1951 MG TD

The 1951 MG TD eventually gave way to the TF, after sales flagged. But designers made do without the capital to give it a facelift for as long as they could.

1954 MG TF
The 1954 MG TF was eventually modeled
from the MG TD.

Although MG designers, led by Syd Enever, had produced a specially shaped TD for Autosport photographer George Phillips to drive in the 1951 Le Mans 24 Hours endurance race, they never got permission to put it on sale. This was a pity, as it was a very smart-looking car, and the true forerunner of the MGA.

A year later, Enever went one better with Project EX175, matching a modified version of that sleek envelope bodyshell to a brand-new frame, which allowed driver and passenger to be seated much lower. This was powered out of necessity by TD running gear. Although one step closer to the MGA, it was still three long years away from acceptance by corporate management.

In the meantime, MG's owner, the Nuffield Organization, had merged with Austin. The newly formed firm was called the British Motor Corporation (BMC), and Austin's Len Lord became the master of the group. MG officials tried to get approval to build the streamlined EX175, but were rebuffed in favor of the Austin A90-engined Healey project, which resulted in the sensational Austin-Healey 100. Because money was diverted to the Healey project, there wasn't enough left to develop an all-new MG.

By this time, TD sales were flagging. Even though no capital was being made available, MG General Manager John Thornley and his team were still desperately searching for a new model. Triumph, after all, had revealed its new TR2 sports car. Costing very little more than a TD, it boasted 90 horsepower and an impressive 105-mph top speed. To even begin to match it, the old TD needed a serious facelift.

During two weeks of May 1953, Enever, Cecil Cousins, and two other engineers built a prototype -- later to become the TF -- without making a single drawing, and without conducting a single test! As Cousins was quoted in an interview in later life, "We got hold of a TD and said: 'All we have to do is to lean the radiator back a bit, then...'"

Starting with a stock TD, the small crew in those two short weeks gave the car a sleeker nose and a more graceful tail to match. The radiator was sloped back, the bonnet (hood) line was inclined downward 3.5 inches to meet it, headlamps were partially faired-in, and the front fender profile was modified.

At the rear, the exposed fuel tank and the spare wheel carrier were made more rakish, the rear fenders sported a shapelier flare to match, and the interior was revamped as well. As on the TD that was about to be replaced, the bodyshell was built up in the old-fashioned way over a wooden skeleton. The net result of the changes was a car that was two-inches longer, one-inch wider because of the more flamboyant fenders, and about a half-inch lower due to a revised top and top-iron shapes.

For the first time on a T-Series sports car, separate, individually adjustable front seats were fitted (the common backrest of previous models was discarded), and the new instrument panel featured handsome octagonal-shaped instruments. Curiously, they were now mounted in the center of the dash, making them more difficult to read than in the TD, where the speedometer and tach faced the driver.

And stranger still, there was still no fuel gauge. Windshield wipers were cowl-mounted, much safer than placing the wiper motors atop the windshield frame as before, where they could be struck by an occupant's head. The most important visual change to purists was that the TD's steel disc wheels could be -- and often were -- replaced by the much sportier center-lock wire-spoke wheels.

One retrograde design detail that mechanics probably cursed was the arrangement for getting to the engine. For the first time, the hood side panels were fixed, so access to the engine bay was somewhat limited. The use of pancake air cleaners was one result of this change, and although engine noise hardly topped the list of MG's problem areas, it's a fact that intake noise was more pronounced in the TF than in the TD.

Development? There wasn't any! John Thornley drove the prototype for the first time on May 12, 1953, and gave the go-ahead at once. Over the next several months, the Morris Bodies Branch factory in Coventry, which built every Midget shell, produced the needed new panels and press tools.

Their job was made easier because the center section of the new bodyshell -- cowl, doors, and rear corners -- were virtually unchanged. Just to prove that every finalized part would fit together properly, another prototype was assembled in August 1953, and series production followed closely behind in September.

On the next page, learn more about the 1954 MG TF, and view pictures of the car that received only a "friendly" reception.

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