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Decoding VIN Numbers

by Mike Walsh

Note: This article first appeared in the TF Record and is reproduced here by permission.

The decoding of the TF VIN number

First, what is it, what does it tell us and when did it come into use? The VIN number system used by Abingdon on the TF commenced with the introduction of two MG models simultaneously, the TF and the ZA Magnette. This grew out of the merger of Austin and Nuffield (Morris) empires. This merger combined the products made by the two empires which became known thereafter as BMC - British Motor Corporation. Thus the VIN for the TF is completely different from the earlier Abingdon MGs. This new VIN number system tells us what kind of vehicle it's attached to, It's original exterior color, the market it was originally sent to, the type of paint finish, and the car number as built.This information is found on the manufacturer's plate. The manufacturer's plate, which has both the VIN and engine numbers, is found on the engine distributor side of the body firewall for all cars, LHD or RHD - high up facing forward immediately adjacent to the toolbox latch.

A sample VIN number may read as: HDA13/0501. What does this tell us? Let's break the VIN number into its elements.

The first part " HD " tells us that this is an MG - H and D - an open two seater car. The next letter tells us the original color of the vehicle as it left Abingdon. There were 6 possible letters/colors offered. They are: A - black, B - light grey ( Birch Grey ) , C - dark red ( MG Red ) , E - mid green ( Almond Green - metallic ) , H - CKD ( completely knocked down - primer), P - ivory.

The next number tells us the market for which the car is built for: 1 denotes a RHD for the home market - UK; 2 is a RHD for the export market ( Kenya, Rhodesia or Australia ); 3 denotes LHD for the export market ( Europe and other markets except for ); 4 is LHD for North America ( including Canada and Mexico ); 5 denotes RHD for a CKD ( South Africa ) and finally 6 denotes LHD for CKD vehicles ( Mexico ).

The second number tells us the type of paint finish for the vehicle; 1 denotes Synthetic paint finish; 2 is Synobel finish; 3 is Cellulose; 4 is metallic finish, 5 is primed finish and 6 is Cellulose body with synthetic wings ( fenders). The next three or four numbers after the " / " denote the car's sequence number, car number or chassis number. This number is also found on the left front dumb iron stamped as "TF" followed by the same three to four numbers shown on the manufacturers plate after the "/".

Two earlier TF prototypes built using TD frames were numbered TF/0250 and TF/0251. One of these prototypes has survived and has been featured in British car magazines during the 1980s and 1990s. TF/0250 was the first hand built prototype car shown to MG's board of directors on January 8,1953 painted blue with 26 wide louvers rivited to the bonnet top panels. TF/0251 was completed in August from the TF (EX177/15) drawings dated May 7,1953 based on TF/0250 were completed. Hence, the comment made by Henry Stone that it took "6 months" for the Morris drawing office to complete the TF drawings for a car designed and built in Abingdon in a fortnight. For the first time, the last preproduction vehicle was not given the number 0251 but now 0501. TF/0501 was completed on the new TF assembly line on September 16, 1953. The very last TF made, April 1955, carried chassis number HDE23/10100. It's interesting to note that the MG-A's chassis numbers commenced with 10101 - immediately following that of the TF.

Here are the car numbers of vehicles with the first color on the TF production line; The first Black car is: HDA13/0501; first Birch Grey is HDB46/0570; first MG Red is HDC46/0513; first Almond Green is HDE43/0518; first Ivory is HDP43/0502. Therefore the VIN number of our example ( HDA13/0501) tells us that it is a MG two seater, black in color, RHD for the home market finished in cellulose and has the first car number assigned for a TF model, actually the last preproduction model. The TF has two engine codes or types; XPAG/TF for the 1250 models (1953 and 54) and XPEG/ ( 1954 and 55) for the 1500 models. The engine number is stamped on an octagonal tag located on the right hand side of the engine below the number 1 exhaust manifold branch as well as on the manufacturer's number plate on the firewall. If the octagonal tag is missing from the engine, for the XPAG/TF engines, the number is stamped just above location of the octagonal tag and for the XPEG engines, it's located on the engine-transmission bellhousing face at the 12 o'clock position - only the last three numbers. Engine numbers for the XPAG/TF engines would begin around 30,000, immediately following the end of the numbers the TD engines.

TF 1500 model introduction:

The TF1500 model commenced at car number 6501. This car was most likely sold in the Los Angeles, California area before coming to the Northwest. It's complete VIN is HDE46/6501 and contrary to published reports it does not have engine number 501 but actually XPEG 507. In fact there was a transition period where both engine types were fitted to the TFs. This transition period is from TF 6501 to TF 6950. These blocks of cars are:

TF 6501 to 6650 XPEG beginning July 21, 1954
TF 6651 to 6750 XPAG/TF
TF 6751 to 6850 XPEG
TF 6851 to 6950 XPAG/TF
TF 6951 on XPEG beginning Sept 10, 1954 to the end of production in April 1955

It has been written/documented that the first TF1500s did not have a TF1500 badge to distinguish it from the XPAG 1250 cars up to at least the London Motor show cars which carried chassis numbers TF/7252 and 7253 made in October of 1954. The Road & Track road test of the TF1500 also confirms this fact.

The VIN number on your title:

Most states during the 1950s registered the vehicles not on the chassis or car number but on the engine number - without any prefix or suffix. I know this is true for the states of Washington, Oregon and California. So if you have an original title issued in one of these states, look at the engine number before the chassis number to find the number on the title. I would recommend changing the VIN number on the title from the engine to the chassis as the chassis number will always be there even if the engine is swapped out, replaced or whatever.

I hope this has been informative to you and other TF owners. If you have additional questions, just let me know. Thank you-
Mike Walsh

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