MG TD: Also Made in Germany?


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Story by David S. Wallens • Photos by Tim Suddard

The MG T-series is as British as bulldogs, Big Ben and the Crown Jewels-except, of course, when it’s made in Germany.

We’ll wait while you clean up your spilled pint.

Rewind the big clock on the wall to the winter of 1961. The Beatles had yet to sign with EMI. Moviegoers were just about to meet James Bond. Jaguar’s revolutionary XKE had just reset the bar for what a sports car should be. And in Lexington, Kentucky, a young Bob “Kermit” Wilson had laid eyes on a neighbor’s MG TD-something the neighbor bought for his girlfriend.

“He had purchased it as a gift for her but she wanted no part of it,” Kermit recalls. “He wanted out of the car business and the price was right, and I thought I had the money. I didn’t have enough, so I sold a painting of a thoroughbred race horse and a Rollex camera to come up with the cash.”

Even though the seller mentioned something about the car being a “German racer,” soon after Kermit realized that something wasn’t right with his new purchase. “The first clue was that the Sears tonneau did not fit,” he recalls. “Nor did their top.”

More digging revealed more questions. He found German fuses–and a staggering 22 of them, 20 more than usual. His car had a Bosch battery. While Whitworth hardware could be found throughout the chassis and running gear, the body bolts were metric. The car wore a Zeppelin Motorcars badge from Stuttgart. “All these raised more questions than could be answered, even by the experts at Moss Motors,” he adds. “The experts in the New England T register called it a fake and refused to recognize it.”

After several years of use, the car was eventually laid up for a full restoration–and, of course, none of the available replacement panels fit as promised. “The first big break came in 1985 while visiting the Porsche factory in Stuttgart,” he explains.

“I inquired about the dealer whose plate was on the right-front cheek panel of the TD. Some quick Teutonic search revealed that the dealer was still in business and still selling Austins and Jaguars, but had moved from Heilbronner Strasse in the center of the city to a suburb just out of town.”

That visit answered his questions. “Oh, you haff one of our cars,” he says, recalling the words he heard that day. “There were only 25, you know.” The dealership’s Herr Rensler remembered the project and shared some particulars with Kermit:

The chassis came to Stuttgart bare. (The box that held the miscellaneous parts was used as a temporary makeshift seat while the chassis were moved about.) After the first car was built for approval, the rest of the chassis arrived in two batches. And after those 25 cars were built, the MG factory was said to no longer be interested in the project. Drawings for the bodies were never produced. “Bucks were built and body pieces were produced, by hand, from a few photographs,” Kermit recalls. Several wrecked MGs–probably 100 to 125-were rebodied in part or whole in Stuttgart. “Their favorite was a car with a British left side and a complete new German right side,” Kermit adds. “They have no records of the project, nor do they have much passion for the subject,” Kermit says. “This was just another opportunity to produce for the large GI population that wanted cars, and had money to spend.”

Kermit completed that restoration some 30 years ago, and it shows well. He has now owned the car for more than 56 years. And that painting that he sold to finance its purchase? “I recently learned that the painting just sold for $25,000,” he says. “That’s okay. I could never have ridden that painting for 300,000 miles”

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In 1961 Bob "Kermit" Wilson bought an MG TD that contained a secret: it was one of 25 cars built in Germany. Barbara-Ann Walters has owned the white TD since new.; when the two cars are placed side-by-side, the differences reveal themselves.

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The German-built car, for example, features lower, flatter cowl humps.

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The rear fenders are slightly different, too: While the British ones were stamped by a machine, the German ones were hammered into wooden bucks.

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The fuel tanks don't match either, with polished aluminum end tanks and a screw-on cap unique to the German car. (The British car gets a flip-top cap.)

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While the bonnets look similar at first glance, they're also different. The white British-built MG features three shorter louvers in order to accommodate the latch; the louvers on the German-built car all match since the latch location is different.

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The bonnet on the German-built MG was built with aluminum sides and a steel top; the British-market bonnet is an all-steel affair.

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The door checks differ, too: a hinged rod with an internal rubber snubber on the British cars and a leather strap from Germany.

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The German-built cars also received narrower running boards fitted with solid aluminum strips.


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