1958 MGA Coupe. Click image to enlarge
Article and photo by Bill Vance
The English MG was the backbone of the post-Second World War sports car movement in North America. The first came in the late 1940s: the spider-wheeled TC Midget model. Although its clamshell fenders and big wire wheels gave it a dashing and debonair demeanour, it was really just a slightly modified version of the pre-war TA and TB model.
With 1930s technology like hard leaf springs and solid front axle, not to mention right-hand drive only, it wasn’t very well suited to North American conditions. The 1950 TD brought softened lines, independent front suspension and rack-and-pinion steering, although its modest 54 horsepower still came from the same pre-war 1,250-cc overhead valve, inline four. The transitional 1954 TF featured a combination of modern and classic styling, and a little later, a 1.5 litre engine.
By 1956, MG finally caught up with its competition and replaced the classically square T-type with a modern, envelope body that had been predicted by a custom-bodied TD that contested the 1951 Le Mans, France, 24-hour race. About the only things carried over from the TF were the front suspension and steering gear.
Power now came from the more modern British Motor Corporation’s B-series 1,489 cc overhead valve four that powered such cars as the Austin A-50 and Morris Oxford. And along with its new chassis and engine this more aerodynamic MG offered greater comfort, larger luggage capacity, better handling and more performance. Since it was a fresh start it was appropriately named the MGA.
As the quintessential sports car, MG was best known for its open air models. Although closed MGs had been produced, the real image maker was always the roadster. But the snugness and comfort of closed cars had their devotees too, and for 1957 MG introduced the MGA coupe, the spiritual descendant of the beautiful MG Airline of the 1930s.
When the MGA roadster was successfully launched for the 1956 model year, company thoughts turned to a coupe model. The removable hardtop option which was available for the roadster turned it into a cosy closed car, and this no doubt influenced the decision to build a coupe.
Work began in the spring of 1956 when a roadster was taken off the assembly line and used as the experimental prototype for the fitting of a fixed metal top. Thanks to an accelerated development program the coupe made its public debut at the London Motor Show in Earls Court that fall.
The coupe offered excellent visibility through a three-piece panoramic rear window and a windshield more curved than the roadster’s. The doors were opened from the outside by small vertical handles that were almost invisible at the lower rear corners of the wind-up windows. These offered more security, replacing the roadster’s inside pull-cord which was accessed through a side-curtain flap.
Although the coupe was priced a few hundred dollars higher than the roadster it was more luxuriously trimmed inside, and the solid top and windows gave it warmth unmatched by any roadster. Indeed at times there was too much warmth as the coupe could have benefitted from better ventilation.
Only 16 coupes were built in 1956, but production was ramped up quickly and 1957 would see over 4,100 of the new “tin tops” produced. It would prove to be the coupe’s best year.
Testers were delighted to report that this was the first production MG capable of topping 161 km/h (100 mph), the magic “ton.” Road & Track magazine (7/’57) recorded a top speed average of 163 km/h (101 mph), up for the 153 (95) they had achieved with the MGA roadster.
They attributed virtually all of this gain to the coupe’s better aerodynamics, although it also no doubt benefited slightly from the extra four horsepower, now 72, for 1957. And because the hard top gave it increased stiffness, some MG enthusiasts considered the coupe to be a better handling car than the roadster.
Coupe improvements moved in step with the roadster’s. In 1959 the 1600 version got 1,588 cc and 80 horsepower, and then for 1960, 1,622 cc and 86 horsepower. This was upped again to 90 in the ’61 Mark II (identified by its vertical bar grille and horizontal, tail-lights). There was also a coupe version of the star-crossed 1958-’60 Twin Cam MGA, but few were made.
When the Twin Cam model was discontinued, the leftover parts such as four-wheel disc brakes and knock-off hubs were used to create an overhead valve model called the MGA Deluxe. Only a few hundred were produced.
The MGA was built through model year 1962 when it was replaced by the MGB, which would develop its own special kind of coupe, the lovely hatchback MGB-GT. Of the approximately 100,000 MGAs that were ultimately built, 9,887 were coupes.