MGA Sportcars, 1955-1962
History of the MGAIn 1951, EX172, a standard TD fitted by Syd Enever with a wind tunnel-tested streamlined body, in appearance very similar to the later MGA, was driven by George Phillips in the Le Mans 24 hour race. From the EX 172 race car, MG built a prototype of the MGA by using TD running gear, the 1250cc XPAG engine, a re-designed with the side members moved out to the perimeter, and new body. The car was proposed in 1952 as a replacement for the TD, but BMC decided to build the Austin-Healey 100 instead. A change of mind in 1953 enabled development to resume. The delay in production until 1955 meant that the 1250 XPAG engine could be replaced by the new 1489cc four cylinder B-Series engine and transmission used in the new ZA Magnette saloon.
Three aluminium bodied prototypes of the new sports car, coded EX182, in British Racing Green, were entered into the June 1955 Le Mans 24-hour race, two of them taking the 12th and 17th places overall, and the 5th and 6th places in their class. The third car crashed (this was also the year when a Mercedes ploughed into spectators, killing 80). The three cars entered the Ulster TT three months later, and one finished fourth in its class. The MG Car Company withdrew then from competition, having established the new MGA's racing pedigree.
Between 1925 and 1955, MG had used up all the letters of the alphabet in naming its cars, and in 1955 began from A again for the MGA, its first modern sports car. This, and the complete break with conventional MG T-series designs, could have resulted in customer reluctance, but the Le Mans competition success was used by MG to substantiate the pedigree of the new completely different design, and marketing of the "First of a new line" was timed to begin immediately following Le Mans with a blaze of publicity and exhibits at European motorshows.
1500 Roadster, 1955-1959The first MGA model introduced, in September 1955, was the 1500 roadster, with the new 1489 cc B-series engine, replacing the XPAG which had powered the last T-series cars. The cast iron pushrod overhead valve three-bearing crankshaft engine was fed by twin SU carburettors. The cost of the standard car in 1955 was UK£ 855. The MGA was one of the first MG designs to break away from timber-framed construction, and was (nearly) all metal, except for the floorboards. The bonnet, doors, and boot lid were aluminium. The front wishbone suspension was taken from the TF, and the rear leaf-spring suspension from the Magnette ZA Sedan. The MGA chassis was developed from the TD, with more widely spaced side rails allowing a lower seating position, lowering the centre of gravity.
The teardrop streamlined MGA body was also a complete departure in styling from the T-series which, despite the improvements in the final TF, retained the old-fashioned pre-war appearance. The MGA body was of full width, the wings blending into the bodywork and each other to produce a beautiful and aerodynamic design. A welcome innovation for MG sportcars was a boot, although most boot space was taken up by the spare wheel. Appearance-wise, there was very little resemblance between the MGA and its predecessors, even the streamlined TF.
The MGA retained the drum brakes of the TD, as well as the Lucas electric system with two 6-volt batteries.
Bolt on steel disc wheels were standard, but centre-locking wire wheels were available as an optional extra. Other options included an HMV Radiomobile Radio, a heater, a tonneau cover, a telescopic steering column, a windshield washer, and fog lamps. Although the weather equipment was improved from the TD, it still incorporated side-curtains and a difficult to operate top. An option was a removable black-finished glass fibre hard-top with rigid sliding windows to replace the soft-top's sidescreens.
1500 Coupe, 1956-1959In October 1956, the 1500 Coupe was the first MG sportscar to have wind-up windows, and cost UK£ 60 more than the Roadster. The stylish coupe version of the car had a high curved roof line and a large wrap-around windscreen and rear window, and was said to be aimed as a budget version of the Jaguar XK120 Coupe. The doors were fitted with exterior door handles, locks, wind-up windows and opening, hinged quarterlights, the first in any MG sportcar.
Twin Cam Roadster and Coupe, 1958-1960The demand for a higher-performance version led to experimentation with twin overhead camshaft engines in 1955. In July 1958, the MGA Twin-Cam was introduced at a cost of UK£ 200 more than the 1500, and featured disc-brakes all-around and MG's first twin-cam engine. This high performance version was aimed at competition use rather than everyday road use. In appearance, the car was similar to the 1500 models, except for the racing centre-lock steel disc wheels. The 1588cc engine was a development of the B-series unit which was being used in the standard car. Essentially, the cylinder block and bottom end were strengthened B-series components, but the cylinder head was a new aluminium unit incorporating twin overhead camshafts. With twin SU carburettors, and a power output of 110bhp, the top speed was 115mph, fast for a 1600 cc car at that time. To match the increased performance, the car was given four-wheel disc brakes. The Twin-cam engine was unique to MG and suffered from a lack of funding for development. It required increased maintenance and precise tuning, which many owners did not provide, and the resulting bad reputation it gained caused MG to discontinue production in April 1960.
1600 Roadster and Coupe, 1959-1961In July 1959, the 1500 was replaced by the 1600, with a 1588cc version of the standard pushrod B-series engine. The "1600" had disc brakes on the front wheels, but still drums at the rear. Separate rear indicator lights.
1600 MkII Roadster and Coupe, 1961-1962
In May 1961, the MGA 1600 MkII had a 1622cc version of the standard B-series engine. This engine developed 93bhp, which made the car capable of travelling over 100mph, performance similar to the Twin Cam but without the temperamental nature of that car. Changes in appearance included horiontal rear lights and a redesigned grille with vertical instead of sloping slats making it appear recessed.
1600 MkII De LuxeA few surplus chassis from the withdrawn Twin-Cam were matched with the 1622cc B-series engine, with four-wheel disc brakes and centre-lock steel disc wheels, and were named MGA 1600 MkII De Luxe.
MGA SpecialsBob Baylis has built an immaculate MGA Twin Cam with improvements to the driveline and body. Heyns Stead has built an MGA with an 1800cc tuned engine and modified gearbox and suspension, which is a regular competitor in historic racing. Nick Parrott races an MGA with 1800cc engine.
ProductionIn all, 101,081 MGAs (1500, 1600, 1600 MkII, Twin-Cams, both Roadsters and Coupes) were sold between 1955 and 1962.
In 1962 the MGA was dropped from the MG range, and replaced by the MGB.
Assembly of MGA in South Africa752 MGA cars were assembled in South Africa at the Motor Assemblies Limited plant in Durban from March 1957 to 1962.
Primed CKD MGA kits were shipped from Abingdon, excepting items to be manufactured locally, such as glass, tyres, tubes, and batteries. Tonneau covers were provided, but heaters were not normally fitted. Lacking the full assembly line facilities at Abingdon, the chassis were mounted on small wheels and the rolling chassis moved down the line. After adding the body panels, the vehicle including the exposed parts of the chassis was sprayed to the car colour - different from Abingdon-assembled vehicles where the entire chassis was black.
Tertius Coetzee of the MGCC Port Elizabeth Centre maintains a Southern Africa MGA Register. Philip Blackett is researching the MGA toolkits
Some MGA links
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