MGY (50th Anniversary)
Octagon Newsletter … February 1999
By Alan Fraser
We have had a wonderful time celebrating the 50th anniversary of the MG TC and look forward next year to doing the same for the MG TD but, as usual, we seem to forget another model of MG which is quite unique within the marque for a number of reasons; it was the first production MG to boast rack and pinion steering and an independent front suspension system; it was the first model designed by the Morris Drawing Office, rather than by Cecil Kimber and Abingdon; it was the only MG to have its chassis fabricated at Abingdon rather than elsewhere; it was the first MG with pressed steel body rather than wood and metal coach-building; it was given a "traditional" appearance at a time when all sensible car manufacturers were vying to produce streamlined "modern" models and it was designed nine years before it went into production. I am referring, of course to the One and a Quarter Litre saloon and its variants produced from 1947 to 1953!
MG had been experimenting with independent front suspension before World War II and in 1935 had produced the R-Type racer with four wheel independent suspension using torsion bars. A WA saloon had been fitted with experimental IFS but it was not until 1938 that Alec Issigonnis of the Morris Drawing Office at Cowley developed an IFS for the forthcoming Morris 12. This proved too expensive to put into production but Issigonnis worked with Syd Enever and H.N. Charles to adapt the system to a proposed MG saloon to be designated "MG Ten" for production in 1941. Issigonnis is best remembered today as the designer of the Morris Minor and the famous Austin / Morris Mini.
The body for the proposed new saloon was to be a blend of pressings from the Morris 8 Series E with wider doors, the rear body and fenders swept aft and an upright grille in the MG style, all set upon a rigid box-section MG-built chassis incorporating the new suspension system. This chassis was to go on to support the TD, TF and, in modified form, the MGA, while the front suspension would continue on until the end of Abingdon production with the MGB. Gerald Palmer of the Morris Drawing Office at Cowley oversaw the design process and blended the Morris body into the roomier MG version. In later years Palmer would design the Jowett Javelin before returning to BMC to design the Z Series MG Magnette and its Wolseley derivative.
The engine for the MG Ten was to be the 1250 cc XPAG unit proposed for the forthcoming TB model roadster. It was detuned with one carburettor for an output of 46 b.h.p. at 4800 r.p.m. The gearbox was four-speed with synchromesh in the top three gears and a 5.143 final gear ratio to provide both high speed performance and low speed versatility. The saloon was luxuriously trimmed in 13 yards of fabric, had walnut veneered dashboard and window fillets, cut-pile carpeting, sunroof, privacy blind at the rear and a surprisingly large amount of leg and hip room for the occupants. Smith's Jackall system was installed at each wheel. The prototype was completed in mid-1939 for introduction at the Earl's Court Auto Show in 1940 with production to begin the following year. Plans were changed due to a disagreement with a paperhanger named Schickelgruber and the bits and pieces of saloon production were put aside while MG turned to the business of building tanks and the forward section of the Abermarle bomber. It would be seven years before the bits and pieces of saloon production were brought out again.
By October, 1945, MG was one of the first companies to resume auto production with the revamped "T" roadster being successfully marketed as the TC. As roadster exports rose, the factory looked once more to producing the saloon, now designated Series Y, One and a Quarter Litre Saloon. The first production models appeared in the Spring of 1947. As a result of Sir Stafford Cripps "export or die" philosophy, rationing of steel for the auto industry depended on overseas success and the Y-Type was hoped to be another export success, following the TC. Consequently, although they never achieved the popularity of the roadster, approximately 51% of saloon production was exported, primarily to Australia.
By 1948 the company decided that an export market existed for a four seat version of the successful "TC" roadster. Such sports touring cars had been popular in Europe before the war. The Y Series saloon was therefore modified into a four seat convertible with two wide doors, a 54 b.h.p. power unit with twin carburettors, roadster-style fascia and a left-hand drive option by relocating the battery box and modifying the oil pump. This model was designated "YT" and introduced at the October 1948 Earls Court Auto Show. Owners generally found the performance of the tourer to be excellent but the car never achieved the popularity of the roadster, with only 877 tourers being built between 1948 and 1950. The biggest proportion of YTs produced were right hand drive, primarily for the Australian market and 874 cars were officially designated for export sale. After the introduction of the later YB saloon, the earlier saloon models were known as "YA" although this was never a factory designation. A handful of YA saloons were left-hand drive, of which six are known to survive
By 1949 the Nuffield Organization needed a more civilized successor to the TC and blended the saloon chassis and the roadster body to create the successful TD and its descendants.
In November 1951, the Company introduced an updated saloon, designated "YB", incorporating such TD modifications as smaller wheels, hypoid differential, updated brakes and larger clutch. Only 1301 YBs were built as more modern appearing products were coming from other firms and the MG with its pre-war styling was seen as anachronistic. The Y Series was finally phased out with the introduction of the Z Series Magnette saloon in late 1953.
For thirty years after production ceased, the number of Y Series dwindled as they were found to be excellent donor cars for the more numerous roadsters and their antiquated lines relegated them to old age long before their time. Although the low production tourer was popular with some collectors, it has been only in the last few years that the saloons have been rediscovered as the rare and luxurious model advertised in 1947 as "the family car ... with a sporting heart". Total production for the Y Series was 8336 units, 6158 YA saloons, 1301 YB saloons and 877 tourers.
Owners of the Y-Types need never feel overshadowed by their roadster counterparts. The "Y" can hold its own in any slalom or other sports car event, providing fingertip steering, excellent cornering capability and, despite its weight and small displacement, a lively performance from the hard working engine. Before roadster owners guffaw unnecessarily, let me mention that this is the car that spawned the suspension package found in every Abingdon MG after the TD except the Magnette saloon and the MGC, and in its production time, Goldie Gardner ran a supercharged Y saloon complete with tools, equipment and luggage to a flying mile average of 104.725 m.p.h. at Jabbeke. An amazing feat for this class of car! In the 1951 RAC International Rally, Y-Types placed first and third out of 36 finishers. In 1952 a YB won the Silverstone Touring Car Race, duplicating the feat in 1953 at an average speed of 65.6 m.p.h. A YB was also third behind a Jowett Javelin. In the 1953 RAC Rally a YB won its class and place sixth overall, beaten only by three XK120 Jaguars, an Allard J2X and a Sunbeam Talbot 90.
Approximately 1000 Y-Types are known through the MGY Register to still exist, half in the U.K., a quarter in Australia and the remainder spread through 30 other countries, including 12 recorded in Canada, including two YAs and one YB.
The Y Series, One and a Quarter model is only now becoming appreciated as more than just an odd throwback to pre-war design cobbled together by Abingdon. It is a well-balanced traditional style sports saloon with excellent road manners that is appreciated for its "Safety Fast" pedigree and driving enjoyment as well as the advantage of providing room for the growing family.
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