1948 MG TC Roadster

There simply isn’t another open sports car from the pre-1950 era, in this price range, that offers the same visual panache along with reasonable mechanical reliability

The Ford Model T put America on wheels, and the T series MG put Americans behind the steering wheels of sports cars. With America’s post-WWII economy booming, MG found itself in the right place at the right time. While Europe was still recovering from the ravages of the war, in the States demand for new cars was at a fever pitch. By the time production ceased in 1949, 10,000 TCs had been manufactured. According to official records, more than 6,500 of these were exported, however the real number is likely higher.

Many TCs came to the US after first being registered as new cars in Great Britain by GIs who bought them while on overseas duty. They then brought the “funny little cars” home where they made a striking impression when surrounded by the taller, longer and wider Buicks, Fords and other domestic models of the era.

Defined by flowing front fenders, a fold-flat windscreen, impossibly large wheels, and a rear-mounted spare, the TC is as handsome as it is uncomfortable. The large steering wheel jams into your chest, leading to a classic elbows-out driving style. The top mechanism on the TC was likely designed by someone with an ironic sense of humor, as putting up the top is something best done when the sun is shining and you have extra time on your hands-precisely when it’s not needed.

The XPAG model TC motor, a 1250-cc unit little changed from the prewar TB units, makes just 54 horsepower, giving the car a top speed of 78 mph. A four-speed manual with a non-synchromesh first gear was your only option, and all TCs were right-drive. With a solid-axle front and rear, semi-elliptic springs and lever action shock absorbers, the TC had a harsh ride. Its ladder-frame chassis and steel body panels built over wood frames were already obsolete when the cars were new.

The TC had room for just two occupants, and possibly side curtains or a small piece of soft-sided luggage, but practicality was not the reason people bought the TC. No, the TC was endearing because of the direct, visceral motoring experience it offered. Unlike the ponderous, softly sprung, numb-steering cars from Detroit, the TC offered at least the illusion of speed and handling as drivers of the time, usually wearing tweed caps and sport coats with leather elbow patches, tossed them through the corners on twisting two-lane roads. They weren’t fast, but they felt fast. And that, along with looking great, was enough to create legend.