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MGSA, VA, WA

MGSA, VA, WA Published: 3rd Dec 2014 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

MGSA, VA, WA

Fast Facts

  • Best model: WA
  • Worst model: VA
  • Budget buy: VA saloon
  • OK for unleaded?: Fine as pre-war fuel was unleaded anyway
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): 4902x1689 (SA saloon)
  • Spares situation: Reasonable with one specialist, SVW Spares of Hull
  • DIY ease?: Maintenance, yes. Restoration, less so
  • Club support: It’s an MG
  • Appreciating asset?: Recently yes
  • Good buy or good-bye?: The less obvious MG sports
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Quite different to a T-Series but boast similar levels of club and specialist support. Prestigious pre-war MGs that are full of character and class. Not cheap to buy or restore and values expected to remain high

If you were asked to name a pre-war MG, the chances are you’d nominate one of the many two-seater models such as the T-series, J2 or K3. What you’d probably never think of is the SA, VA and WA, which were produced between 1936 and 1939 and which offered luxury travel for four.

MG started out as an improver of Morris cars, with special bodies and some changes to the mechanicals, but developed into a manufacturer of small sporting cars powered by overhead-cam engines that had great potential for high power outputs but were tricky to look after on a day-to-day basis. In the process the cars lost any connection with other Nuffield group products. In 1935 Lord Nuffield sold MG and Wolseley to Morris Motors, and MG cars would become more mainstream Nuffield Group products.

As a result of this sale, the SA, VA and WA were created, in a bid to challenge the new luxury saloons and tourers from Bentley and Jaguar. They promised much and would almost certainly have delivered – if it hadn’t been for the outbreak of war in 1939. Another what might have been…

HISTORY

1935 The SA is announced in October, with a Morris-sourced 2062cc six-cylinder engine that develops 67bhp. The styling, from a sketch by James Wignall of coachbuilder Mulliner, is clearly inspired by the Bentley 31⁄2-litre with its elegant sweeping lines, along with the new 21⁄2-litre SS Jaguar, also announced at the 1935 Motor Show and an arch rival for the SA.The chassis design hails from Cowley and features many Morris/Wolseley components while the interior has leather trim, burr walnut. Standard on all cars is a Jackall in-built jacking system. Buyers can choose between a four-door saloon, a four-seater tourer and a Tickford-bodied coupé.

1936 The SA takes a while to make it into production with the first cars being delivered in March, and considerable changes are made along the way, including an increase in engine capacity to 2288cc, possibly in response to the SS Jaguar.

1937 The VA makes its début in March, soon after the SA’s engine capacity had been increased again to 2322cc. The VA is effectively a scaled-down SA with a 54bhp 1548cc four-cylinder engine – the same unit used in the Morris 12 and Wolseley 12. As with the SA, there’s a choice of saloon, tourer, or drophead coupé, all with four seats. Thanks to the fitment of a relatively small engine the VA isn’t especially swift, but comparable to other more overtly sporting models, and when new it could manage a not to shabby 76mph.

1938 The WA is launched at the Motor Show. In many ways it appears similar to the SA but it’s actually a considerable redesign. The engine has an increased bore, taking it to 2561cc, and the car is slightly wider. The brakes are increased in size from 12-inch to 14-inch drums and an additional bulkhead tackles the SA problem of heat transfer into the cabin. The SU carburettors are the conventional semi- downdraught type instead of the somewhat unusual horizontal models fitted to the SA, and an ingenious system of oil cooling is used along with a fully counterbalanced crankshaft. The usual three body styles are again offered, albeit all with a side-mounted spare wheel.

1939 All three SVW models are still being produced, but Charlesworth stops making car bodies in January, resulting in both the SA and WA tourers being discontinued, only nine WA tourers having been made. The VA tourer continues as it’s made by Morris Bodies. All car manufacture stops at the outbreak of war, although a few cars appear to have been made in October 1939.

1944 A fire destroys the car assembly equipment and production tooling stored for the duration, making it difficult to resume production of S/V/W cars after the war, even if the company had wished to. Instead the MG ‘Ten’ which had been under development in 1939/40, is introduced as the Y-Type in 1947. In addition, 14 SA, two VA and three WA chassis were supplied without bodies. At least two survive, bodied in Switzerland and in Australia. Some of the surviving cars above have been restored with different bodystyles, the most common being original saloons acquiring Tickford bodies, though no records exist of the original style of each chassis.

DRIVING AND PRESS COMMENTS

These cars are all about luxury, especially the six-cylinder models. Whilst contemporary MG sports cars corner well but are unhappy on motorways, the SVW range are the reverse; they’re big and heavy with live front and rear axles plus, at low speeds, heavy steering. Understeer is marked, but they cruise happily at speeds of 60mph or more, especially if the rear axle ratio is raised, and all are full four-seaters. Of the three models, the VA is the most sprightly, the smaller engine being easily offset by the reduced weight and size. Indeed, a VA Tourer is the closest to the MG traditional sports car and is quite fun to drive.

SA models lack synchro on first and second gears, and age has often had the same effect on higher ratios. Double declutching is usually needed when changing down. WA and VA models are more forgiving, though only if the gearbox is in top condition.

The RAC HP tax system of the day encouraged long stroke/small bore engines, with high torque but limited revs; it’s just possible to achieve 5000rpm, but piston speeds would be too high and the noise deafening. As a result, 3000- 3500rpm is the highest range at which the engine is comfortable. Braking is okay on all, does need to be kept adjusted.

All models, especially the VA, can suffer from steering wander. This can be easy to correct depending on the cause, but even when perfectly set up, self steering occurs as the narrow, large wheels wander in and out of lorry ruts and road repairs, especially on arterial roads. It’s never possible to fully relax!

But all this can be forgiven when looking at the cars. They’re real head turners, and were seen that way when new. The styling, especially of the SA saloon and the six-cylinder Tickford models, is grand and impressive whilst elegant in typical art deco style. The interiors, especially of the saloons, are well finished, with lots of veneer and leather, and have a real luxury feel.

Driving the VA, Autocar remarked that performance was good and the car was “happy well past the 80mph mark”.

Prices

Not many of these cars come up for sale, so it’s hard to give accurate valuations. To get an idea of how much the various variants are worth, take a look at the cars for sale page of the SVW Register (www. svwregister.co.uk/cars_classified.htm) where you can see details of cars sold in the last two years. Values are largely dictated by restoration costs; the more work to do, the lower the value. Generally, it’s the body, exterior and interior which are the most costly to restore rather than the mechanicals – although getting an engine back to top condition is likely to cost £3000-£5000.

A sad, rusty but complete chassis/ engine/body will always fetch more than £10,000 for any of the models. For fully restored cars, values are higher for open models. WA cars are pricier than SA, and the SA is worth more than the VA. The most valuable of all the variants would be a fully and recently restored WA Tickford, which can fetch over £100,000!

A similar open SA might reach £75,000, dropping to £40,000 for an earlier restored SA saloon, running but needing some work to bring it up to concours standard. Open, recently restored VA cars can fetch £35,000- £40,000, and a good running VA saloon that needs only TLC will still sell for over £20,000, more likely £25,000. Values have strengthened markedly in recent years, in common with all desirable classic cars, but seem to have levelled off lately – although there’s no sign yet of them falling much further.

What To Look For

RUNNING GEAR

* As is typical with pre-war cars, there are grease nipples aplenty in all of these models, so you can’t drive very far before you have to wield the grease gun – the job needs to be done every 500 miles. Things are made easier by the various nipples being grouped together in the engine bay, but forcing grease into these nipples will cause a blockage, as gear oil needs to be used.

* Whereas many previous MGs had featured cable- operated brakes, the SA ushered in a new era in stopping power for the brand, with the fitment of a Lockheed hydraulic system. The WA had a modern tandem master cylinder design operating the front and rear brakes independently.

* The early VA originally had adjustable Luvax shock absorbers on the rear, controlled by the driver, but these may not have survived.

* All models were fitted with Jackall wheel jacks, which are very convenient if they work. Most do not, and restoring them is not simple as it requires special seals and, usually, new rams. They can also jam when the car is raised, which is more than embarrassing.

GENERAL

* The bodyshell, inside and out, is where the cost of revival is. Mechanicals are cheaper to restore so long as they’re all there.

* Originality is usually important. Externally obvious modification is likely to reduce values, though less obvious changes such as electronic ignition can be ignored.

* There are very few interchangeable parts between the SA, VA and WA, though the SA and WA share some parts such as the front axle. The WA has basically the same engine and gearbox as the SA, but they’re not interchangeable.

* If the car is running and looking good, there should be piles of bills for work done and parts supplied and hopefully, photos of restoration work. Any historical information is naturally worth having.

ENGINE

* Later engines were made with shell bearings, but difficulty in obtaining spares may result in them being white metalled anyway.

* All SA and early VA models had wet clutches, later VAs and all WA cars had dry clutches.

* Expect oil leaks. A lightly smoking exhaust is pretty common and may just be valve guides which can be replaced at the same time as fitting hardened valve seats for not more than £500-£600. Low oil pressure (below 40psi) when the engine is hot and above 2000rpm is likely to be more expensive.

BODY AND CHASSIS

* A timber-framed body means there’s plenty of flexing, so expect cracked paint plus rotten wood. Some of the areas most prone to expensive damage is the base of the screen pillars where door slamming causes stress fractures.

* There were three styles of SA tourer; the early one had straight tops to the front doors, changed to a cutaway style on the later cars, along with a side-mounted spare.

* The SA was introduced with opening flaps along the bonnet sides, but these were later replaced by some nice looking louvres.

* Early SA saloons were supplied without a rear bumper which was an optional extra. Some people prefer the looks without it, some don’t. The steel spare wheel cover is prone to rusting.

* Models with side-mounted spare wheels could have an optional second spare wheel fitted on the offside wing.

Three Of A Kind

BENTLEY 3 1⁄2 LITRE AND 4 1⁄4 LITRE
BENTLEY 3 1⁄2 LITRE AND 4 1⁄4 LITRE
If ever there was a marque that combined luxury with sporting performance to great effect, it’s Bentley. Nowadays, these ‘Derby’ models represent the more affordable end of Bentley ownership – at least in saloon form, although the tourers are rather more valuable. All are fast (90mph+), beautifully built and luxurious, and they’re all likely to increase steadily in value over the coming years.
JAGUAR SS 21⁄2 LITRE AND 31⁄2 LITRE
JAGUAR SS 21⁄2 LITRE AND 31⁄2 LITRE
Just the briefest glance at these cars makes it clear that they’re exactly what MG was targeting with its SVW models. With beautiful, sweeping bodywork and a choice of saloon or tourer bodystyles, the Jaguars packed six-cylinder engines that enabled 90mph to be despatched (at least in 3 1⁄2 litre form). Nowadays these cars are hugely sought after and you’ll pay handsomely to own one – if you can find a car.
RILEY RM
RILEY RM
Far more attainable than the Bentley and Jag is the Riley, which offers charming pre-war styling but which was actually introduced once hostilities were over – right the way through to 1953. Choose from 1.5 or 2.5-litre cars (all with four-cylinders) and saloon or drophead coupé bodystyles. However, the latter are extremely rare while the closed cars are much more readily available – from less than £10,000 generally.

Verdict

SVW cars have a very strong following amongst their owners; they generate affection as well as pride and they’re well supported by the SVW Register of the MG Car Club (http://www.svwregister.co.uk).

Consumables are reasonably easy to obtain. Some parts, such as the WA master cylinder and later gearbox are unobtainable, but even engines and transmissions can be found, often with the help of SVW Spares (http://www.svwspares. co.uk). WA models are the rarest, so make sure any car is complete before you buy it.

These cars are simple and most DIY enthusiasts will be able to cope with them although the engine, brakes and transmission are over-engineered, so heavy to manhandle. The Register has a very good library of technical advice listed on its website. Restoration, however, requires specialist skills that are not usually cheap. Don’t attempt to restore a Tickford hood unless you know exactly what you are doing, and don’t assume that any old hood restorer will know
either.

Many thanks to John Dutton of the SVW Register (http://www.svwregister.co.uk) along with Chris Hunt-Cooke, for their help.



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