Quintessential Sports Car

By Bill Vance Edmonton Journal January 3rd, 1997

The English MG name dates back to the early 1920s. That's when Cecil Kimber, manager and race driver with Morris Garages, which made the Morris car, modified a 'bull-nosed' Morris and called it an MG, after Morris Garages.

The MG evolved into a production model in about 1924, with the first M-type MG Midget having a pointed tail and fabric body, appearing in 1929 as an adaptation of the overhead cam Morris Minor. It offered sporting motoring at a reasonable cost.

The marque became highly regarded in England and amassed an enviable racing record in the 1930s, particularly in the 750 cc class. Although a few were imported privately before the war, the MG was little known in North America until after World War II.

The first post-World War II MGs to arrive here in the late 1940s were the MG TC Midgets. They were just slightly modified from earlier models of the TA and TB, carry-overs from the '30s. Tall wire wheels, rakish clamshell fenders, cut-down doors and a folding windshield made the TC, to quote Tom McCahill, Mechanix Illustrated Magazine's pioneer car tester, "a debonair little aristocrat". The roadster, he added, "looked sporty, expensive and as intriguing as a night on the Orient Express". But for all its classical styling, the TC was pretty limited in both performance and riding qualities.

A front suspension consisting of a solid beam axle and stiff leaf springs, combined with ultra-quick steering (1.7 turns lock to lock), produced a certain skittishness in handling. That made the TC a handful to drive at its modest 75 m.p.h. plus top speed on anything but a surface of billiard table smoothness.

Even though they came here in small numbers and with only right-hand drive, the TC introduced North Americans to the charm of the English sports car, and in so doing, it brought a whole new element of fun to driving.

Such an archaic design could not endure, however, and in late 1949, the factory stopped building TCs after a production run of 10,000.

The works in Abingdon-on-Thames began turning out the more modern TD model. In spite of howls of protest from the purists, who decried the "Hollywoodizing" of the MG, the TD was a far better car. It had independent double-wishbone-and-coil-spring front suspension derived from the MG Y Series sedan and was guided by superior rack-and-pinion steering. In place of the tall, spidery 19 inch wire wheels with knock-off hubs, which admittedly had their own special attraction, were 15 inch pressed steel bolt-on types. They weren't nearly as aesthetically 'pure', but they were stronger, less expensive and maintenance free.

Although 'softer' in appearance, the TD retained the overall 'square' configuration and styling features of the TC, including the clamshell fenders, folding windscreen and cut-down doors, hinged at the rear. A wider body provided more interior space, and the tachometer and speedometer were now together in front of the driver, rather than having the speedo on the passenger's side as the TC did, and left-hand drive was fitted to export models.

The driveline, a 1250 cc (76.3 cubic inch), 54 horsepower, overhead valve inline four mated to a four-speed manual transmission, was carried over into the TD. It wasn't much power to motivate a 2000 pound car, so in terms of raw performance, the TD was not very fast when compared with such American cars as Olds 88s or Fords.

In February 1952, Mechanix Illustrated's Tom McCahill took his own MG TD Mk II, which he dubbed "McGillicuddy the Mighty", to the sands of Daytona Beach, Florida for the annual Speed Week event held by the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing. In spite of a strong wind he managed a two-way average of 79.49 m.p.h. which he claimed was a new top speed record for stock cars in Class F (1100 to 1500 cc engine displacement).

Road and Track magazine ran a comparison test between the TD and the 60 horsepower TD Mk II in its February 1953 issue. The Mark II had a "factory hop-up" which included higher compression, larger carburettors and valves, stiffer valve springs, two fuel pumps, eight shock absorbers rather than four, and a higher (4.875:1 vs. 5.125) rear axle ratio. They recorded a 0 to 60 m.p.h. acceleration time of 19.4 seconds for the TD and 16.5 for the Mark II. Top speed averages were 78.9 and 81.25 m.p.h.

MG speeds were definitely not in the Jaguar class. But raw performance numbers were not what the MG was about. It was the quintessential sports car and its forte was nimble handling, fast cornering and just plain driving enjoyment. With those cut-down doors and wind-in-the-face driving, they at least felt fast. Owners raced and rallied them, joined sports car clubs, and enjoyed a kind of esoteric camaraderie that eluded the ordinary 'Joe Practical' motorist, as McCahill called them.

The MG TD continued through 1953 when it was replaced by the TF, a transitional model that would bridge the gap between the square T-Series cars and the envelope-bodied MGA of 1956 (sic). By this time, the TD had been surpassed in performance and styling by such cars as the Triumph TR2 and Austin-Healey 100.

Over a four-year span, about 30,000 MG TDs were built, of which 75 per cent were exported to North America.

The TD's place in automotive history is secure because it, more than any other vehicle, laid the foundation for the sports car movement in the U.S. and Canada.

Contributed by Jim Waddell

1952 MG TD

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