1948 MG TC. Click image to enlarge
Article and photo by Bill Vance
I’ll never forget the first time I saw an MG TC. It was displayed on an elevated platform at a Toronto automobile distributor called British Cars and Vans. It was 1950, and I knew of the MG only through Tom McCahill’s writings in Mechanix Illustrated; actually seeing one made a powerful impression on this young teenager.
We had come to pick up a Standard Vanguard for our dealership, but suddenly the Vanguard was round and dumpy. Even the Triumph 2000 Roadster in the showroom looked like a frumpy, baroque caricature of a 1930s classic. I only had eyes for this low, red two-seater perched on tall wire wheels, its windshield folded flat, and its rear-hinged doors cut down to let your arms work that great vertical steering wheel.
I sat in the driver’s seat – all TCs were right-hand drive – and gazed over the long, slender hood. On the instrument panel was something called a tachometer that indicated crankshaft revolutions, and on the floor was the shifter for the four-speed transmission. My world was changed for ever.
As it turned out, the MG’s impact on others was no less seductive because the English MG TC, with its spare, angular lines, became the quintessential sports car. When people asked what a sports car was, which they often did back then, the MG was always the first example given; none other was necessary.
The TC model was a continuation of the TA and TB Midget models built before the Second World War. North American automakers weren’t the only ones to give us warmed over pre-war designs.
Even by the modest standards of 1940s domestic automotive engineering, the MG TC wasn’t really a modern car. Its 1.25-litre (76 cu in.), long stroke, four-cylinder engine had to scream its little heart out to develop much speed or acceleration. And it was questionable how much velocity one would want to build up, given the marginal brakes and archaic leaf spring suspension, not to mention the super sensitive steering. But expert drivers soon learned to cope with them.
And forget about luggage; MG passengers travelled light, not by choice but out of necessity because trunk space was confined to a small bin behind the seat. If you wanted to take more you bolted a luggage rack on the back. Its stiff suspension gave it a pretty jarring ride, and it didn’t keep you warm in the winter or dry in a summer rain.
But carping about ride quality, luggage space and weather protection is to miss the TC’s essential point. It was not to haul luggage, ride smoothly, keep you warm in the winter or dry in the summer. It was just to have good, impractical fun dashing along a curving country road. And people did just that. They hopped them up through the factory’s four stages of “tune,” raced them and rallied them and explored the mysteries of SU carburetors. They formed sports car clubs and found a kind of car camaraderie they had never known before. Cars could really be fun.
Although a few MGs had found their way to North America before the Second World War, the marque didn’t really become known in Canada and the U.S. until after the war. It began when some returning service men brought them back. By 1947 distributors were getting established, and MGs started arriving in greater quantity.
Tom McCahill deserves a good deal of the credit for initially making the MG known in North America. In his January, 1949 column, McCahill enthused about its road holding, and related how he had almost pulled the guts out of his 1948 Mercury trying to keep up with a TC on a trip up the coast of California.
McCahill reported that while the top speed of the MG was only 127 to 132 km/h (79 to 82 mph), which could be topped by several American cars, its superior roadholding made it almost impossible to beat on most roads. Its zero to 96 km/h (60 mph) time was about 20 seconds.
Tom, never one to avoid hyperbole, called the TC a “gentleman of distinction…a stroke of smart styling genius,” and said it “looked sporty, expensive and intriguing as a night on the Orient Express.”
And thus the MG TC started the sports car movement in North America. Eventually, of course, the MG had to be updated. The TC evolved into the softer sprung TD model in 1950, then the transitional TF, which was neither classic nor modern in its styling. Finally, the 1956 MG A made the complete change to a modern envelope design, followed by the 1963 MG B. But those 1940s TCs still live on in the hearts of many MG enthusiasts.