In 1936 the MG Car Company made a dramatic change in the design of their sports cars. In this year they introduced the MGTA Midget. The MGTA originated the familiar T-Series design element and to the casual observer, it is hard to distinguish from the MG TC. The MG TA sported the famous radiator design, the swept wings, running boards, folding windscreen, and large accessible bonnet. It was a two seater sports car with a foldable hood and side curtains. Just over 3,000 MGTA’s were produced in three years of production. The MG TA suffered from a poor performing engine and in 1939 the MGTB was introduced with the now famous XPAG engine. Only a few were produced as in a few months World War II broke out.
During World War II production of MG’s ceased as the MG Car Company was put into service for the war effort making tanks and airplane parts, and other military items. When the war ended the the MG Car Company was anxious to get back to making sports cars. They revisited the MGTB and made a few subtle changes. These were in the form of a wider body and shackles replacing sliding trunnions for the spring mounts. The Nuffield Organization also made another drastic change. They started taking an active interest in selling their sports cars in North America. It appears that during the War a number of American GI’s had an opportunity to experience the T-Series MGs. When the War ended a number of these cars were imported and then formally sold into North America, especially the United States. The MG TC was produced from 1945 to 1949 with a total production of about 10,000 cars.
Due to the fact that the United States had much more cash available to spend on entertainment and sports than did war torn Britain, the Nuffield Organization made a drastic change in their marketing, focusing on North America. In 1949 the MGTC was fitted with many elements to make it more North American such as front and rear bumpers, twin horns, and dual tail lamps. Even by making these changes only a fraction of the MGTC’s were imported into North America. There were still too many issues with a car of this type for different North America conditions. Amongst those were driving on the right hand side of the road rather than the left, more high speed maneuvers such as freeways, a softer ride, and some additional creature comforts. What was needed was a total redesign of the MG TC if the MG Car Company was to capture a significant portion of the North American market. What was missing was a total commitment from the Nuffield Organization to do so.
The Legacy of the MG TD
In 1949 a small group of MG leaders, headed by John Thornley, got together to try to create a car that was acceptable to the North American marketplace while at the same time would limit the investment of the Nuffield Organization. Clearly it would be impossible to completely create a new car, not only from a financial point but from a timing standpoint as well. What was needed was a little of the old, sprinkled with a little of the new. Another key factor was to borrow or incorporate features found in other Nuffield cars of the time that were more up to date than the MG TC.
First it was decided to start with the MG TC. It was felt that the MG TC still provided a favorable brand image to the North American marketplace. Many elements of the MGTC were still believed to be important such as:
- The styling
- Safety Fast engineering
- The powertrain
- The familiarity of design
What was missing was:
- More futuristic styling
- Better turning and handling
- A smoother ride
- Left hand drive
- More creature comforts such as an optional heater and radio
Quickly a team of MG personnel took inventory of the components of the Nuffield Organization that they had to work with. They discarded the TC’s frame because it was to light and not rigid enough. They found what they wanted in the Y types. A small modification to the frame was to have it sweep over the rear axle rather than under. This gave them more travel in the rear springs so they could increase the damping. In addition they adopted rack and pinion steering and front coil springs and wishbones. This and the change in rear end suspension allowed for a smoother ride and better handling than the MG TC. One of the major changes was to reduce the wheel size from 19 inches to 15 inches and increase the tire width to 5.50. All of these changes made the MG TD a superior riding car over the MG TC.
Because of the use of the larger frame the body became 5 inches wider. Although the body increased by 5 inches, only one inch actually found it’s way into the cockpit so there is an indiscernible difference in the seating width. The biggest change that people notice about the MG TD from the MG TC is the lack of wire wheels. As part of the Nuffield cost cutting challenge the more expensive wire wheels of former T-Series cars were replaced by solid steel wheels. For the entire production run of the MGTD the factory took heat for this decision. They constantly tried to create implausible technical reasons why wire wheels would not work but their reasons were never accepted by the marketplace. In fact wire wheels were one of the most popular aftermarket accessories at the time. Nuffield itself had to offer an upgrade kit to wire wheels during 1953 because the essentially identical 1954 MGTF chassis sported wire wheels as an option.
Other changes between the MG TC and the MG TD were more stylized wings, partially due to the smaller wheels. A dual production capable LHD or RHD model, better brakes, adjustable steering column, and an interchangeable dashboard for left or right hand driving were also incorporated. An optional radio and heater, as well as many accessories designed to improve the performance of the car were made available.
The MG TD Models
The MG TD was produced from 1949 to August of 1953. During that period the MG TD saw many subtle changes, but nothing drastic. The MG TD was offered in three basic models although no more than two were ever available at one time.
The original MG TD was first produced in late 1949 and had it’s formal introduction in January of 1950. There were a total of four model years; 1950, 1951, 1952, and 1953. The first model set the stage for what the MG TD was. Because of the short amount of time from the inception of the MG TD to the delivery of the first cars, not everything was quite as the MG Car Company would have liked it. In fact they were still making MG TC’s on the production line when the first MG TD’s were produced. Other models were also being made on the same assembly line at the same time. This says something of the flexibility of the Abingdon work crews and factory.
Most changes to these early MG TDs were unnoticeable from the untrained eye. One exception to this was the change from solid wheels to slotted wheels. Still steal and not wire, but a change nothing else. Most of this seems to be precipitated from the fact that the brakes were fading due to poor cooling. Another change was to stiffen the body by adding an internal under firewall tubular frame. It helped but the MG TD body bucket still seems to flex quite a bit when pressed into corners.
The TD II (not to be confused with the MG TD Mark II) was essentially more refinements done to the car by the factory. Minor changes to the engine generated the need to create a new engine type, the XPAG/TD2. This in turn caused them to designate these cars as TD2’s, although even their marketing materials never really mentioned this change. There really weren’t any model years for the MGTD, as changes were introduced subtly. The biggest changes occurred during the 1953 model year as sales of the MG TD started to fall in favor of cars like the TR2 and Healey 100. In 1953 MG introduced round taillamps (not sure what the feature of these were), turn signals, a three bow top or hood, and moved the windscreen wiper motor central for safety reasons.
TD/C or TD Mark II
In the middle of 1950 model year the MG Car Company began factory producing some special MG TD’s known as the Mark II. These cars were essentially regular MG TD’s that had been given some extra factory accessories and tuning. There was not an exact list of these features, and in fact over the production of the MG TD the features of the Mark II would change. It was also possible at the time to buy everything for a regular MG TD that the Mark II model offered. Some of the changes were to increase the base horsepower of the engine from 54 bhp to 57 bhp, larger tires, additional Andrex friction shocks front and back, higher rear end ratios, dual fuel pumps, and larger carburetors. Most of the features of the Mark II were a part of the staged tuning that was described in various publications and offered as a factory tuning manual.
From all these changes it appeared that little changed in how the car actually handled. Many folks opted to buy a regular MGTD and go through a series of Stage Tunings to increase the performance of the MGTD well above what the Mark II achieved.
The Follow-on of the MG TD
Production of the MG TD peaked in 1952 and 1953 found sales of the car starting to fall. Again the MG Car Company found itself in need of a whole new automobile but without the support of the parent BMC Organization.
The MG EX175
John Thornley’s team at Abingdon had crafted a complete replacement for the MGTD code named the EX175. Because of the organizational changes that occurred when BMC took control of the MG Car Company, the EX175 was in direct competition to it’s new step cousin, the Austin-Healey 100. Since the Healey was already committed, BMC did not want a new fangled MG to dilute the possible sales so MG was left high and dry without a replacement for the MG TD.
MG TF, MG TF 1500 and MG A
An effort to recapture the marketplace by doing what they had successfully done before was attempted in 1953. Borrowing on the success of the MGTD and Mark II as well as a little streamlining of the body, the MG Car Company created the MGTF. The TF was immediately shunned by the public. It was clear that all MG had done was to pound a bit on the body and fenders, add some more comfortable bucket seats, and throw on some wire wheels. In fact the car was worse in many ways because you could not easily get to the engine to modify it or maintain it like you could on prior T types. The TF 1200 still performed poorly compared to other sports cars of the period. In 1955 MG came out with a more powerful 1500 cc engine that replaced the tiring 1250 cc engine of past T Series cars.
This larger capacity engine did improve the performance greatly and made the MG TF 1500 a much better performing car on the freeways and tollways of North America. Still the MGTF never captured the success of the MG TD and was replaced by the MGA within two short years.
The MG A represented a significant change from the T-Series cars and actually looked like it belonged to the era it was produced in. It supported much of the same chassis and drive train features as the MG TF but had an all new streamlined body. Interestingly the car had a remarkable resemblance to the EX175. Over time MG would make many changes to the MG A in both styling, performance and handling. At one point they even offered a hard top, called the MG A Coupe as well as a twin cam engine.