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1946-55 MG T-Series
The Other Model T
While "over there" during and immediately after World War II, members of the American Armed Forces stationed in England found several charming habits of the British. Their discoveries included just what a good pint of beer really is, how attractive the English ladies can be, and how much fun it was to drive sporty little roadsters.
GI's loved them, and they had the income (they were paid about twice what their British counterparts received) to buy them. You see, the British had a rather humorous saying about the Yanks: "The problem with the Yanks is that they're overpaid, oversexed, and over here."
As they returned home they brought with them a new appreciation for beer, sometimes a new wife, and sometimes one of those little sporty cars. Compared to the offerings of American auto makers, these little runabouts were relatively cheap in construction and a bit touchy when it came to the mechanics, but loads of fun to own and drive.
One of the most popular of these early British imports was the MG T-series. Prior to World War II, MG was building a wide range of motor cars. The first T-series MG was the TA produced in 1936, with refinements seen in 1938 creating the TB. With the onset of war, in Britain as in America, the government issued orders to halt automobile production were given for the duration
When MG started up with post-war production, the TC roadster was the star. During the first post-war car show held at London's Earls Court in October 1945, orders for the new TC were impressive, both from domestic buyers and exporters.
Featuring traditional styling riding on 19-inch wire wheels, a 1,250 cc in-line four cylinder engine equipped with an overhead valve set-up and dual SU semi-down-draft carburetors, identified as the XPAG engine, these peppy little cars became a favorite of off-duty Air Force pilots, and NCO's alike.
As the need for armed forces lessened in Europe and our men returned state-side, they often brought these newly found sports cars with them.
In 1950 the up-dated MG-TD hit the market. Where the TC had been basically designed for domestic sales with minimal creature comforts and right-hand drive, the new TD was specifically aimed for the growing export market, particularly the United States.
With a lower profile due mainly to the wheel size dropping to a solid 15-inch steel wheel, plus a fuller fender design, the TD was an instant success. While the basic engine size remained the same for the first MG-TD's as in the TC, 1951 saw the Mark II competition version offered for the first time. With redesigned heads that boosted compression, the horsepower rating jumped from a standard of 54 up to as high as 60hp, giving cars equipped with these engines the "TDC" model designation.
Supercharging was also available on the TC and TD models, and according to several fans of these roadster really helped the performance of those cars, and is a very desirable option today.
1954 saw the introduction final generation of the MG T-series roadster with the TF. Lasting for just two years on the market, this new MG lost some of its visual charm with heavier fenders and a squatier body, but many regard it as the best looking of the three. However, it certainly gained in performance when in 1955 came the introduction of the new 1466-cc "XPEG" engine. Given a new badge as the TF-1500, horsepower was now touted at a 63, with 76 foot-pounds of torque rating.
Many American driving legends actually got their start in road racing behind the wheel of little MG's, most notably Carroll Shelby. Even after the MGA hit the market in 1956, early T-series models never lost their appeal. College students loved them for their sporty appearance and economical operational costs. In the 1970 film Love Story, Ryan O'Neil's character won not only Allie McGraw's heart on the screen, but the eye of thousands of future sports car fans.
Current Market Status
Where do they stand in the market today? To answer that question we consulted with Chris Nowland who is the Product Development Manager for Moss Motors, Ltd, in Goleta, California, one of the largest suppliers of parts and information for these cars.
"When the market fell out of the collector car hobby in the early 1990's the MG T-series were not as heavily affected," noted Nowland, "One reason was that they hadn't escalated wildly in price in the late 1980s as had many other cars, so when the prices came back to reality, the MG T-series hadn't move that much."
Over the past five years though, these cars have seen slow but steady value appreciation for both private sales and on the auction block. Despite a constant and fairly strong demand for these vehicles, the large numbers that were originally produced and sent to the United States have kept prices in the reasonable range of $15,000 to $20,000 for very good examples. Appreciation has been limited to pretty much keeping pace with inflation, around the five percent mark per year. You're not going to get rich sitting on one of these. In the collector car auction world a particularly well done MG-TC can today top the $27K level, but this is the exception, not the rule, and the word "stunning" should really apply.
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A new generation of sports car fans are starting to discover the joy of simple "pre-computer-chip" open-air motoring, where a good ear for engine sounds plus an adjustable wrench are the owner-mechanic-driver's best friend. "I have been involved with these cars for over 30 years," Nowland said, "After that much time you are bound to discover some of the quirks to these cars."
One area that Nowland pointed out that the inexperienced MG new owner might have a problem with was the engine rebuild. Described as not being "totally straight forward", they can present problems with making sure seals are properly seated, and valves adjusted correctly.
There were many colors available, and optional equipment meant that the original MG buyer could personalize their new sports car. Wire wheels were a popular option for TD and TF models, while bumpers on TC and badge bars for later models were always in demand. Trunk racks, heaters, and enclosed side curtains also add to the value to a T-series MG.
Which One's for You?
Nowland laid out the basic pros and cons of the three T-series MGs. "The TC may seem like a challenge at first -- all were built with right-hand drive. However, once you get use to them they can be the most comfortable and fun to drive. When in proper tune, the TC makes a great long distance cruising car."
"With the TD, first time MG fans may find a little discomfort with driving, especially when trying to rest the left foot. Handling is good, but long drives may require a few more roads stops to get out and stretch one's legs."
"The TF, especially the TF-1500 can be the best performer in both accelleration and handling. While the mechanics were improved over the earlier cars, these still have some of the little things that make owning an MG both interesting and challenging. Summed up, Nowland said all of the MG T-series, the TC, TD, and TF, were just a whole lot of fun to own and drive.
Today, thanks to companies like Moss Motors, Ltd., most of the mechanical parts are available. With the basics of a chassis, engine block, transmission and drive train, nearly everything else needed to create a T-series MG is available. There are still a few items that haven't seen reproduction parts that measure up to the originals, most particularly the radiator shells.
Another group of parts that is a little tough to find are the original gauges. If you have an unrestored speedometer or fuel gauge there are several people who can restore them, but finding originals or new ones is nearly impossible.
MG enthusiasts have banded together with several clubs for these little cars, and publications such as MG Magazine and The Sacred Octagon are dedicated to the history, restoration process, and promotion of the T-series.
Currently the TD and TF series are still relatively affordable for the person looking to get a start in the sports car world. Just as the initial price allowed budding sports car enthusiasts fifty years ago to get hooked on these great little cars, prices today are bringing in a new generation. A TD (TFs bring a couple grand more) needing restoration but in still usable condition can be found for less than $10,000 -- not bad in today's marketplace. Of course, you can easily sink another $10,000 into it if you start trying to make it just right, so be careful! Make sure you have a clear idea of what you want to do with it after the purchase. Proper restorations on fair cars are almost always losers, so buy one already restored if you're only concerned with cost. As mentioned earlier, the TCs are more expensive, with some exceptional examples approaching the $30,000 range.
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As a practical vehicle, the TC, TD, and TF are not at the top of anyone's list. Compared to a modern roadster like the Mazda Miata, they're slow, crude and uncomfortable. But they possess a style, grace, and charm that makes them both desirable and satisfying to own.
Phil Skinner and the editors at Collector Car Market Review
(C) Copyright 1999-2001 VMR International, Inc. All rights reserved. This article first appeared in the July 1999 issue of Collector Car & Truck Market Guide.