MG T-Series: What to know before you buy

[Editor's Note: this article originally ran in the July 2018 issue of Classic Motorsports.]

Ed Cooke
Abingdon Spares

The MG T-type is an accessible, easy-to-maintain entry into the classic car hobby. These charming two-seaters are reasonably priced for having such important history, and the parts availability is excellent considering their age.

None of the T-types are going to win a drag race, but a well-maintained and properly set-up MG TD or MG TF will probably offer the best back-roads driving experience. Their rack-and-pinion steering and independent front suspensions provide excellent handling, and their lower rear-axle ratios make them a bit more adept at higher-speed cruising. The MG TC is more “vintage” in response, but some enthusiasts prefer the prewar feel.

Since the T-type is a coachbuilt car, the wood framing within the tub is one of the most important areas to inspect. Unfortunately, most of it is covered by the metal exterior.

If you can get under the car, the large main wood rails running down the sides will be visible. The running boards bolt up to those rails, and you’ll be able to see the bottoms of the door hinge post and the door latch post. Soft or rotten wood here usually means some serious woodworking is needed.

While you’re under there, check the frame, especially where the center cross brace (which supports the cowl-supporting hoop) mounts to the frame. Other critical areas to inspect are the rear spring mounts, the front crossmember (which supports the engine and radiator), and the main side rails outside the frame (which support the wood rails and the running boards).

Test the fit of the doors, making sure they close reasonably well and that their hinge mounts are tight. Also check how the sides of the hood fit; they should close tightly around the cowl and the radiator. Poor alignment at either end could be a sign of poorly repaired frame or tub damage.

Repainting a T-type is comparable to repainting any car. Time and money are all it takes. There is one advantage, though: Most of the body is bolted onto the tub, so you can paint it in sections.

Sheet metal is still sold for these cars, but it’s not inexpensive. Luckily, there’s a fair amount of used sheet metal around, so replacement is often an option for very rusty or damaged fenders–or “wings” in the U.K. Most of the chrome parts are still available as reproductions, too.

The XPAG and XPEG are simple and reliable little engines. They are 60 years old, however, so they’ve either sat a long time or been rebuilt once or twice. Most rebuild parts are still available.

If the car is a runner, check the oil pressure: 60 psi or better is fine, 40 is okay, and 10 psi should be the minimum at idle.

Many engines have been bored out, some multiple times, but 0.060-over is about as far you would reasonably want to go. A new crankshaft is about the most expensive item you might need, and originals can be reground if they aren’t too far gone.

The usual checks for burning oil, knocks, rattles and compression issues apply–minimum should be 100 psi, but 120 to 130 psi or better is where it should be. Heads often crack around valve seats, but it’s unlikely you’ll see that in an inspection.

All T-types came with twin-SU carburetors–fairly typical by British standards. The carbs on many of these cars are horribly out of balance but still manage to stay running. Depending on your comfort level, a check may be in order.

The air filters changed with each model, so be sure you buy the right kind; replacements are expensive if you can find them.

T-type gearboxes can be noisy and still work fine. Check that the synchros on second, third and fourth gears are smooth. They can be rebuilt, although some gearbox parts are unavailable new.

No old Lucas jokes here. When properly maintained, the T-type electrical system is actually very straightforward: just headlights, taillights, wing lights, wipers and a horn outside. Blinker lights were added to later TDs and TFs, but that didn’t complicate anything.

The biggest electrical problems often stem from “fixes” that have made matters worse. Look for the red flags: modern-style, crimp-on connectors, patches to the wiring harness, odd switches on or under the dash, and in-line fuses. Replacement with a standard wiring harness is the best solution.

“No old Lucas jokes here. When properly maintained, the T-type electrical system is actually very straightforward.”

The starter motor and generator are pretty much standard British parts. Replacements are available, but most can be repaired by a competent shop. Voltage regulators are sold new, too, as are the standard SU fuel pumps. The speedometer and tachometer are both mechanical devices, and several mechanics specialize in rebuilding them.

Get a workshop manual and follow the service recommendations. These cars were meant to be serviced every 1000 to 3000 miles. They have lots of grease fittings, and for the MG TC, greasing the front suspension and steering is crucial. The TD and TF steering rack needs to have oil-not grease-in it and well undamaged boots on the tie rods. The tie rod ends are typically very worn, especially on those two models, resulting in lots of play in the steering.

T-types also need the classic tune-up: points, plugs, cap and wires. These items are supposed to be replaced every few years with moderate driving. Oil and filter changes should happen yearly and involve good-quality oil-ZDDP-and chassis lubrication. Greasing the chassis points not only minimizes friction, but keeps water and dirt out as well.

The front and rear suspensions contain many rubber bushings that can deteriorate and allow metal to wear on metal. Replacing them can prevent costly damage as well as improve the car’s handling and ride quality.

Pull the brake drums to look for leaking brake cylinders, and check for oil in the rear drums. Make sure the brake lines and flexible brake hoses are in good condition, and don’t forget to check the brake master cylinder mounted under the floorboards. If all looks okay, flush out the existing brake fluid with new fluid.

Corrosion and leaks in the fuel system and fuel tank can be addressed relatively inexpensively. Look over the cooling system, radiator and hoses, and change the oil and filter if you aren’t sure when it was last done.

Avoid working on the upholstery and top until you’ve driven the car for a few months; then you’ll know if anything is worth keeping before you go in on the expensive items.

Most importantly, drive the car; sitting unused is never good for an automobile.

Shopping Advice:

  1. Get involved in the MG community: Join a club, go to car shows, get to know a few owners, and ask their opinions.
  2. Know what you’re looking for: Read up on the various models. Learn to recognize what is original and what is not, because you want to buy a car with all the hard-to-find parts already on it.
  3. Don’t buy the first car you look at, and try to buy the best one your budget allows. Choose a complete car that you can slowly improve over a basket case for a bargain. Remember, many so-called basket cases are missing a few baskets-the ones that had all the hard-to-find parts in them.

Kelvin Dodd
Moss Motors, Ltd.

The first thing to remember about the T-series is that the earliest cars are now over 80 years old. When you think about it, car years are worse than dog years. Every example out there has lived many lives, most of them hard.

The MG TA through TC offer a unique driving experience. The suspension, handling and comfort level are acquired tastes. The MG TD and TF have a more rigid box frame, and the front suspension they borrowed from the MG YT is similar to the one in the MGA and MGB; the result is a comfortable ride, better handling and wider parts availability.

The prewar MG TA and TB are very rare here in the U.S., so many parts will need to be sourced from the U.K. The TB is narrower than the TC but has the same XPAG engine as the later cars.

The major systems, such as hydraulics, fuel, electrical and suspension, are all simple. Mechanically, the first areas to check for issues are the engine and gearbox. The original XPAG crankshaft is a weak spot, so receipts for a modern, high-strength replacement are a plus.

Unless it’s a reputable restoration, expect a T-type to have a surprising number of modifications, some less appropriate than others. There are many cars out there with swapped engines, commonly from a Volvo, MGA or MGB. Know what the engine compartment is supposed to look like before shopping.

Modern improvements, like electronic ignitions and fuel pumps, cut down on maintenance without changing the vintage character of the vehicle.

Tracking down 80 years’ worth of cut and spliced wiring is tiresome, so to me the most important system on the car is the wiring. The original, cloth-covered wire harnesses did not age well, prompting decades of Lucas jokes.

New, replacement wiring harnesses are not very expensive and offer a choice of plastic wire insulation or authentic-looking, cloth-covered wires. Choose plastic for a daily driver and cloth for a show car. Both options feature cloth outer wrappings that make the wires fairly easy to route.

The Ford T9 five-speed gearbox is now a common conversion and does make these cars much easier to drive. When buying a converted car, try to get the original gearbox and parts thrown in with the deal.

Repairs to the coachbuilt body tub require artistry. The steel panels were formed over the wooden framing, making each car unique. Replacement wood must be carefully fitted to the original components. The dimensions of a replacement or repaired tub can vary enough to cause assembly problems, so be wary of partially assembled projects.

Check the fit and symmetry of the bolt-on panels, including the fenders. Scan the underside of each panel for repairs. There will be some; the question is how well they were done. Some wrinkling of the metal and welding is expected after this many years, but you don’t want areas of thick filler.

Also look out for bubbling or unevenness at the bottom of panel work, which indicates rust patching. These areas will become a problem as the wood behind them retains moisture.

As you would with any classic, buy the best T-type you can afford. Parts are readily available for the postwar models, and restoring one can be very rewarding if you have the skills.

There are great books written about these cars-the ones sold by the New England MG “T” Register, for example-and many forums. Do some research and attend some car events, then make your purchase.

“Steel panels were formed over the wooden framing, making each car unique.”

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