T Time

The MG T-series introduced Americans to the sports car. Where most of our domestic postwar offerings were big, bloated and drenched in chrome, the MG TC showed us that less could be more.

The T-series might not have been the most advanced contraption ever put on this planet, but its design just worked. It mated a robust engine with a simple chassis and cozy interior—and that’s about it. The car contained exactly what was needed for the day’s motoring activities.

However, this design wasn’t the product of a savvy postwar marketing department. The 1945 MG TC looked like an old car because it was an old car. Its design picked up where the prewar MG sports cars left off; in fact, the MG TC was probably closer in design to the brand’s first sports car, the 1929 M-type, than anything offered by Detroit at the time.

Peter Brock and others still praise the T-series’ design, but are those accolades based on sepia-toned memories or recent experiences? The earliest examples of the postwar MG T-series are now 65 years old, and we have certainly made much automotive progress since then.

We don’t have a time machine, but there is a way to step back a few years and sample these landmark cars. The Lane Motor Museum just happens to have beautiful examples of the MG TC, TD, TF and TF 1500 in their collection.

In fact, museum founder Jeff Lane began his personal automotive journey with a T-series. When he was 12, he told his dad that he’d like his own MG. Dad obliged and delivered an MG TF for Christmas. It was far from a running, driving car, but four years later Lane had it back together and used it to take his driver’s test. He and the MG covered some 40,000 miles throughout the next three years.

Today, the museum that Lane created boasts nearly 350 cars, including the ones that imported the sports car craze from Europe. A day spent with these machines showed not only how far the genre had come, but how right it was from day one.

MG TC: Postwar Production, Prewar Charm

The MG TC was basic, but it had enough charm and character to seduce American sports car fans.

The MG Car Company didn’t need much time to reboot after World War II, as production of their TC began late in 1945. Their MG TC pretty much picked up where the prewar MG TB left off: cut-down doors, wire wheels, running boards and not much else. It was basic motoring equipment.

While the TC was based on a prewar design, the car did feature some updates, including a wider, more comfortable cockpit. The front suspension design went from sliding trunions to conventional shackled springs. For the most part, though, it was the 1930s all over again.

America might have been entering the jet age, but this throwback sports car struck a nerve. Despite the lack of power, weather protection, creature comforts and even a left-hand driving position, the TC was a hit in the U.S. The sports car scene was just taking off, and the TC was the right tool for the day’s races, rallies and gymkhanas.

Getting on track meant following an easy recipe: Fold down the windshield, tape up the lights and go play. The rest of Europe was still recovering, while the American manufacturers were quickly embracing the “bigger is better” approach. England’s TC benefitted from great timing; it also offered a terrific, fun package.

Value Today: $18,000-$47,000

Andy Reid’s Shopping Advice: The TC is a hold. I would buy a nice one at the lower end. You see fewer and fewer TCs out there for reasonable money. It is the first and will always have a place historically.

Test Drive: The TC reigns from a long-gone era, but it’s more advanced than you’d think. It’s quick enough to keep up with in-town traffic—figure it could more or less run with a standard Mini. The steering is heavy, but the big wheel definitely helps.
Our car’s most significant issue was its brakes. We’d label the four-wheel drums as okay, vague, and decent at best.

Parting Words: The MG TC may be full of 1930s technology, but it can still work as an in-town commuter.

MG TD: Refining the Formula

The MG TD took a few steps up the evolutionary ladder, trading spindly wire wheels for steel disc pieces while gaining a more advanced suspension.

MG had a hit on their hands, and the TD was intended to capitalize on that momentum. While the MG TD retained those classic, prewar looks, this car received a host of upgrades, many perfect for the growing American market.

MG released the TD for the 1950 model year, and though the 1250cc engine was a carryover, the chassis was new. Up front, coil springs and wishbones replaced the solid axle found on the TC. A new frame gave the rear springs more room to operate, meaning their rate could be decreased. Relatively speaking, the TD was softer and more comfortable.

The 19-inch wire wheels found on the TC were also a thing of the past, replaced with 15-inch steel pieces. Wire wheels weren’t even an option.

The TD featured another update squarely aimed at the American market: left-hand drive. Wider, lower and a little less spindly looking, the TD continued to give Americans a simple, fun sports car. Competition, however, was looming.

Value Today: $15,000-$32,000

Andy Reid’s Shopping Advice: The TD is a good buy at $15,000. You’re getting a vintage sports car—practically a prewar car—for peanuts at that price. If someone is offering you $35,000 for your TD, sell it fast.

Test Drive: The MG TD drives more like a real car than its predecessor. The suspension is considerably softer, and the brakes are much better. The car is still long on character, but fewer excuses are needed to justify it.
The lowered driving position also gives the TD a much sportier feel. Honestly, we’d call the experience closer to a Miata than a Model A.

Parting Words: This one may be our favorite, as it beautifully balances those traditional looks with a much more usable package.

MG TF: Sleeker Looks, More Power

Like so many other enthusiasts, Jeff Lane’s automotive career started with the MG TF—in fact, he restored one as a young boy. The TF added some modern styling touches to the classic T-series formula.

MG released the TF for 1953, retaining many of the cues that worked so well on their previous cars.

Full-length running boards? Check. Flowing, separate fenders? Check. Somewhat small 1250cc engine? Check. Wood skeleton topped with steel skin? Check.

Unfortunately, there was some new competition in town. The Triumph TR2 and Austin-Healey 100/4 were also released for 1953, giving the American sports car enthusiast a choice of faster, sleeker, more modern cars. The Corvette was also new that year.

The MG? Well, there were some updates. While the basic running gear remained unchanged, the TF received flowing front fenders with integrated headlights. The grille was angled back a bit, and wire wheels were again offered. The interior also received some work, with the traditional round gauges replaced by octagonal units, the shape recalling the MG logo.

However, the TF had become old, and the all-new MGA wasn’t quite ready for its debut. MG had a solution: Increase displacement to 1466cc for 1954. Like the first TF, the later TF 1500 helped act as a stopgap model until the MGA was ready for 1955.

And with the MGA’s release, MG’s era of very traditional sports cars came to a close. The TF might have been old even in its day, but the T-series helped spark the world’s love affair with MG.

Value Today: $18,000-$30,000

Andy Reid’s Shopping Advice: I’d sell a TF 1500 at any price over $35,000. Note that there are a lot of ratty MG T-series cars out there sporting tons of Bondo and vinyl interiors.

Test Drive: The TF doesn’t really have enough power to enjoy the new aerodynamic shape—although the TF 1500 definitely provides more motivation. The sloped nose does offer better visibility. The seats didn’t thrill us, though, as the fixed buckets seemed a bit too upright.

Parting Words: If you like the TD but prefer wire wheels and slightly more flowing lines, then the TF is the one.

MG TF 1500

Value Today: $25,000-$40,000

Andy Reid’s Shopping Advice: I would call any No. 3 condition TF at under $20,000 a great buy, and they are out there. These are great, highly usable cars.

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View comments on the CMS forums
Rupert HalfDork
1/11/11 12:20 p.m.

I had a '52 TD when I lived in Southern California. I loved that car but even then, you could barely go anywhere except by freeway. Most of the surface streets just served as freeway feeders. That car was absolutely scary on the freeways at that time. Traffic then, not now, often ran 75 mph or more during off peak times. You don't want to be on a four or five lane freeway in a TD when everyone is running 75 plus! For one thing you are so low people don't see you in the traffic. At least on a motorcycle you had some power and you were high enough to be seen.

Since I couldn't afford to own two cars at that time I sold my TD for $495. I had to drop the price $100 because the top blew a big hole right before I sold the car.

Of course I was hooked and have owned several TRs & other British Beasts since. But somehow I never got around to buying another MG. They just seem too underpowered for my tastes.

ronbros Reader
2/9/11 7:35 p.m.

my introduction to 1952 MG TD, just before christmas in 52, not a happy time.

two guys identical twins(in lynn mass) bought for themselves 2 new MGs, a red one and a green one, they used to go out on the back country roads,and braggin about there cars handling.

i had a 1932 ford roadster channelled, with a 46 Mercury V8, that was all well and good,never did race against them heard they were out racing each other , one lost it on a curve, crashed and killed.

a sad end ,but life goes on, his brother sold his TD, never seen him again!

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