Window Shopper: MG T Series

The MG T series is an easy car to describe: There’s one at every car show, and it looks 20 years older than it actually is. Look past the old-school exterior, though, and you’ll find, well, oldschool underpinnings. The MG T series started with the MG TA in 1936, and over the next four generations and 20 years it kept its prewar character and classic design relatively unchanged.

Meanwhile, American-made cars progressed from small engines and swooping fenders to full-bodied highway cruisers. But that doesn’t mean you should overlook the T series. Instead, it means you should buy one. These cars have everything necessary for driving, and nothing more. They’re sports cars in their purest form.

The first postwar MG, the TC, still looked like the old TB. And it shared the same engine, too–albeit with slightly higher compression. However, the TC did have a few notable upgrades: a wider cockpit, and normal leaf springs in the front suspension. Yes, we just described a solid axle with leaf springs as an “upgrade.”

Its biggest change was where it was sold: This was the first T series sold in the U.S., albeit only with right-hand drive.

Though the TC was still stuck in the 1930s, Americans didn’t seem to care. TCs were a welcome respite from the gigantic cars of the ’40s. They were light–about 1700 pounds–simple, and fun. Add in a bunch of young men with disposable income returning from war, and it’s no surprise that 10,000 TCs were built before the TD came along in 1950.

The TD’s 1250cc engine was a carryover, but the chassis was all new. The body was lower and wider, and the solid front axle was gone–replaced by wishbones and coil springs. Out back, the frame was raised, giving the rear springs more room to move. The result was a more comfortable, better handling car.

Also on the chopping block were the giant wire wheels. Instead, the TD sported smaller, modern steel wheels. The final touch? Left-hand drive, a feature that was guaranteed to make the TD an even bigger hit in the U.S. About 30,000 units were produced, making this the most common T series.

In 1953, the final T series was introduced, the TF. The TD’s chassis and running gear were carried over, but the body was decidedly modern. The grille was swept back, and the headlights were built into the fenders.

However, the TF’s improvements weren’t enough. The Triumph TR2 and Austin-Healey 100-4 were also introduced in 1953, and they were simply more modern cars. To compensate, MG increased the TF’s displacement in 1954, stuffing 1466cc under the hood of the cleverly named TF 1500.

1955 marked the end of the T series, though, and the beginning of the new era. The MGA was introduced, and with it the MG Car Company had finally abandoned the 1930s for good. –Tom Suddard

Shopping Advice

John Twist started University Motors Ltd. in 1975, and he’s been maintaining and restoring MGs ever since. His first MG was a 1953 TD, serial number TD28822.

A good engine rebuild, including an align bore, will reduce oil leakage to occasional spots–but the engine will never be drip-free. Always use highzinc oil, as this engine has a flat-tappet cam. Superchargers are available for those who want more power.

The clutch has a carbon r elease bearing. Proper driving means pressing on the clut ch pedal only when taking off from a stop or changing gears.

Five-speed fully-synchronized gearboxes are available as an aftermarket option.

A great way to improve the handling of the TD and TF is by adding a front anti-roll bar and radial tires.

The frames are steel, but the bodies are made of wood covered in sheet metal. It is not unusual to have some rotten wood, especially at the pillar at the rear of the door. Seat belts were not available originally, but three-point belts are easily fitted.

University Motors Ltd.
4571 Patterson Avenue SE
Grand Rapids, MI 49512
(616) 301-2888

Paul Dierschow is the owner of Sports Car Craftsmen, a fantastic repair and restoration shop that sports a T series in its logo.

People love these cars because they remind them of how motoring was in a bygone era. The first modification I’d recommend would be to the driver’s mindset. Change your expectations before you even get in the drivers’ seat. If you make it past those (mostly mental) hurdles, there are a few common weaknesses in the T series cars that often need to be fixed or examined.

The clutch release is notorious for being abrupt, often screeching the tires upon take-up. The transmission mount is frequently saturated with oil, making it nearly useless. Additionally, a small link pin connecting the transmission tail housing to the rear mounting bracket is frequently damaged or missing.

TD and TF rear axles are notorious for having loose nuts connecting the drums to the axle shafts, producing a horrendous clunk on braking or accelerating. Both of those parts are usually damaged when these symptoms are present and unfortunately, new drums are not currently available.

Lastly, the door latch mechanisms are of a very poor design, causing the striker to be torn from its wood anchorage every time the door is slammed shut. Our solution is to make a reinforcement plate of 1/8-inch steel. That plate is then tucked between the wood buried inside the A-post and the outer body skin that covers it. Machine screws are then cut to precisely the correct length and installed with a thread locking product.

Sports Car Craftsmen LLC
5635 Kendall Court
Arvada, CO 80002
(303) 422-9272

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View comments on the CMS forums
Rupert HalfDork
2/6/15 11:51 a.m.

I had a TD. I sold it for $495, which is also what I paid for it. It needed a top and couldn't keep up with traffic on the freeways. So I bought a TR-3 which could. I always thought the TR-3s & TR-2s were much more practical to actually drive and carry a few things. And you still had the slide in windows so they were still Roadsters.

Though the early TR-2 almost always had a beat up lower passenger door. The passenger(s) would often open it against the curbing, not realizing it ran down so low. I actually liked it's looks better than any of these we're discussing.

I never liked the TR-3 as well once they changed the radiator inlet. The disc brakes were nice, but I still think the "small mouth" is much more attractive.

jimbbski HalfDork
2/6/15 2:59 p.m.

Never owned one, never drove or rode in one but a friends father ended up painting 2 of them. He did body work and painted cars on the side. The cars came apart quite easy. He just hung all the car body parts from the ceiling and painted them that way. Can't do that today!

Rupert HalfDork
2/7/15 1:08 p.m.
jimbbski wrote: Never owned one, never drove or rode in one but a friends father ended up painting 2 of them. He did body work and painted cars on the side. The cars came apart quite easy.

Well put!

Basil Exposition
Basil Exposition Dork
2/9/15 2:08 p.m.

I'm restoring a TD, which is harder than that sounds. The T series cars were sheet-metal-on-a-wooden-frame construction, which means battling rot as well as rust. Parts are readily available, though, and there is a super community that supports them. However, many of those folks are dying off. Since MG hasn't been on these shores for 35 years, there aren't many that remember the marque, much less the T cars.

Rupert Dork
2/10/15 9:37 a.m.

In reply to Basil Exposition: Good for you! Even though it couldn't keep up with traffic, I really loved my TD! I just couldn't afford to own two cars at that time.

I worry that T-cars and Lotus (Loti?)models from when Chapman was still alive, are getting way too scarce. And like everything else out there, the old British rides are now often showing up with a SBC or a SBF. That's truly sad.

Basil Exposition
Basil Exposition Dork
2/12/15 1:17 p.m.

I don't think scarcity is really a problem with the T series. Quite the opposite, actually. As time goes on there will be more nice examples out there than there will be people interested in owning them.

There were about 10k TC's made, 30k TD's, and 10k TF's. A lot have disintegrated into nothingness or parts cars, but every year several more are restored. The price of nicely restored examples in the collector car world has been pretty stagnant for a long time, despite huge increases for other cars.

I don't know about Loti, in general, but it seems that cars like the Europa don't have much of a following or much value. I've seen a few project cars for relatively little money not get any interest at all. And the nice ones don't seem to attract a lot of money, either.

Rupert Dork
2/12/15 7:33 p.m.

It sounds like the T-cars are multiplying like Cobras, Shelbys, & Model As!

If as many were actually built as now claimed, they'd all still be in production!

Loti are another issue. The T-Car brought sports cars to North America. IMO, the Loti taught us what the next step in sports cars was.

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