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MG T Series The History
William Morris (1877 - 1963) started producing motor cars in 1912. After World War I ended production of Morris Motor cars increased significantly to a scant 400 in 1919. By 1921, Morris hired a young OJT Engineer Cecil Kimber (1888-1945) as sales manager for Morris Garages. Kimber an avid racer himself, reorganized the Morris Garages Factory using process engineering techniques "ahead of his time." By 1922 he became General Manager of Morris Garages. Sometime near the end of 1923, his interest in producing competitive racing cars led to the production of the first M.G. Prototype. It was Cecil who convinced William Morris that a win on Sunday sold cars on Monday. Several different models of cars were produced and raced. Until World War II the MG Marques were raced on the continent, and grew to a marque of world wide recognition as a high performance car.
Leonard Lord (1896-1967) joined Morris Motors, Ltd in 1923, where he instituted a "rationalization programme" to simplify and make cost effective the production process. In 1927 Morris bought the Wolseley Motor Company, and Lord transferred there to modernize their production facility. In 1932 Lord was brought back to Morris Motors as its general manager. In 1935, William Morris, now Lord Nuffield sold the MG Car Company Ltd, and incorporated it with Morris Motors Ltd to form the Nuffield Companies (MG, Morris, and Wolseley). Cecil Kimber, the Founder and General Manager of MG, was replaced as Managing Director by Leonard Lord, and the focus of the company changed from performance to profits.
Through Lord's urging, MG withdrew from its factory racing activities, to "earn money" instead, leaving racing activities to private parties. At this time the engineering development department was moved to Morris, which was a blow to Kimber. Under Lord's stewardship the focus was to use More standardized production parts, focusing on profits rather than innovation and performance. As part of his rationalization programme and cost savings campaign, Lord used the dated existing 1.25l four cylinder overhead valve pushrod engine from the Morris, which saw its origins as a farm tractor power plant.
The "old" designs pushed ahead by Kimber utilized over head cam engines and which Kimber believed to be superior to the ones used by Morris. However, Kimber's hand in engineering and development, and his belief in racing as the method to fire both engineering and sales was not to be suppressed.
The MG T Series was first introduced by Kimbers design group in 1936 as the TA, and was somewhat larger than previous Midgets. It more resembled the Magna or Magnette models. Still as primitive as the drive train was in the TA, which sold for £222 the car was considerably improved over previous Midgets. In addition to the incorporation of hydraulic brakes, which was necessary to haul the car down from its top speed of 80 MPH!, it featured considerably more creature comforts than its predecessors. Kimber still insisted that the design not compromise his rigid standards for a "proper" sports car. The new design was actually generated by the Morris drawing office located in Cowley, rather than at the main headquarters at Abingdon on Thames, which seems to me to point to the conflicts between Kimber and Lord (Engineering and Accounting). Still Kimber's genius at defining a sports car made the TA one of the most popular pre-WWII sports cars, generating demand for over 3,000 cars between 1935 and 1938.
1938 saw two significant events at the Nuffield Companies. Leonard Lord left the company his years of acrimony with not only Kimber, but Lord Nuffield as well, finally came to a head. He left the company to join its principal competitor Austin Motors. Herbert Austin (1886 - 1941), 1st Baron Austin, was looking for someone to run his companies, as his only son and heir was killed in WWI, and so Lord became Austin Motors Managing Director. With Lord's departure Kimber's influence began to grow again.
1938 also saw the introduction of the Tickford drophead coupe. While its performance was reduced from that of the TA, because it was heavier than the roadster, it appealed to those who required a more civilized ride rather than being subjected to the openess to the elements. These two events started to pump new life into the series, which no doubt would have increased sales and production. As far as competitiveness went the TA was rather dismal compared to its predecessors, which of course reflected on Lord's focus on profits rather than performance. Still without the successful entrepreneurship of Nuffield/Lord the MG may not have survived to perform at all. Given the rather basic design of the engine, little performance tuning was available to help the little car live up to its competition heritage.
The predecessor of the performance rallye, or trials, was all the rage in England during the 1930's rather than chasing the elusive Grand Prix on the road circuits of the continent. Not to be totally content to sit on their laurels, Kimber was still the racing/performance advocate. The factory sponsored teams such as the "Three Musketeer's" and the "Cream and Cracker's" who competed well in specially prepared factory modified cars.
1939 saw two more major events for the Nuffield Group. First a new model the TB was introduced, and a few months into the production run the factory converted to war production. Only 378 TB's were produced when the factory started rolling out Matilda Tanks and modifying cars into light trucks. Always painting on a larger canvas, Kimber saw bigger things to produce at the factory. Kimber secured the contract to produce cockpits for the Albemarle Bomber in 1941. It is unfortunate that the big dreams Kimber saw for the plant were not shared by his management. Although 900 cockpits were produced during the war this obtaining this contract led to the firing of Kimber, just after it was secured.
Kimber who was killed in a railway accident in 1945 never had the opportunity to design and build another sports car. His legacy is best described by one of his favorite sayings, "a sports car should look fast, even when it is standing still." It was he who coined the famous saying that identified the MG today "Safety Fast."
George Propert replaced Kimber as general manager of the Abingdon plant, and had Kimber's design team around him when the war ended.
Anxious to return to the production of a domestic cars, and eagar to build a sports car, Propert dragged out the TB "concept car" and his design team of Cecil Cousins, Sid Enerver, Alec Hounslow, and Reg Jackson modified the existing TB. They set about to widen the cockpit, and revived the suspension replacing the sliding trunions with shackles on the spring mounts. By the end of 1945 about 80 of the new model TC's rolled off the line at Abingdon. At the completion of the TC Series almost 10,000 cars were produced, and an export business to North America was started. This had major ramifications for the entire British Auto Industry.
During the war, cars, tires, and gas were in short supply. However, quite a few American Soldiers (mostly bomber crews I believe) were able to snag a TA or even a TB as their transport, as they had the cash to support this extravagance. It was said by the British during the war, "The only problem with the Yanks is they are over paid, over sexed, and over here!" The war took a major toll on the British Economy, and for most of the post war years the British Auto Industry pretty much died at home. Mike Thomas decided to try and sell the production in the US, and is responsible for the success of the MG in North America. The ex-GI's fondly remembering what fun little cars they drove in England, eagerly snapped up the ones offered on this side of the pond, and the word spread. However, American tastes and driving conditions dictated changes that the Nuffield Group would readily make to keep sales up and the plant open.
So the follow on car the TD was designed with the American market not the British market in mind. The TC set for export to North America were already equipped with bumpers, which the domestic cars did not need. To make them more suitable for the American Market Left Hand drive was available on the TD which was never an option on the preceding models. Additionally, independent front suspension and rack and pinion steering and some chassis elements were adapted from the 1250 cc Y type Saloon. It was felt that these augmentations were better suited for American highway speeds, and road conditions. However, the wire wheels, which defined the concept of a sports car were dispensed with for the solid disc wheels which were cheaper. As brought to market in January 1950, the MG TD joined the Jaguar XK120 series as the icon of sports cars.
The fledgling Sports Car Club of America started sponsoring road races as opposed the British Trials, and the MGTD defined the concept of the sports car and the roadster. This made the marque a household word synonymous with Sports Car. Inexpensive compared to the big Jags the MG T series as idealized in Burt "B.S." Levy's The Last Open Road the MG became the definition of Sports Car and set the standard of expectation of what motoring should be for US Generations to come.
In late 1951 the TD2 was offered in an attempt to keep the sales in the United States from flagging. The TD2 featured more "creature comforts" and a chrome radiator, standard interior heater, and even turning signals to keep the American public placated. Not content to leave the factory car the way it was, variants were created, most notably re-bodied with an Italian styled body shell by Bertone the "Arnolt" was created by the Chicago Distributor of the same name and the first of the kit cars the Devon Bodied T Series.
MG TC's and TD's were being raced on the international circuit at LeMans, and in the US on the legendary road circuits of Bridgehampton & Watkins Glen in NY, and Elkhart Lake in WI. The T-Series was bring raced effectively, and the factory tentatively tested the waters for a factory "works" car. The MKII, not to be confused with the late model TD2, was also designated the TD3 or TD/C. The special factory tuning, in an attempt to revive the dated pre-war 1250 cc engine, featured larger valves, a slightly higher rear end, higher compression ratio, dual fuel pumps, dual 1.5" SU carburetors (as opposed to the standard 1.25" carburetors) and sporting an additional 4 friction shock absorbers in addition to the standard hydraulic lever shocks. A special streamlined racer was developed to run the 1951 LeMans Race by George Phillips, and the Land Speed record of 125 MPH was set in the US for this class in 1952. This streamlined version of the LeMans car might have seen production had Kimber survived, or Propert persisted, as the remnants of his design team of John Thornley, who missed the redesign of the TC because he was still serving with HM Forces, and Syd Evers had a prototype ready for production in 1953.
It was during this time that the Nuffield Organization and Austin merged to form the new British Motor Corporation, Leonard Lord moved to head up BMC. Old prejudices against Kimber even after his death almost 10 years before, and the MG line influenced Lord's decision to go with David Healy's design using an Austin power plant. BMC would forego any changes to the MG Line lest it compete with the new 100-4. Lord decreed that the Abingdon plant would continue the production of the TD with little or no improvements, and so by 1952 the TD began to be set in concrete.
When the AH 100-4 hit the US shores, still the major market for BMC sales in the TD dropped through the floor. By the middle of the 1952 production year Lord having to justify flagging sales to his directors allowed changes to the car. All in all 29,664 MGTD's were produced by the factory of which 23,488 were produced and exported to North America, of those 1,555 were MKII's.
Lord only allowed limited changes to the MG, which was to slightly modify the TD. It is this modified TD that became the TF. The special tuning MKII engine was standard, and a limited styling change update to the pre-war looking TD's dated look were all that was allowed. The wire wheels were again brought back by popular demand as well. Still by comparison to the Austin Healy 100-4 and the Triumph TR2 the archaric design and engineering was considered a joke by the buying public. Flagging sales dropped even further. It is my impression that this is precisely what Lord wanted, to eliminate the MG line and all that Kimber stood for. His famous quote about looking fast even standing still was true enough for the AH and Triumph, but not the MG. The Directors of BMC were not ready to leave the MG Marque fade away... the name had too much recognition and still meant sports car, escpecially in the US which was the major market for BMC cars. It would take time to design a new sleek body, in 1954 a new engine, a bored out 1466cc, called the XPEG was stuffed under the bonnet to become the TF 1500. Only 9600 TF were ever produced, and in 1953 and 1954 while they could not be given away, today they are the most highly coveted of all the T-Series.
In 1955 the MG Car Company of BMC moved into the era of the modern sportscar with the introduction of the MGA which was first introduced with the 1500 engine of the TF. Initially fired in the cauldron of racing, attempted to be suppressed by corporate profits, and the personal prejudice of the longtime president of BMC, the MG arose and is today the epitome of the sports car.
Mention MG and there are very few who do not conjure up the image of top down motoring and hugging twisty roads at breakneck speeds. Mention the word sports car, and the first image that begins to form in the mind for most people is that of an MG.
It is the heritage that stretches from the imagination and dreams of Cecil Kimber to and through the T-Series, MGA, and MGB. A heritage of sports cars that other marques designers from Jaguar's, Healy's, Corvettes, Nissan's, Mazda's and the rest founded their concepts on what a sports car should be. None to my way of thinking have ever produced so popular a vehicle to replace an MG as a word synonymous with the word sports car.
Last modified: April 26, 2005
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