What is it like to own and drive an obsolete car?
Those who know me, know that I’m not one to change cars regularly so I spend most of my time driving cars that may no longer be in production so when Mike asked me to write an article on what it is like to own and drive an obsolete car, I knew it wouldn’t be a problem.
That is until I considered which one of the Warner automotive household to use as my subject matter. As a proud Brit, I refuse to buy anything that does not roll off a British production line and none of our current three rides are still in production in the format that we own. My daily drive being a Java Black 2006 Land Rover Freelander TD4 HSE 3 door, Mrs W’s being a silver 2001 Mini Cooper with black roof and matching bonnet stripes and my long term play thing a British Racing Green MGF which carries the chassis number 000265, just 14 cars after the first one off the line, a Flame Red model which still sits in the Visitor Centre at MG Motor UK’s Longbridge HQ.
Out of the three cars I decided that successors to the Mini and Land Rover were still very much alive so the MG would be the most suitable for this exercise. The MGF was produced between 1995 and 2002 and it’s successor the TF carried on between 2002 and 2005 with a further just over a 1,000 cars being built from 2008 to 2010 under the new Chinese owners of the brand. After that last white car with twist of pepper wheels left the line, MG’s priorities switched to building a volume range of cars and a new sports car still seems a long way off.
So what is it like living with a car that will celebrate it’s twentieth birthday next year? I’ve owned this car since 2001 and I have to say that it still looks as fresh as it did the day I bought it. Although it has had a few accident repairs during that time thanks to 1) a minor lapse of concentration by Mrs W in her old ZT as she followed me home one day, 2) an early morning, near life ending trashing of half the offside by a milkman reversing down our street at an ungodly hour without looking properly and 3) an unfortunate incident when a gentleman in a Rover 45 pulled out of a side road without spotting her glistening lines approaching in bright sunlight. Each time we’ve found a way of putting her back together again but she retains all of her original powertrain which runs as sweetly after all this time and over 130,000 miles as it did the day I took her home for the first time.
Other than the customary K’series cylinder head gasket failure, the car has required nothing more than normal routine servicing and repairs over my years of ownership, even if she has been treated to a few optional extras to personalise the car to suit my tastes – a traditional part of MG ownership that spans the years of MG motor car production since the early cars of the 1920’s, but which became a cottage industry in the 1980’s with the MG-B and Midget.
So what is it like to drive and own an MGF now? One of the first things you notice is how much many of the other cars on the road have grown in size since she was a current model. Most small hatchbacks and medium sized family cars are now considerably bigger than they were back in 1995 and there are now many more even larger cars such as the new generation of MPV and SUV range of cars that are such a common sight. The little MG still feels fresh and provides the same pleasure she did when I first got her. Although dwarfed by so many other cars, the shape of the F has stood the test of time well, managing to look like a timeless classic without looking ancient or out of place – quite an achievement for a car that is now nearly two decades old.
Parts availability remains very good thanks to the work done by former MG Rover Group in house parts division, XPart. There are now also a number of specialist breakers who dismantle accident damaged cars, providing a valuable source of affordable parts and some of the odd bits of trim or panel work that may not be so commonly available now. Most routine servicing and repairs can be undertaken easily by your local professional garage and there are a number of very proactive specialists around the country that maintain MG Rover T4 diagnostic equipment to provide a higher level of TLC when required.
So what are my plans for the future with this little car? As they become rarer on our byways and highways, I like to think I am preserving a little piece of British automotive history which is living proof of what can be delivered by clever homegrown designers and engineers without huge budgets. One thing I will be saving up for to keep her fresh is a conversion to the later MEMS3 ECU which will enable a consolidation of some of the performance enhancements I have added over the years whilst enabling more adjustment of the engine tune to provide refined power delivery and better management of the emissions. This should make her fit for whatever the next ten or twenty years have to throw at her and who knows, when the little MG celebrates 40 years of age as I did earlier this year, the automotive landscape may well look very different from now with electronic hybrid power trains likely to become the mainstream means of propulsion.
However, one final thought – do I consider the little car with a big character to be obsolete? Google describes obsolete as being ‘no longer produced or used and out of date’. Whilst as I mentioned earlier, these cars are no longer produced, I still very much enjoy using and driving her and don’t consider her to be at all out of date. Don’t take my word for it though, if you have not yet sampled the delights of MGF motoring, go and try it today!
I agree – it still is a nice looking little sports car and despite its age it still looks modern and would fit in well amongst many other newer cars.
Sadly my driving experience of it was not so positive, I found it far too cramped inside, quite noisy at speed and the engine had to be revved sky high to get any serious power for overtaking which often meant dropping two gears when overtaking on country roads. Thankfully I only had to drive it for a week while a colleague of mine borrowed my company Peugeot 405GTX estate to move house. My colleague reluctantly handed me my car back because he had found as I had that the 405 was a superb handling car and in the 2.0 petrol GTX trim was a very quick car too, easily being able to outpace the little MGF while being quieter, roomier and more comfortable! 🙂
I was surprised that the MGF was not quicker because I also had a much heavier Freelander 1 with the same engine albeit in a different state of tune and while the Freelander also suffered the exact same thing of requiring excessive revs to go anywhere it did move quite quickly for its bulk once it got going. I guess I’m just a sucker for diesels having grown up driving diesel Land Rovers and I’m too used to having all the torque at a little over idle.
PS. My wifes Series Land Rover is 30 years old and she is still using that as a daily driver and to be honest, while it has had some issues, in general it has been more reliable and much cheaper to run than my modern Mazda pickup over the last few years so I would not be put off by the age of a vehicle. With classics like the MG’s, Land Rovers, Morris Minors and VW Beetles the parts supply is still very good too.