1953 Arnolt MG. Click image to enlarge
Article and photo by Bill Vance
When the little spider-wheeled English MG TC roadster arrived in North America following the Second World War it launched the whole sports car movement. It was followed in 1950 by the more modern TD model with independent front suspension, a softer ride and more precise rack-and-pinion steering, although its disc wheels were less dashing than the TC’s wires.
In spite of its fun-to-drive character, the TD still had square styling and room for only two people. Stanley Harold “Wackey” Arnolt of Chicago, a Midwestern car dealer changed that by marketing a more modern and stylish MG that carried four.
Wackey Arnolt had the means to do it, but it had taken him a while to get there. His graduation in mechanical engineering from the University of Wisconsin had coincided with the onset of the 1930s Depression when work was scarce. After a variety of jobs he discovered that Waukeshaw Engine Company of Waukeshaw, Wisconsin was selling the rights to its small 1.0-litre, side-valve “Sea-Mite” marine engine. It was used as auxiliary power for sailing yachts, a market that had shrunk drastically during the Depression.
But Arnolt had other ideas. He saw clouds of war in Europe drifting closer to America and was sure the U.S. would become involved. When Uncle Sam was finally drawn into the Second World War, Arnolt knew that thousands of troops would be sent overseas by ship, with every one of those ships needing small, powered lifeboats.
His vision was prescient, and with the military gearing up for troop movement the entrepreneurial Arnolt landed lucrative contracts for his little engine. He became a wealthy man, and when peace came he could afford to pursue his other interests, one of which was automobiles.
Being captivated by that little MG TC when he first saw it after the war, Arnolt was so enthusiastic he not only wanted one for himself, he wanted to sell them to other like-minded people. He established S.H. Arnolt Incorporated in Chicago as distributor for such British cars as MG, Morris and Riley, and a line of Arnolt auto accessories.
In 1952, Arnolt’s interest took him to the 1952 Turin Auto Show where he made a contact that brought him into automobile manufacturing. The Bertone display had two handsome little MG-based prototype cars by Italian coachbulder G Nuccio Bertone, a coupe and a roadster. The familiar MG grille, badge and taillamps attracted MG enthusiast Arnolt, and much to the surprise of Nuccio Bertone, Mr. Bertone’s son, the tall outgoing American ordered 200 of them, 100 coupes and 100 roadsters.
Naturally, Bertone was delighted. Arnolt struck a deal with MG Car Company of Abingdon-on-Thames, Berkshire, to send running chassis to Bertone where the bodies would be added. The Arnolt MG was a true international car with English mechanicals, Italian body and American money, vision and drive.
The Arnolt MG was a handsome car with its long hood, short tail and low envelope body riding on wire wheels. The coupe was light and airy and the roadster had an easy-to-close folding top. Best of all for many MG enthusiasts, the Arnolt MG carried four passengers.
Underneath it was pure MG TD, which meant a 1.25-litre (with a 1.5 litre optional) inline, overhead valve, four-cylinder engine fed by two SU carburetors. Power went to the rear wheels through a four-speed manual, floor-shifted transmission with synchromesh on the top three gears. Suspension was A-arms and coils in front and a solid axle and leaf springs at the rear.
As expected for a car that weighed close to the TD’s 907 kg (2,000 lb), acceleration was about the same, with a zero to 96 km/h (60 mph) time of 20 seconds. Due to the better aerodynamics top speed was closer to 145 km/h (90 mph) compared with the TD’s 129 (80).
The Arnolt MG was more luxuriously appointed than the TD, including wind-up windows and a better heater. The secondary gauge cluster that was located in the centre of the dashboard in the TD was moved over in front of the driver in the Arnolt, flanked by the tachometer and speedometer.
Arnolt charged a premium of about $1,000 over the regular TD, with the coupe priced at $2,995 and the roadster at $3,145. It didn’t seem like an excessive price to pay for lovely Italian styling and four-seater convenience.
Although the original order was for 200 chassis, the MG company stopped supplying them with the changeover to the 1954 MG TF. Thus only approximately 100 Arnolt MGs were produced during 1952 and ’53.
The Arnolt MG is a rare and attractive collectible that showed what the MG could have been. MG finally got around to more modern envelope styling with the 1956 MG A, but Bertone and Arnolt had showed the way much earlier.