MGA: The One That Got Away

It’s confession time again…I have never owned an MGA. No, it wasn’t due to an oversight; the car just didn’t turn me on at the time. Possibly, my loyalty to the traditional, angular T Series roadsters was the basis for my antipathy towards the streamlined, envelope-bodied A. Like many others, I think that I felt somehow betrayed by Abingdon. Now, I regret having taken that hardline.

For me, infatuation with MGs as a marque had begun in the late 1940s,when a neighbor, Dr. Al Ryan, spent his spare time tinkering with his Lea Francis-powered TC in his driveway. Doc Ryan had done the engine swap after he bought the year-old car from the famous (infamous?) Tommy Manville, who was better known for his penchant for Rolls Royces and chorines. I guess those two hobbies had a lot in common…high initial cost and limited residual value being two shared characteristics that come immediately to mind.

My first awareness of the MGA came when my friend David Ash raced one, a white car featuring racing numbers framed by an octagon rather than the usual rondelle. As wholesale/distribution manager for Inskip’s Fast Coast MG territory, David could call on some serious resources in addition to the demonstrated ability ‘.hat had earned him the title Mr. MG. Yet despite David’s well-documented success, I remained loyal to (the memory of) my Birch Grey TF 1250.

Not long alter meeting Doc Ryan, I purchased my first MG, a medium-green RFID TD. it was bought from Perry Finn, who had a foreign car shop in mid-town Manhattan. Inasmuch as Finn was not an authorized MG dealer, the transaction would be labeled a gray market purchase today, but not in 1950, as imports were novelties in those days, posing no threat to the viability of domestic franchises. A second TD soon followed, this a I.FID car purchased from Inskip, who were distributors for Rolls Royce and Aston Martin in addition to MG and Riley.

As those leaders who follow my ramblings already are aware, I later worked for Inskip, both in New York and Providence. In 1951, after a tour of duty in Korea, I returned to Inskip for a TF 1250, which was to be my favorite model. Then in 1961, I look delivery of a new MGB roadstcr, again from the Inskip showroom. That year I was president of the Westchester Sports Car Club, and I arranged for the delivery to take place during a club meeting hosted by Inskip president/son-in-law George Jessop. Later that year I found myself on Inskip’s payroll.

In order to try to understand why no MGA ever occupied the Newton garage during the model’s timeline window, between 1956 and 1962, the following list is comprised of cars that did take up residence. Actually, as a Chrysler Corporation employee, the first two years were marked by a series of company cars, the most enjoyable of which was a Plymouth Fury that we ran in some SCCA rallies.

In 1958, Bob Grossman sold me a Morris Minor 1000 Traveller… it served as my mount for my first gymkhana, at the NYAC Travers Island parking lot. Demonstrating its versatility, the Morris also delivered Betty to New Rochelle Hospital for the delivery of number 2 son, Brian. The Morris was followed by a Mercedes Benz 219 that did not survive the Morlee Motors 1958 Christmas party, a Lancia Appia Senes III sedan that was a jewel of a car, and a frogeye Sprite, a car that remains among my personal top 10. In 1959, an Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint Normale lasted only a week before Magnetli-Marelli frustrations caused me to replace it with a Porsche 1600 Normal coupe. A change of employment resulted in a series of Buicks beginning in 1961, which did not cause expulsion of the Sprite, nor did it prevent me from acquiring a very nice ZA Magnetic.

With the exception of the Sprite, all my cars during this period had roll-up windows…a feature that in retrospect seems to have been subliminally important. Another shared feature was capacity for more than two people. We had four children between 1957 and 1961. By the time I replaced my four-month-old Buick Riviera with a MGB roadster in 1963, Betty had a Buick station wagon, which became the default family transport, allowing me more latitude in my personal transportation choices.

In the past 10 years, I have at last come to appreciate the MGA, ever since seeing Franz Nelson’s Brian Anderson (Classic European) restored Twin-Cam roadster at the Palos Verdes Concours d’ Elegance. After spending several hours inspecting and probing, and listening to input from other knowledgeable spectators, I finally was ready to concede that the A indeed had been a most worthy series, and that I had cheated myself by having passed this one over, 30-some years earlier, in fact. Weather protection notwithstanding, the MGA really was a superior design exercise. Dare I call it a future classic?

In some respects, the MGA ranks right up with the Jaguar XK 120, ahead of the Triumph TR-2 and TR-3, and on par with the brilliant first-generation Austin-Healey. It was as roomy as the Jag and nearly as stylish, and could deliver a three-figure top speed, even in its initial 1500cc form. Later, an attractive but space-deprived coupe was offered, which featured crank-up windows as a welcome alternative to the side-curtains that kept some of the ram oil roadster occupants. And, over the years, displacement and performance both were expanded and front disc brakes were added. For competition drivers, a twin-overhead cam engine, 4-wheel disc brakes and Rudge knock-off disc wheels were an extra cost variant that still didn’t match the performance of the then class-dominant Porsche Carrera Speedster. After giving up on the Twin Cam model, the remaining inventory of center-lock disc wheels was fitted to a series of pushrod-engined MGA De Luxe roadsters that presaged the introduction of the successful MGB. Now, if I could find one of those under a pile of hay in a barn…hmm.


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