The Background to the MGA
|A Change in Styling||A Change in Performance||The MGA Variants|
|The MGA Twin-Cam||The MGA 1600's||The End of the Line|
|MGA Specifications||MGA Twin Cam Spec.||Images of various MGAs|
|MGA Chassis Nos||MGA Production||MGA Paint Codes|
|MGA Register Holland||MGA Buyer's Guide||MGA Parts|
When the MGA arrived in 1955, it must have come as quite a shock to MG aficionados who had become
used to the pre-war look of the company's sports cars. Even the revamped TF left nothing to doubt
about its 1930's-style design. The MGA was a complete departure in styling for MG.
Its beautiful streamlined body was right up to the minute in terms of appearance, and it was powered by a new engine, as MG had decided that the old XPAG unit had had its day. The MGA was powered by the much more modern B-series engine that had made its debut in the recently announced Magnette saloon.
MG enthusiasts had been given a hint of what was to come as early as 1951 when George Phillips
drove a re-bodied TD Midget in the Le-Mans 24 hour endurance race. The car had been built for him
by MG following his successes with his own TC, which had been fitted with a lightweight two-seat
race car style body. So different was the appearance of his new TD racer, that it must have been
difficult to believe that it was actually a venerable TD Midget underneath!
It was a road-going version of the Phillips car which had been proposed to BMC in 1952 as a replacement for the TD Midget, but which had been turned down because of the corporation's decision to build the Austin-Healey 100. MG had gone as far as building a full prototype of the MGA by using TD running gear, the 1250 XPAG engine, a re-designed chassis, and the MGA bodywork.
When it eventually became clear that the TF Midget was a bit of a lame duck and that it would have to be replaced, the new MG sports car was finally given the chance it deserved. The delay in production had one advantage in that it allowed MG to refine the design and install the much newer 1489cc four cylinder B-series engine and its transmission from the Magnette saloon.
Before the official launch of the MGA in 1955, three aluminium bodied prototypes of the new
sports car, coded EX182, were entered into Le Mans. Fortunately for MG, they acquitted themselves
well, finishing fifth and sixth in their class.
Thus, when the MGA was finally announced shortly after this, the car already had a competition background as testimony to its pedigree. No doubt this did much to ensure its acceptance by enthusiasts who were reluctant to say goodbye to the old fashioned traditional looks of the MG.
The chassis for the MGA was a development of the TD Midget's unit, but with more widely spaced side rails to allow for a lower seating position to fit in the new sleek bodywork. This not only put the driver and passenger in a more sensible position in relation to the proportions and height of the body, but it had the added advantage of lowering the centre of gravity, thus improving the cornering ability of the car.
The two-seat open body was unmistakably a development of the earlier Philips racer design, being
of the full width type, the wings blending into the bodywork and each other to produce a
beautiful and aerodynamic design.
Other than a shortened, stylised and widened version of the now familiar MG grille, there was very little about the MGA which bore the slightest resemblance to any of its predecessors. From the scuttle, the body fell in one constant curve to the radiator grille, blending into the full swept front wings on each side. The line of the front wings was taken back past the cockpit with its cutaway doors, to where it merged into the rear wings. These tapered almost to a point at the rear and were blended into the rear portion of the bodywork that curved down from the back edge of the cockpit.
A pancake-style bonnet provided access to the engine, and a
separate boot for luggage was able to provide a reasonable amount of space despite the fact that
the spare wheel was mounted to the boot floor.
The car had bolt on steel disc wheels as standard, but centre-locking wire wheels were available as an optional extra, along with a removable hard-top with rigid sliding windows to replace the soft-top's sidescreens.
The MGA engine was uprated very shortly after the initial production from 68bhp to 72bhp. Our thanks to Steve Foster, the owner of a 1956 MGA 1500 with 72bhp for bringing this to our attention.
On its launch the car was extremely well received, which was no doubt helped by its previous competition successes, and its impressive performance in standard road-going form. It also offered very good value for money in the MG tradition and it sold very well, with a large number going to the USA where it did much to revive MG's flagging reputation.
A year after the original cars launch, a coupe version of the car was announced. It had a high
curved roof line and a larger windscreen than the soft-top version of the car. The doors were
fitted with wind-up windows and opening, hinged quarterlights, which made the car a very civilised
sports car indeed!
There were also a number of other variants of the MGA which were produced through its lifetime :
The MGA continued in these open and closed forms until 1958 when another high performance version was added to the range. This was the MGA Twin-Cam, which was essentially aimed at competition use rather than everyday road use. In appearance, there was very little to distinguish this car from the other standard MGA models, apart from its special centre-locking steel disc wheels. However, there was alot more to this car than met the eye...
The engine was a development of the B-series unit which was being used in the standard car. Essentially, the cylinder block and bottom end were strengthened B-series components, but the cylinder head was a new aluminium unit incorporating twin overhead camshafts. Twin SU carburettors were fitted as standard, giving a power output of around 110bhp which was sufficient to propel the Twin Cam to a maximum speed approaching 115mph. At the same time it slashed acceleration times by a considerable amount. With all this power available, it was considered that the old drum brakes inherited from the TD Midget were no longer up to the job, so they were dropped in favour of four-wheel disc brakes.
See also Twin-Cam Engine history and Twin-Cam Production database
Shortly after the introduction of the MGA Twin Cam, the standard cars were given a 1588cc version of the standard pushrod version of the B-series engine, becoming the MGA 1600 in the process. They were also equipped with disc brakes on the front wheels, but continued with drums at the rear. The MGA 1600 continued to be offered in both open and coupe versions.
By 1959, Abingdon was hard at work producing nothing but sports cars, since the ZB Magnette had been dropped from the range, and the MGA was selling well and they were also busy producing the six cylinder Austin Healey. Furthermore they were about to go into production of a new small sports car called the Austin Healey Sprite, the future looked promising!
However, all was not well for the MGA Twin Cam. Despite its very good showing in a wide range and large number of competition events, it was a car that needed sympathetic treatment from the driver. Unfortunately the increasing "civilisation" of sports cars had led to a new breed of sports car driver who was not quite as in tune with the car as his contemporaries had been with the earlier sports cars. The MGA Twin Cam was a highly strung thoroughbred and was easily damaged through misuse. As a result of this it got a bad reputation, and in early 1960 it was dropped from the range.
A year later, in 1961, the MGA 1600 MkII appeared. This had a 1622cc version of the standard B-series engine together with other minor changes, which included new rear lights and a redesigned grille with inset vertical slats. The engine now developed 93bhp, which was an increase of some 25bhp over the original MGA's. In this form the car was capable of travelling well in excess of 100mph, offering similar performance to the Twin Cam but without the temperamental nature of that car.
A few remaining Twin Cam chassis were also given the 1622cc B-series engine, but retained the four-wheel disc brakes and centre-lock steel disc wheels. In this guise they were known as MGA 1600 MkII De Luxe, which ridiculed MG's reputation for short names for its cars!
By now, despite the fact that it was a very good sports car, the MGA was getting a bit long in
the tooth and was not offering the level of interior comfort which was being demanded and could be
found in its direct competitors. Sales were now beginning to tail-off, inspite of the car continuing
to prove itself well on the race track.
In 1962, therefore, after around 100,000 cars had been produced, the MGA was dropped from the MG range. Its replacement was already waiting in the wings, and would prove in its many forms to be the longest-running and best-selling MG of them all - the MGB.
Australia was a popular destination for new MGAs and the carsí ongoing desirability has ensured high survival levels with most of those available being 1500 and 1600 Mk 1 Roadsters.
The Mark 2 and Twin-Cam are rare while the Fixed Head Coupe wasn't popular here and is also scarce. For practical and aesthetic reasons wire-wheeled cars command better money than those with drilled steel rims.
Prices are reasonable with $15.000 buying an older restoration needing minimal mechanical and cosmetic refurbishing.
Top-quality recent restorations will cost $10,000 more and cars with concourse potential $30,000-35,000.
As collectibles very early drum-braked cars are more valuable than later ones but if your MGA is destined for regular use a disc-braked 1600 represents better value.
Body & Chassis:Australian MGAs aren't prone to the chassis rust that afflicts their Northern Hemisphere counterparts however a front to rear inspection of corrosion or repairs is wise. Rust can affect the 'F-frame', front and rear door shut panels and the sills, in serious cases causing the body to collapse once it is separated from the chassis. Alloy bonnet is easily twisted and poor fit is common but not a big worry unless it's a show-quality car.
Engine:Few traumas here as B-Series engine is simple and very robust. Smoky exhaust and rattles signify an overhaul, although tired engines can be kept running for ages. Twin carbs need correct balance and getting the timing right is critical to top performance. Overheating and backfiring mean a session with the timing light.
Transmission & Differential:Lack of synchromesh on first gear and rapid synchro wear on second mean all kinds of odd graunches coming from otherwise health gearboxes. Gear- selection problems are usually due to clutch wear. Unless the diff is really screaming keep the oil topped up and leave it alone.
Brakes & Suspension: Modern cars with power-assisted discs mean first experience of an MGA might be daunting. Drums on early cars work well if used sparingly but suffer fade. Disc-braked cars stop better and for much longer but on most cars the pedal needs a hefty stomp. Clunks and vagueness in the front-end can signify worn upper wishbone bushes which are bronze and need to be replaced by a specialist. Axle-tramping starts can crack rear spring leaves and damage wire-wheel hubs.
ElectricsBad news is they're British, good news is they're not very complex, but check to ensure instruments, lights, etc all work. Twin six-volt batteries live in boxes behind the seats and must not be overfilled or escaping acid will cause them to fall through the floor. Rear wiring runs under the car and is prone to stone damage. Single SU fuel pump can stop without notice but a light tap to the body will often free stuck contact points.
Interior:Original seats covered with leather but many cars have been retrimmrd in vinyl. Floorboards are the car's only timber and wet carpets can see them rotting quickly. Marine ply is a cheap replacement. Hood stows in the boot and with a bit of practise can be assembled and erected quite quickly