The 1945-1949 MG TC was the first MG model to cross the pond and come
to America. Until the late Forties, American sports car enthusiasts
knew little of the MG, in good part because the firm had completely
ignored the North American market before World War II. Production of
Midgets, in any case, was tiny -- about 1000 units a year was normal --
and the few cars that went for export were most often sent to Britain's
loyal "Empire" territories. The very first Midget to receive
left-hand-steering wasn't sold until 1950.
Though a British-made car, the 1955 MG TF 1500
was primarily sold in America.
It was during World War II that United States servicemen stationed in England discovered the Midget. Legend has it that U.S. Air Force pilots saw their opposite numbers -- Britain's fly-boys -- scudding abound the countryside in noisy little British sports cars.
Fascinated, the U.S. officers tried the little cars for themselves, and were incurably smitten. In almost every book, play, and film of that period, the same scenes, it seems, were always acted out: Dashing officer meets and dates girl, rushes her out to dinner or drinks in his MG sports car, proposes marriage, and flies off happily into the sunset.
After the war, some servicemen took Midgets back home to the States, setting up a demand for more of the captivating sports cars. At the same time, Britain's "export or die" policy during the rebuilding period after the war also encouraged (practically forced) MG to seek out the booming U.S. market in order to bring home precious Yankee dollars. Thus, exports of right-hand-drive TC Midgets to the U.S. began in 1948. Even though a mere 2,001 crossed the Atlantic in two years, MG management liked what it saw, and endeavored to make the next Midget, the TD, more suitable and appealing to American buyers.
The 1945-1949 MG TC -- a throwback to the TB of 1939, and even the TA of 1936 -- was a real anachronism. For example, its flimsy chassis employed beam axles at both ends. The ride was rock-hard, the tread exceedingly narrow, but with direct high-ratio steering and the high-revving XPAG engine, the TC provided plenty of driving excitement.
Partly because there was still an acute shortage of new cars in the U.S. in the late Forties, TCs sold well, but MG's designers knew they would have to do better when money became available to update the car. Casting about for a new chassis, they looked again at the MG YA sedan (which they had not yet actually fully developed), saw that this car's independent front suspension was a great advance, and engineered a new frame to support it.
MG, meantime, was happy to let everyone know that the new independent front suspension had been shaped at Morris Motors by an ambitious young engineer named Alee Issigonis. He wasn't famous at the time, but in a few years all that would change, and his best-known achievement would be the Austin/Morris Mini (which is still in production!).
The 1955 MG TF 1500 was the last model
with this bodyshell.
Once the new chassis had been drawn up, the rest of the car followed in a rush. The TC's engine, transmission, and back axle were all called to serve again, a wider and altogether squatter version of the wood-framed bodyshell was produced, and the TD was ready to go on sale for 1950.
Despite the fact that it was still only an 80-mph car, the public loved what it saw, even though the TD rode on disc wheels instead of the traditional wire-spokes. TC production had peaked at 3,085 cars in calendar-year 1948, but in 1952 MG built no fewer than 10,838 TDs. It was no coincidence that most of these cars had left-hand drive, and that the bulk of them were shipped across the Atlantic to the United States.
Although the XPAG engine could be tuned to give a great deal of power for its size, truth to tell was that the TD had such an awful shape that it was never very successful on the race track. For gymkhanas or open-road touring, and for beating up Detroit iron on twisty mountain roads, a TD was fine, but almost any slippery-shaped sports car could show it a clean pair of taillamps at higher speeds.
On the next page, find out more about the 1951 MG TD.
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