A Brief History of MG

By Bill Rothermel, SAH

Cecil Kimber was the man behind MG. In 1921 he met William Richard Morris who offered him a job as a salesperson. One year later he became general manager of Morris Garage on Alfred Lane in Oxford, England where he began modifying Morris’ cars for a motoring clientele anxious for more than the staid and practical. In the corner of the garage, he built a special car on the chassis of a Morris Cowley with which he won the London-Lands End Trial in 1923. By the fall of 1927, Kimber had moved the growing operation into expanded facilities in Cowley while referring to the company as the MG Car Company. From its early days of building special bodies onto Morris chassis, the company would come to epitomize the classic English sports car.

Much like Porsche, the company would build its reputation through an instantly recognizable style as well as winning laurels at the highest levels of international sports car racing.  In a nutshell, MG introduced sports cars to the mass market.  Many notable cars would follow. 

Produced in 1934-35, the PA would precede the iconic T-series of roadsters so well-known today.  Its small 847cc 4-cylinder, single overhead cam engine would produce 36hp in standard guise.  Three factory-backed PA’s managed by George Eyston, would compete at the 24 hours of LeMans in 1935.  Known as the “Dancing Daughters,” this pioneering all-female team would finish the race in 23, 24, and 25th positions.

The PB would follow in 1935 offering a more powerful 939cc 4-cyliner engine delivering 43hp.  In July of that same year, the MG Car Company and Wolseley Motor Ltd. would be sold by William Morris to Morris Company Ltd. and the company would continue to prosper.  In addition to the sporting cars, MG would introduce the SA-Type in 1936.  It could be supplied as a saloon or tourer and many cars would leave the company as a rolling chassis to be sent to a coachbuilder for custom bodies.  These were not sports cars despite being equipped with 2288cc and later 2322cc six-cylinder engines.  Approximately 700 were sold up to the time of WWII.

July 1936 brought the introduction of a new Midget, the TA.  It was equipped with a 1,292cc 4-cylinder producing 50hp.  It was succeeded by the TB in May, 1939; the notable change being an increase in engine horsepower to 54hp.  For twenty years MG’s would enjoy successes in racing until WWII interrupted and production shifted to bomber parts. 

By 1945, however, the firm was back in business producing pre-war designs and the new TC was an instant hit with American servicemen stationed in England.  Despite its rather crude design which included a flexible ladder-type chassis and solid axle front and rear suspension, the car was blessed with surprising agility.  It was powered by a simple 1250cc cast iron four-cylinder engine that enabled a top speed near 80 mph with leisurely acceleration that added to its old-fashioned appeal.  Approximately 10,000 were produced from 1945-1949, all with right-hand drive.

Considered by many the archetypical British roadster, the TC is credited for turning Americans on to European sports cars.  Although advertised as the “Quick Handling Sports Car,” the fact remained that the TC was old-fashioned.  But that didn’t matter.  The free-standing headlights, upright radiator shell, sweeping front fenders, fold-down windscreen, rakish cutaway doors, abbreviated tail, and wire wheels with knock-off hubs helped to make an MG . . .  an MG.  It was the MG, in-fact, that spawned the practice of honking the horn whenever one passed another foreign sports car on the road; kind of like a secret signal. 

The TC’s successor was the TD.  Generally a similar car, it was brought up-to-date with an independent coil front suspension.  The wire wheels were replaced with discs, front and rear bumpers were made standard, and the body was widened for more interior comfort.  At the time, many MG enthusiasts abhorred the move away from the more traditional appearance of the car which dated all the way back to 1933, but the car was nonetheless, a logical improvement of a design which couldn’t go on forever.  The TD would remain in production until the summer of 1953 when it would be replaced by another upgraded version of the car, the TF.   Nearly 30,000 TD’s would be produced during the model run.
The TF would be the final iteration of MG’s T-series of roadsters.  Essentially a streamlined update of the TC/TD, the nose would be re-worked to accommodate a raked-back radiator shell with dummy cap, headlamps were faired into the front fenders, the tail was revised and instruments were given octagonal housing echoing the MG badge.  The drivetrain would be taken straight from the TD, but beginning in the autumn of 1954, an enlarged, more powerful four was substituted and the model designation changed to TF 1500.  In production from October 1953 to April 1955, a total of 9,600 TF’s would be produced. In classic MG tradition, the windscreen would fold flat for wind-in-the-face driving.  All-weather protection was provided by snap-in side curtains made of canvas and clear plastic over metal frames; still no wind-up side windows.

Another important milestone in the history of the MG marque took place in 1952.  The Nuffield Group (which included Morris, MG, Riley and Wolseley) combined with Austin to form the British Motor Corporation.  In addition to sports cars, MG would introduce the Magnette Saloon in 1954 featuring an Austin chassis, Wolseley body, and an MG grille.  This would begin the sharing of componentry among the marques that were comprised within BMC.

The MGA in 1500 configuration was first introduced to the market in 1955 as a replacement for the 19-year-old MG T-series.  At last the company had a competitive car with the looks, handling and performance of a contemporary car.  Styling was sleek and shockingly modern compared to its predecessor.  Wood framing had finally given way to modern all-steel construction with both roadster and coupe versions available.  Originally introduced as a 1500, the MGA featured the modern B-series engine that made its debut in the Magnette saloon. 

A twin-cam version of the MGA would reach the market in 1958.  It boasted a 1588cc, 108hp engine and four wheel disc brakes.  The sophisticated engine was deemed not only costly to produce, but costly to operate and maintain.  Just 2,111 were manufactured before the vehicle was discontinued in 1960. The 1600 Mark II was the last of the MGA series and would mark the introduction of front wheel disc brakes in a regular series car.  Production began in April 1961 and ceased in June 1962 with 8,719 units completed when the new MGB arrived.  The Mark II differed from previous models with vertical bars in the grille that were recessed at the bottom; a new taillight cluster borrowed from the Mini; and most noteworthy, the installation of BMC’s 1622cc four-cylinder engine.  This cast-iron block motor offered an increase in horsepower of 13% as well as an increase in torque of 12%, while displacement increased only 34cc.  The 93hp engine offered a top speed in excess of 100mph.  In total, 101,476 MGA’s were produced in both fixed-head coupe and roadster variations. 

Under the corporate umbrella of BMC, MG introduced the Midget in 1961.  Built on the same production line as the Austin-Healey Sprite, it was essentially a badge-engineered version of the same car.  Despite the fact that the Austin-Healey Sprite would be discontinued in 1971, the Midget would remain in production through 1979.  A total of 226,427 would be produced.

The MGB roadster was first introduced in 1962.  It was produced through 1980 and was known for its excellent handling characteristics.  The car was initially equipped with a 1,798cc overhead valve 4-cylinder producing 84hp and 4-speed overdrive gearbox with overdrive in 3rd and 4th gears.  Contemporary road tests of the early cars gave 0-60mph performance of 12.1 seconds and a top speed of 108mph.  A closed coupe called the MGB GT was introduced in September 1965 adding to the practical appeal of the model.  These would evolve into the MGC (produced from 1967-1969) offering a 2,912cc six-cylinder Austin-Healey engine and a GT V-8 (1973-1976)  which shoehorned a Rover 3.5 litre V-8 into the GT Coupe engine bay.  Just 8,999 of the former and 2,591 of the latter were produced.  Performance in later models suffered due to continuing government safety and emission regulations.  Due to the continuing decline of sales in the U.S. market as well as the ailing health of the parent corporation British Leyland (who took over in 1968), production would cease in 1980 after 386,961 roadsters and 125,282 GT’s were built. 

The last MG would leave the Abingdon, England assembly line on October 23, 1980.  Although, not the final cars produced, a limited edition MGB painted black with special silver stripes would commemorate the passing of the marque.  The roadster would also include five-spoke alloy wheels, luggage rack, leather-wrapped three-spoke steering wheel, and a limited edition plaque for the glove box door.  A total of 6,688 would be produced. 

With that, MG would be gone from the U.S. market.  The name, however refused to die as British-Leyland would continue to use the MG marque on a series of Austin automobiles.  Still later, Rover and BMW would also attempt revivals of the fabled name.  But that’s another story.  Join us today as we celebrate this fabled marque.  Happy motoring!