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On The Line - Brief History of MG

Oh, Gone All Ye Faithful

Dec 1, 2007
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Epcp_0712_01_z+on_the_line+kevin_clemens Photo 1/4   |   On The Line - Brief History of MG

More than a quarter of a century has passed since the last 'real' MG rolled off the line at Abingdon in 1980. A whole generation has grown up with little or no first-hand knowledge of 'the sports car America loved first.' Those who are slightly older know the story: how American soldiers stationed in England in World War II came to love the nimble handling and rakish good looks of traditional British roadsters exemplified by the MG. How these soldiers, upon returning home to civilian life, wanted more excitement than Detroit could deliver and turned to the spindly MG TC, and how this car and the subsequent TD model started a whole movement of car clubs, rallies, autocrosses, Lucas jokes and busted knuckles that continues to this day.

MGs were never really fast. The early T-series, with pushrod 1250cc four-cylinder engines, made 52 hp-enough to provide a zero-to-60 mph time of 25 seconds or so. Subsequent models like the MGA, MGB and MG Midget improved to an extent, but acceleration was never a strong suit.

Likewise, the stiff and rudimentary suspension systems, with a live axle on leaf springs at the rear and a simple independent coil-spring front suspension provided competent handling at the expense of a comfortable ride. In racing, MGs were the spear-carriers, not fighting for the podium, but usually scrapping for class honors.

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Somehow, though, these cars were always more than their specs suggested. They looked right. The T-cars-with their flowing fenders, vertical grilles and upright headlights-belonged to the pre-war tradition. The MGA echoed the best designs from the '50s and the MGB was as modern looking in the '70s as it was when it was introduced in the early '60s.

MG drivers were approachable. They could always be counted on to talk about the joys and pitfalls of British sports car ownership. And MG made plenty: 10,000 TCs, 29,664 TDs, 9600 TFs, over 100,000 MGAs, over half a million MGBs and more than 200,000 Midgets were built between 1947 and 1980. That's a lot of cars and a surprisingly large number are still around.

In 1964, Dick Knudson decided to create a registry of T-series models, based on a similar scheme in Britain. A year later, with 120 members, he organized the first Gathering of the Faithful (or GOF) in Meredith, New Hampshire. The event drew 21 cars and 40 people, and was considered enough of a success that two meetings were organized per year. Since then, meetings have taken place all over the country and in Canada, as T-series owners take pride in the distances they have driven to meet their fellow enthusiasts.

Epcp_0712_03_z+on_the_line+car_meet Photo 3/4   |   On The Line - Brief History of MG

By the late '70s, the newest MG T-series was more than 20 years old-driving 1000 miles or so each way to attend a GOF was a grind. So the GOF Central was created, a sort of auxiliary GOF catering to T-fans living in the middle of the country. In 2007, the 29th GOF Central took place in Minnesota, at a resort just south of the Twin Cities. The program covered the usual rally/tour events, technical sessions about keeping a T-series alive, a gymkhana to test maneuverability, a car show, a swap meet and a banquet.

Most T-series owners are retired. When the last example was built in 1955, someone who reached retirement age in 2007 was already 13. Teenage years are formative, so maybe that's why a T-series struck a chord with that generation. By 1965, when old MGs were simply used cars, a 23-year-old might be able to afford one. A fair number of T-series registry members have owned their cars from the mid-1960s, having bought them used. They have been maintained and restored (sometimes more than once) and their owners are attuned to every mechanical nuance. They are also well served by companies specializing in parts, providing everything from new forged crankshafts to complete interior upholstery kits. From a mechanical standpoint, chances are good that the majority of extant T-series cars will survive for many years.

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The problem isn't mechanical longevity; T-series cars are outliving their owners, a situation which will only get worse. An enthusiast today who is 25 or 35 years old might find a TC or TD cute or quaint, but they probably won't find them desirable once they discover their lackluster acceleration and limited top speed. A TC is beautiful to look at, but it isn't much fun to drive in modern traffic. It's at its best following a meandering country lane at 45 mph. The people who grew up with these cars accept such limitations. Without this perspective, an anemic 50-year-old-car is an anachronism.

Almost every organization specializing in old cars faces the same problem: how to attract younger members. Prices have risen so that a basket case TD costs over $10,000, thereby preventing young enthusiasts from indulging.

MGAs are following closely and it won't be long before MGBs are out of reach. We can only hope that the charisma of MGs and the friendly nature of their owners will alter what seems inevitable: in another 20 years there may not be many of the MG faithful left to gather.

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