MG needed to get with the times in the ‘50s, so they took a Le Mans race car design and brought it to the public. Let’s look back at the MG MGA.

A Proper British Sports Car Manufacturer

When people think of British sports cars names like Jaguar, Aston Martin, or Lotus typically come to mind. However, we can’t forget one of the other significant manufacturers of Britain’s past, MG. The brand derives itself from a number of dealerships owned by William Morris that were called Morris Garages – MG. Around 1923, Morris Garages took the Morris Oxford, modified it to feature sleeker body work, and renamed it the MG Super Sport. MG continued to remanufacture Morris models into alternate, eye-catching models, a process that would soon lead to the creation of the MG Car Company by 1930.

1949 MG TC -

1949 MG TC – |  Shop MG MGA on

In 1936, MG introduced their first T-Type sports car in the form of the MG TA. The small two-seater came with a 1292cc straight-four engine that made 51 brake horsepower (bhp). MG wasn’t able to celebrate the new T-Type for too long as World War II came into frame, slowing production to focus on the war effort. Following the war, MG came back with the new TC sports car in 1945. That following year, MG made it the first MG model to ever be exported over to the United States of America after having American soldiers gain interest in the models during their stay for WWII.

1954 MG TF - carsforsale.con
1954 MG TF - carsforsale.con

MG continued to produce updated versions on the T-Type platform up into the early 1950s with decent success among American audiences. 1953 saw the introduction of the MG TF carrying a new 1500cc that gave it claim to being called “America’s Best Sports Car Buy”. While a title like that would normally help a model see a boost in sales, American the roads were dominated by big domestic V8s that generated a ton more horsepower than MG. Sales in America began to fall for MG as the T-Type was outdated by 1950s standards.

1958 MG MGA -
1958 MG MGA -

This is how we reach the MGA, a model that stands as the turning point for MG. It was a sleek British sports car that brought MG into the modern automotive market of the ‘50s. It had an aerodynamic design that turned heads and brought with it improved underpinnings from the already well-engineered T-Type. Not only was this MG’s reprisal, the MGA also acted as a marketing opportunity in motorsports. So, let’s take a look at how the MGA’s design came to be and what kind of performance this classic offered.

The Racer That Inspired the Car

UMG 400 Le Mans race car –
UMG 400 Le Mans race car –

The MG MGA actually derives itself from a special MG built just for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The UMG 400 was a unique one-off built by MG’s Chief Designer Syd Enever in 1951. The race car featured a more aerodynamic body while still utilizing MG T-Type components underneath the skin. While MG was actively trying to move away from the T-Type, the longevity of the platform allowed it to carry some wonderful sports car engineering for the time.

The UMG 400 didn’t finish the race, but it did give the higher ups a vision of what MG could be. MG’s engineers went ahead and created two prototypes of the aerodynamic design each with a new chassis. The UMG 400’s issue was that it rode on the TF chassis that positioned the driver higher, so the new chassis lowered the seats to sit more level with the front windshield and improve the aerodynamics. To achieve this lower seating, MG separated the side members of the chassis farther apart to drop the floor in between.

1953 Austin-Healey 100-4 -
1953 Austin-Healey 100-4 -

So, MG had their prototype design ready and had all the necessary testing done to bring the sports car into production. However, a recent merger with Austin-Healey made things difficult. MG and Morris were brought under the British Motor Coportation (BMC) umbrella in 1952 thanks to a merger with the Austin Motor Company. This timing also coincided with the creation of the Austin-Healey brand that was looking to hit the same American sports car market that MG already had their hands in.

Proposing a sleek, new sports car to the BMW heads while the Austin-Healey 100/4 was coming to market seemed like a bad plan, but the sudden drop in sales of the MG TF forced the corporation’s hand. And so, we were given the MG MGA – a beautiful sports car that was ready to hit the track or be the envy of passersby on the road.

Introducing the MG MGA

MG gained some benefit from the merger with Austin that could be seen inside the MGA. The engine originally found in the T-Type was discontinued and MG instead fitted an Austin B series 1,489cc straight-four with two H4 type SU carburetors into the MGA. The sports car had an independent front suspension that utilized coil springs and wishbone arms while a live axle and leaf springs were at the rear. MG installed Lockheed drum brakes all around and steering was handled by a rack and pinion setup. It was very much a “driver’s car” with updated aerodynamic looks and all the handling performance MG had been known for. It was the beginning of a new chapter for MG.

1955 MG MGA 1500

1957 MG MGA -
1957 MG MGA -

The MG MGA debuted in 1955 in roadster form. It was named the “MGA 1500” referencing its 1,489-cc engine under the hood. The roadster was available with a retractable soft top or removable hard top initially, but a fixed head coupe version was introduced in 1956 with improved weatherproofing and crank passenger windows. The little British sports car’s Austin engine was able to generate 72 bhp that was directed to the rear wheels through a four-speed manual transmission. The MG MGA 1500 inched near the 100-mph top speed mark, but could only muster 97.8 mph during high-speed testing.

MG used the 24 Hours of Le Mans to market the new MGA by producing a team of four cars, three competitors and one in reserve, to compete in the world’s largest motorsport event. One of the cars failed to finish, but the other two were able to achieve 12th and 17th. While this was a decent success for the aptitude of the new car, it was unfortunately overshadowed by the worst crash in motorsports history during the event.

1958 MG MGA Twin Cam

1960 MG MGA Twin Cam - ClassicarGarage on
1960 MG MGA Twin Cam - ClassicarGarage on

The MGA had made its mark on the automotive market, but it could be even more impressive with some adjustments to its performance. This idea was already in motion in 1955 at MG. While it would have been easy to drop in a V6 or V8 into the car, MG engineers instead refined the straight-four engine to be higher compression, increased to 1588 cc, and featured a dual overhead cam design that helped boost its brake horsepower to 108. This development led to the production of a performance version of the MGA called the “Twin Cam”.

The MG MGA Twin Cam was introduced in 1958 and was more than just a better engine. MG also replaced the drum brakes with some Dunlop disc brakes at each corner and installed Dunlop steel wheels that looked like the ones seen on race cars. The Twin Cam performance model was an exciting development, but the engine proved to be an issue.

1958 MG MGA - St. Louis Car Museum & Sales on
1958 MG MGA - St. Louis Car Museum & Sales on

Throughout the production of the MGA Twin Cam, the engine suffered from burning oil and detonation. This issue was slightly alleviated by creating a low-compression version of the Twin Cam engine that only slightly lowered its performance, but the damage was already done. The MGA Twin Cam had received enough negative press to end the production of the performance model by 1960.

1959 MG MGA 1600

1959 MG MGA -
1959 MG MGA -

In 1959, MG brought to market a refreshed version of the MGA known as the 1600. The MGA 1600 dropped in a 1588 cc straight-four engine making 79.6 bhp and installed disc brakes at the front while maintaining drums at the rear. The only really exterior differences between the 1600 and its 1500 predecessor were the alternative taillight design, updates to the front indicator lights, and “1600” badging added around the vehicle.

The 1600 also brought about the De Luxe model following the discontinuation of the Twin Cam. MGA 1600 De Luxe versions came with disc brakes at all four wheels, leftover Dunlop wheels, and used the same leftover chassis from the Twin Cam. It was essentially a Twin Cam without the special engine.

1961 MG MGA 1600 MKII

1961 MG MGA -
1961 MG MGA -

The MG MGA’s last refresh took shape in 1961 as the MGA 1600 MKII. The engine once again increased in size, this time by increasing the bore to achieve 1622 cc. Engineers also updated the cylinder heads to have larger valves and redone combustion chambers. All in all, the 1600 MKII’s horsepower was bumped up to 90 bhp. A small number of De Luxe versions were made for the 1600 MKII that featured the same updates found in the previous 1600 MKI version.

A Convoluted History After the MG MGA

1956 MG MGA -

1949 MG TC – |  Shop MG MGA on

The MG MGA was discontinued in 1962 to make way for its successor, the MG MGB. The MG would continue to produce beloved British sports cars for about ten more years before being discontinued by the British Leyland Motor Corporation (BLMC) in 1972. MG continued to change hands for years to come only producing a some short-lived rebadges under the nameplate on a couple of occasions.

The historic British sports car manufacturer is now under control of the Chinese company SAIC Motor. MG as a brand is back in full swing across the pond and they’ve been one of the fastest growing brands in the UK. The MG brand stretches across into the rest of Europe and into the rest of the eastern hemisphere. That revival of MG in other parts of the world doesn’t mean that Americans will see the iconic brand return to our roads any time soon. If anything, we get to enjoy the classic MG models like the MGA – the real MG.

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Jesse McGraw

Jesse McGraw brings his life-long car obsession into his writing. A fun childhood that involved growing up around race tracks, working on a rusty ‘99 Dodge Dakota held together by zip ties, and collecting Hot Wheels developed into a strong appreciation for automotive history. If there is an old, obscure, or rare car, he wants to know about it. With a bachelor's degree in Web Development & Design from Dakota State University, Jesse can talk shop about car or computer specs, focusing on classic cars, imports, and car culture.

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1 Comment

  1. Anonymous February 9, 2023

    These are great! Love reading them. Keep it up! Lots of cars to choose from! Before they’re all in the landfills!


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