owners when driving the ‘F’ even though I invariably get bewildered looks in return from other ‘bemused ‘F’ drivers!!  I’m confident that if I frequently check the water level and regularly have the car serviced I will enjoy many miles of pleasurable motoring.  I have not forsaken the ‘C’ for I still think it is the best MG ever and if I had to sell one of the cars it would be the ’F’.

 

Did I do the right thing? How and when will I drive the ‘F’?  I do in excess of 4000 MG miles per year and enjoy every one of them. Every year I go to the Le Mans 24 hr race and for this event I would clearly take the ‘C’.  But attending a family ‘do’ in the winter months the ‘F’, complete with hardtop, would be the choice.  So both cars will be used extensively. Both cars have their virtues and downsides, for example I can maintain the ‘C’ with no more than a few spanners, a grease gun and possibly a strobe light. The ‘F’ is a different thing altogether and the major service and repairs are best left to an expert with relevant expertise and diagnostic equipment. This of course will incur additional expense.

 

In conclusion, (I can now speak from experience) it is possible to own a ‘sorted’ ‘F’ for well under £4000. Add one to your ‘stable’, maintain it and add a new dimension to your MG experience. Just think also that the price you would have paid is possibly less than you would lose in the first few months on a new Hatchback!!

 

 

 

ANDY CAPY   (Telephone No 01582 832305)

1 August 2006

 

See Our Accessories Page for a range extras for classic MG's