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1956 - 1961
4 cyl.
1489/1588/1622 cc
72-108 bhp
4 spd. man
Top Speed:
152-177 km/h
Number Built:
4 star
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 4


Shock and horror from traditional MG enthusiasts greeted the totally new styling of the MGA when it was released in 1955. The separate front wings and running boards, which had been fitted to every MG since their introduction 30 years previously, had gone. And the striking big radiator grille was squeezed into a barely recognisable horizontal shape and blended into the front of the car.

The "A" used much of its inspiration from the Austin A50 saloon. It used a very strong box-section chassis that had the reputation of being too strong and heavy for the car, but it was rigid. The suspension was nothing startling but its handling more than matched its competitors like the Triumph and Austin Healey. It wasn't that quick either, with its 1489cc motor producing 72 bhp, but 152 km/h was admirable as was its fuel economy.

In 1956 MG produced a good-looking coupe version and two years later a 1588cc engine was offered as an option, this having twin overhead cams - these cars also featuring four-wheel disc brakes. Top speed increased to 177 km/h but the new engine proved very unreliable, being prone to burn pistons. By this time the MGA was available in both coupe and roadster forms, but with the high performance engine it enjoyed limited sales - and with its poor reputation for reliability it was quietly withdrawn in 1960.

At the time the stock standard MGA was the 1600 (1588cc), and with its 80 bhp it could manage 160 km/h. Outwardly, the only difference between the two models was the separate rear indicators. In 1961 MG released the MGA Mk II, which was powered by an enlarged 1622cc engine. This was considered by most to be the first modern post war MG.

Through The Eyes Of A Collector

Looking at the MGA through the eyes of a collector, the MGA can be considered as a stylish and practical sports car with performance to keep pace with modern traffic and an 11 km/I (30 mpg) economy to make it a consideration as a second car should you only need an extra set of wheels for golf days and such. Good models will reach 160 km/h and 110-120 km/h is regarded as a fair cruising speed without putting the mechanicals at risk. As mentioned in the introduction, the A-series styling was influenced directly from the special-bodied TD raced at the 1951 Le Mans race by George Phillips, later to become well-known in the racing world as chief photographer for Autosport when Gregor Grant was the founder and extrovert editor.

Syd Enever

Syd Enever was the father of the MGA sports car project at the Abingdon headquarters and traditional home of MG in Berkshire, but company politics caused the new MGA introduction to be delayed by four years. A prototype "A" had been readied late in 1952 but that year the Nuffield Organisation and the Austin Motor Company joined to form the British Motor Corporation and there were the inevitable big-family squabbles as the automotive colossus rumbled into gear. Donald Healey played his trump card with the shapely new Healey 100 design at the London Motor Show that year and when BMC Chief Leonard Lord agreed to accept it for production as the Austin-Healey 100, the MGA waiting in the wings was relegated to lower priority and the MG TD was given a stay of execution.

A year later the TF was introduced as a face-lifted TD but it was launched into the face of the Triumph TR2 announcement and stood no chance. MG was uncomfortably close to extinction as a marque without a car that could compete either in the marketplace or on the road; the marque that had been synonymous with sports car suddenly didn't have a sports car worthy of defending the octagon's reputation. The "A" was to be MG's saving grace. With the TF an acknowledged makeweight, management finally authorised progress on the MGA. Plans were laid to begin production in April 1955 and enter a team of three works MGAs at Le Mans a few weeks later to demonstrate their good looks and performance.

Alec Hounslow

The Le Mans models followed production layout with independent front suspension from the TF, basically the rear axle and brakes from the contemporary Magnette saloon and the 1489 cm3 BMC "B" series engine also from the Magnette to utilise existing parts and reduce costs on the new model. Problems with forming the envelope bodies meant delays in production and the Le Mans had to run as prototypes instead of production models. Alec Hounslow, who had ridden with Nuvolari when the little man from Mantua won the 1933 TT at Ards in a K3 MG, headed the official MG return to Le Mans. But the MGA's debut was overshadowed by the enormity of the disaster when Levegh's Mercedes cannoned off an Austin-Healey and vaulted into the crowd opposite the pits.

At White House corner, almost at the instant of the Levegh crash, Dick Jacobs lost control of his MGA and somersaulted into an accident that almost killed him. The other two cars continued to finish fifth and sixth in class, 12th and 17th overall, but the 1955 Le Mans was not a race to remember if you were a manufacturer looking for glamor and success to advertise. The MGA's next outing was the TT at Dundrod but a multiple pile-up there killed three drivers and although the MGs were not involved, the company was influenced by prevalent anti-racing sentiment and withdrew the official team.

The MGA was officially unveiled as a production model in time for the European motor shows in the autumn of 1955 and while the trim good looks won favorable comment, the confused racing debut and withdrawal was given some substance when a team of five production models in showroom trim were taken to Montlhery during the Paris Show for a demonstration run and put 160 km comfortably into an hour. One of the production cars averaged 165 km/h for the hour run, and a Le Mans version did 180.82 km in the hour.

The MGA Coupe and Twin Cam

A coupe model was introduced in 1957 with wind-up windows, a curved windscreen and a pleasing line to the fixed-head, stylish then and now. Top speed was 164 km/h; fractionally faster than the open A. In 1958 the Twin Cam was introduced to cater for MG enthusiasts who had been demanding more power to go racing. With the Twin Cam they got it. A 1588 cm3 engine with twin overhead camshafts developed 80 kW at 6700 rpm. Disc brakes were fitted all round and distinctive Dunlop centre-lock wheels similar in style to those on the D-Type Jaguar, gave instant external identification to the new model. Performance leapt to a top speed of 183 km/h and 145 km/h acceleration time fully 15 seconds faster than the cooking 1500.

But the Twin Cam brought problems with its extra power. It needed a litre or more oil in the sump with each tank of fuel, and constant attention was required to maintain its tune. The broad spread of the cam boxes also meant servicing difficulties under the bonnet where just about everything was more difficult to get at than on the "B" series engine. In 1959 a bored-out 1588 cm3 pushrod MGA was announced, matching the Twin Cam's capacity but with modest 50 kW at 5600 rpm. Torque was improved over the 1.5-litre MGA, and front-wheel discs aided braking. In 1961 another uprate saw the engine capacity increased to 1622 cm3 with 69 kW at 5500 rpm and a new 1600 Mk II badge, but the writing was on the wall. Sales had slumped and the new monocoque MGB was on the way.

MGA Mk II De Luxe

To clear the decks and to use up stocks of the Twin Cam chassis with its four-wheel disc brakes and special wheels, a handful of Mk II De Luxe models were built. In March 1962 the 100,000th "A" rolled off the assembly line, and eight months later the MGB was announced. Today the appeal of the MGA is that it was the last MG with a separate chassis, the last of the MGs which could claim a racetrack pedigree from its early Le Mans outing and the works entries in 1955. According to Wilson McComb's MG bible "The Story of the MG Sports Car", a total of 101,081 MGAs were built in all versions and collectors may care to note that the smallest listed builds, and therefore the most exclusive models, were the Twin Cam at 2111 and the 1600 Mk II at 8719. (More than 2000 "A" roadsters were assembled in Australia from 1959 to 1962.)


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Also see:

MG Heritage
The MG Story
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