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MG T-Series: The Sports Car America Loved First

These classics were owned by Clark Gable, raced by Phil Hill and showcased in movies driven by Rock Hudson and Ryan O'Neal. Owners are passionate about them.

The GIs stationed in Europe after the Second World War first fell in love with them. And when they shipped them home, America captured the fever. Arguably the MG TC began this country’s love affair with the sports car.

MG TCs were fun, nimble, compact and bathed its occupants in sunshine. From those first imports, the MG T-Series generated enthusiasts, clubs, national gatherings and aftermarket parts producers. They mark a significant milestone in America’s automotive history.

The MG TC is further legendary as the inspiration for Moss Motors. Founder Al Moss bought a 1948 TC, but found that the dealers weren’t stocking many of the parts. He knew that fellow owner-enthusiasts were in the same boat, so he started importing components directly from England while also fabricating parts in his shop. Moss parts were often better than the originals, and he produced some unique performance items to enhance the standard model. Al raced his TC, so his parts were put to the test. By the way, he still owns his TC racer.

So Moss Motors started as an MG T-Series parts supplier. It eventually expanded to later MG models, and then Triumphs and other British marques. When British-Leyland left the U.S. market, Moss purchased the factory parts inventory from the entire dealer network.

The company is still custom fabricating a host of parts for the T-Series, and is the largest supplier in the world. Pretty much everything for these cars are available. Technical expert Kelvin Dodd says that the company’s focus is primarily on keeping as much of the original parts stocked as possible, since so many owners are intent on the classic approach to restoration and maintenance.

“What is amazing is that we’re still seeing original ground-up restorations on T-Series cars,” says Dodd. “They’re still coming out of the weeds.”

Moss can still supply original components like the wooden battery box liner, hose clamps, flock-lined glove box, hand crank with brass handle, black coil and the under dash cover in black Rexine. Their seat cushions even have the correct number of pleats—six.

It All Starts with the 1936 MG TA

Moss is fanatical about part originality and quality – even some of the bolts are specially made in England.

The TC wasn’t the company’s first sports car. The TA, which replaced the MG PB in 1936, originated the distinctive T-Series design—that impressive radiator flanked by sweeping fenders, running boards, cutaway doors, folding windscreen, curved dash and rear-mounted spare wheel. The steel-over-ash wood body was bolted to the chassis and featured a leaf spring suspension.

Mechanically, the TA featured an overhead valve, four-cylinder 1292cc engine with twin SU carburetors. It produced 50 bhp, a big increase over its predecessor. Hydraulic brakes and synchromesh in the top two gears were added for the first time on a MG. A belt-driven cooling fan and pump, plus a thermostat, were other innovations. In three years, the company made 3,003 TAs. The car also set the scene for four more models to come over 19 years of production.

MG introduced the TB model in 1939 with the all-new 1250cc XPAG engine, an overhead valve pushrod unit producing 54 bhp. It had a larger bore and shorter stroke allowing faster and safer high revving; plus it was more reliable and capable of more tuning. Its new gearbox had synchromesh on the top three gears; a telescopic steering column was also added. Chassis and body were essentially the same as the TA. Only 379 TBs were finished before WW II broke out. Few TAs or TBs made it across the Atlantic.

MG TC Inspires Devotion
When the war ended, MG scrambled to produce cars again, merely tweaking the TB mechanically and cosmetically. The TC was launched in 1945 at a time when exporting goods earned manufacturers a greater allotment of steel and raw materials from the government in exchange for the hard currency. Many TCs went to Commonwealth countries like Australia, but when American GIs started shipping their cars home, they knew there would be demand in the U.S.

Of the 10,001 TCs produced over four years, 2,000 were officially exported to the U.S. The company developed a North American version with U.S.-spec sealed beam headlights, larger dual tail lights, turn signals, and chromed front and rear bumpers. But they did not see the need to offer left-hand drive. Reputation grew with celebrities like Clark Gable and the Duke of Edinburgh driving them, and racers like Phil Hill and Briggs Cunningham competing in them.

Yet this reasonably priced car with classic looks and simple mechanicals made sports car ownership an option for the average Joe American, and opened up the market for many European imports to follow. Owners generally had to make their own repairs, and soon they were adding accessories, racing and getting together at meets. Others couldn’t help noticing how much fun they were having with their cars.

TD Brings Comfort to the Mix
Production on the more refined MG TD started in late 1949. More than three-quarters of the total 29,664 produced over four years were exported to the U.S. This was a wildly popular car in America.

Externally the TD had small styling changes to make it lower slung and beefier, like standard bumpers with overriders, and 15-inch steel wheels rather than the 19-inch wire wheels. But underneath, the changes made it a more comfortable drive with more responsive handling. It had a more rigid chassis, rack-and-pinion steering, independent front suspension with double wishbones and coil springs (retained for the MGA and MGB), and better brakes. Left-hand drive became an option.

With nearly 200 additional pounds of weight powered by the same XPAG engine, the TD was slower than the TC. To make up for this problem, Abingdon produced about 1,700 copies of the racier TD Mark II (known in the States as TDC for TD Competition Model). It had a more highly tuned engine, larger intake manifold, bigger SU carburetors, larger valves, twin fuel pumps and suspension upgrades. It also sported a pair of bucket seats. All these enhancements were also available for standard TD owners to upgrade performance.

TF Provides Swooping Style

Instruments were switched to the iconic octagon shape with the MG TF.

Jaguar’s XK120 brought sleek styling and sophistication to the 1948 London Motor Show, and MG responded in 1952 with the prototype for their forthcoming MGA. However, BMC management didn’t want any competition for the already green-lighted TR2 and Austin-Healey 100, so MG had to sit on their MGA plans.

They were instead only given approval for a facelift on the TD. The TF, also launched in 1953 alongside the more modern TR2 and Austin-Healey 100, got a lukewarm reception in comparison.

Even so, styling changes made the former upright model more swoopy and romantic. The grille angled back and the hood sloped down to meet it. The headlights were integrated into the wings, the wipers and motor were moved from the top of the windscreen, and the back end swept out. Wire wheels were back as an option.

The interior was also more comfortable, with individual adjustable seats; instrument dials became octagonal. But there was no change in performance over the TD Mark II—it reached 80 mph, but the new Triumph topped 100.

Moss offers upgrades on many components, such as the five-speed conversion kit with synchromesh on all five gears, Pertronix electronic ignition and the conversion kit to MGB front shocks. A new TD wiper motor, under development for four years, will be out soon.

The following year, the engine was redesigned and enlarged to the 1466cc XPEG engine, and the model was badged the TF 1500. The engine produced 10.5 percent more power (63 bhp) and 17 percent more torque. There was little visual difference between models.

Production of the T-Series ended in 1955 when the MGA finally made its worldwide debut. A total of about 9,600 TFs were built, including 3,400 TF 1500s.

Time had finally caught up with the T-Series, although the cars have not waned much in popularity. Judging by the sales figures for the replacement parts plus the number of cars still seen at shows, the T-Series is still supported by a legion of fans.

Insider’s Info:
• There was never a fuel gauge on the T-Series cars. Owners must periodically stop and poke a notched stick into the tank to measure the fuel level.
• The T-series had what were dubbed “suicide doors,” those rakish cutaway doors hinged at the rear that could blow back if not fully closed.
• Pack light if you’re a T-Series owner—luggage capacity is limited to the space behind the seats.
• Fair weather driving is advisable since the wipers only clear part of the windshield and there is no wiper fluid system. Oh, and there is no standard interior heater, either.
• The center-hinged bonnet with folding, louvered side panels provides good access to the engine. In true sporting tradition, toolboxes were built onto the bulkhead.
• Since trained mechanics and parts for major engine repairs were scarce when the cars were first imported to the U.S., MG created a set of spare engines that could be swapped for a worn one.
• In 1954, MG set a number of speed records on Utah’s Salt Flats with a car that was essentially a stock TF.  The drivers lapped the 10-mile course at 124 mph for 12 hours, capturing seven international and 25 American records.
• The Gathering of the Faithful events are the annual highlights for many T-Series owners. They were started in 1965 and are now held on both coasts yearly. Check out GoFWest.com, tcmotoringguild.org, www.nemgtr.org and abingdonroughriders.org for details.
• Current values put a TA at $24,000-$40,000, TB at $20,000-$40,000, TC at $18,000-$47,000, TD at $15,000-$32,000, TF at $18,000-$30,000 and TF 1500 at $25,000-$40,000 for examples in good condition.

MG TD Popular Replacement Parts
181-195 – Brake Master Cylinder
434-010 – Water Pump
111-108 – Major Bumper Assembly, front
454-170 – Grille, Zinc-plated
140-400 – Starter
245-878 – Leather Seat Kit w/Vinyl Panel and Trim Kit, Tan
454-478 – Carpet Set, Black
357-080 – Wiring Harness
454-528 – Stainless Steel Exhaust System
281-528 – Body Rubber Kit

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