MG Y Type
One of the problems for the owner of an MG Y is to explain to people what a Y is – it seems that everybody is familiar with the open sports MGs, which is quite understandable, given their immense popularity over many years.
Very few people, though, it seems can recall having ever seen a ‘closed’ MG, even though the company has made many very stylish saloon models since 1924.
Motor historian and former archivist for the British Motor Heritage Centre at Gaydon in the UK, Anders Ditlev Clausager, writes in the introduction to his book MG Saloon Cars: “If there is a common bond between the very different (ie: saloon) cars described in this book, it is that they have always had more scorn than praise heaped upon them. They have often been misunderstood, misjudged, or unfairly maligned. And why? Simply because they have stood accused of not being ‘real’ MGs.”
MG saloons were built from the earliest days of the company, along with the open cars. In the years prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, MG continued to offer their popular range of ‘Midget’ and ‘Magnette’ sports cars, supplemented with three larger saloons and drophead tourers, the S, V and W models.
The WA had an engine capacity of 2561cc;, the SA had 2288cc; and the VA had an engine of 1548cc.
The next development was to include one more saloon, with a smaller engine capacity than the VA, and this is where the MG Y makes its appearance.
William Morris had closed down MG’s own design office in 1935 as part of a major restructuring of his personal companies under the Morris Motors umbrella.
The Y type, called the MG 1¼ Litre (Series Y) in early brochures, was therefore designed in the Morris Design Studio in Cowley.
The Y’s power unit was based on the 1140cc overhead valve engine used in the Morris Ten Series M – coded XPJM (M for Morris).
The MG version (coded XPAG – G for MG) was increased to 1250cc and a single 1¼” SU carburettor was fitted to the Y type.
This engine was already in use in the TB Midget sports model (released in 1939), and would remain in the TC (1945), TD and early TF models, with performance enhancements including twin carburettors and a modified camshaft for the Midgets. The same basic motor was later used for the Wolseley 4/44 – coded XPJW (W for Wolseley, of course).
The MG Y featured an independent front suspension layout designed by Alec Issigonis and Jack Daniels – the very first collaboration of this future formidable team.
The Y type became the first Nuffield product, and one of the first British production cars, with independent front suspension.
The Y type was also the first MG built specifically to accommodate either left-hand-drive or right-hand-drive, and featured rack-and-pinion steering.
Gerald Palmer was responsible for body styling. He took an all-steel Morris Eight Series E four-door body shell, added a swept tail and rear wings, and a characteristic MG bonnet with an upright grille.
Curiously, the Y type MG 1¼ Litre Saloon retained separately mounted headlights at a time when the Morris Series E, along with other Nuffield models, had its headlights inset into the front wings.
Although the Morris Ten Series M of the same period was of unitary construction, the Y had a separate chassis under its pressed-steel bodywork; like the Morris Eight.
It would be 1953 before an MG, the ZA, was built with unitary, or monocoque, construction.
In keeping with MG tradition, the MG Y had a high standard of interior finish. It featured leather-faced seats and extensive use of wood trim, including a full width burr walnut veneered dash.
A prototype Y type was constructed in 1939 with an intended launch at the Earls Court Motor show the following year. However, due to the onset of the War and post-war austerity and material shortages, potential customers had to wait a further eight years before production could commence.
An open tourer version of the Y (the MG YT) was also introduced alongside the saloon at the 1948 Earls Court Motor Show. List price for the saloon was £525.0.0 plus Purchase Tax of £146.11.8 and delivery costs.
In 1952, MG updated the Y type and an improved model, designated the YB, was launched. The first version of the Y is now often unofficially referred to as the YA, to differentiate it from the YB, though this was never a factory designation.
Where the Y was fitted with double-acting front brake shoes, the YB came with a Lockheed twin-leading-shoe design, each shoe having its own wheel cylinder, providing greatly improved braking.
The road holding was also improved by the introduction of a more modern back axle and 15” wheels - the Y and YT had 16” wheels. The YB also had an anti-roll bar fitted to the front of the car and better dampers (shock absorbers).
Externally, both models looked much the same, the main difference being the depth of the rear guards on the YB to accommodate its smaller wheels. A new range of colour schemes was also offered to YB buyers.
When production ceased in 1953, a total of 8,336 Y Types had been built – made up of 6,151 Y models, 884 Y Tourers and 1,301 YBs.
The International MG Y Type Register website (www.mgytypes.org), a veritable gold mine of information on the marque, has tracked down 289 Ys, 130 Tourers and 136 YBs still in existence around the world.
The Story of Y3498
Our featured example, my own car, is a Y model, built in approximately 1948. After a three-year ground-up restoration, it is now in a condition very close to original.
Despite all my best attempts, the history of this car is largely unknown. It was bought through a well-known Internet auction site in 2009, but the vendor knew very little about the car’s history, as he had only bought it a matter of weeks before on-selling it.
Contact with the prior owner wasn’t very helpful either. He had bought the car from a used car yard in Geelong some years previously, but that yard no longer exists.
In 1988, UK enthusiast John Lawson published an excellent reference book called MG Y Type Saloons and Tourers, and this book shows that Y3498 was in Victoria at that time.
Lawson’s records showed that it was owned by a Mr C K Curtis, but finding this gentleman somewhere in Victoria some 20 years later proved to be a futile task.
Although the car was dismantled when I bought it, a windscreen came with it, with a registration sticker expiring in November 1970. This showed Victorian registration number OH841 and engine number XPAG SC133500 – which matched the car’s engine and brass chassis plate.
When bought, Y3498 had already undergone some restoration. The body and chassis had been separated and the chassis had been sand blasted, painted and rebuilt to a high standard. A sheaf of invoices documented the purchase of many chassis and brake parts – wheel bearings, swivel pins, wheel cylinders, rubbers, bushes, machining of brake drums and shoes and the like.
Fortunately, the braking system had not been filled with fluid and everything was well protected with rubber grease, so sitting for six years had not affected these components in any way.
Just to be on the safe side, though, the chassis was dismantled for inspection and then reassembled. At the same time, the old brake lines were removed and discarded, and were replaced with brand new ones. About $50 for a roll of material and a couple of hours work to bend up and double flare the ends was considered cheap insurance.
The independent front end was also removed, dismantled, checked, repainted and reassembled.
Although the chassis did not require a great deal of work, the body was a different story altogether.
Some work had been done, but it appeared that the total job proved to be beyond the skills of the previous owner/s. The shell appeared to have been stripped and cleaned, and painted in acrylic primer surfacer some years previously.
This material, being porous, did not protect the base metal very well – it was removed very easily, with paint stripper and a wash with paint thinners, to reveal a healthy rust bloom over the whole surface.
Removing the primer also exposed quite a lot of body filler, some of which was quite thick where a double skinned panel thwarted amateur repairer attempts to some deep dents: particularly in the roof, which appeared to have been damaged by a low-hanging tree branch at some time.
All this filler was removed in order to repair whatever perils existed beneath it. And there were plenty!
By far the worst problems were in the rear, where the spare wheel compartment floor had completely rusted out and was missing. It is easy to see how this area could have become so badly affected by rust.
The sunroof has a drain channel around the frame, and water is taken from this channel by four flexible rubber tubes in the roof space, hidden by the head lining.
At the front, these tubes are threaded down the windscreen pillars, emerging through holes in the sills near the rear of the front guards, to discharge collected water onto the ground under the car.
The rear tubes are also routed along the roofline, above the rear quarter lights, down the rear most pillars and through holes in the body above the back wheels.
Over the years, the rear tubes became brittle and eventually cracked and broke. Instead of discharging water onto the road, it ended up in the spare wheel compartment or the floor under the back seat.
Y3498 therefore required extensive work to rebuild the back section of the body. I called on the services of Andrew Hitchcock, a skilled panel man with years of experience on British classics, who amputated what remained of the lower 40cm of the tail of the car.
With nothing original to reproduce, careful measurements were made of the floor and rear end of a friend’s Y.
If you would like to read the rest of this story, grab a copy of the magazine from your local newsagent (in Australia) or subscribe on-line today.
The BMC Experience Issue 7. Oct-Nov 2013 Magazine
All back issues of The BMC Experience are now available in digital format from www.pocketmags.com.