Recently, when I was asked for a description of the MG TC’s place in automotive history, a response was easy: “If it weren’t for this car, I would probably be in a different line of work.”
No other car could have captured the American market the way this jaunty sportster did right after WW II. GIs returning from Europe introduced these British machines to enthusiasts on this side of the pond. Then formal distribution commenced through a network of distributors and dealers who were themselves enthusiasts. (Of whom Al Moss was one!—Ed.) The TC was priced right, around $2,000, and its performance, while ridiculously slow by 1990s standards, was sprightly when compared with our cumbersome and slow-revving automotive offerings at the time. Today, a family sedan not able to break 10 seconds in a 60 mph acceleration test is considered a sluggard. Those early post-war MGs took at least twice that long to get there…yet, at the time, they were considered sporty and fast. MGs, in stock form and modified, comprised the nucleus of the early SCCA race fields at Watkins Glen, Bridgehampton, Pebble Beach, and Torrey Pines.
Introduced in 1945 at the Earl’s Court Auto Show, the MG TC, a facelift of the pre-war TB, was distinguished by a narrow, squarish, wood-framed body with rakish cut-down doors, spidery-looking 19″ wheels, and a fold-down windshield to reduce wind resistance. At the front stood a vertical radiator, outlined by a simple yet distinctive shell and separate headlamps. At the rear, a vertical spare wheel and tire were mounted to the slab-sided gas tank. Weather protection, such as it was, was provided by a folding canvas top and demountable side curtains that were stored behind the seat back. With its louvered hood taking up half the car’s length, the TC looked as if it was powered by a monster of an engine, and many first-time viewers were amazed to find a diminutive four-banger under the bonnet! However, that 1250cc power unit put out 54 bhp at a busy 5,250 rpm, and propelled the MG to a maximum speed of about 80 mph.
Just looking at the raw specification makes one wonder what the MG TC offered that made it such a factor in establishing sports cars on these shores. The under-square three main bearing engine’s overhead valve train was actuated by pushrods from a camshaft mounted low in the cast iron block, and the four-speed gearbox demanded careful manipulation when shifting up or down. With semi-elliptic leaf springs and friction shock absorbers, the MG’s ride can only be described as firm, bordering on harsh, and it didn’t take well to rough surfaces, particularly when cornering. All TCs produced were right-hand drive, making passing on United States roads a bit dicey! Parking was even more perilous, as no bumpers were provided as standard.
Despite the foregoing, the sporty MG TC was a delight, and its fans ascribed positive character to its idiosyncrasies. A raspy exhaust note, coupled with plenty of mechanical engine and gear noise, emphasized that sporty personality. Proper gear changing required double clutching and involved a technique called “heel and toe,” which involved the driver’s right foot simultaneously on both the accelerator and brake pedals.
Those who mastered this were disdainful of the inept majority who could not! Similarly, the tachometer, rather than the speedometer, was considered the most important of the gauges that were spread across the instrument panel, and it was accorded a position directly in front of the driver, while the speedometer was directly in front of the passenger. If the indicated rpm fell below 2,000, a change down to the next lower gear was in order, and the whippy three-bearing crank did not take kindly to being pushed beyond 5,000 rpm. Driving a TC required skill, and that may not have been one of the car’s strongest selling points…it was not everyone’s cup of tea!
By 1949, when the TCs successor, the TD, was introduced as a 1950 model, exactly 10,000 TCs had been built, about half of which found their way to this country. These cars are now prized by not only collectors and enthusiasts, but also by vintage racers. 40 years after they were imported to this country, many well preserved and restored TCs have been re-imported to land of their birth—Great Britain. On both sides of the Atlantic, a car restored to prime condition will bring many times its original price, with some reported sales in excess of $30,000.