1953 MG TD
1953 MG TD
Photo: Bill Vance

by Bill Vance

The English MG name dates back to the early 1920s when Cecil Kimber, manager and race driver with Morris Garages, manufacturers of Morrises, modified a “bull-nosed” Morris and called it an MG, after Morris Garages.

The MG evolved into a production model in 1924. The first pointed-tail, fabric-bodied M-type MG Midget appeared in 1929, derived from the overhead cam Morris Minor. It provided sporting motoring at a very reasonable cost.

The marque amassed an enviable racing record in the early 1930s, particularly in the 750 cubic centimetre class. Although a few were imported, MGs were little known in North America until after the Second World War.

The first post-war MG imports were the TC Midget models, slightly modified TA and TB carry-overs from the 1930s. Tall wire wheels, rakish clamshell fenders, cut-down doors and a folding windshield made the TC, to quote Mechanix Illustrated magazine’s Tom McCahill, “a debonair little aristocrat” that “looked sporty, expensive and intriguing as a night on the Orient Express.”

Although stylish, the TC’s performance and riding qualities were limited. Solid-axle-and-leaf-spring front suspension combined with ultra-quick steering (1.7 turns lock to lock) made it a handful to drive. On anything but billiard table smoothness its 121 km/h (75 mph) top speed was a challenge.

Even though imported in small numbers the little right-hand drive MG TC introduced North Americans to the charm of English sports cars. But while it brought a new element of fun to driving, such an archaic design could not endure for long.

In late 1949 TC production ceased, and the works in Abingdon-on-Thames began producing the more modern TD model. In spite of protest from the purists about the “Hollywoodizing” of the MG, it was a far better car.

It had the MG Y-Series sedan’s independent double-wishbone-and-coil-spring front suspension, and superior rack and pinion steering. The tall, spidery wire wheels with knock-off hubs were replaced with 15-inch pressed steel bolt-on types. While not as aesthetically “pure,” they were stronger and maintenance free.

Although “softer” in appearance, the TD retained the over-all square configuration of the TC, including clamshell fenders, folding windshield and rear-hinged, cut-down doors. A wider body provided more space, and the tachometer and speedometer were now together in front of the driver, rather than widely separated as in the TC. Left-hand drive was now available.

The 1250 cc (76.3 cu in.) 54-horsepower, overhead valve inline four mated to a four-speed manual transmission was carried over from the TC. It wasn’t much power for a 907 kg (2,000 lb) car, so the TD wasn’t very fast when compared with Olds 88s or Fords.

In 1952 Tom McCahill took his own “McGillicuddy the Mighty” MG Mark II to Daytona Beach, Florida for the annual February Speed Week held by the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing. In spite of a strong wind he managed a two-way average of 128 km/h (79.49 mph), which he reported was a new top speed record for stock cars in Class F (1100 to 1500 cc engines).

Road & Track magazine (2/53) compared a regular TD and the 60-horsepower TD Mark II “factory hop-up.” It included such items as higher compression, larger carburetors and valves, stiffer valve springs, two fuel pumps, and a higher (4.875:1 vs. 5.125:1) rear axle ratio. They recorded a zero to 96 km/h (60 mph) time of 19.4 seconds for the TD and 16.5 for the Mark II. Top speed averages were 127 and 131 km/h (78.9 and 81.25 mph) respectively.

Although MG speeds were definitely not in the Jaguar class, raw performance was not what the MG was about. As the quintessential sports car its forte was nimble handling, fast cornering, and driving enjoyment. With those cut-down doors and wind-in-the-face driving, they at least felt fast. Owners raced and rallied them, joined clubs and enjoyed a kind of esoteric camaraderie that eluded “Joe Practical,” as McCahill called him, who sedately commuted to work in his Plymouth or Chevy.

The MG TD was replaced for 1954 by the TF, a transitional model that bridged the gap between the square T-Series cars and the envelope-bodied MGA of 1956. In its four years almost 30,000 MG TDs were built, of which approximately 75 per cent were exported to North America.

The TD has secured a place in automotive history because it, more than any other vehicle, laid the foundation for the sports car movement in North America. Few marques have a more enthusiastic following than those who love, preserve and enjoy driving their T-Series MGs.

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