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Celebrating Fifty Years of MGA

MG's Greatest Triumph Published: 27th May 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Celebrating Fifty Years of MGA
Celebrating Fifty Years of MGA
Celebrating Fifty Years of MGA
Celebrating Fifty Years of MGA
Celebrating Fifty Years of MGA
Celebrating Fifty Years of MGA
Celebrating Fifty Years of MGA
Celebrating Fifty Years of MGA
Celebrating Fifty Years of MGA
Celebrating Fifty Years of MGA
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As the MGA hits the half a century mark, Barrie Carter celebrates the quintessential British sports car that shaped our lives

And in the beginning there was MG. The pre-war shape of sports cars differed little from car to car. The war bought the development of shape and aerodynamics forward apace led by the shape of aircraft from the stringbag bi-planes of the 30’s to the streamlined jets of the 40’s. It was natural that the motor car should mirror these changes instead of hanging on to the high bonnet line, separate headlight image of the last 25 years. In 1949 George Phillips, the well known MG racer, realised the equation of “shape + aerodynamics = speed” and he set about removing the body from his MGTC and replacing it with a slippery streamlined body. The shape of the MGA was thus born without any aid from the factory whatsoever.For the next season George transferred the body shape to his new MGTD and now MG Abingdon took notice. Syd Enever was asked to design the car incorporating George’s shape. The car was designated EX175 and whilst still on a TD chassis it was clearly the MGA shape we allknow today.

The car registered UMG 400 was entered at Le Mans in 1951 and driven by George. Dropping a valve after just three hours was a disappointment but in this great 24 hour showcase the MGA’s everlasting shape was shown to the world. Having just finished the designs for the TF, with its outdated lines, BMC didn’t have the resources to launch another new sports car so the ‘A’ had to wait four years until 1953 before the first prototype ran. It was piloted by the head of the Nuffield Experimental Dept. Charles Griffin who with Jim Lambert took the bumperless chrome-less, screen-less prototype MGA for performance and fuel consumption runs over a measured timed distance. The impressive average over the distance was 118 mph. But it was another two years before production commenced in 1955 and I think I’m right in believing no other sports car sold so well till the arrival of the Mazda MX5.

In the 50’s if you were a manufacturer and you wanted to sell a car the shop window of Le Mans and/or the Utah Salt Flats in America was where all the great makes went to set or break land speed records. And so after a few tries in previous years George Eyston took MG EX 181 to Bonneville Salt Flats in 1957 to attempt the world speed record for that class of vehicle. Supercharging and a very streamlined body, a bit reminiscent of Bluebird was used, and its very special 1500 c.c engine running on special fuels propelled the car driven by Phil Hill and Stirling Moss to a new record (in class f) of 245.64 Mph. But your MGA won’t quite do that down the by pass! By now the new era of sleek sports cars were with us. Gone were the slab front sports cars of pre war years. We were now in an era of designs that provided the most evocative and pleasing shapes that have ever graced a car. It was a designer’s heyday and as far as I am concerned those shapes can never be improved on. Not even with today’s CAD CAM technology. By 1960 the MGA had progressed to a twin cam configuration that whilst in concept was good, in reality was an undeveloped and unreliable unit that pinked badly, holded its pistons and drank SAE 30 on a daily basis. Nowadays of course its 60’s problems have been recognised and well sorted, but if only the engine would have been right from the start, then who knows how the MGB would have evolved.

Ah the MGB! When it surfaced in 1962 I was working at Jack Brabham’s tuning concern in Woking, Surrey. Although Jack was heavily into Rootes cars and especially the Sunbeam Alpine, we had a factory MGB (2000 PJ), to modify and evaluate. I was selected to do some of this work and put about a thousand mileson the car. It didn’t impress me or many of my contemporaries as I seem to remember. Even our managing director, Phil Kerr (who went on to manage James Hunt during his championship days at the McLaren GP team), turned his back on it and used an MGA Twin Cam, which along side the ‘B’ looked far more impressive and stylish. But progress is progress and the ‘A’ was supplanted by the ‘B’. So in the ‘60s and ‘70s the ‘A’ festered away with its values dropping to nil levels and it was possible to buy one for twenty quid and as Rob Innes-Kerr did, go racing for just £300 (those were the days). The MGA enjoyed many race successes in the and fifties and sixtiesincluding Sebring and a twelfth at the dreadful ’55 Le Mans’ where so many people died when Le Veighs Mercedes exploded into the spectators. Success came in abundance at both international and club level but this was an era when racing did promote and sell the breed like it has never done since. So when the ‘B’ came out ‘A’s were still raced with vigour. In 1972 Roy Mcarthy, RobInnes-Kerr, Vic Ellis and Doug Osbourne got together and drew up some rules and regulations to cover MGA racing. Basically these rules still apply to this day and Rob and Roy are still racing ‘A’s under them and they are not yet quite 70! So this is the Fiftieth year of the MGA and to celebrate it the MG car club are holding an MG only race. Because of class structures and maybe the increasing values of MGA’s fewer are seen racing these days, maybe only half a dozen in some races. Colin Jones, who runs the thoroughbred and classic race series sponsored by Collonade and who races his indecently quick TC, has
got together a field of MGA race cars for this year’s international MG three day race meeting at Silverstone. (but by the time you read this the meeting will be over and you will be able to read the report of it-ed).

Amongst this band of racers are the ex-works Le Mans cars of Ted Lund and Dick Jacobs, a Sebring car, various works rally cars and racers of the sixties and seventies that haven’t turned a wheel in anger for years. Colin Jones has run in over 400 races in his ‘A’ with at least 100 awards. Roy Mcarthy with his sons Spencer and Russel drive ‘A’s as does Rob Innes-Kerr. I don’t think such a race has been staged before and as some of the drivers have never had a competition licence before they won’t want to stop after just this one race! Colin is working on a race series that can be run on a regular basis. The MGA caused a sensation back in 1955 and fifty years and over 100,000 cars later its timeless shape, immense driver appeal and sheer class has prevailed against all the odds and fads in sports car fashion. The MGA is here to stay in our hearts and will never go away.

Fastrack guide to the MGA range

MGA

Introduced in Spring of 1955 but not launched until the autumn (due to production problems with the body pressing dies) it was powered by the evergreen B Series engine rated at 68bhp, fed via normal BMC four-speed gearboxes. Rack and pinion steering and drum brakes were fitted. Contemporary performance figures posted 0-60 times of 15.6 seconds and a top speed shading the ton. Price when new £884

MGA Coupe

Soon after launch the sleek Coupe was introduced in 1956. Power was upped to 72bhp by this time and its 117lb weight penalty was largely offset by the Coupe’s superior aerodynamics (the good looking roof was reputedly designed around the rear window of an Austin Cambridge). Performance was largely similar to the convertible MGA although top speed now broke the 100mph barrier. Price when new £1087

Twin Cam

Advanced Le Mans and Land Speed Record performance derivative was launched in 1958 featuring a Twin Cam engine based upon an enlarged B Series block upped to 1588cc. The engine was actually a Morris design albeit badly developed and excessive warranty claims led to curtailing production by 1960 after just 2111 sales. As fast as a 3.4 Mk2 Jag, which also used the same Dunlop disc brakes. Cost when new £1281

MGA 1600

Introduced in 1959 and running in tandem with the Twin Cam. the ‘1600’ used the 1558cc block, but with a normal B Series cylinder head (79bhp) and the added performance and resulted in MG fitting disc brakes to the front – a real advancement. By now the MGA was facing increasing competition from the Triumph TR4 and so was given more refinement such as better hood and boot space. Price when new £940 (roadster) £1026 (Coupe)

MGA MK II 1600

The MKII MGA was introduced in 1961 and featured a host of useful improvements. The B Series engine was thoroughly revised and enlarged to 1622cc, which in twin carb tune spelt 90bhp. To mop up excess Twin Cam bits, special De Luxe cars were made in 1.5 and 16-litre guises featuring many appointments used by the TC such as Dunlop wheels and upmarket trim. Certain specs changed according to individual cars, too

    Thinking of buying an MGA? Then follow these tips to buy a good one!

     

  • There are very few original unrestored cars left therefore you are looking for the quality of restoration which is easy to spot as it is notoriously difficult to correctly align doors, sills and wings. If they are not properly aligned be very careful. Look for rust in all the usual places and this includes sills, door pillars wings (front and rear) and so on. The chassis was never that well protected when new and rots accordingly, especially around the side rails and the rear suspension hangers
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  • The trusty ‘B’ Series engine is bombproof and will still keep going when badly worn or neglected. Listen got rumbling cranks, noisy tappets and piston slap. Oil pressure should be around 50lb minimum when hot. Has the larger 1.8 MGB engine been substituted? It’s a popular and successful mod and doesn’t sully originality too much
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  • The twin cam engine was a great idea poorly executed and requires specialist knowledge when rebuilding. Dodgy mixtures meant holed pistons and it drank oil. Penny to a pound that the engine’s cylinder head may have been repaired at some point in the past. Old heads are worth a fortune as a result. The cooling system must be spot on too to safeguard the engine
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  • The transmission is generally sturdy but weak second gears are common, although all parts available to fix it. A conversion to five-speeds (Ford Sierra) is a very worthy mod and really gives the MGA a more restful gait for cruising plus the closer ratios suit the engine’s torque curve better.
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  • No real problems with the brakes (drum on early cars) although the far superior Twin Cam and de-luxe disc set up is very expensive to re-build. On the other hand as they are broadly MK2 Jag based, parts sourcing is fairly good. The suspension is straightforward with few problems and good spares availability, too
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  • MGAs cost as much as an E-Type to restore! Although parts and spares availability is as good as the ubiquitous MGB, A’s are costlier to repair due to their separate chassis. A concours Twin Cam can rack up bills to the tune of £50,000 so be warned!


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