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MGA at 60

MGA at 60 Published: 16th Feb 2015 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

MGA at 60

Fast Facts

  • Best model: 1600 De Luxe
  • Worst model: 1500
  • Budget buy: Any coupé
  • OK for unleaded?: No
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): 3962x1473mm
  • Spares situation: Very good
  • DIY ease?: Simplicity itself
  • Club support: Excellent
  • Appreciating asset?: Very much so
  • Good buy or good-bye?: As good to drive as to look at
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MG’s link between pre-war and contemporar y designs is arguably its best sports car ever. Super stylish and good to drive, it’s as easy as an MGB to own and keep although values are higher

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the arrival of one of the prettiest sports cars ever made, the MGA. After its predecessor the TF, the MGA looked as though it had come from another planet; gone were the pre-war styling cues but there was still a separate chassis and a leaf-sprung live back axle. But despite this, the A was the first MG of the modern era, with its all-new 1.5-litre B-Series engine and full-width styling.

It’s easy to look at classic British sports cars through rose-tinted specs, but in period this was one of the most admired and successful sportsters available; it’s no wonder it was also the first sports car to sell more than 100,000 examples. It’s not just that the A is a looker though; it’s so good dynamically that it’s easy to forget just how old its design is.

Throw in the fact that the A is an easy classic to own thanks to a whole army of specialists and clubs, and it’s easy to see why if you’re in the market for a classic British roadster or coupé, the MGA should be at the top of your list.


1955 The MGA is launched in 1500 Roadster form; super stylish yet it’s little more than the old TF cloaked in a more modern body. The new MG is powered by a 1489cc B-Series engine, there are drum brakes all round and a four-speed manual gearbox. Steering is via a rack-and-pinion system, which is one of the reasons why it’s so delightful to drive.

1956 There’s also now a coupé offered to supplement the optional fibreglass hard top. It’s become an endearing style, helped by the clever use of the curved rear window of the A55 Cambridge/Oxford to achieve a stylish windscreen. The fixedhead is mechanically identical to the open cars and once again MG has come up trumps with a cracking design, but these closed cars aren’t nearly as sought after as their open- topped equivalents.

1958 The Twin Cam debuts in roadster and coupé forms. Power comes from a strengthened B-Series block with an aluminium twin-cam head. The Twin-Cam is great to drive, but reliability problems in period did the car’s reputation no favours; it was killed off after just two years, with just 2111 examples sold.

1959 The MGA 1600 MkI is announced, in roadster and coupé forms. Replacing the 1500 edition, there are now disc brakes at the front and a 1588cc powerplant.

1960 The De Luxe arrives, using the Twin Cam’s chassis, with disc brakes all round. Only around 50 of these are made, and as the ultimate MGA apart from the Twin Cam, it’s no surprise that the De Luxe is now the most sought after A after the Twin Cam. You’ll be doing well to find one though, as they rarely come onto the market. Also, because MG offered the wheels and disc brakes of the Twin Cam as a factory option for the regular 1600, if you do buy a De Luxe, make sure it’s the genuine article and not merely a standard car with the tastier bits grafted on.

1961 The final edition of the A appears, the MkII. Offered as a roadster or coupé and in standard or De Luxe specifications, a 1622cc engine gives 86bhp while a raised back axle ratio gives more relaxed cruising. The model lasts just a year though, with the A killed off in 1962, replaced by the B.


Compared with modern sports cars, the MGA isn’t especially quick; while the Twin Cam is good for 115mph, the standard models are all in at 100mph or so, while 0-60mph typically takes around 15 secs. But looking at figures on paper doesn’t even start to give an accurate picture of how much fun the MGA is.

If you were able to drive an MGA blindfolded, and asked to guess the car’s vintage, the chances are you’d be out by a good 20 years.

The key to the A’s dynamics is the fitment of a steering rack; most of its contemporaries were still using a box instead, and the precision with which the MG changes direction is way ahead as a result.

However, while the steering is superb, the suspension system isn’t so impressive; a few sympathetic upgrades (see separate panel) are worthwhile and will make the driving experience significantly better. But while the crude suspension doesn’t improve the A’s roadholding, it does provide a comfortable ride, which is why the A is such a great car for touring although the latter MGB is considerably more refined and usable, if that matters to you.

In period, The Autocar was clearly smitten by the A’s prowess. When its testers got their hands on an early 1500, they commented: “There is no feeling at the end of a hard day that the driver has been doing most of the work. Long, winding hillside roads are a joy to traverse; the car rockets to the top in third gear, and this gear is also extremely useful for overtaking other traffic and for town use”.

The prose continued: “The roadholding and steering are of a high order. Even with the tyre pressures set for fast driving there was no feeling of discomfort or pattering when on pavé and other poor surfaces. Fast cornering was a joy, the driver being able to position the car exactly where he wanted, and exit from a corner is also very satisfactory. Control is helped at all speeds by the excellent driving position”.

Nowadays the driving position is seen as something that takes some getting used to, as the seats aren’t especially supportive. But everything else that Autocar found in period still rings true and while there’s little to choose between the various non-Twin Cam derivatives in terms of outright performance, the 1600 MkII features a higher-ratio back axle which provides more relaxed cruising; track down one of the De Luxe models and you also get the all-round disc brakes of the Twin Cam.


If you’re buying an early MGA, one of the most worthwhile upgrades is to fit the disc brakes of a later car, although the drum brakes are fine if you’re a leisurely driver. If you prefer to drive the car a bit harder, to go with the brakes it may be worth firming up the suspension, although the standard set-up provides a good ride/handling balance as the A is comfortable with its factory settings. If you want something a bit more sophisticated, you could always fit one of Hoyle Engineering’s double-wishbone kits, priced at £795 (front), £1795 (rear).

The engine is easy to upgrade and it’s worth doing so as the chassis can easily handle a bit more power and torque. Swapping to the MGB engine takes you straight to a 1.8-litre, with further tuning options possible, such as better carbs, porting and polishing and so on.

For more relaxed cruising it’s possible to fit a Ford Sierra five-speed gearbox. With more evenly spaced ratios than the MGA’s transmission, plus an extra one for relaxed cruising, it works brilliantly but the conversion costs around £1500. Because overdrive was never offered on the A, the only alternative is to fit an overdrive box from the B, which isn’t as easy as it sounds – which is another reason why the five-speed conversions are so popular.

Brakes can be swapped for discs but some believe that the drums are perfectly satisfactory if good linings are employed.


Nigel Guild runs long-established MG specialists Former Glory ( uk/formerglory), which sells large numbers of As, Bs, Cs and Spridgets. Says Nigel: “The market for As has become quite polarised recently, in that there are some cars which will sell easily, if they’re priced correctly, while others are really hard to shift. The high cost of restoration means projects are very hard to sell; buyers know they’ll end up spending much more if they buy something that needs work. The A isn’t an easy car to restore, so if you are tempted to buy a project, make sure you’re going into it with your eyes open.

“It’s for this reason that perfect cars are the only ones that I know I’ll be able to sell. There’s no real difference in values between the 1500 and 1600; what dictates values is the car’s condition. However, most buyers prefer the disc-braked 1600 to the 1500, and they particularly want the 1600 Mk2 as it has disc brakes all round. Something that’s freshly restored and really superb can go for £32,000, although at this end of the market, it might take a while finding the right buyer. Also, the restoration work will have to have been done by a recognised marque expert such as Bob West – home restorations will never be worth as much”.

At the other end of the spectrum, you can buy a complete project that may or may not be clinging to an MoT for around £13,000, while the cheapest roadworthy cars are between £15,000 and £16,000. However, there are few buyers for cars priced at less than £20,000, as this is the point from which you can buy a reasonably tidy car. However, anything at this level will still probably need some tidying as you can’t expect to acquire a really superb MGA for less than £26,000, with really good examples changing hands for £30,000.

If you can’t afford to buy an opentopped MGA, there’s always the coupé. Prices for these start at just £9000- £10,000 for something that’s on the road but cosmetically challenged – and probably tired mechanically too. Really nice coupés sell for around £20,000, so if you’ve got £15,000 to spend you should be able to secure a decent car that’s not perfect, but very usable.

The problem is, restoring a coupé costs around 30 per cent more than a roadster because of the extra complexity – yet it’s worth significantly less. As a result, you need to be especially careful when buying a fixed-head, although there are some good cars out there. Indeed, coupé values have risen recently, but the vast majority of buyers still want an open-topped car.

The most desirable A of all is the Twin Cam, the best open examples of which are now nudging £45,000. However, many buyers are put off by the complexity of the Twin Cam, aware of its reliability issues. As a result, the most clued-up buyers want the ultimate ‘regular’ MGA, which is the 1600 De Luxe. Unfortunately it’s not that regular though; they’re very rare and hardly ever come onto the market, which is why when they do, they can easily command a little over £40,000.

Guild concludes: “Buyers are clued up and they tend to know exactly what they want. Wire wheels are generally a must and cars that have been converted from left to right-hand drive are less sought after, but that’s not a disaster as there are plenty of cars available that were originally sold in the UK. Old English White with a red leather interior continues to be a popular colour scheme, while five-speed gearbox conversions are also sought after; they really improve the usability for those who want to use their A on a regular basis.

“Most importantly though, you need to be very careful when buying any average MGA, as you might pick up a genuinely good roadster for less than £20,000, but you’re more likely to end up with a car that needs significant work, even though it looks good”, he says.

What To Look For


  • The MGA is nothing like as usable as its successor the MGB. Smaller and narrower and more hardcore, the A has a small boot, a cramped cabin and there are no wind-up windows either, just side screens.
  • /
  • Of the 101,082 MGAs built, fewer than 6000 were sold in the UK, while over 80,000 crossed the Atlantic. Many have returned, but converting from left to right-hand drive is easy as all that’s needed is a fresh dash, steering rack and pedal box. But dashboards and RHD steering racks are scarce; serviceable used racks are upwards of £700.
  • Incorrect trim parts and non-original mechanical components are common. MGB engines and seats are often fitted. If the car is incomplete, work out the cost of sourcing good examples of what you’ll need; some repro stuff can be poorly made.
  • While originality can be hard to come by, good cars abound and all editions offer practical driving pleasure regardless of spec. Whether it’s a 1500, 1600 or Twin Cam, all MGAs, if properly sorted, are agile, surprisingly perky and handle beautifully.
  • It’s usually better to salvage original parts rather than fit new, as the fit is often better – although mazak components such as the windscreen grab handles and vents on the shroud are tricky to reclaim.
  • Lucas electrics were fitted throughout, and all parts are available; instruments, switchgear, lighting and looms can all be replaced. Not all As were sold with a heater, but you can buy the bits to fit one; pay around £500 for them.


  • The sills and A-posts are the areas most likely to be rusty; all panels are available, but repairs are involved, so expect a specialist to charge at least £1750 per side. Wings also corrode; replacements are available but making them fit is difficult.
  • Other key rot areas include the door bottoms and boot floor, while the bonnet, boot lid and doors are aluminium over a steel frame, with a wooden stiffener in the bonnet and boot lid, to prevent dents. The wood rots.
  • Accident damage is common; this distorts the body and chassis, wrecking the handling and throwing out panel gaps if the car hasn’t been repaired using the correct jig. One seam a bit out leads to another being miles out. It’s also worth looking at all the flanges and seams; any rippling here means the car has been shunted.
  • Although the chassis is impressively stiff, a hard knock will distort it and it’s tricky (if not impossible) to put things right. The key areas to check are the front and rear chassis legs, the former running under the car from the engine bay. Get underneath for a better view of the rot spots.


  • There were two; the familiar B-Series or a much rarer twin-cam. The former throws up no worries; it’s easily (and cheaply) rebuilt and was also fitted to other BMC products and it’s easy to slot in a unit from a Farina saloon or MGB or to swap between 1500 and 1600 editions.
  • The signs of a tired B-Series are classic; blue oil smoke while accelerating (worn piston rings and/or cylinder bores). There should be 50-60psi on the oil pressure gauge at 3000rpm.
  • Oil leaks are normal; the scroll oil thrower on the back of the crank allows lubricant to seep from the bottom of the bellhousing which wears, along with the block. Once worn it’s potentially costly to put everything right, as to produce a lasting fix a new block and crank could be needed – and neither is available. However, it’s possible to install an oil seal conversion for around £200.
  • Cylinder heads also crack, so look for evidence of water loss around the top of the engine along with signs of the car having overheated previously. The classic symptom will be a blown head gasket, so check for white emulsion.
  • The twin cam is an altogether different beast – and very expensive to revive. These are fragile, require specialist skills to restore and everything is unique. For example, a B-Series water pump costs £30, but a Twin Cam item is £500. A key problem is that many who attempt to rebuild these engines don’t know what they’re doing, causing big problems. You could easily end up with a bill for £5000+ to put everything right.


  • The A’s gearbox is weak, and most have already been rebuilt. Often, used parts are fitted to cut costs, so failures are common. Second gear synchro usually goes first, so check for baulking as you go up and down through the ratios. Also listen for chattering in first and reverse, signalling worn laygear.
  • Exchange gearboxes are £550, if no fresh gears are required. Replacement cogs are available but many owners go for a close-ratio set, which costs an extra £1000. The option was available when the A was new; cars with it have the letters ‘DA’ in the engine’s commission number. However, if the letters are there it doesn’t mean there’s still a close-ratio gear set fitted; replacement gearboxes are common.
  • Diff casings get damaged, leading to a £350 repair bill. It’s caused by the hub nuts being left loose; they should be tightened up but the 1 61/64” hub nut is an odd size – and it’s also got eight sides. The correct socket is available for about £30. If the nuts aren’t tightened up, the bearing spins against the axle casing, damaging both. The most obvious symptom of this having occurred is the diff leaking oil onto the brakes.
  • The most likely suspension issue is worn or tight trunnions; they need greasing at least annually. The latter problem occurs when replacement trunnions are fitted but they’re not lapped in to fit the kingpins properly. It may be that a matched trunnion and kingpin needs to be fitted; for the parts you’ll pay £200 for each side.
  • Lever arm dampers leak, especially as many aren’t rebuilt particularly well. Look for evidence of hydraulic fluid seeping out; it’s an MoT failure point and it won’t do the car’s ride or handling any favours.
  • Cheap rear springs are common mistakes; they provide wrong ride height and destroy the ride and handling. Decent springs cost at least £120, but many owners pay no more than £45. There can be problems up front too, with 10-inch springs fitted in place of the correct 9-inch items; with these fitted, the dynamics will be wrecked.
  • Whether an A is on wire or steel wheels, there are potential issues. The steel wheels can crack around the mounting holes, and replacement is advised, instead of repairs. A superb alternative is the Dunlop 6x15 replica wheel offered by Realm Engineering; a set of four costs £936 (bolt-on) or £1320 (splined).

Three Of A Kind

Replacement for the A and built on a monocoque yet apart from the new 1.8-litre B-Series engine, it’s pretty similar mechanically. B is larger and more refined (especially with overdrive, never available on the A) although purists insist that the older car is the sportier pick. However the B scores with its superb usability, sheer weight of numbers, great parts supply and lower prices, especially rubber bumper models. BGT is a fine all rounder that can be a daily driver if desired.
There have been many Plus 4s over the years so there’s no shortage of choice; this one was current between 1950 and 1969, when the MGA was contemporary. With Triumph TR engines giving up to 120bhp you can expect up to 120mph. But these early Plus 4s are now rare in the UK and rarely come up for sale, so be prepared to wait, or settle for a later car. (A full appraisal of the Plus 4 and 4/4 was available in our January issue – back copies available.
The sidescreen TRs offer a blend of character and usability that matches the MGA while club and specialist support is equally superb. But most of all these rugged and rudimentary TRs offer masses of fun, especially where breathed-on versions are concerned; tuning the four-pot TR is simplicity itself. The TR3 got more power and front discs, so it’s even more usable than the TR2. More purist and alive than TR5/6, the mid-way TR4 is also a good bet.


While its successor the MGB is often regarded as being one of the easiest classic sportscars to own, thanks to the amount of club and specialist support available, the MGA isn’t far behind. DIY maintenance is generally no problem and parts availability is superb, so if you fancy something a bit more unusual than a B and your pockets are deep enough to be able to afford a good one, we’d suggest the A is well worth a closer look. But the A isn’t as usable as its successor.

Values have risen quite sharply recently but it looks as though things are levelling off now; according to MG expert Nigel Guild of Former Glory, some buyers have been put off by this and they’re hanging on for prices to soften. Whether or not that’ll happen is guesswork; what’s beyond doubt is that the MGA is a fabulous car to drive, and in the long term you’d be incredibly unlucky to lose out financially by buying one now.

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