Which MG T-Series is the best buy: TC, TD, TF or TF 1500?

Photography by Tim Suddard

[Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the September 2017 issue of Classic Motorsports]

By any modern standard, the MG T-series falls short. From an ergonomic, performance or even comfort perspective, its driver is left wanting for more. The T-series lacks niceties like roll-up windows, triple-digit horsepower and modern handling.

And yet, after launching the postwar sports car boom here in the States, all these decades later the T-series remains a staple at nearly any British car event. What is it about this simple machine that continues to captivate the soul of sports car aficionados the world over? We spent a day at T-series supply house Abingdon Spares to find out.

The visit reminded us why the T-series continues to have so many fans. While one will not win any numbers contests, the details found from stem to stern define the sports car experience. Then add in low running costs, mechanical simplicity and extensive parts availability. It could be just the perfect time machine, no matter what the occasion.


  • Engine: 1250cc inline 4-cylinder
  • Horsepower: 54 @ 5200 rpm
  • Torque: 64 lb.-ft. @ 2600 rpm
  • Transmission: 4-speed manual
  • Brakes: Drum front and rear
  • Weight: 1735 lbs. 
  • Zero-to-60 mph: Approx. 22 seconds
  • Top Speed: Approx. 75 mph
  • Units Built: 10,000

After World War II, the MG Car Company picked up where they left off. Their MG TC might have technically been new for 1945, but it was largely a carryover, sharing much with the prewar MG TB, including its 1250cc inline-four engine, skinny 19-inch wheels, cut-down doors and flowing fenders. 

Despite the pre-war styling, the TC became the perfect escape machine for America’s postwar crowd, whether imported by servicemen or, after 1947, purchased from a stateside dealer. The TC quickly became the quintessential sports car of the day. Drop the windscreen, tape up the headlights, stick on some numbers, and you had a race car, too.

Test Drive:

No matter where it was originally sold, an MG TC is going to have right-hand drive. Even the cars bound for the U.S. were built this way. 

The interior space is rather cramped, and you sit bolt-upright on a thinly padded bench seat. Legroom is minimal for a six-footer, and this car predates the very concept of automotive ergonomics.

The TC is slow–really slow. Thanks to the 54 horsepower on tap, zero-to-60 times take around 22 seconds. The brakes are iffy at best, and the handling could best be described as skittish. How drivers raced these cars at places like the Watkins Glen street course is beyond us. 

There is no synchro on first gear. Adding to the charm, the shift lever bounces around while you are driving. The TC is comfortable up to about 50 mph; there’s probably no need to push it further.

Bottom Line:

The TC is a very cool, antique milestone of a car. The view between the dashboard, headlights and radiator grille paints a perfect picture. However, if you are looking for a driver’s car for higher-speed rallies and tours, you might look elsewhere.


  • Engine: 1250cc inline 4-cylinder
  • Horsepower: 54 @ 5200 rpm
  • Torque: 64 lb.-ft. @ 2600 rpm
  • Transmission: 4-speed manual
  • Brakes: Drum front and rear
  • Weight: 1930 lbs. 
  • Zero-to-60 mph: Approx. 23.5 seconds
  • Top Speed: Approx. 80 mph
  • Units Built: 29,664

MG updated their tried-and-true sports car formula for 1950, creating the TD in the process. Through today’s viewfinder it still looks rather old-fashioned, but the TD moved forward with independent front suspension, a wider cockpit and, for the American market, left-hand drive. The spindly 19-inch wheels found on the TC were replaced with wider 15s. And those 15s were modern steel disc wheels, not the charming wires of yesteryear. 

The TD is also the most common T-series, with almost 30,000 produced–more than both the TC and the TF combined. Don’t worry, though, it’s still going to turn heads where ever it goes. 

Test Drive:

The updated chassis and more modern rolling stock totally transforms the TD. Instead of kind of just pointing it where you’d like to eventually wind up, you can actually drive a TD. 

Plus, the ride is much softer. The brakes deliver more confidence. It’s just an easier car to hustle around. 

Then there’s the improved driving position: The TD places its occupants closer to the ground, as you’d expect a proper sports car to do. That TD cockpit also offers more legroom. 

The TD weighs more than its predecessor, though, and initially offered less performance as engine output remained the same. To compensate, MG simply lowered the final drive ratio. Thanks to that 5.1:1 final drive ratio, the TD just screams at cruising speed. A popular swap uses the 4.3:1 final drive from the newer MGA.

Bottom Line:

The TD might not offer those timeless 19-inch wire wheels, but it’s simply an easier car to use. It’s just as slow off the line, but the better chassis and improved driver ergonomics are hard to ignore.

MG TF & TF 1500

  • TF
    • Engine: 1250cc inline 4-cylinder
    • Horsepower: 57 @ 5500 rpm
    • Torque: 65 lb.-ft. @ 3000 rpm
    • Transmission: 4-speed manual
    • Brakes: Drum front and rear
    • Weight: 1930 lbs. 
    • Zero-to-60 mph: Approx. 19 seconds
    • Top Speed: Approx. 80 mph
    • Units Built: 6200
  • TF 1500
    • Engine: 1466cc inline 4-cylinder
    • Horsepower: 63 @ 5000 rpm
    • Torque: 76 lb.-ft. @ 3000 rpm
    • Transmission: 4-speed manual
    • Brakes: Drum front and rear
    • Weight: 1930 lbs. 
    • Zero-to-60 mph: Approx. 16.5 seconds
    • Top Speed: Approx. 85 mph
    • Units Built 3400

1953 was a busy year for the British sports car scene. Triumph released their sleek, new TR2. Austin-Healey made a big splash with their revolutionary 100/4. And MG? Well, their MGA wasn’t quite ready, so the T-series simply received some updates, including flared-in headlamps, an integrated grille and even more interior room. Power initially still came from that same 1250cc engine. 

However, the TF did get a small kick in the pants in the final minutes of the game, with a 1466cc engine arriving for the 1954 model year. But then, just like that, the T-series was history: The swoopy MGA arrived the following year. 

Test Drive:

MG might have modernized the body a bit, but no longer seeing those chrome headlight buckets from the cockpit is a bit of a downer. What the TF loses in charm, though, it makes up for in slightly increased performance–and performance is greatly improved with that later 1466cc engine. That subtle power increase is almost enough to make the TF 1500 feel more like a car from the ’60s than the ’30s.

Legroom is increased, and the bench seat of yore is finally gone. Occupants now get individual bucket seats. 

While the TF still cries out for a fifth gear, yet another final drive change to 4.9:1 makes the TF better at higher speeds than the TD or the TC.

Bottom Line:

Looking back at the trio, the TC is simply in a league of its own. It’s a landmark car that simply delivers a unique driving experience. The TD and TF, though, are a bit more practical, if that word could ever be used to describe a T-series. The later cars’ roomier interiors simply make things more comfortable. 

Personally, we’d go with a TD. In our mind it still captures a lot of the TC’s charm yet doesn’t command a premium. And since a lot were made, we wouldn’t feel hesitant about making some modifications. We’d simply drive the wheels off of it and enjoy every minute. 

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frenchyd SuperDork
9/25/18 6:47 a.m.

In 1962 I acquired my MGTD. Since then it’s been my friend and carried me to and in many racing adventures.  Plus all over the country and even overseas.  

I learned from it that maintenance was important and little things like cleaning the contact points on the fuel pump paid massive rewards in reliability.  

The Poor SU fuel pump which endures regular beatings as frustrated owners attempt to get a little more use out of a sadly neglected item, when a 1 minute pass with a folded piece of sand  paper will easily give them years more use.  

The same apples to contact points and the dashpots filled with the correct oil.  In fact my car has benefited  from normal maintenance and in exchange given me decades of fun and pleasure. Even the maintenance is pleasant often done on a dreary rainy day when driving would be a miserable experience. 

In 1986 I met a man who had pulled his MGTC special out of his garage loaded it up and driven to a vintage sports car race.  

What was remarkable was it was winter in New England when he left and he drove down to the Bahama’s  raced all week and then drove back. At age 84! 

russellsifers New Reader
3/7/19 9:44 p.m.

The MG has been called "The Sports Car America Loved First" at least after WWII.  I am the steward of TC #8875 and I still love it after 48 years.  Here is some interesting MG history: The first SCCA sanctioned race was held at Watkins Glen, NY on October 2, 1948.  Around 35 cars tried to enter, but only 15 qualified for that first race.  Ten cars finished the race.  Eight of the ten cars that finished were 1948 MG TCs!

I enjoy driving my TC year round.  But I really love running it at the Lake Garnett Grand Prix Revival each October.  Imagine a 70 year old MG driven by a 71 year old guy who hit 72 mph last year.  What do they say about driving a slow car fast...?  

11/10/19 12:49 p.m.

Great article, very inspiring.  I'm the steward (that's a nice way of putting it) of 1951 TD # 5651 that my parents bought new.  It's largely intact, with lots of interesting provenance from the period.  It was last driven around 1973 and has always been stored in a garage or shed.  Most of it's life has been in New Mexico so very little rust.  Just need more time to work on it.

frenchyd UberDork
11/12/19 6:58 a.m.

In reply to wylieSteve :

Please realize the engine was a product of the 1930's and as such it's different enough to need special consideration.  
Oil, the camshaft didn't have the design most engines do of rotating the lifters to even the wear.  So lifters will wear quickly even if you use ZDDP  oil supplements to replace the zinc that was removed to protect the catalyst converter.    That and the cam lobes will wear out quickly.  20,000 miles and wear is noticeable. 
 The 5000 rpm red line is absolute and even that might not protect the engine.  The stock Rod bolts are sloppy and not very strong. Luckily ARP sells good ones. Check with Moss motors. Or Abingdon Spares. 

Change your oil on time not mileage.  Even in storage oil will deteriorate.   Don't forget the brake fluid too. Failure will have the wheel cylinders freeze up.   Some people accept the spongy brake pedal that Silicone tends to produce and replace regular fluid with silicone. If you want to try that, only do it after a complete rebuild.  All of the rubber in the wheel cylinders and master cylinder need to be new. 
If you go that route slightly looser brake adjustment to keep the shoes from dragging will help.  That sort of adds to the soggy pedal problem but I've seen a couple of cars where the heat build up locked the brakes so bad the car could not be moved without backing off the adjusters.  
A few other pointers.  Most tires will be bias ply.  They will flat spot stored long enough in one place.  Put the car on Jack stands for extended stays.

The Electric fuel pump needs maintenance.  It's on the firewall in a MG T series.  The thumb screw comes off and then you can remove the plastic cap.  You'll see a set of points.   Take a piece of very fine grit sand paper. 1000 grit or finer about 2 inches long. Fold it in half and place it between the points.  Now pull it through with just the pressure of the points. Now  your fuel pump will be extremely reliable. Once a year I use I drop of engine oil on the spring pivot points just as a belt and suspended approach.  
Do that regularly and your fuel pump will work reliably for decades.  Ignore it and you'll be beating on the fuel pump  to get home or calling the tow truck. And replacing it way too often when all it needs is a little attention. 

wylieSteve New Reader
2/8/22 7:31 p.m.

In reply to frenchyd :

Hey frenchyd!  Not sure how I missed this reply 2+ years ago, but I did.  Thanks for the good info!  I'm going to stick with a conventional brake fluid, haven't liked the feel of silicone in any other car.  As you were describing the fuel pump points sanding, I have a vague memory of my dad doing that, and also that when I got it, in the toolkit where he had a small box of W sockets was also a strip of fine emery paper about 2" long!  Now I know what it was for!

wspohn SuperDork
2/9/22 11:50 a.m.

I am such an advocate of the much more modern seeming MGA that most of the T series leave me a bit cool.   If I were to own any, it would be the classic TC regardless of all the shortcomings it has.

Another one, not mentioned is the YT, a four seater tourer using running gear common to the TC, so you can take friends along with you.  I rather like that one too.



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