1996 MGF VVC
Early MGFs have surely become some of the most collectable, with prices beginning to rise. For MGF and TF specialist David Koskela, the first of MG Rover’s open top sports cars hits a sweet spot, particularly in red.
On the up
WORDS AND PHOTOS: JIM JUPP
Whenever I write about a Mk1 MGF it brings back both good and bad memories, having owned a tweaked MPi one for seven years. David Koskela, of Church Square Autos, is really rubbing salt into the wound today as I get to drive this immaculate VVC example to our photoshoot location. I’m grateful for the chance, reminding myself what I’m missing. It is such a different experience, compared to my tin-top daily, or my shed of an old F, which was also an N-reg. After retrieving my hat, to protect my baldy head from the sun’s unforgiving radiation, I make sure to show myself the boot key before closing the lid. A habit all F and TF owners ignore at their peril.
This particular MGF may have been built in the first year of production but it couldn’t be more different from my Bagpuss F, which was always mouldy and damp. Its smooth handling stands out first, as I was fond of retaining the slammed look on mine, with its dilapidated Hydragas adjusted to a lower setting. Aggressive speed bumps don’t result in chipped teeth.
I WISH THE LATER ONES HAD PAINT LIKE THIS UNDER THE BONNET BUT THEY DIDN’T.
Mine had come with the very period-designed black/green trim, of which I’m not a fan, as I’m sure some readers aren’t either, so I changed to TF cloth seats liberated from a scrapyard TF. This beauty’s interior couldn’t be further from it, with its mainly leather red trim and small areas of ‘Red Fusion’ patterned fabric for the occupant’s lower back and posterior. “A lot of people would have changed the seats, putting in leather. I end up taking that off and putting it back to standard,” comments David. The mixture of leatherand cloth makes practical sense, with metal studs and buttons causing no end of stress as people clamber in and out of the seat.
HAVING SEEN AN MGF IN A LONDON SHOWROOM, THE DAY MG ROVER ANNOUNCED IT, THEY PUT THE ORDER IN BUT THEY DIDN’T GET THE MGF UNTIL MAY THE FOLLOWING YEAR.
Some of David’s other private collection Fs have the other variation, such as N802 SVC, which we featured back in November 2020. “That has the same pattern but is full cloth. This being red with the leather and cloth is quite rare. Most came with the black and green cloth interior, which is dull in comparison.”
Another joy I found with this MGF is you can actually have a conversation without shouting. OK, with the hood down there will be a level of noise, but the factory-fitted wind stopper works very well. It does concern me that, having owned an F with a crackling, banging and popping exhaust, the lack of a screaming exhaust note is actually pleasant. Maybe it’s the tinnitus.
This isn’t the first time David has taken ownership of this particular F, having originally bought it in 2019, as he explains. “I bought it directly from the first owner, who found me. He’d kept loads of photographs and writeups and liked Church Square Autos and decided, when it came to selling the F, he’d get in contact with me first, which he did.”
After discussing the car with the original owner David arranged collection. “I went by train up to Oxford. The couple that owned it had a lovely old house and there she was sitting in her own double garage. Hard top hanging from the ceiling. She had just clocked up 10,000 miles. The F was their run-around but they just weren’t using it. It was time to move it on.” Before moving to the Cotswolds, the couple had been based in the capital. “Having seen an MGF in a London showroom, the day Rover Group announced it, they put the order in but they didn’t get the MGF until May the following year. I said to him: ‘you do realise it probably came in and went out as you weren’t pestering them’.
Dealerships were earning £2,000 premium on each car. The chassis number is 7079 on this particular F, so 6,700ish into the production run. It’s still quite low.”
As the original order form confirms, a lot of the optional boxes were ticked, which may explain the delays. “It had a lot, such as mud flaps, hard top, wind deflector, passenger air bag and fire extinguisher, which is still down there in the passenger seat well.”
With lots of options added, the final bill came in at £22,637.77. It’s amazing looking at the difference in price, during the production run, as David comments: “The Chinese cars were selling for 16 grand, all those years later.”
One item not on the options list is the steering wheel, which is trimmed in red leather to the sides. “That is definitely an extra as they are normally just black. The first owner must have had that fitted.”
The first owner created his own little archive for the early Fs and kept an early price list, dated 23rd Sept ’95, which is quite insightful, with a passenger’s air bag setting you back £290 and the hardtop £846. “MG Rover did all the hardtops black, to match the black surround of the front screen, seen on the earlier cars. Only on later MGF did they start going into colour-coded hardtops, from the facelift model, and the matching body-coloured window surround. The revised F also had different seats and centre console.” Being a VVC model this MGF came with ABS as standard, as was EPAS, as parking in the big smoke would be a chore without it.
David sold the F to fellow MGOC member Jon Glover, who owned this car for several years. “It has to be the longest Jon has kept a car. He decided to sell it back to me after covering 2,000 miles. So, it’s up to 12,580 miles now.” Since its return it has needed nothing mechanically but, before Jon had taken ownership, a few important jobs were carried out. “It’s had a cam belt, due to the age. I suspect it could have the original head gasket.”
The F’s original number plate has been changed to a private number, as David felt it was nondescript. “Technically, I’m the third owner. It’s another one where I’ve gone: ‘I’m not going to sell it’. I’ve got a few other early ones too and they are all red,” Laughs David. This is a recurring theme but space isn’t unlimited, sadly.
Popping the front bonnet, the spare wheel storage area shines. “It isimmaculate. It’s one of the good things about the early cars: the paint is better. Jon did get Runner-up at Gaydon in the ‘Pride of ownership’ at MG25.” It’s interesting to see there is just no corrosion around prone areas such as the ABS module and brake lines. “I wish the later ones had paint like this under the bonnet but they didn’t. Maybe why people don’t open their bonnets at shows,” comments David.
He brings up an interesting point about any desirable low-millage MG. “I’ve been offered another MGF, in red, with 9,000 miles on it, but is that useable? With over 12,000 I think this is usable but under 10, what do you do? Do you just trailer it to a few shows? Do you let it go over the 10,000? It’s an awkward one.” If you sell such a collectable car, is only a collector going to be interested or maybe a concours enthusiast? “It would be a great one for my lottery win museum. All red and not one Ferrari,” laughs David.
The soft top’s tonneau cover is the revised version, with the addition of the flap which is held in place by the leading edge of the boot lid, which you have to fit with care, so as not todistort the lid. “I suspect MG Rover had a lot of complaints about the earlier ones, saying it was a tonneau cover you couldn’t use. On early covers you’d spend ages tucking the back edge in.” For a car of this age, even with the low mileage, tyres have been changed to Continentals. “I think that was from the original owner. It was regularly serviced when he had it, even without the mileage.”
Many may feel the temptation to plonk a natty Bluetooth-enabled stereo into the centre console but not in this case. This one retains its MG Rover tape deck with optional CD changer remote (not fitted). And the anti-theft removable panel still has its carry case. It seems strange today, as your catalytic converter is worth more than the stereo head unit. “Everything is how we like it,” comments David. One modification, on which he is very keen, is the Mike Satur seatbelt tidy, mounted to the seat headrests.
Flame Red is a cracking colour but we wondered if the red hue had any issues “I don’t think this MGF has sat in the sun much. They can suffer on the door handles, which can fade quicker than the paint on the metal. On the plastic components the pigmentation can go as it seems to change quicker on plastic than it does on metal.”
For the time being, this gem of an F resides alongside David’s other cherished red Fs. We look forward to the grand opening of the museum, once lady luck gets her act together.
Effective factory wind deflector; great if you want to hear the stereo. This steering wheel, with its colour coded sides, is a later addition.
Factory fogs were another option selected from the early pricelist.
Under the bonnet this F is immaculate, with silverware to prove it. Complete factory toolkit, stored in the boot.
...HAVING OWNED AN F WITH A CRACKLING, BANGING AND POPPING EXHAUST, THE LACK OF A SCREAMING EXHAUST NOTE IS ACTUALLY PLEASANT.
Factory exhaust may not pop and bang but is that a bad thing? Leather and cloth ‘Red Fusion’ is a rare option. Seatbelt tidy, supplied by Mike Satur.