The MG Story: The MG T Type

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The MG Story: The MG T Type



Strictly speaking, the Type TA was a continuation of the line of Midgets that terminated in 1936 with the PB, but its size and characteristics differed so greatly that it seems to belong with the medium-sized Magnette category.

Like Kimber's first M-Type, this Nuffield roadster had a modified Morris engine - basically a "ten-four.” With a long stroke, three-port exhaust , and wet cork-faced clutch the TA was smooth but very definitely limited to 4800rpm. Three years of experience showed exactly what was needed, and a gross redesign in 1939 turned up the plucky TB, which only the most knowledgeable Midgetophile can distinguish from the familiar TC.

The TB's willingness to work hard and long quickly won over the hardened, sceptical PB fans; the reasons why will be fully covered further on. With the remarkable exception of the R-Type, MG development from FC 7900 to the outbreak of World War 2 was unwaveringly traditional and always lovingly shaped by Kimber, Charles, and company. Racing, trials, and record runs, by the "works" and by private owners, proved the cars and pointed the way for the next editions. If something broke, it was made thicker. If it was too heavy, it was drilled. If it moved, it was tied down.

The resulting cars, produced in quantity for racing and touring were rugged yet refined, and were probably the best small sports machines the world had then known. Only a diamond-hard and jealous core of enthusiasts had ever heard of, let alone owned an MG, though. Abingdon's greatest days were yet to come.

Les Murphy

The MG marque became well known in Australian motor racing circles in the thirties because of the exploits of one Les Murphy who won the Australian Grand Prix in a P type in 1935, This achievement caught the attention of Cecil Kimber, the firm's founder and leading force, and Murphy's picture was used in the sales brochure for the company's new two-seater sports cars in 1936. But despite early recognition here, exports of MGs at that time were insignificant and it was not until the late forties that the TC model really put the MG Car Company on the world map. Many today think of the TC as the first MG. But that car had its roots in 1935 when William Morris, owner of the company, called an end to the factory's direct involvement in motor sport and stressed that more components were to be used at Abingdon from within his Morris/Wolseiey empire.

A new two seater sports car, the TA, was designed for 1936 and it differed from preceding models in two ways. The OHC engine, which in one form or another had powered most MGs to date (the Midgets, Magnas and Magnettes), was discarded amid cries of despair from the diehards and more comfort and weather protection were provided. The use of the letter T for this new model was because the factory used a different letter of the alphabet for each new type of series. In 1935 the two-litre sports sedan took the letter S, so the next in line was T. Derivations of this type took on a second letter, so that the first version became known as the TA only after the arrival of the TB. Up until that time it was merely 'The Series T".

T-Types and Y-Types

Today we talk of the range of models in the T series as "T types" and "Y types" , and these stayed in production in one form or another (excluding the war years) until 1955. These models brought world recognition to MG and more than 50,000 were built. By the end of 1937 the factory was building MGs at an annual rate of about 2900 cars, and this figure was not bettered until 1947, largely because of the war. Besides the TA, there were two sports sedans, the two-litre SA and the 1.5 litre VA in production in 1937.

The engine of the 1936 TA Midget was similar to that of the pushrod ohv Wolseley Ten and had a capacity of 1292 cm3. This was significantly larger than the 939 cm3 of the PB it replaced. Hydraulic brakes were incorporated for the first time on an MG sports car - a development that Kimber had avoided even on the racing MGs. The engine was less highly tuned for reliability, a property that had become important for volume sales. The reason for enlarging the size of the Midget was to make it a better touring car in which two people and a reasonable amount of luggage could be accommodated on long distances without undue cramping.


Not only was the car longer than the PB, it was wider. The hood was designed for better protection from the elements, two well-fitting sidescreens on each side were fitted. The 68 litre (15-galIon) fuel tank gave the car a remarkable range. It was available only as an open two-seater at first but in 1937 the factory offered an alternative two-seater body shape. This was manufactured by Salmons and Sons at Newport Pagnal - which would later become the site of the Aston Martin works. The style was called Tickford and was a three-position drophead coupe. The windscreen was fixed and the doors were higher and had wind-up windows.

The canvas hood was superior in quality and could either be in the fully erected position, fully folded or half-way between the two. It is also thought that two Airline coupe bodies were built on the chassis and it is possible that other one-off bodies were manufactured to special order. The Tickford body was also offered on the TB but was not available after the war.

The MG TA Chassis

The chassis of the TA was underslung at the rear and upswept over the front axle. The side members were boxed for strength and bracing accomplished with tubular cross members and this gave a rigid chassis. Lubrication was provided by a Tecalemit system with copper pipes to all the necessary areas from one filling point on either side under the bonnet. The single plate clutch ran in oil and the four speed gearbox had syncro on third and top. Power output was 39 kW (52.4 bhp) at 5000 rpm which provided a higher top speed and acceleration was better too, despite an increase in weight.

Colours available in 1936 were black, red, blue and British Racing Green, either with upholstery to match or one of the other colours except black. The first derivative model was the TB which was introduced in early 1939 after a run of 3000 TAs. It was not announced loudly because although the cubic capacity dropped a little, the horsepower rating increased and it looked at the time as though the higher output would bring higher registration fees.

The XPAG Engine & MG TB

The new engine, called XPAG, had a bore and stroke of 66.5 mm x 90 mm giving 1250 cm3 . It was based on the new Morris M 10 unit and used a dry clutch and closer gearbox ratios of the VA. It gave more power through a wide rev range and has proved more reliable due to the shorter stroke. The body was the same as the later TA, which had only minor alterations, with a Tickford drop head coupe also available. Additional colors - duo green, maroon, light and metallic grey - were offered.

As soon as war was declared on September 3rd, 1939, Kimber made ready for engineering assignments from the War Office. Thus the TB had a short life and only 369 were produced. It is important for the student of the T-type to understand how they are identified. Chassis numbers of all T and Y types are stamped on the nearside dumb iron and use the model's letters - TA, TB - then the number. In every case the first chassis is numbered 251 and others progressively after that. The simple explanation is that 251 was the telephone number of the MG Car Company. The chassis and engine numbers were reproduced on a plate fastened to the toolbox, or bulkhead under the bonnet, and its removal negates the guarantee - not that owners today would be too worried about that.

The Post War MG

At the end of the war the company swung back into production as quickly as the availability of materials allowed. It would have been wasteful to manufacture new jigs and produce a new car so the basic TB was brought back with minor changes, By the end of 1945 81 TCs, as the post-war cars were known, had been built. The cockpit was 101 mm (4 in.) wider and the running boards were narrower. The rear trunnions gave way to shackles and one 12-volt battery was sited under the bonnet instead of two six-volt ones near the rear axle on either side of the propeller shaft.

Initially only black, red and green colours were available but later blue and cream were added. Exports were importance to Britain at the time (not that they are not today) but in a post war Europe, the country needed to earn foreign exchange; the MG Car Company became an important force. And as more cars were exported so more materials were made available. Exports of MGs traditionally found buyers in British Empire countries like Australia, South Africa, Singapore and Hong Kong. It was not until 1948 and 1949 that appreciable numbers were shipped to the United States. Out of a total of 10,000 units produced between December 1945 and December 1949 only around 2000 went to America.

Though the TC was a pre-war design it was accepted with jubilation by a world starved of pleasure motoring. Its poorer design aspects were viewed as pleasant idiosyncrasies. Naturally it was immediately used for motor sport both in standard and all sorts of modified forms. It was almost impossible to buy a new racing car so the TC was next best. It was here that MG's basic philosophy came into its own. The XPAG engine had been designed for reliability but could be readily tuned to produce far greater power. This more than anything set the factory swiftly on its feet and allowed that vital penetration of the American market that was to swell into nationwide thirst for MG that would ensure the later success of the MGB and Midget.

The MG Y-Series

Halfway into 1947 an MG sedan was introduced and although not strictly a T-series car it has since become part of that family because it shared many T components. This was the Y-series four-door which was also basically a pre-war design with more time devoted to updating its specification before production began. It was a four-door four-seater not unlike the Morris Eight and used the XPAG engine with a single carburettor and milder camshaft timing. Its limiting feature was its weight which reduced performance considerably, The Y sedan became very popular, notably because of the more precise rack and pinion steering and independent front suspension. The car was comfortable and these two mechanical features were not common on small sedans of the day.

Using the XPAG unit meant that the engine could be tuned using TC experience and some were entered for competition. Perhaps the fastest in its day was a supercharged example owned by Dick Benn which Goldie Gardner took to 169 km/h (104,7 mph) in 1950. The interior trim was exceptionally plush, with much polished wood and deep leather seats. A sunshine roof provided pleasant motoring on warmer days and the windscreen could be wound out to provide extra ventilation. The boot was moderate but leg room in the back was sufficient for the average sized person. Bumper bars were fitted front and back and the large upright chromed radiator shell showed to one and all that it was proud of its MG ancestry.

Eighteen months after the Y sedan came the tourer version in true pre-war MG tradition. The shape of this model left plenty to be desired and although mainly an export model it was not met with the expected enthusiasm. It had twin carburettors and the TC camshaft but the body weight, though less than the sedan, was just too much for the 1250 cm3 engine to push along quickly. The car is better appreciated today, particularly since only 877 were produced and it is the second rarest of the T-series cars. It did not have the interior finish of the sedan but it had a Jackall internal jacking system like the sedan but not the same plush interior.

Late in 1951 an improved version of the Y-series sedan became available and was designated the YB, the earlier model now becoming the YA. It used the hypoid differential, smaller wheels and two leading shoe brakes of the TD with larger shock absorbers and most important of all, a front anti-roll bar. This made the sedan into a better car but production was slightly hampered by heavy demand at that time for TDs. The YB's most notable competition success was in the hands of Dick Jacobs as a standard car in production car races. It won its class win at Silverstone three years in a row 1952-54. The factory built 6158 YAs and 1301 YBs. Surprisingly, there seems to be not a single YB in Australia.

The MG TC and TD

After about three years of TC production it became evident that a small simple sports car was to be a most saleable item in the years ahead, and the TC itself was getting rather old. Sales of the Y sedan were encouraging so it was decided to incorporate its new features into a new sports car. A Y type chassis with its independent front suspension and rack and pinion steering was shortened by 125 mm to the wheelbase of the TC, and a TC body was loosely attached. In this manner the TD was born and only a tidying up job needed to be done before a production car was ready. The ifs made it necessary to fit disc wheels but the better steering allowed this model to be produced easily in both right and left hand drive form.

The refinements were the answer to the pleas of many but the weight increased so there was no improvement in performance. As the production continued, various alterations to improve engine power were carried out. Braking was better by way of two leading shoe brakes and although the final drive was unaltered the smaller wheels reduced the gearing. The gearbox used the wider ratios of the Y-type. The body design was squarer and more squat. Body width had grown by 100 mm but the lower appearance was misleading as the two models were the same height with their hoods erected. One of the main obvious differences was that the TD had bumpers fitted at both ends. Road testers at the time found no improvement in acceleration but an improved top speed with a much better ride over rough surfaces and greater cornering abilities.

Dick Jacobs

The best year for production was 1952 when 11,560 were made and of those 10,621 were exported. The total run was 29,665 of which 19,421 went to America. This is part of the reason why fewer TDs came to Australia than TCs. When the TD was first introduced Dick Jacobs persuaded MG to enter a team in production sports car races as they had done in the previous year with the TC. Dick had been driving his own TA special and already had a wealth of experience. After he tested a TD for the first time he nearly severed his connections with the marque for ever. He put in detailed suggestions for improving just about every aspect of the car's performance and most were acted upon by Thornley so that Dick was happy not only to drive it at its racing debut but to win his class as well.

Most of Jacobs' "tweaks" were used to good effect on what became known as the TD Mark II. It had an enamel badge signifying such on the rear bumper and also on the bonnet sides near the radiator. Other visible variations from the normal production model were twin fuel pumps, each with its own line to the tank, and extra shock absorbers at the front. Some but not all had the slats of the radiator grille chromed and not painted and some were fitted with individual seats. TD Mark Ms were fitted with Shorrock superchargers. Most TD Mark Ms went to America where it was not until the New England MG T Register started researching numbers and variations within model types that these cars, the Mark Ms, came back into the limelight. They were produced spasmodically throughout the TD's life and should not be confused with a TD2 which merely signified a larger clutch.

The T Type in Racing

Racing improved the TD breed. In 1950 George Phillips had finished the 24-hour Le Mans race second in class in his TC special. In 1951 the factory agreed to provide a new mount for him to race. Syd Enever took a standard TD chassis, gearbox and engine and mounted a clean enveloping body far removed from the established square rigger design. The model was dubbed UMG 400 from its registration number and had a couple of faults. The XPAG engine was so high in the frame that a ''power" bulge was necessary in the bonnet and because of the position of the chassis rails the driver sat very high up in the car. The car did not complete many hours of the race but some seeds had been sown back at Abingdon.

Enever widened the chassis and tidied up the design to suit a production model better. However, a production proposal was knocked back by the new BMC overlords as the Austin Factory was about to go into production with the Healey 100/4 and they didn't want competition within the group. But the TD could not go on. Overseas buyers were demanding performance of the sort provided by the new Austin Healey. A slight concession was given in that a facelift for the TD was sanctioned. While John Thornley was away on two weeks holiday, Cecil Cousins with the aid of a "tin basher" knocked a TD into the TF shape in a few days. The prototype took the design department a lot longer and the first TFs were not available until late in 1953.

The front end of the body received the most attention. The bonnet was tapered and lowered towards the radiator and the grille was angled back giving a rakish look. The headlights were sunk into the front guards. Wire wheels were offered as an option to appease critics and individual seats were fitted. The rear was altered little with the position of the number plate- being centralised above the bumper and the horizontal panel between the base of the petrol tank and the bumper fitted the space more neatly. The chassis was unchanged and the engine was a basic TD Mark II although the oil filter housing was changed. The dash panel had the instruments centralised so that two glove pockets were provided and windscreen wipers were activated at a scuttle level rather than the old-style motor mounted high on the windscreen.


This then was the final square-rigger design and when it eventually was superseded in 1955 the MG shape, which started with the J type in 1932, died. The TF was met with mixed feelings in the export markets but 6400 were sold in about 15 months. As the replacement was still not available by the beginning of 1955 a stop-gap model was introduced. The exterior was changed in only a few minor details but the engine was altered considerably for the first time since the TB's introduction of the XPAG engine in 1939.

The displacement of this new block was 1466 cm3 but it used many components of the XPAG. The engine was designated XPEG. All round, it seems to be an odd exercise since the B series BMC engine was to be used for the next sports car and was already in the Z series Magnette sedan introduced in 1953 - on the same Earls Court Motor Show stand as the TF. The TF 1500, as it became known, was we!! received by the motoring press in America because it had more power. No-one seemed bothered that the difference in performance was negligible. Its acceptance in America was such that of 3400 cars produced, 3000 were sold there.

For all its initial condemnation, the T-series engine - XPAG and XPEG - become famous. From 1949 onwards factory-recommended parts could be bought to take the power output of the XMG engine up from its standard 54.2 bhp to 97.5 bhp in supercharged form. Stages of tune were laid down in a manual for all to use as they desired.

Also see: MG Heritage | MG Performance Chart
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