Over the next three years, the 1956, 1957, and 1958 MGA underwent a number of changes.
The MGA coupe served as the centerpiece of the extensive MG exhibit at the London Motor Show in October 1956. Weighing about 100 pounds more than the roadster, it featured a pressed-steel roof that was welded to the body, unique semi-wraparound windshield, three-piece wraparound rear window, wind-down side windows, and exterior door handles.
A few months earlier, MG had also begun offering a detachable fiberglass hardtop; it utilized sliding side windows. That option made it possible for MGs to run as Grand Touring cars in certain competitive events, a fact not overlooked by Abingdon. Many aftermarket hardtops were also available for the MGA, some of them in fact appearing before the factory version.
Although many owners entered their MGAs in racing competition, most saw service as daily drivers, providing their owners with the pleasures of dead-accurate steering, nimble handling, and quick over-the-road performance in the "Safety Fast" tradition for which MG had become famous.
To satisfy requests for a higher performance model for serious competition, the Twin Cam model was announced in April 1958. Never intended for volume production, it was available through April 1960, by which time just 2,111 had been built. Among the rarest of all MGAs, the Twin Cam listed at $3,110 in roadster form, while the coupe sold for $3,329 at West Coast ports-of-entry.
Eagerly sought when in production, the MGA Twin Cam is even more avidly pursued today as a prime collectible. An enlarged cylinder bore upped displacement to 1,588cc, while chain-driven dual overhead camshafts, higher 9.9:1 compression ratio, aluminum cylinder head with 1.75-inch dual SU carburetors, and cross-flow induction all helped to push output to 108 horsepower at 6,700 rpm. Four-wheel Dunlop disc brakes and center-locking vented disc wheels also set the Twin Cam apart from lesser MGAs.
Tuning the MGA Twin Cam required great precision and, as the factory reminded inquirers, this higher performance model was intended strictly for the serious connoisseur, not the average daily commuter who occasionally entered into a weekend rally or gymkhana.
A sprint from 0-60 mph could be covered in nine seconds flat and maximum speed came in at about 115 mph in touring trim, assuming the use of 100 octane fuel and proper maintenance. With a small racing windscreen and the bumpers removed and the tonneau cover fastened in place, careful tuning produced considerably more than 115 mph.
In clumsy hands and driven by hot-rod types who seldom listened to the engine and never looked at the tachometer, however, the Twin Cam proved troublesome and expensive to fix, as many a driver who regularly exceeded the red-line discovered. Such problems were more common in the United States than elsewhere, reflecting perhaps the lax attitude of Americans toward car care and maintenance.
Likely, the Twin Cam would have remained in production a bit longer if a negative development (for Abingdon, at least) had not occurred in 1957. BMC management decreed that the Austin-Healey would, henceforth, be produced alongside the MGA rather than in the traditional Austin works in Longbridge.
As a matter of fact, this hindrance to producing MGAs in numbers sufficient to satisfy demand seriously stifled engineering developments, which further frustrated Thornley, Enever, and their dedicated workers. Obviously, the BMC board had become aware that the MG works, in spite of being smaller and less mechanized, was more efficient than the factories on the Austin side of the merger.
To see how this new situation affected the 1959 and 1960 MGA, check out the next page.
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