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A Brief History

With contributions by Barrie Jones

This page contains a very brief history of the MGTD. More in-depth information can be obtained from many books including those found in my Book Review pages.

The MG Car Company and Its Brethren

Lord NuffieldFirst off I would like to clarify the meaning of the letters MG. It does not stand for Morris Garages, although it was intended as a tribute to William Morris and his company Morris Garages. William Morris (right) was later created as Lord Nuffield. M.G. is just a title rather than an acronym. You can read more about it here.

In 1922, William Morris appointed Cecil Kimber as manager of the MG Car Company. Kimber was an avid motor sports enthusiast and is also credited with introducing the classic MG radiator shape, recognizable on so many cars such as the T-Series MG's.

The MG marque was first used in 1923 on a range of sporting cars based on the chassis of the bull-nosed Morris saloon car. This formed the basis of the MG Car Company, based in Oxford, England. They moved to Abingdon, England in 1930, where they remained until production ceased in 1980.

Over the years the Nuffield Organization not only owned the MG Car Company but also took over a number of other marques as well. These included Wolseley, SU and Riley.

At times it seemed that MG could never get the resources they needed to become world leaders in the marketplace. Not only were they competing with rivals such as Triumph and Austin, but the real battle seemed to go on internally within the Nuffield Organization. This continued right through the merger of Nuffield and Austin in 1952, when the British Motor Corporation (BMC) was formed.

For example, in 1952, MG was refused permission to develop the MGA, because BMC had just announced the Austin Healey 100/4 and they did not want MG to announce a modern sports car to rival it. All MG were allowed to produce at that time was a face-lifted TD, hence the TF was born.

The MG T-Series

In 1936 the MG Car Company made a dramatic change in the design of their sports cars. In this year they introduced the MGTA Midget. The MGTA originated the familiar T-Series design element and to the casual observer, it is hard to distinquish from the MGTC. The MGTA sported the famous radiator design, the swept wings, running boards, folding windscreen, and large accessible bonnet. It was a two seater sports car with a foldable hood and side curtains. Just over 3,000 MGTA's were produced in three years of production. The MGTA suffered from a poor performing engine and in 1939 the MGTB was introduced with the now famous XPAG engine. Only a few were produced as in a few months World War II broke out.

During World War II production of MG's ceased as the MG Car Company was put into service for the war effort making tanks and airplane parts, and other military items. When the war ended the MG Car Company was anxious to get back to making sports cars. They revisited the MGTB and made a few subtle changes. These were in the form of a wider body and shackles replacing sliding trunnions for the spring mounts. The Nuffield Organization also made another drastic change. They started taking an active interest in selling their sports cars in North America. It appears that during the War a number of American GI's had an opportunity to experience the T-Series MG's. When the War ended a number of these cars were imported and then formally sold into North America, especially the United States. The MGTC was produced from 1945 to 1949 with a total production of about 10,000 cars.

Due to the fact that the United States had much more cash available to spend on entertainment and sports than did war torn Britain, the Nuffield Organization made a drastic change in their marketing, focusing on North America. In 1949 the MGTC was fitted with many elements to make it more North American such as front and rear bumpers, twin horns, and dual tail lamps. Even by making these changes only a fraction of the MGTC's were imported into North America. There were still too many issues with a car of this type for different North America conditions. Amongst those were driving on the right hand side of the road rather than the left, more high speed maneuvers such as freeways, a softer ride, and some additional creature comforts. What was needed was a total redesign of the MGTC if the MG Car Company was to capture a significant portion of the North American market. What was missing was a total commitment from the Nuffield Organization to do so.

The Legacy of the MGTD

In 1949 a small group of MG leaders, headed by John Thornley, got together to try to create a car that was acceptable to the North American marketplace while at the same time would limit the investment of the Nuffield Organization. Clearly it would be impossible to completely create a new car, not only from a financial point but from a timing standpoint as well. What was needed was a little of the old, sprinkled with a little of the new. Another key factor was to borrow or incorporate features found in other Nuffield cars of the time that were more up to date than the MGTC.

First it was decided to start with the MGTC. It was felt that the MGTC still provided a favorable brand image to the North American marketplace. Many elements of the MGTC were still believed to be important such as:

What was missing was:

Quickly a team of MG personnel took inventory of the components of the Nuffield Organization that they had to work with. They discarded the TC's frame because it was to light and not rigid enough. They found what they wanted in the Y types. A small modification to the frame was to have it sweep over the rear axle rather than under. This gave them more travel in the rear springs so they could increase the damping. In addition they adopted rack and pinion steering and front coil springs and wishbones. This and the change in rear end suspension allowed for a smoother ride and better handling than the MGTC. One of the major changes was to reduce the wheel size from 19 inches to 15 inches and increase the tire width to 5.50. All of these changes made the MGTD a superior riding car over the MGTC.

Because of the use of the larger frame the body became 5 inches wider. Although the body increased by 5 inches, only one inch actually found it's way into the cockpit so there is an indiscernible difference in the seating width. The biggest change that people notice about the MGTD from the MGTC is the lack of wire wheels. As part of the Nuffield cost cutting challenge the more expensive wire wheels of former T-Series cars were replaced by solid steel wheels. For the entire production run of the MGTD the factory took heat for this decision. They constantly tried to create implausible technical reasons why wire wheels would not work but their reasons were never accepted by the marketplace. In fact wire wheels were one of the most popular aftermarket accessories at the time.

Other changes between the MGTC and the MGTD were more stylized wings, partially due to the smaller wheels. A dual production capable LHD or RHD model, better brakes, adjustable steering column, and an interchangeable dashboard for left or right hand driving were also incorporated. An optional radio and heater, as well as many accessories designed to improve the performance of the car were made available.

The MGTD Models

The MG TD was produced from 1949 to August of 1953. During that period there were many subtle changes, but nothing drastic. See the pages on production for details on the changes of the TD over the years.

The first MG TDs were manufactured in late 1949, and the model was formally announced in January of 1950. Only 98 TDs were made in 1949, 2 RHD and 96 LHD. There were a total of four model years - 1950, 1951, 1952, and 1953, and the models are nowadays referred to as the MG TD, TD2 and TD Mark II.

TD

The first model set the stage for what the TD was. Because of the short amount of time from the inception of the TD to the delivery of the first cars, not everything was quite as the MG Car Company would have liked it. In fact they were still making TCs on the production line when the first TDs were being produced. In addition, other cars such as the MG Y-type saloon and the Riley RMA and RMB were also being made on the same assembly line at the time. This says something for the flexibility of the Abingdon workforce and of the factory.

Apart from revised mountings, the engine for the new MG TD was the same 1250cc XPAG unit fitted to the previous model, the MG TC.

There were many subtle changes to the TD, but most were unnoticeable to the untrained eye. One exception was the change from solid steel wheels to ventilated steel wheels. This change was essential because there were complaints that the brakes on the early cars were fading due to inadequate cooling. Another change was to stiffen the chassis by adding an internal steel hoop under the dashboard. This helped to prevent `scuttle shake', although the later chassis still seems to flex quite a bit when pressed into corners.

TD II

In July 1951 the 1250cc XPAG engine received a new block, a new sump, a new bell-housing and a new flywheel in order to accommodate a larger clutch. The engine number prefix was changed to TD2, and MG TDs fitted with this engine have subsequently become known as TD2 models, although contemporary marketing materials did not use this designation. The changeover occurred at engine number XPAG/TD2/9408. (The TD2 should not be confused with the MG TD Mark II, see below).

Several changes were introduced between August and November 1952 as sales of the TD started to fall in favour of cars like the TR2 and the Austin Healey 100. These included circular rear lamps incorporating flashing turn signals, and a three-bow frame replacing the 2-bow frame for the hood. Also, the wiper motor was moved to the centre of the windscreen.

TD/C or TD Mark II

In 1950 the MG factory began entering a modified TD (FMO 885, shown in the brochure at the right) in hill climb races – and winning - but was disqualified because the car was not a "production" model. MG therefore incorporated these modifications into special production MG TD's, known as the TD Mark II or the TD/C Competition Model. These cars were essentially regular MG TDs made on the same assembly line, but that were given extra factory accessories and tuning equipment to improve performance and handling. Factory records indicate that approximately 1710 of these cars were produced, selling in the US for $2095, or $160 more than a stock TD.

The modifications listed here were consistent throughout the run of Mark II cars.  The most visible addition was four Andrex friction shock absorbers, one at each wheel. The substitution of 1-½" SU carburetors for the stock 1-¼" units provided greater power, and twin SU fuel pumps mounted on the firewall supplied increased fuel through twin fuel lines.  Internally, a cylinder head with larger valves, stiffer valve springs and a higher compression ratio raised the horsepower of the engine from 54.4 bhp to 57, a 5% increase.  A higher rear axle ratio improved top speed. 

Most of the features of the Mark II were a part of the staged tuning that was described in various publications and offered as a factory tuning manual.

It was also possible at that time to order anything for a regular TD that the Mark II model offered, and more, and competition-minded owners sometimes opted to buy a regular TD and then improve the performance of their car well above what the Mark II could achieve.  The factory parts manual lists optional upgrades not standard on the Mark II or TD/C, including manual ignition timing adjustment, wider wheels, larger tires, twin spare tires at the rear, etc.  While later Mark II cars carried badging on the bonnet sides and rear bumper to indicate the cars were upgraded, earlier cars (before TD/C 22613) had no such identifiers. Some unscrupulous sellers have purchased the components of the Mark II model and applied them to earlier cars not marked as TD/C in order to increase their value. 

Production of the MG TD peaked in 1952, and by 1953 sales of the car were falling off dramatically. Once again the MG Car Company found itself in need of a whole new automobile but without the support of the parent BMC Organization.

The MG EX175

By 1952 John Thornley's team at Abingdon had crafted a complete replacement for the MGTD code named EX175. Because of the organizational changes that occurred when Austin and Nuffield were merged to form the British Motor Corporation, the EX175 was in direct competition to its new step cousin, the Austin Healey 100. Since the Austin Healey was already committed, BMC did not want an attractive new MG to dilute any possible sales, so MG was refused permission to put EX175 into production.

The following two pictures were prototypes created in 1952 by the Nuffield chief engineer Gerald Palmer to replace the MGTD.

Source: How British Leyland Grew Itself To Death by Geoff Wheatley

The MGTF

All that the Austin-dominated management would sanction was a face-lift of the aging TD, so in an effort to retain their marketplace until EX175 could be produced, the MG Car Company took a TD Mark II, made some cosmetic changes to the bodywork, and called it the MG TF. When the new TF was announced in September 1953 it was immediately shunned by the public. It was obvious that all MG had done was to tweak the engine, pound a bit on the body and fenders, add some more comfortable bucket seats, and throw on some wire wheels. In fact the car was worse in many ways because you could no longer open the bonnet sides to access the engine for maintenance, as you could on all the previous T types.

The MGTF 1500

By 1954 the 1250cc TF performed poorly compared with other sports cars of the period, so in September 1954 a more powerful 1466cc engine was fitted, replacing the XPAG. This larger capacity engine was designated XPEG, and the car was called the TF1500. The power of the engine increased from 57bhp at 5,500 rpm to 63 at 5,000, and the torque was increased by a massive 17%. This larger engine made the TF1500 a much better-performing car on the freeways and tollways of North America, but by April 1955 something more modern was required, so after only 18 months in production, the TF1500 was retired and the factory geared up to start producing the MGA.

Still the MGTF never captured the success of the MGTD and was replaced by the MGA within two short years.

The MGA

The MGA represented a significant change from the T-Series cars and actually looked like it belonged to the era it was produced in. It supported much of the same chassis and drive train concepts as the MGTF but had an all new streamlined body and the B-series 1489 cc engine and transmission from the Magnette saloon. Interestingly the car had a remarkable resemblance to the EX175. Over time MG would make many changes to the MGA in both styling, performance and handling. At one point they even offered a hard top, called the MGA Coupe as well as a twin cam engine.

An excellent source of information about the MGA can be found at the website The MGA With An Attitude.

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