A detailed history of the MG TA through TC.
At the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, production of cars at MG in Abingdon had given way to production and maintenance of machines of war, as it had at most other engineering plants over the whole country. A very wide variety of jobs were undertaken, ranging from servicing guns and production of aircraft parts to overhauling tanks. No job was too large, too small, or too difficult for the workers at MG.
With a return to peacetime in 1945, thoughts at MG turned once again to building cars, but things were never to be the same again. A socialist government was in power, the country’s industry had been ravaged by bombing, and wartime shortages had led to rationing of just about everything. Although there was a considerable demand on the home market for any form of personal transport, raw materials were in short supply which was controlled by the government.
With the urgent need for the country to earn foreign income to aid reconstruction, priority was given to supplying raw materials to those companies who concentrated on exporting their products. The phrase “export or die” had a very real meaning.
Since little development work was carried out during the war on the post-war generation of cars, so most manufacturers simply dusted off their pre-war models, tidied them up and wheeled them out. MG was no exception to this, but in the pervading atmosphere it was clear that the big luxury saloons of the pre-war era would not be looked upon with favour. Consequently, it was decided to concentrate initially on the car which had been the mainstay of MG’s reputation as a manufacturer of sports cars – the Midget.
It was before the war, in the Spring of 1936, when the replacement for the MG PB appeared. The Cowley- inspired TA Midget used many components of Morris origin and , at first, was not popular with the “hardy” MG enthusiasts. However, this resistance was soon overcome and the car widened the appeal of sports cars which had previously been looked upon as being temperamental and difficult to drive.
The TA’s chassis was of traditional MG design, but the tubular crossmembers seen in previous models had been replaced by less stiff channel sections. Also, the forward portions of the side rails had been made as box sections to stiffen them, which was needed as the engine mountings were of rubber. Suspension was by the now familiar leaf springs front and rear, but the brakes were hydraulically operated for the first time on an MG.
The engine had been changed too. Gone was the neat, but demanding, ohc unit and in its place was a 1292cc, pushrod, overhead-valve, four-cylinder engine. This was essentially the same as that used in the Morris 10, but the MG was equipped with twin SU carburettors and produced around 50bhp, which was a significant increase compared to the PB. This was mated to four-speed transmission which had another first for MG – synchromesh.
The mechanical specification of the TA made it a much easier car to drive, whilst still maintaining the reputation of its predecessors. This opened up a whole new appeal of sports cars to a much wider market than before.
At first, two-seater open and closed (Airline Coupe) were offered, but the Airline Coupe was shortly dropped with the advent of the Tickford Coupe. This had a drophead body style with a three position folding soft-top that provided the protection of a closed car in bad weather, but allowed open air motoring when it was fine.
The TA became very popular and, inevitably, found its way into competition where it acquitted itself well. However, the engine was not happy being run at high revs because of its unsuitable valve timing and weak bottom-end. To overcome this, the factory developed methods of tuning the unit and supplied the information to those who wanted their TA’s to go faster.
In the summer of 1939, as the war clouds were gathering, MG announced the TB Midget. In terms of chassis and body options it was essentially the same as the TA, but the TB had a new engine which was a 1250cc, ohv, four-cylinder unit. Taken from the new Morris 10, and known as the XPAG engine, it had a much stronger bottom-end than the previous unit, better valve timing and a better designed cylinder head. These design features combined to give a power output of 54bhp.
The engine was backed up by a dry clutch and a better set of ratios than before with an improved synchromesh. All of this meant that the little car looked very promising indeed, but the onset of war stopped production as MG had other, more important, tasks to carry out.
On the eve of the war, MG had offered the TB model which, with a few modifications was to become the first post-war MG, the TC Midget. The chassis of the new car was essentially the same as before, but the sliding trunnion spring mountings had been dispensed with in favour of more conventional rubber bush shackles. This had been forced on MG, as it was unable to obtain the raw materials necessary for the original mounts, this helped to simplify the maintenance procedure, but made little difference to the handling of the car.
The engine was the now familiar twin-carburettor, 1250cc, pushrod, ohv XPAG unit. The transmission was also the single-plate dry clutch and four-speed synchromesh unit as had been seen in the TB. The brakes were 9 inch hydraulic units and the wheels the usual centre-locking wires.
The TC was offered in one body style only – an open two-seater which was very similar in appearance to the TB model. All the old features were there : the humped scuttle with folding windshield, cutaway doors, swept front and rear wings, a slab-type fuel tank and rear-mounted spare wheel. It was almost as if the intervening 5 years had never happened!
Despite the fact that the car was so obviously dated, in terms of both mechanical specification and appearance, the MG TC Midget found a ready market. There were a number of reasons suggested for this a lack of other post-war cars, or the familiar design reminding people of the pre-war days, whatever the reason the Midgets success took MG somewhat by surprise.
Aware that the more cars they could export, the greater would be their allocation of raw materials, MG sought sales around the world and succeeded in generating a substantial demand for the car. So successful were they that, in the cars four-year production run (until 1949), some 10,000 TC’s were built, a substantial number of which were shipped to the USA where they were to generate new enthusiasm for sports cars and motor sport. It is quite remarkable how a car which was basically a “stop-gap” should have enjoyed so much success, generating sales figures far beyond those experienced before the war.