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MG T-Type

MG T-Type Published: 12th Jan 2018 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

MG T-Type

Fast Facts

  • Best model: TD
  • Worst model: TA
  • Budget buy: TD
  • OK for unleaded?: Yes
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): 3683 x 1486mm (TD)
  • Spares situation: Excellent
  • DIY ease?: Superb – TF is harder
  • Club support: Incredibly good
  • Appreciating asset?: In the slow lane
  • Good buy or good-bye?: Probably the easiest and best vintage car to own
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Quintessential raffish MG that’s one of the easiest vintage sports cars to buy and own. Great fun with equally fine specialist and social scene but you need to buy with care

One of the most cherished British classics ever made, the T-Type sums up everything that was great about England, from a time when Britannia ruled the waves. Oozing quintessential British charm, the T-Type lasted two decades and encompassed five distinct derivatives – along with all sorts of other variations on the theme. From the narrowtracked TA to the Morgan-esque TF with its integrated headlamps and wider bodyshell, all these cars have their charms and are well supported by clubs and specialists.

Thanks to the cars’ simplicity and excellent parts availability, it’s easy to keep any T-Type going as long as you’ve got the cash. That’s not to say that individual parts are expensive, but if serious rot sets in, putting everything right won’t be cheap. That’s why you must check for rotten wood, corroded steel, worn mechanicals and damaged or missing trim; buy a car suffering from all these things and you’ll never get your money back. But buy a good T-Type with your eyes open and you’ll love every minute of using it.

History

1935 The T-Series story starts in July, when ownership of MG passes to the Nuffield Group and the first designs for a PB successor are penned.

1936 The TA is announced in June with a traditional chassis on a body comprising of an ash frame clad in steel panels. For the first time, hydraulic brakes were fitted although adoption of a tuned Morris engine displeased MG diehards….

1938 A Tickford TA coupé is introduced in August, with a folding hood and wind-up windows; they’re now very rare and highly sought after.

1939 After 3003 TAs had been built, the TB enters production in May, but for only four months, with a mere 379 cars being produced. The TB is the rarest T of all, but it’s nothing more than a re-engined TA, albeit with the new 1250cc XPAG unit and all synchro gearbox.

1945 With the factory building military wares it isn’t until November that production restarts, with the TC making its début. Although the TC is merely a widened TB, it’s a very significant car as it marks MG’s entry into the North American market.

1949 With 10,000 TCs manufactured, the model is phased out in November to make way for the TD. This brings a new frame and bodyshell along with fresh front suspension plus rack and pinion steering; it goes on to become the most popular of all the T-series models, with 29,664 examples constructed.

1951 TD 11 version launched sporting 57bhp through bigger carburettors and a higher compression ratio. Dampers were special adjustable types.

1953 The TF introduces a more modern look, with fared-in headlamps yet is little more than a TD with a modified bodyshell. There isn’t even a fresh engine – at first.

1954 The TF finally gets its new powerplant with the introduction of the TF1500 in November. The most usable of all the T-Series MGs, just 3400 of these bigger-engined TFs are built (325 for UK market), compared with 6200 examples of the TF1250. Production of the TF ceases in 1955, to make way for the MGA.

Driving and press comments

The TA, TB and TC are very much pre-war cars (despite the TC arriving in 1945), which means a pre-war driving experience as there was nothing advanced about their construction or engineering. Cost-cutting means the TC isn’t quite as good as the TA to drive, but the later car gained 12-volt electrics, so there is a trade off.

The TD brought rack-and-pinion steering which is sharper than the box fitted to earlier Ts; the wider cabin also increases practicality, as portly occupants can be accommodated more easily – although no T-Series is what you’d call spacious. The TF is even more roomy, and if you buy one of the 1500 editions you’ll get a reasonable turn of speed at your disposal, although none of these cars is fast despite their sporting pretensions. The main issue with the TD and TF is their low-ratio final drive which means the engine is very busy when cruising. If you plan to buy a T for any sort of long-distance driving, raising the gearing is very desirable. However, while it’s possible to convert to overdrive, five speeds or increase the back axle ratio, although none is a straightforward process.

When Autocar tested the TC in late ’47 it was already talking about rationalisation within the motoring industry and all cars looking the same – some things never change! Latching onto the fact that the TC had done wonders for the UK’s export drive, the verdict came: “No car has done so much to maintain open-air motoring and to support the demand that exists all over the world for sports car performance and characteristics in a car of not exorbitant first cost and moderate running costs”.

The TC was praised for its quick steering, excellent performance, reassuring brakes and flexible engine while the potential 400-mile range was also singled out for praise. Indeed, aside from a ride that some might find too firm there was little that The Autocar didn’t like about the TC.

If the TC went down well, the TD was even more of a hit with its independent front suspension, smaller wheels and wider tyres, plus a sharper yet much lighter rack-andpinion steering. The result was a car that handled much better than before while also being more comfortable and usable.

The magazine’s testers reckoned that in the real world the TD was as fast as any car available thanks to the mechanical revisions: “It is, when required, almost as fast as any car from point to point over an average British route, not by any means because of maximum speed alone, good as that is, but because it is so quick around the bends and sharper corners, and can with safety make use of traffic openings denied to a bigger or more sluggish car. Plus-50 miles can be put into one hour over a route that provides a good mixture of straightaway unrestricted sections as well as built-up areas, plenty of corners and other average handicaps of a journey on typical British roads. A handier car for town driving or in country lanes is difficult to imagine”.

Autocar, who in Talking of Sports Cars articles, published during the 70s and 80s, reappraised an early TF and was still impressed. “One quickly understands the demands for a 1500cc engine… Although the engine obviously doesn’t seem to resent its work and revved happily up to 5000rpm through the gears. A cruising speed of 60mph seems about right.”

As for the handling the tester noted that the MG “is not found wanting and is safe and predictable and really feels a lot more modern than the engine while the brakes are adequate for the available performance.”

Values and the marketplace

Barry Walker started working on these cars in ’68, so he’s about to notch up half a century of specialising in pre-war MGs. Having sold his parts business last year, the focus is now on car sales and pre-sale refurbishment. However, the company can still supply bolt-on accessories such as superchargers, toolkits and luggage racks. For more about what Barry offers, just log on to barrywalker.com.

Says Walker: “All of these models have seen steady increases in value over the past few years, but I suspect things have reached a plateau because of the demographic of those buying. Just within the past couple of years things have changed, with these cars getting harder to sell because they don’t really appeal to younger buyers. As longstanding owners die off there isn’t a new generation coming in to replace them and I don’t see that changing. It’s very unusual for anyone much under 60 to want a T-Series MG and that’s going to have a long-term impact on values I think”.

If this outlook seems bleak, it’s even worse in the US, where Walker asserts the interest in MG is dying out altogether. At least in the UK there is second-generation interest; it’s not unusual for cars to be left to the children of T-Series fans and to a point they remain enthusiastic about their cars. But in the US this doesn’t happen very often. Despite this, few cars are now being brought back to the UK from the US and when they are imported it’s almost always the TD that returns home, along with the occasional TC.

There isn’t a massive spread of values between the different models, but they do vary. Says Walker: “The TB and TF1500 are the most valuable; for a decent runner you’ll need to spend £20-25,000 while the best cars change hands for £35-40,000. The best TAs are worth a little less – about £30-35,000 – while the TF1250 tops out at between £28,000 and £35,000; the TC is somewhere between the two. The best value of the lot though is the TD, which fetches between £18,000 and £25,000 in really superb condition, which is good news as in some ways this is the best model of the lot, overall. You get the pre-war looks and greater usability, with good availability and relatively low prices”.

One thing that keeps TA and TB prices buoyant is the fact they’re eligible for VSCC competition, whereas the TC isn’t. If you’re on a budget, for £15,000 you can buy a tatty TD that’s roadworthy but will need money spent on it in the coming years. But you have to be incredibly careful buying at this end of the market as these cars can be in a worse condition than you think.

You might be better off paying less and buying a car that needs recommissioning, as these can be picked up for as little as £5000, although if it’s complete and not rotten you could pay twice this to secure it.

Walker adds: “Left-hand drive Ts are worth significantly less than equivalent righthand drive cars as people want to sit on the right, and converting is now difficult as the parts are very hard to source. The TA, TB and TC were never built with left-hand drive, but less than 10 per cent of the TF1500s were sold in the home market, so there are quite a few left-hookers in the UK”.

Improvements

Many of the failures prevalent in the XPAG engine are down to the original valve springs specified. As a result it’s best to fit softer items when the engine is rebuilt, to increase the lifespan of the valve gear while also reducing the likelihood of dropped valves.

TA, TB and TC brakes can be upgraded to TD/TF spec for £750, to give much better stopping power. However, if you still want more, it’s possible to fit Alfin brake drums, at a cost of £500 for a set of four. If you find the steering too heavy it’s possible to fit a Datsun steering box conversion – although this applies only to the TA, TB and TC. However, because the Datsun parts are getting hard to find, it’s more usual to fit a VW system, for around £450.

The VW steering is very over-light though so don’t rush into converting; you’re probably better off getting your original box rebuilt instead.

For more relaxed cruising, a five-speed gearbox (Ford Type 9) can be fitted to any T apart from the TA and TF1500. To buy all the parts you’ll pay around £700; get Andy King to fit it as well and you’ll typically pay another £500. None of the versions featured especially powerful engines; if you fancy at least 20 per cent more power you could fit a supercharger. It’s not cheap at around £2500-4000 – but it’ll sound great and give the car a lot more go. The lower figure is a modern repro blower while the higher figure is a genuine Shorrock unit.

If the engine is past it and too dear to repair, then the 1500cc engine from the Y series can be fitted to the later TD and TF as can later 1500 or 1622 B-Series from the MGA or A55, although Heath-Robinson swaps can seriously devalue these MGs. George Edney can supply 1350cc XPAG unit or stroke it to 1.5-litres.

The pre-war Midgets

The official name of the T-Series models was TA-TF Midget. MG used the Midget name for a lot of its pre-war models, which is why you could buy a Midget in C-Type, D-Type, J1, J2, J3 and J4 forms. There were also PA, PB, M-Type, N-Type and Q-Type variations on the Midget theme, so there are plenty to choose between.

The first MG Midget was the M-Type of 1929, sold alongside the contemporary 18/80 which was MG’s full-size four-seater touring model; the Midget was a far more affordable two-seater. As with all of these Midgets, the M-Type featured an overhead-cam engine, whereas all T-Series powerplants were overhead-valve.

While the M-Type was built in fairly large numbers (3235 were built), most pre-war Midgets were made in tiny numbers. For example, just 44 C-Types were made, along with nine Q-Types and 31 J3s and J4s combined. All used a four-cylinder engine, often in supercharged form but sometimes it was naturally aspirated; in blown 746cc form the Q-Type was capable of an incredible 120mph.

The only Midgets built in significant numbers were the J2 (2,083), PA (2000) and PB (526) while there were 250 D-Types made along with 380 J1s. As a result these tend to come up for sale more often, but when they do you’ll still have to dig deep.

Why naylors are nice

Such is the popularity of the MG T-Type, and the TF in particular, that a cottage industry in replicas appeared. Naylor was the most faithful reproduction of the TF, albeit using 1980’s Austin Rover hardware, including the 1.7-litre O Series engine from the Marina/Ital. Known as the Naylor TF 1700, it was constructed along the lines of the TF but with an ash wood body frame, front hinged doors (to comply with E-regulations) and modern McPherson strut front suspension.

Being only £40 cheaper than a Morgan Plus 8 back in 1985 (£13,950) not even a sumptuous Connolly leather cockpit and full Austin Rover approval (and warranty) or the sight of Mrs Thatcher driving one could muster more than 100 orders before the company folded. Naylor went lock, stock and factory to the Mahcon Group in 1996 and emerged as the Hutson TF where another 61 cars were made, some in kit car form.

But far from being a kit car the Naylor remains highly regarded with owners and MG specialists, the latter where some regard it the best T-Type of them all. Naylor is also credited of being the prime mover of instigating BMH with Austin Rover which led to the excellent RV8. Now Naylors are treasured classics in their own right and the vast majority of the 100 made still survive. The owners’ club celebrated 20 years of existence in 2015 marking the occasion at Gaydon.

What To Look For

General

  • Just to prove how rugged T-Type still is, the MG Automobile Company, part of Blue Diamond Riley Services has entered a 1949 TC in the 2018 Monte Carlo Rally and will be publishing a blog with content and pictures leading up to the event as well as a ‘live’ blog during the event.
  • All Ts were trimmed with leather, although vinyl was used for the door trims. Most cars will have had at least some retrimming by now, but if any further remedial work is needed it’s easy enough to get everything. When checking it all, don’t forget to assemble the hood and sidescreens; you might find the material damaged or even that some of the necessary fittings are missing. At least it’s all available, but some original parts can be tricky to find and costs will quickly add up.
  • If you’re buying a restoration project, ensure that all the instrumentation and switchgear is present and correct. Again, you can ultimately track everything down should you need to, but some parts are now very expensive.

Body & chassis

  • All these cars feature a separate chassis, with the TA, TB and TC sharing one design and the TD/ TF being different. The earlier chassis gives few problems, although cars built before ’48 may have cracks in line with the underneath of the seats.
  • The later chassis is less durable than its predecessor, because it’s box section rather than channelling. As a result it rots from the inside out – and things aren’t helped by the fact that it’s made from thinner gauge steel than previously.
  • Although the bodyshells varied between the various T-Series derivatives, they’re all built in the same way and have the same weaknesses. All rely on wooden framing, although the TF featured more metal than the others, to add stiffness to the structure. It’s the wood that causes the greatest problems, and most of it is hidden from view.
  • It’s much easier to inspect the outer panels. Corrosion around the edges of each wing is par for the course, while the seams between panels can harbour rust, thanks to the beading absorbing water then promoting corrosion. It’s also worth checking that the wings haven’t been replaced with glassfibre items; it’s unlikely, but it has been known.
  • Other corrosion hot spots include the rear bulkhead (behind the front seats) and the fuel tank; inspect the latter especially carefully. Problems here can be traced to the felt pads used to locate the tank; they absorb water and it’s just a matter of time before the metal starts to dissolve.

Engine

  • Most Ts were fitted with the same XPAG engine, the TA featuring a 1292cc Wolseley Ten-based powerplant, which can prove frustratingly troublesome. One of the key problems is a tendency for the cylinder blocks to crack; many have been repaired over the years, so the cracks just keep coming back.
  • Oil and water can also mix, because both the head and the block are prone to cracking; in the case of the latter it’s usually on the pushrod side, behind the tappet cover. Because this is out of sight it can be tricky to spot.
  • Expect 40-50psi of oil pressure when cruising when hot. There are white metal bearings, which ensure engine rebuilds are more costly than a similar shell-bearing unit.
  • Morris Ten-based 1250cc (TB onwards) is a more straightforward unit, with shell bearings. However, the crankshaft has been known to break across the front web while the valves can drop into the combustion chambers, when their heads break off. Also the cam followers can wear quickly.
  • The 1500 engine in the later TF is the same B-Series unit as that fitted to the MGA and countless other BMC products. It’s a tough unit but you can expect oil leaks and cylinder heads can crack, but if looked after the engine tends to just keep going.

Running gear

  • Bizarrely, it’s the earlier gearboxes that are the most durable. Listen carefully to a TD or TF transmission before buying. It’s the gears and layshaft that create the most problems, so make sure the car doesn’t jump out of gear and that there’s no significant whining or you’ll have to fork out up to £1000 for a rebuilt gearbox before long.
  • As you’d expect, the primitive suspension fitted to all these cars needs plenty of TLC on a regular basis if wear isn’t to occur. The first three generations featured cart springs, while the TD and TF have independent front suspension. The earlier system is generally vice-free, although the TA and TB feature sliding trunnion spring mountings at the rear.
  • The steel tube, classed as a chassis repair, which carries the phosphor bronze bushes, has a habit of wearing to the point where it can be dangerous, but it’s easy enough to fix with a repair kit available for around £45 per side. The only other real weak spot is the axle location; the mounting bolts can pull through.
  • Although the TD and TF have independent front suspension, they’re not immune from problems. The phosphor bronze upper and lower trunnions are prone to wear, and if they’ve been replaced by steel MGA items they’ll be even more worn.
  • Brakes can give problems; pressed-steel drums are fitted to the pre TC, and they’re prone to warping if allowed to get too hot. Original-style brake drums are available once more, at just under £100 apiece.
  • Finally, ensure the steering is in good order. The TA, TB and TC featured a worm and peg, which usually wears and is often over-adjusted to compensate. The steering racks fitted to the TD and TF are durable; if there is any play, it’s probably because of slackness in the adjustable inner ball joints on the tie rods.

Three Of A Kind

Morgan 4/4 (1936 ON)
Morgan 4/4 (1936 ON)
Early 4/4s aren’t as valuable as you might think; for under £30,000 you can buy a flat-rad car while a decent cowled-rad example can be picked up for little more than £20,000. These cars are more usable than you might think, plus they’re supported by one of the most active clubs going. But properly restoring a Morgan is a mammoth, pricey undertaking.
Riley IMP, MPH, Sprite (1934-1938)
Riley IMP, MPH, Sprite (1934-1938)
In theory the Riley Imp, MPH and Sprite are all up against the T-Series, but with values now close to £100,000 for a really good example of any of the three, these Rileys are only rivals if money is no object. They were all built in much smaller numbers. If you can afford one we wouldn’t deter you, but the MG gives just as much pleasure for much less cash.
SINGER Nine/1 ½-Litre LE Mans (1933-1937)
SINGER Nine/1 ½-Litre LE Mans (1933-1937)
A bargain-basement alternative to the contemporary Rileys, the Singer Le Mans is perhaps the MG’s closest rival with its pre-war charm and similar prices. They’re reasonably readily available too. While there aren’t masses to choose from, you can buy a good one for around £30,000, putting it on a par with any of the pre-war T-Series models.

Verdict

There are lots of reasons why you should want a T-Series, any T-Type; the pre-war charm, the fun driving experience along with the excellent club and specialist backup. In theory buying a good one isn’t hard as the T’s simple construction means inspections should be easy – but of course it’s never that straightforward.

Says Barry Walker: “A lot of cars aren’t as original as they should be and many aren’t in the condition that the vendor claims they are. Unless you really know your way around a T, take someone who knows these cars. There are lots of badly restored examples out there while cars that have been unused for ages might need more recommissioning than you expect”.

Most cover around 1500 miles each year and owners tend to look after their cars pretty well. These make the best buy and yet it’s not unusual for a T to be bought then sold on quite quickly however. Walker concludes: “People buy for the nostalgia factor but it’s not unusual for someone to purchase a T-Series only to realise it’s not the car they remember. They don’t realise that these aren’t as usable as they think, so they end up selling on quite quickly. There’s a hard-core fan base of people who love their Ts and they are fabulous cars in many ways, but they’re not the sort of classic that you should buy on a whim”.



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