Background of the T-Series
At the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, production of cars at MG in Abingdon had given way to production and maintenance of machines of war, as it had at most other engineering plants over the whole country. A very wide variety of jobs were undertaken, ranging from servicing guns and production of aircraft parts to overhauling tanks. No job was too large, too small, or too difficult for the workers at MG.
With a return to peacetime in 1945, thoughts at MG turned once again to building cars, but things were never to be the same again. A socialist government was in power, the country's industry had been ravaged by bombing, and wartime shortages had led to rationing of just about everything. Although there was a considerable demand on the home market for any form of personal transport, raw materials were in short supply which was controlled by the government.
With the urgent need for the country to earn foreign income to aid reconstruction, priority was given to supplying raw materials to those companies who concentrated on exporting their products. The phrase "export or die" had a very real meaning.
Since little development work was carried out during the war on the post-war generation of cars, so most manufacturers simply dusted off their pre-war models, tidied them up and wheeled them out. MG was no exception to this, but in the pervading atmosphere it was clear that the big luxury saloons of the pre-war era would not be looked upon with favour. Consequently, it was decided to concentrate initially on the car which had been the mainstay of MG's reputation as a manufacturer of sports cars - the Midget.
MG TA Midget
It was before the war, in the Spring of 1936, when the replacement for the MG PB appeared. The Cowley- inspired TA Midget used many components of Morris origin and , at first, was not popular with the "hardy" MG enthusiasts. However, this resistance was soon overcome and the car widened the appeal of sports cars which had previously been looked upon as being temperamental and difficult to drive.
The TA's chassis was of traditional MG design, but the tubular crossmembers seen in previous models had been replaced by less stiff channel sections. Also, the forward portions of the side rails had been made as box sections to stiffen them, which was needed as the engine mountings were of rubber. Suspension was by the now familiar leaf springs front and rear, but the brakes were hydraulically operated for the first time on an MG.
The engine had been changed too. Gone was the neat, but demanding, ohc unit and in its place was a 1292cc, pushrod, overhead-valve, four-cylinder engine. This was essentially the same as that used in the Morris 10, but the MG was equipped with twin SU carburettors and produced around 50bhp, which was a significant increase compared to the PB. This was mated to four-speed transmission which had another first for MG - synchromesh. The mechanical specification of the TA made it a much easier car to drive, whilst still maintaining the reputation of its predecessors. This opened up a whole new appeal of sports cars to a much wider market than before.
At first, two-seater open and closed (Airline Coupe) were offered, but the Airline Coupe was shortly dropped with the advent of the Tickford Coupe. This had a drophead body style with a three position folding soft-top that provided the protection of a closed car in bad weather, but allowed open air motoring when it was fine.
The TA became very popular and, inevitably, found its way into competition where it acquitted itself well. However, the engine was not happy being run at high revs because of its unsuitable valve timing and weak bottom-end. To overcome this, the factory developed methods of tuning the unit and supplied the information to those who wanted their TA's to go faster.
MG TB Midget
In the summer of 1939, as the war clouds were gathering, MG announced the TB Midget. In terms of chassis and body options it was essentially the same as the TA, but the TB had a new engine which was a 1250cc, ohv, four-cylinder unit. Taken from the new Morris 10, and known as the XPAG engine, it had a much stronger bottom-end than the previous unit, better valve timing and a better designed cylinder head. These design features combined to give a power output of 45bhp.
The engine was backed up by a dry clutch and a better set of ratios than before with an improved synchromesh. All of this meant that the little car looked very promising indeed, but the onset of war stopped production as MG had other, more important, tasks to carry out.
MG TC Midget
On the eve of the war, MG had offered the TB model which, with a few modifications was to become the first post-war MG, the TC Midget. The chassis of the new car was essentially the same as before, but the sliding trunnion spring mountings had been dispensed with in favour of more conventional rubber bush shackles. This had been forced on MG, as it was unable to obtain the raw materials necessary for the original mounts, this helped to simplify the maintenance procedure, but made little difference to the handling of the car.
The engine was the now familiar twin-carburettor, 1250cc, pushrod, ohv XPAG unit. The transmission was also the single-plate dry clutch and four-speed synchromesh unit as had been seen in the TB. The brakes were 9 inch hydraulic units and the wheels the usual centre-locking wires. The TC was offered in one body style only - an open two-seater which was very similar in appearance to the TB model. All the old features were there : the humped scuttle with folding windshield, cutaway doors, swept front and rear wings, a slab-type fuel tank and rear-mounted spare wheel. It was almost as if the intervening 5 years had never happened!
Despite the fact that the car was so obviously dated, in terms of both mechanical specification and appearance, the MG TC Midget found a ready market. There were a number of reasons suggested for this a lack of other post-war cars, or the familiar design reminding people of the pre-war days, whatever the reason the Midgets success took MG somewhat by surprise.
Aware that the more cars they could export, the greater would be their allocation of raw materials, MG sought sales around the world and succeeded in generating a substantial demand for the car. So successful were they that, in the cars four-year production run (until 1949), some 10,000 TC's were built, a substantial number of which were shipped to the USA where they were to generate new enthusiasm for sports cars and motor sport. It is quite remarkable how a car which was basically a "stop-gap" should have enjoyed so much success, generating sales figures far beyond those experienced before the war.
MG TD Midget
In 1949, a replacement for the TC was announced. It was not, as one might have expected, a car with a totally different, modern appearance, but yet another Midget in the familiar mould. The TD Midget, while it certainly had the appearance of a Midget, had much which was different under the skin. See also some variants of the MG TD model.
The TD had a completely new chassis, which had been developed from that used in the Y-Type saloon. It was a much sturdier and stiffer frame than the old Midget chassis, as it had box-section side rails and crossmembers and it was of all-welded construction. Unlike the previous Midgets, the chassis was kicked up over the rear axle. Consequently, the rear leaf springs had a greater camber than before, and they were softer too being controlled by lever-arm shock absorbers. At the front, the old beam axle and leaf springs had been dispensed with in favour of an independent system comprising double wishbones and coil springs. The upper wishbones were actually formed by the levers of the shock absorbers. The complete front end design was common to the Y-type saloon and was to form the basis for the front suspension for many future MG's.
One departure from the old Midget which raised the hackles of the "hardy" MG enthusiasts, was the use of 15 inch pressed steel wheels rather than the old spindly 19 inch wire wheels. These looked slightly out of place on a car with such old-fashioned bodywork, especially at the rear where they didn't quite fill the wheel arches.
The engine and transmission were again the same as the TC, as was the body style, although the latter was a little wider and the wings were more enveloping because of the wheels. For the first time, an MG was equipped with bumpers fore and aft which, it was suggested, took away the slightly "cheeky" air of the earlier cars and gave the TD a more "civilised" look. And in a way this was true, as the TD was certainly more comfortable to drive than any of its predecessors.
As a result of this, the TD found an even larger market than the TC, selling almost three times as many in a similar four-year production run. Again, a substantial number of the cars produced went abroad, particularly to the USA.
A Mark II version of the TD was introduced during its production run, having a slightly more powerful version of the XPAG engine (57bhp) with a higher compression ratio and bigger carburetors. There were also improvements made to the suspension, while the one-piece seat back and individual seat cushions gave way to a pair of bucket seats. In 1952, centre-lock wire wheels were offered as an option.
By this time, sales of the TD were beginning to falter, but MG had the prototype of its replacement ready to go into production. The car, code named EX175, was based on a modified TD chassis and mechanicals but with a beautiful streamlined bodyshell which was right up-to-date. Sadly, it was to be turned down flatly by the boss of the now British Motor Corporation as a deal had already been signed to build a similar car - the Austin-Healey 100.
MG TF Midget
Something had to be done about the flagging sales of the TD, but all that could be done at the time was to give it a facelift. Hence, the MG TF Midget was introduced in 1953. Essentially this car was the same as the TD, having the same form of chassis, suspension, brakes, steering, engine, and transmission.
The bodywork displayed the most changes, although it still had that un-mistakable and by now old- fashioned MG style. The most obvious changes were to the front end where the radiator grille had been lowered and raked to give a lower hood line. The front wings were shaped so that the headlights could be faired into them rather than being separately mounted. At the rear there was little difference compared to the TD, although a valance was provided to fill the gap between the bottom of the fuel tank and the bumper.
In terms of performance, there was no change in comparison with the TD, and despite the new body style, MG were kidding no-one but themselves. The sales figures for the car reflected this. By 1955, the TF was seen even at Longbridge to be a flop, but all that could be done in the short-term was to increase the engine to 1466cc, and the car was called the TF 1500.
The End of the T-types
However, even the upgrade to the XPEG 1500 engine was not enough to give the car a new lease of life. The old traditional style of Midget had come to the end of the road. It had served the company well since its inception in 1929 in the guise of the M-Type
By 1955, however, MG needed something completely different, something which was completely up-to-date in terms of performance, handling, and appearance. Fortunately changes were afoot at MG, and most importantly of these was the reinstatement of a separate design department at MG.
With the benefit of hindsight, many more people have an affection for these models than for any other MG, and there are few MG enthusiasts who do not regard a T-type as a "real" MG. Furthermore, no range of cars did more for the reputation of MG, or indeed of Great Britain, in the post-war period. The importance of the T-type cars within MG history can never be overstated.
Foot note in history: The TF was hated by 'real' MG enthusiasts when it first appeared. Turn page to view a press release at the time of the appearance of the "new" MG TF.
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