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MG-TC

MG-TC

By Jack Nerad

The importance of the MG-TC was what it was - which wasn't much really - but what it created, and, specifically, what it created in the United States. Without the MG-TC, it's likely there would never have been a Chevrolet Corvette or a Ford Thunderbird or a Ford Mustang. Without the MG-TC there probably wouldn't have been a Shelby Cobra or a Dodge Viper. In fact, without the MG-TC pioneering the way for the modern (how ironic is that word in connection to the TC?) sports car in the United States, we probably would never have seen any American sports cars at all.

In its native Britain there were a lot of cars like the MG-TC. Oh, they weren't built in great numbers, but, early on, the Brits had caught on to the formula of taking an engine (or complete chassis) from a existing sedan, putting a lightweight two-seat body on the shortened frame and , presto-change-o, calling the creation a sports car. While many of the American "sporting cars" of the Thirties were huge, expensive boats with big displacement engines, the British were making do with smaller powerplants, more sophisticated valve trains and rudimentary bodies that provided only minimal protection from what Mother Nature had to throw at them. So it was with MG.

In the Twenties MG was basically a tuning shop that took stock products and transformed them into sports cars. The man responsible for all this was Cecil Kimber, like Jaguar's Sir William Lyons, a motorcycle enthusiast who found himself in the car business.

Soon after the end of World War I Kimber joined a firm then called Morris Garages, which, through auto magnate William Morris, was affiliated with the Morris brand of automobiles, essentially as a service arm. Since the British industry was far less production-oriented than its American cousin, Kimber began modifying Morrises on a one-off basis to meet customer requirements. Most of the modifications involved lighter bodies and better suspensions that turned the so-so Morrises into decent performers, although "performers" here is a very relative term.

In 1927 Morris Garages took on a more formalized existence by becoming the M.G. Car Company, while retaining its close connection to Morris. In 1929 it became an altogether separate company, but Morris and Kimber remained the key players. As one might expect from a former motorcyclist, Kimber was a racing enthusiast, and he took his MGs racing. He created a plethora of models, most of which were aimed at one racing class or another, and from 1930 to 1935 his machines were nearly unbeatable in the lower displacement classes.

His racing successes did bring moderate sales success, "success" here being another relative term, but the racing program was extremely expensive. His patron in the venture, William Morris, was much more interested in making money than taking the checkered flag, so, after Kimber authorized a series of expensive overhead cam heads for the various Morris engines used in MG models, a reorganization was ordered.

A Morris lieutenant named Leonard Lord was put in charge of MG, and he quickly revamped the line looking for cost-savings. One of the first models under his regime was the TA Midget, a less exotic car than previous MGs primarily because it sported a 1.3-liter four cylinder, whose valves were actuated by pushrods instead of an overhead cam.

Introduced in 1936, the TA enjoyed some popularity, and it was followed by the mildly redone TB. Kimber's influence on the company whose reputation he built almost single-handedly was waning rapidly, and when Morris brought in yet another executive to eyeball MG's operations, Kimber walked out, never to return. On the engineering side, his place was taken by his former righthand man, George Propert. World War II put a stop to MG production soon after Hitler bombed Poland, but when the war ended, Propert moved forward quickly to build a further modified version of the TB that was called, rather uninventively, the TC. Of course, during the war, tens of thousands of American servicemen had found themselves billeted in Britain, and scores of them had the opportunity to drive MGs of various vintage. Finding them quite unlike American cars of the era, they not only liked the odd little beasts, they decided to take them home with them.

Just what was this car that Americans were to fall in love with in the late 1940's?

Well, leading edge it wasn't. Trailing edge is more like it. A 1935 model reintroduced in 1945.

At each end of its steel frame were beam axles, like a 1926 Nash. They were quite an anachronism in an era when even the low-priced three in America had switched to independent front suspension.

The engine wasn't much to wire home about either. With a displacement of 1250 cubic centimeters, the pushrod four developed 54 horsepower. That wouldn't have been enough to get the car out of its own way except for its diminutive size the lightweight body.

The TC's saving grace was that it was small. Riding on a 94-inch wheelbase, the TC was only 139 inches long. (By comparison, the 1997 Mazda Miata is 155 inches long and a 1997 Ford Taurus is 198.) Because of this, the TC felt agile, despite its archaic suspension, spindly wire wheels and narrow tires.

Because it was correspondingly light, some 1,200 pounds lighter than the typical American sedan of the day, it also offered reasonable acceleration. From a standing stop to 60 miles per hour took about 20 (yes, you read right) seconds, in the ball park with the Fords and Chevies of its day.

Perhaps the TC's greatest appeal, particularly in America, was the fact that it looked so different from the domestic cars of the day. Its separate fenders and chrome radiator grille were a definite throwback to the Thirties, as were the long hood and nipped off tail. With its top down, flat windscreen folded and a lovely Grace Kelly lookalike wearing a scarf in the passenger seat, the TC must have seemed fast, even if top speed was only 75 miles per hour.

If you had a mind to race, another benefit to the TC was the fact that a lot of aftermarket go-fast parts were available. Because of this the TC was frequently used as a dual-purpose car. It was driven to the race track, the headlights were taped and it raced all afternoon, then the tape was removed and it was driven home. Some heavily massaged TC were said to top 100 mph on the track, but one shudders to think what that must have felt like behind the wheel.

In time the TC would give way to the less distinctive TD and then the TF, which mechanically were better cars, but it was the TC that made its mark. Even today, when the term sports car is mentioned, a lot of people will say, "Yeah, a little English car, you know, like an MG."
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