In a big country
The MGF is not sold in the USA, but that didn't
stop Beth Straw from taking one there for a year
MG would be welcomed back to America tomorrow; make that this afternoon! I speak from personal experience of having owned and driven an MGF in the USA from September 1996 to July 1997. Nearly a year of pure pleasure. It was possible by two things. First, by NATO posting Derek, my Royal Air Force husband, to the impressively named 'Headquarters, Supreme Allied Command, Atlantic' in Norfolk, Virginia (right). And second, by the Status of Forces Agreement. The latter allows certain privileges to visiting forces personnel, among which is the ability to run a car which does not comply with American standards of exhaust emission (not that the 'F would necessarily fail to comply, rather that Rover has not submitted it to test). The deal was that we could keep the car there for no longer than one year, and that we subsequently return it to the UK.
The MG created quite a stir wherever we went. We had two distinct sets of fans: those who knew the marque, had previously owned - or currently own - an MG; and those who knew nothing about MG or its history - but know a blinding good car when they see one.
In the first category were people who had previously owned an MG, had very happy memories of the marque but could no longer run an older car, and did not realise that there were newer models. These people almost cried with frustration when we told them that the car was not going to be sold in the USA. We had offers of thousands of signatures on petitions if we could only get this changed. Then there were those people who currently run an MG, had heard about the 'F; knew it was not going to be available to them; were angry about it; but now having seen the car in the flesh they were both angry and also very upset. So near, so beautiful, but oh so far away!
For those people, our car was a mixture of delight and vexation. Delight in its beauty; vexation at the inability to buy one. At our local MG club - Tidewater MG Classics - we were warmly welcomed and significantly increased the turnout at meetings. This excellent club - and others who heard about us - really feel let down that a marque to which they devote such tender loving care repays them by designing a dream, then denying its fulfillment to them.
At car shows we were invariably the star attraction. Hood and trunk (bonnet and boot to you and me) were up and down like yoyos, the engine was regarded with awe ('shucks, no engine in the front, no engine in the back: do you pedal the darn thang') while the shape won universal admiration. So much so, we were advised to buy shares in Kodak because so many films were being sold to fans eager to record our presence for posterity.
We got generous invitations to some special events where we were always the number one hit. At a show in Richmond, Virginia we were charged entry because the car was not recognised as being British; but then again it was the Triumph British Car Show! At Statesville North Carolina, we were entered in a class which we won, and also got the long distance award on the basis that it's a long way from the UK Rover factory to North Carolina! We also had to be taken away on a breakdown truck (not for fault with the car), but that's another story. All I will say is that the lock on the boot is certainly tamper-proof, and we now always carry a spare key!
At the Boston MG "T" register show last June we were most generously hosted: given a commemorative cup, a beautiful Cecil Kimber teddy bear made by a member; and our car was admired, loved and coveted by all.
The nearest we got to adverse comment was when someone dryly observed, during an otherwise wonderful day at Colonial Williamsburg, that it was just as well there were no Sterling parts in this one otherwise it would never journey down the road, never mind all the way from England.
The other audience - those who absolutely had no idea what an MG was - were equally appreciative of the car. I was followed several times by handsome young men; and me a lady of a certain age! Wherever we parked there was invariably a crowd around the car when we returned. We were accosted many times while driving along by people shouting "love your car"; "what is it, and where can I get one?". I was stopped by a policeman in Virginia Beach, not for any traffic violation but simply because he wanted to get a better look at the 'F.
It is impossible in a short article to recount the endless experiences we had and the overwhelming response by Americans to this incredible car. The lady who accompanied me to Richmond was so overwhelmed by the enormous interest shown by passing motorists during the journey that she wrote to a local newspaper. The paper subsequently ran an article on us.
Initially, we believed we could not exceed 3000 miles because of the lack of service facilities. But an admiring fan suggested that we contacted the local Land Rover garage. After some confusion over oil filters, we got the car serviced and were able to continue America's love affair with our MGF. The garage in Virginia Beach was wonderful; its delightful service manager was thrilled to bits with the car; the staff were agog; and they are convinced they could sell this brand new MG in its thousands. Rover, are you listening?
MG WORLD June/July 1998
Note: This article was written by Beth Straw and appeared in the June/July 1998 issue of MG WORLD magazine, and is reproduced here with permission. To see more pictures of this MGF, go to the TMGC Photo Gallery Archive.