T-Time: Comparing The MG T-Series Lineup


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Story and Photos by Tim Suddard

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.

MG TC

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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.

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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.

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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.

MG TD

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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.

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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.

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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 and TF 1500

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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.

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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.

STOCK OR NOT, ABINGDON SPARES KNOWS THE T-SERIES

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Abingdon Spares doesn’t just stock replacement parts for the MG T-series. They have been supporting the T-series since 1968 and also offer all sorts of performance parts. To see what’s possible, during our visit we drove Len Fanelli’s hotted-up TD.

Under the hood, a carefully built engine features an Abingdon Performance roller cam and lifters. Plus the engine received oversized valves, a Manley Racing Parts performance header, extensive head work and a 9.3:1 compression ratio. A lightened clutch and flywheel assembly were also fitted. Despite still featuring 1250cc of displacement, performance feels better than the later 1500. The chassis incorporates an MGB front anti-roll bar, which apparently bolts right on, plus 480 lbs./in. springs from a late MGB and some clever alignment work.

This modified T-series was far and away the best driver of the bunch, offering more than adequate power, a throaty exhaust note, and a chassis that felt more composed than anything turned out by the factory.

Abingdon Spares
(800) 225-0251
abingdonspares.com

WE LIKE THESE CARS SO MUCH THAT WE BOUGHT ONE

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We, too, have fallen under the spell of the T-series–and we bought one. We found a 1952 MG TD that had been sitting in a garage for way too long. Thanks to our friends at Abingdon Spares and Moss Motors, we’ll be putting this one back on the road while adding some extras, like the period-correct supercharger kit that we bought from a reader. Once the Lotus Elan series wraps up, we’ll get going on this one.


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Comments
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frenchyd
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! 

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