A Mightily British Success
The Americans had the Ford Thunderbird, the Europeans had the Porsche 356 Speedster and in the UK, we had the MG MGA, but it very nearly didn’t happen. British Motor Corporation chairman Leonard Lloyd signed a deal to produce the Austin-Healey two weeks before seeing the first MGA prototype and promptly changed his mind. Lucky he did or one of the most important cars in British motoring history may well have remained consigned to the sketchpad.
History of the MG MGA
Unusually for car manufacturers of the day, MG barely broke a sweat immediately before and after the Second World War. They had the foresight to come in on the ground floor of the early days of competitive international car racing and forged an excellent reputation in the auto community as makers of light, quick sports cars that could handle a corner. They quickly put into production the T-Series Midgets based on the TA built in the late 30s.
The last iteration of the T-Series, the TF 1500 Midget, was almost 10,000 strong when production was halted on in 1955 and the production line switched to churning out the Syd Enever-designed MGA.
The look and feel of the MGA represented a paradigm-shift in BMCs car design heritage. Gone were the days of classic, semi-open wheel roadsters with folding bonnets and the age of the hunkered-down sports coupe with more than a passing nod to suspension, braking and aerodynamics was with us.
Although the MGB – especially the GT – is the most famous of all the models produced by the marque between the mid-50s and the early 80s, the MGA is easily the prettiest to look at with a tip of the hat to a number of classic 50s roadsters. Under the bonnet, the original 1.5-litre, four-cylinder B-Series OHV delivering 68 bhp was uprated to a 1.6-litre block with 79.5 bhp for the facelifted Mk2. It also came with front disc brakes.
While it was undoubtedly a beautiful looking car with all the curves in the right places, its bark was louder than its bite and discerning 50s petrolheads wanted a little more poke for their pound. To stop buyers heading to Porsche, Jaguar or Maserati, MG brought out the Twin Cam in 1958. It offered a modified B-Series block with an aluminium twin-cam head producing 108 bhp and a top end of 108 mph. Not without its issues, the Twin Cam engine was expensive to make and unreliable – piston damage, detonation and burnt oil amongst other problems– and rebuilds were prohibitively expensive. After just over 2,000 models, production of the Twin Cam was dropped – but to be fair, it had dried up way before then.
As a last hurrah, 82 1600s were built (70 roadsters and 12 coupes) and unofficially sold as the ‘Deluxe’, combining the Twin Cam chassis and the last version of the 1.6-litre, 78 bhp block.
Because of their rarity, high quality surviving examples Deluxe and Twin Cam versions command the highest prices but you may have to trawl the junkyards of California to find a gem.
In an interesting side note, of the 100,000+ MGAs built during the lifespan of the car across all versions, fewer than 6,000 stayed on British roads and it remains to this day the highest export percentage of any British car before or since.