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MGA Published: 18th Aug 2017 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

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Why has the MGA endured as the archetypal 1950’s sports car?

When asked to think of an old MG, most think instantly of the MGB, the doyen of the classic car scene, built for 18 years and revered for several decades. Yet its predecessor was (whisper it) the more advanced car. And with less than six per cent of production staying in Britain, the MGA was proportionally Britain’s most exported car in history, bringing in much-needed foreign currencies for the nation’s coffers.

And yet the MGA nearly never happened. Following the launch of the Austin-Healey, Leonard Lord was reluctant to sign off any new streamlined sports cars, preferring to stick with the outmoded T-series. Flagging sales saw him change his mind – and soon the big Healey was taken upmarket to make room for the newcomer.

Overshadowed in the public eye by the simpler and cheaper B which followed, the MGA was one of the finest sports cars of its era. And that concept has endured – the MGA makes an awful lot of sense today 62 years since its launch.

On the move

The MGA is picture-postcard beautiful; svelte wings becoming hips over the rear arches, clean lines unfettered by addons or even door-handles (on the drophead), dainty detailing and a good stance. Even if this car is cramped and terrible to drive, you want it just for the way it looks – it’s soft, bordering on the feminine and yet very definitely a ‘blokes’ car to the core. The Twin-Cam and Deluxe models on Dunlop steel wheels look even better – the wheels lend the MGA more than a hint of road-going shortnose D Type, even if the origins are somewhat more humble.

The cabin’s tight for the tall, but even six footers will fit. It’s a strict two seater though – forget any notion of getting people in the back of a Coupé. But once in there it’s comfortable and the dash is clearly laid out. Big speedo, big revcounter, and smaller gauges to deal with fuel and other vital info. Early cars had painted dashboards while later, plusher models could be had with a dash trimmed to match the interior. The banjo-spokes on the wheel are more evocative than any wood-rimmed Mota-Lita. Even the MG badging on the radio blanking panel looks right – it sets you up for a truly special experience.

Start up and the raucous BMC B-series almost feels out of place – the swish lines almost set you up to expect a silken six pot. But what the B lacks in aural smoothness it makes up for in torque; there’s always plenty of grunt right when you need it to be there. Visibility is excellent, even in the Coupé – the wrapround rear window means slim pillars and scarcely any blind spots. It’s harder in a roadster with the hood up, but few roadsters have good visibility with the roof up – we can’t criticise the MGA for this.

While the tetchy Twin Cam is much faster, we’d prefer a standard 1600 DeLuxe in practice – cheaper, and in all honesty it’s just as amusing on a B road even if performance is at best lively but, at least, it can be tweaked easily enough.

Round the corners

If you think an MGB handles ok, you’ll be astounded by the MGA. It’s far nimbler – less a grand tourer and more a sports car in the traditional mould. And yet it’s not remotely twitchy, like the smaller Midget model. You find it flows from bend to bend, riding a wave of torque from its lumpy B series. It’s not perfect – but that combined with just how good it is manages to reassure you about your own ability.

Car and Driver magazine, prominent in the MGA’s target market of America, adored the car for feeling like a thorough update of what it was to be an MG – rather than a wholly new experience. “In spite of all the changes and improvements, you have only to drive the ‘A’ round the block to recognise its old MG character.” It also praised the car for being a genuine 100mph rival to cars like the Porsche 356 Speedster and Alfa Giulietta Sprint. Its quick steering was praised, as was its short throw gearchange and good clutch. Testers were less keen on the ride though – which in 2017 feels even firmer than the contemporary testers would suggest, but this means you can feel every bit of the surface beneath you. You’re never in doubt as to what it’s doing.

Sports Car Illustrated liked the driving position, but found the seats lacked upper body support. And ultimately, the reaction from buyers matched the hype from the mags – demand always outstripped supply in America. That’s how the MGA ought to be seen today. Everything that made sense in the late 1950s still makes sense – it remains a cracking sports car that makes you feel great, and if it’s a little firm, so be it. It all adds to the fun that you simply don’t get with a common sense MGB.

Go or no go

MGAs are an appreciating asset – and one which, if you want one, you’d be wise to jump on now. Simple mechanicals and a pretty body mean it has everything you could expect in a classic 1950’s British sports car. Whatever one you fancy, we fancy that you won’t be disappointed as it serves up T-Type driving thrills without those pre-war looks. Capital A!

Quick spin

Performance - Adequate but it’s easily uprated if desired
Cruising - Like all 1950’s classics prefer to get it on a B road than a motorway
Handling - Addictive – has the feel of a tauter T-Type
Brakes - Sharp enough; drum brakes are more than adequate for car’s pace
Ease of use - Not a problem although it’s notably tighter inside than later MGB

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