The fastest TF takes 18.9 seconds to reach 60 mph and you run the risk of being rear-ended by a soccer mom in her SUV
The MG TC, TD, and TF brought top-down British sports car motoring to America, and all three are now affordable collectibles that give you an authentic taste of a bygone era.
In the beginning. well almost
Bankrupted by WWII, Britain faced "export or die" pressure in 1945, and the MG TC Midget was rushed into production, little more than an update of 1936's MG TA.
It was a surprise hit in the U.S., with 2,000 cars sold between 1947 and 1949 and a further 1,500 being brought back by returning servicemen. MG even made a U.S. version with turn signals and bumpers, to account for American parking skills.
All TCs were RHD, so in 1949 MG introduced the TD. It was available in LHD, but still had the 1,250-cc engine dating from 1939. However, the pound had just been devalued and the now-affordable TD was a huge success, with 24,388 of 29,664 being sold to the U.S. The TD's list price in 1950 was $1,850, which was $626 less than a Buick Super convertible. The Corvette bowed in 1953 at $3,513, while the TD cost $2,115.
In 1952, MG was upstaged by the Austin-Healey 100, despite having the sleek MG A waiting in the wings. MG kept a toehold in the U.S. with the semi-streamlined MG TF, until the MG A could be introduced in 1955.
So which of these cars would suit you best, and how can you tell if you are buying a good one?
MG TC-a time machine in your garage
Rev up the MG TC and it can transport you and Nigel Shiftright to a temporary airfield in southern England where your Spitfire waits.
Just don't try to keep pace with a modern minivan on the freeway, because the 54 horsepower of the 1,250-cc XPAG engine takes almost 23 seconds to get up to 60 miles per hour. Even worse, the narrow chassis and 19-inch wire wheels with their 4.5-inch cross-ply tires cause you to swerve after each passing truck, and they track with every groove in the road.
And check the weather report before you go out, because the canvas top stretches over a minimal frame and includes large side screens that flap in the lightest breeze. The whole apparatus will do little more than keep rain out of your face.
But the MG TC will give you the exact experience of driving one of the light-framed, solid-axle, drum-braked, and limited-power automobiles that were the British standard before WWII.
MG TD-best value for money
The TD of 1949 is significantly more practical than the TC, but it's still not going to burn up the track or transport you comfortably for long distances. Drawing on the heavier frame and coil-sprung independent front suspension developed for MG's YA sedan, the TD is more solid but softer-riding than its predecessor. Smaller, wider 15-inch wheels lowered the car and improved handling. Wire wheels were never available, but many cars have been retro-fitted.
Rack-and-pinion steering replaced the cam-gear of the TC, but even better, the TD was available with left-hand drive. The delight of the TD is that it preserved the quintessentially English style, with fold-down windshield, separate fenders and running boards, upright grille, and free-standing chrome headlamps.
The walnut dash of the TC was replaced by a Rexine (vinyl) fascia, but the instruments were still from Jaeger, with a delightful clockwork appearance. Early TDs didn't give you a clue that the car might be overheating, but finally in 1952, the single oil pressure gauge was replaced by a "safety gauge" that monitored both oil pressure and water temperature. One function invariably quits first, and the only choice is to have the original rebuilt.
The downside of the TD is that it used the same engine as the TC; it also had the same flimsy top. Though you can't do much about the weather-proofing, there are some fixes to the power problem. Changing the rear end can give the car a higher top speed, modern 5-speed conversions are available to replace the temperamental 4-speed transmission, and with a little re-engineering, a more powerful MG B engine can be fitted.
There was a club racer Mk II with fractionally more power (57.5 hp), whose sole attribute is its rarity. It can be recognized by chrome grille bars (normally painted to match the interior), a Mk II badge, and a carburetor bulge on the side of the hood
MG TF-stylish but rare
With its swept-back grille, lower bonnet line, and headlamps faired into the swept-back fenders-and once again available with wire wheels-the 1952 TF still preserved quintessential MG-ness. The hood opened to the side, doors were cut down, and the spare mounted behind the rear-mount fuel tank. There was still no gas gauge.
The interior of the TD was completely redesigned, which for today's buyer is both good and bad. The gauges, mounted in a center instrument panel, are uniquely MG with their octagon shapes. For the first time, separate bucket-style seats replaced the benchback style of all the earlier roadsters.
Unfortunately, many detail pieces were custom-made for the TF. With the limited numbers of TFs still on the road, most parts are not reproduced today and original replacements are almost impossible to find.
The lack of power was addressed with the introduction of the TF 1500, though this was not the 1,500-cc engine of the MG A, but a rebore of the XPAG engine. The resulting 1,466 cc and 63 horsepower produced a top speed of 80 mph, but the TF still needed 18.9 seconds to reach 60 mph, which leaves you vulnerable in today's traffic to being rear-ended by a cell phone-chatting soccer mom in an SUV.
The lower front end profile means that you're limited to which other engines will fit. The Volvo B16-B18-B20 will do, but if the engine is relatively common, the conversion is not.
What should I pay for a T?
The good news is that with 10,000 TCs and nearly 30,000 TD/TFs produced, there are several of these typical tea-baggers on every auction list, and sale prices rarely exceed $35,000.
Because of its relative rarity, the TF will run at the top of the range, and top class TCs will outprice TDs, even though they aren't as practical to drive.
The bad news is that the number produced is relatively small (compare the total to the 70,000 Healeys, 400,000 MG Bs, and five million Minis produced).
Though the parts needed to keep a T-series car on the road are all in the catalog of Moss Motors, which was originally established to supply TC owners, there isn't enough demand to justify tooling up for the niggly little trim parts that were unique to Ts.
In particular, with a body tub that was made of light steel panels over ash frames, the car is vulnerable to wood rot and rust. Individual wood frame pieces are available, if you can find a body man who knows how to restore coachwork. However, Moss has stopped stocking complete replacement body tubs since they "have found it impossible to adequately prepare customers for the amount of work necessary to complete the vehicle using the U.K. manufactured tub."
Consequently, should a T-series require extensive restoration, the work could cost twice as much as just buying a good car.
Also be aware that crankshafts are fragile and hard to find, and avoid cars with a noisy first gear, or which jump out of gear on deceleration.
Bottom line: There's no such thing as a worthwhile T-series "project car." Every one worth restoring has been restored. So calculate the top price you're willing to pay by subtracting the cost of needed work from the price of an excellent example.
No other marque enables you to journey back to the days America was being introduced to sports cars, and the T-series MG was making the introduction.