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They say that racing improves the breed and it was certainly partly the making of the MGA when launched 60 years ago

To say that MG were falling behind the times at the dawn of the flamboyant 50s is a bit of an understatement. Jaguar had launched the swoopy looking XK120 and Triumph were finalising its Healey-like TR2. But instead Abingdon was still producing its running board roadster T Type, a pre-war design that it updated in 1951 with the TD (Mk2) and the similar TF two years later. Obviously MG needed a much more modern sports car and fast.

Enter EX 175, a design exercise devised by MG design legend Syd Enever which was based upon an stretched TF chassis topped by a modern body styling not unlike the XK120, albeit scaled down. Registered for the road with the famous HM0 6 number plate apart from a nifty bonnet power bulge to accommodate the old T Type engine, it was remarkably close to the MGA that surfaced three years later. It would have appeared sooner if Austin hadn’t already bought the Austin- Healey 100… so the project was put on the back burner, to return as the EX 182, a sports racer for Le Mans.


EX 182 was the codename for four production MGA look-alikes tuned to a racing spec 82bhp from its new 1.5-litre B-Series engine, first seen in the MG Magnette ZA saloon, albeit with cylinder heads developed by Westlake. The car acquitted itself well, lasting the 24 hours and finishing 5th and 6th in its class although the 1955 event is sadly best known for the horrific incident which saw a Mercedes-Benz 300SLR crash into the crowds killing more than 80 spectators. Also one of the MGs also crashed, badly injuring driver, MG stalwart Dick Jacobs.

The race cars were later entered into September’s Ulster TT which was also marred by fatal accidents. But it also saw the début of an engine that was to become the Twin Cam. Two types were raced, one designed by Austin and the other by Morris and it was the latter that finally made road car production but only after further refinement by Westlake.

Soon after the TT the regular MGA was launched, now using the B-Series engine in 68bhp tune. “Designed to steal your heart” exclaimed the adverts and as the A’s first full year of production saw more than 13,000 made, at a list price of £844, it was no false statement.

“An uncommonly roadworthy 1.5-litre sports car of high performance” hailed Motor noting that the sleek aerodynamic MGA needed 27 per cent less power to maintain 60mph than the TF it replaced. It also remarked that the styling was not a martyr to fashion as this new MG had created a look of its very own.


However, underneath those great looks was still very much a pre-war design being little more than a TF in a prettier dress. This was in a new technological post war era where new designs were coming thick and fast. Citroën, remember, launched the radical DS the same year as the MGA and it still remains ‘advanced’ while the magnificent Mini surfaced just four years later. Ford had introduced the MacPherson strut suspension by the time the MGA was launched and even Vauxhall had ditched lever arm damping for telescopic types. Not that the MGA was a poor performer.

Quick (0-60mph in some 15 seconds) it wasn’t even for 1955 standards but the car’s handling and roadholding surpassed that of the Triumph TR2 and TR3, the latter launched the same year as the MG.

“To drive an MGA on a winding road is a sheer enthusiast’s delight…the secret lies in an admirable example of useful and controllable oversteer,” exclaimed Motor who felt that Abingdon’s slogan of ‘Safety Fast’ has never been better applied.


A year after launch MG added the fixedhead coupé to the range but it was more than a closed MGA also boasting a higher standard of trim together with wind up windows instead of side screens - unlike the hardtop option for the Roadster. The roof was said to have been styled around the curved back window of an Austin A55 saloon and it worked a treat plus the added rigidity afforded by the roof improved the handling even further. While there was still some inherent chassis flex, it was nowhere near as horrific as the old T Types where doors could fling open half way round a bumpy corner.

However, the real capital A was the Twin Cam of 1958. A production version of the earlier racing design, with its twin chromed cam covers the Morris-developed powerplant looked very much like MG’s four cylinder take of the famous Jaguar XK unit. Now slightly larger at 1588cc it produced 108bhp and perhaps it’s a coincidence but its size and output was uncannily similar to the later Lotus twin cam engine…

Until the MGB GT V8 surfaced 15 years later, this was the fastest production MG ever. Build standards and power outputs varied, but a good one (as tested by Motor) shot to 60 in just over nine seconds, which was as fast as an Aston Martin DB4.

It was designed by MG legend Gerald Palmer based upon a stock B-Series engine block, although he had left for Vauxhall before its reliability problems were sorted by Morris Developments at BMC.

The Twin Cam was beautifully subtle. Only a slightly higher trim standard and a 7000rpm rev counter have a hint of what was underneath the bonnet while under those stylish steel road wheels lurked Jaguar-like all disc brakes. Costing just under £1100 the Twin Cam was some £600 cheaper than an XK140 and under £300 less than the Big Healey, it’s no wonder this capital A soon found buyers. Not entirely happy ones however.

Sadly, that great engine was swift but suspect. Even at its launch, the four TCs presented to the press suffered from overheating, pre-detonation (pinking) and running-on issues. But this was small beer considering hapless owners further endured burned out pistons and excessive oil usage where 120 miles per pint were commonplace – if the pistons lasted that long! Warranty claims were understandably horrendous and steps to cure the problems came just months after the car’s April 1958 launch which included revised pistons and rings to cure the oil drinking habits, a lower compression ratio (reducing power to just 100bhp) along with various modified distributors and timing settings to sort the ignition out. A new type of distributor in March 1960 was MG’s last throw of the dice before the last Twin Cam engine was made in May. As a result a total of 2111 Twin Cam models were made, just two per cent of overall MGA production, although it was never intended to be a major player. Today however, they are worth a fortune…

In truth the problems chiefly stemmed from the low rent fuel quality around at that time and it’s real shame that MG didn’t persevere as the MGA Twin Cam was ahead of the rest and its demise came just as rivals (Lotus, Alfa) started to launch their iconic engines. If MG had stuck at it (and 100 octane 5 Star would have cured a lot of the problems in one fell swoop) what a car a similar-powered MGB would have made, negating the need for the lame MGC?

The demise of the Twin Cam saw a turning point in the MGA’s fortunes. The normal model had by then gained the larger Twin Cam engine block and front disc brakes but to mop up Twin Cam bodies, MG introduced the De Luxe which was essentially a TC but fitted with the more reliable conventional engine. Some 25bhp down but at least it guaranteed to get you to your journey, this version proved reasonably popular in the US before that market virtually collapsed during 1960/61. Abingdon literally ground to a halt, forcing MG to come up with the 1600 Mk2, fitted with a lustier 1622cc engine, again also seen in the Magnette saloon but in a lower state of tune.

Overall however, the MGA did brilliantly because less than seven years after launch, in early 1962, the 100,000th model was produced, a metallic gold Roadster which was displayed at the New York motor show.

The advent of the MGB soon put a shadow over its predecessor but with the rise of the car movement in the mid 70s the MGA soon found a new fanbase. The MGB, with its monocoque construction, may be more civilised and loved for its easy-going nature but the earlier car is still preferred for its sportier drive that makes more demands of the driver. It’s also the prettiest MG ever made that six decades on still turns heads.


Sixty years ago motorsport suffered one of its biggest tragedies when during the Le Mans 24 Hours race, a Mercedes 300 SLR driven by Pierre Levegh crashed into the crowd killing himself and more than 80 spectators. The F1 crown was won by legendary Fangio.

The last ever woman to be executed in the UK occurred that July after Ruth Ellis, aged 29, was convicted of killing her lover, racing driver David Blakely on Easter Sunday, shooting him outside the Magdala public house in Hampstead, London and then immediately giving herself up to the police.

Fancied a new car back then despite the average wage being £10 Well, a cheap but stark Austin A30 Countryman cost £593, a 2CV £598, a posher Standard Eight £554, Ford Consul, £781 or a Beetle at £740 (import duties not helping). A Morgan cost £713, TR3 £1103, Mk1 Jag £1532 and a Rolls-Royce £5078.

Deaths this year included screen icon James Dean who famously was killed in his Porsche and Dr Einstein, who was aged 76. The ever popular radio serial The Archers causes outcry when it kills off Grace Archer. Birdseye starts selling fish fingers in the UK.

A far cry from today, but until 1955 only one TV channel existed until commercial station ITN arrived. The first McDonald’s fast food eatery was erected in the US while Coca- Cola became available in cans where previously it was bottles only!

Winston Churchill resigns as PM due to ill health aged 80, that April succeeded by Anthony Eden, aircraft carrier Ark Royal is commissioned, Chelsea win the First Division title for the first time while Newcastle were riding high with their sixth FA Cup win.



When The Car Was The Star

The MGA appeared in several films during the 1950s and 60s, arguably the most famous was Blue Hawaii where Elvis sang a song sitting in his red roadster. In fact, the King of Rock & Roll liked the MGA so much that he bought the 1960 car and it still resides at Graceland. A black MGA played a significant role in the 1967 film Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner where legends Spencer Tracy and Sidney Poitier highlighted the race issue in the US back then. Look avidly and you’ll spot a yellow, early MGA in the 1988 comedy film Animal House.

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