The MG TF was hastily put together to keep the MG fires burning until a replacement could be built, and served its purpose well.
As we detailed in Issue 12, the MG TC, the first post-War MG, had proven popular among US servicemen stationed in the UK. Many were taken back to the US and became well regarded in racing circles.
The TD was the first MG sports car built specifically to accommodate left-hand-drive (the Y-type being the first left-hooker MG of all) and was directly targeted at the lucrative US market. Announced in November 1949, it was an immediate success, breaking all MG sales records. Of the 29,664 TDs built, some 79% or 23,488 went to North America – about 95% of which went to the US.
While only 904 were sold new in Australia, this was enough to be the fifth-biggest market, behind UK (1,656), West Germany (1,248) and Canada (1,146), according to Anders Clausager in Original MG T-series.
1952 was the biggest year for the MG TD, with 10,838 produced. The following year saw a slump in sales of around 20%.
It must be taken into account that production of the TD ceased in around August 1953, but this drop in sales was due mostly to the release of the Austin-Healey 100 in May 1953 (see Issue 2); a true 100mph car, with more modern looks and engineering, though at a price premium.
However, MG was acutely aware that the aging TD had a limited lifespan and was already looking forward to a more modern design. The Austin-Healey had been announced at the 1952 motor show and MG designer Syd Enever was one who could see the writing on the wall.
A Stillborn Replacement
Enever had already designed a special streamlined body that was fitted to a TD chassis for George Phillips and Alan Rippon to enter at Le Mans in June 1951. Although the car retired after only 80 laps, its appearance had caused quite a stir, particularly among MG enthusiasts.
One thing that Enever wasn’t happy about was the high seating position of the driver with the TD chassis, so he had chassis designer Roy Brocklehurst draw up a new chassis with the side rails further apart, allowing the seats to be positioned much lower. This car became known as EX175 – all MG experimental cars or prototypes carried an EX number.
Shortly after the 1952 Motor Show, Enever and MG boss John Thornley showed EX175 to their boss of the recently-formed BMC, Leonard Lord, requesting to be allowed the put the car into production as the replacement for the MG TD.
Lord had just signed the deal with Donald Healey to produce the Austin-Healey and didn’t think there was any need for MG to have a similar looking sports car, particularly when, at the time, the MG TD was still selling very well.
As F. Wilson McComb wrote in MG by McComb; “The disappointment at Abingdon was intense, and as 1953 went by it soon became apparent that for M.G., at least, BMC’s decision was a calamity…Although the TD was considerably cheaper than the new Austin-Healey, and still scored a few class wins here and there, it certainly looked out of date beside Donald Healey’s pretty little two-seater…People began to talk of M.G. as a marque that had had its day.”
Lord insisted that MG continue with the TD for the time being, but allowed for a cosmetic facelift, under strict cost control, to be developed.
TF – Refining the TD
The MG TF was the result of that facelift. Under the skin was still essentially the TD, although MG at least used the mechanical package of the competition version TD MkII.
This included a warmed over 1250cc XPAG engine with 1½” SU carburettors, giving 57bhp (the standard TD having 54bhp), and higher final-drive ratio, although the compression ratio of the engine (8:1) was between that of the standard TD and the MkII.
The TD’s independent front suspension and rack-and-pinion steering were retained, giving the TF a very similar driving feel.
All the obvious changes, those most notable on the showroom floor, took place on and in the new body. This had been designed and a prototype constructed in a matter of weeks by a small team of Enever, Alec Hounslow and Cecil Cousins, and the skills of an unknown panel beater.
The changes from the TD body were many subtleties that combined to good effect to give an altogether lower, sportier and prettier look.
The scuttle was lowered slightly, the bonnet sloped forward to a rearward sloping radiator grille, while the external fuel tank and rear panel sloped forward slightly. The headlights were mounted in pods that were flared into the front guards, reminiscent of the Jaguar XK120.
One area that came in for a fair bit of criticism at the time and ever since is the bonnet. Although both sides of the top of the bonnet open along a central hinge as before, the sides of the bonnet remain in place. This makes for a bit less access for routine maintenance, although the bonnet sides can be unbolted for more complicated work.
Push-button bonnet releases, however, did make opening the bonnets a much simpler affair. The sides could also be removed for motorsport, to aid with engine cooling.
Inside the cabin also came in for plenty of improvement. Where the TD had a bench seat back but individual squabs, the TF had true bucket seats that provided considerably more support for driver and passenger and individual forward and aft adjustment.
The instruments were all gathered together in a central binnacle, which continued the sloping theme, on either side of which were open glove compartments.
Across the top of the dash rail was a padded, leather-covered crash pad, which was a nod toward passenger safety.
The outdated screen-mounted wipers and motor were replaced with a cable-rack type, with the motor hidden under the bonnet and the wipers mounted to the scuttle.
Due to the lower bonnet line, the engine compartment came in for a couple of changes. Most notably was the replacement of the TD’s fairly tall oil-bath air filter with a pair of “pancake” filters.
As the cooling system in the TD had struggled in hotter climates, such as Australia, the TF received a pressurised cooling system with overflow tank. This meant the elimination of the previous cap on top of the radiator. This was replaced with a dummy cap that gave the classic look, but was non-functional. The debate still rages as to whether this is a positive or negative aesthetic feature.
The TF included flashing direction indicator lights as standard. Storage for the side weather screens was changed from the TD’s vertical behind-the-seats arrangement, to a flat locker under the luggage compartment. However, as June Dally-Watkins asked in the Australian magazine Wheels; “how do you get at them with luggage on top?”
For most markets the TF came standard with steel disc wheels, with wire spoke wheels available as an extra-cost option. However, in Australia, all came with wire wheels as standard.
Optional equipment also included a badge bar (for club enthusiasts), fog lamp, external rear-vision mirror and an external luggage rack.
To read the rest of this story, grab your copy of the magazine from your local newsagent (in Australia) or subscribe today for either the digital copy or the printed version.
The BMC Experience Issue 17. Apr-Jun 2016 Magazine
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