MG TA Tickford

MG production before World War 2 was at a much less frantic pace than afterwards. So, not surprisingly, in Australia and elsewhere pre-War MGs are not as abundant as the post-war models, and certain variants are quite rare.

In Issue 5 of BMCE we showed the unique TA Airline Coupe and mentioned very briefly that it was discontinued in favour of the Tickford drophead coupe.

Some 320 Tickford bodies were built on T-series chassis: 260 TA and 60 TB, according to Anders Clausager in his book Original MG T Series.

The MG TA was the successor to the P-series Midget. It was one of three new models introduced by MG as a result of a rationalisation of MG production, following the sale of The MG Car Company to Morris Motors by William Morris in 1935.

The sale brought the previously autonomous MG into a corporate environment and took away much of the design and engineering freedom enjoyed up to then by Cecil Kimber and his small group of designers and engineers.

The first of the new models was the SA Two-Litre Saloon (£375), which was followed by the TA Midget roadster (£222), with the third being the intermediate-sized VA 1½-Litre in open four-seater (£280) or saloon (£325) forms. All these models were progressively introduced during 1935-36.

There were many departures from previous practice, that had `traditional’ MG owners aghast. In particular, they lamented the passing of the high-revving overhead camshaft engines. These had been replaced in the new models by push-rod engines from other lines in the Morris stable.

However, the new cars found favour with new customers. They were sold in higher numbers than the previous models and are well regarded for their performance and style even today.

The TA was altogether bigger than the previous MG Midgets. The P-type, in its final 1935 guise as the PB, had an engine capacity of 939cc in a chassis with a track of 3’ 6” and a wheelbase of 7’ 3 5/16” inches.

By contrast, the TA’s engine was 1292cc, its track had jumped to 3’ 9” and its wheelbase to 7’ 10”. Overall, a significant increase in dimensions and one that was clearly welcomed by many customers.

The TA was no slouch, either. Its power output was quoted as 52.4 bhp at 5,000 rpm and highly creditable performances were mounted in all manner of sporting events; such as the factory-supported Cream Crackers and Musketeers teams which virtually dominated trials events in the period. Closer to home, an MG TA special driven by a young Allan Tomlinson won the 1939 Australian Grand Prix at Lobethal in South Australia.

Road tests at the time were full of praise for the new sports car. The Light Car, in its November 1936 issue, summed up the TA with the headline: “Current Model Outshines its Predecessors in Speed, Acceleration, Comfort, Braking and Ease of Maintenance – Clocks Over 80mph for Flying Quarter-mile”.

The magazine went on to comment favourably on all aspects of the car, comparing it against the P-series.

In particular, it praised the hydraulic brakes, introduced by MG on the SA, VA and TA models, replacing the cable operation of earlier models, which were described as “just about as good as modern brakes can be”.

The ride, too, was considered to have improved over the earlier model with the following quaint quote painting an interesting picture of the state of chassis technology in the 1930s: “The belief that first class cornering can be achieved only at the expense of a good deal of comfort on bumpy surfaces seems to be losing ground at Abingdon.”

“The springing on the new Midget is fairly flexible by usual sports car standards, but the widened track seems to compensate for any adverse effect on cornering which the new resilience may have had”. Even the luggage space behind the seats at 13” deep and 14” wide was considered “spacious enough for all ordinary needs”!

Going Up-market

At the time, there were numerous coachbuilding firms that built bespoke bodies for a wide range of cars, to give them that extra bit of class, comfort, style and practicality – all at an appropriate premium, of course. MG certainly wasn’t alone in using these bodies, and most coachbuilders built similar bodies for numerous car makers and chassis.

Salmons & Sons was a coachbuilding firm with origins dating back to the 1820s. At that time, under the guiding hand of founder Joseph Salmons, the company occupied premises that were part of the walled estate of Tickford Abbey, on the outskirts of Newport Pagnell in Buckinghamshire, and were known as Salmons & Sons Carriage Works.

Sons and grandsons variously ran the Company right up to 1942, when it was renamed Tickford Limited and sold to Ian Boswell, a wealthy car enthusiast from Crawley.

Post-War the company provided specialised coachwork for the likes of Alvis and Healey, before David Brown acquired the Company in 1955 and moved his Aston Martin concern onto the Tickford site. From then on its fortunes followed those of Aston Martin.

During the 1930s the firm had such good business relations with MG that a complete “MG shop” was devoted to producing Tickford bodies for the larger SA, VA and WA models as well as for the TA and TB. Their drophead coupe bodies also appeared on such varied cars as Jaguar, Daimler, Austin, Vauxhall, Rover, Hillman and more.

The rather wordy company slogan was; “When you have toured Great Britain in a saloon and seen the roads, do it again in a Tickford and view the scenery”.

The MG TA Tickford was introduced at the Earls Court Motor Show in August 1938, at a price of £269 10s – some 21% more than the standard TA roadster. This, though, compared favourably against the list price of the TA Airline Coupe, at £290 (a premium of 32%).

The Tickford Coupe was a beautiful design that changed what was essentially a basic little sports car into a luxurious tourer. Its main feature was a double-skinned hood which could be held in three positions: closed, to give saloon car comfort; coupe de ville or partly open to capture a touch of the outdoors; and fully open for the finest of days only.

The front of the hood is held in position by two sturdy timber supports, that lock into position on the windscreen pillars.

When the hood is half- or fully-closed, these swing toward the centre of the hood and, with the front of the hood rolled up and matching cloth covers slipped over the supports, they are virtually invisible.

As Anders Clausager points out, though, the tiny letterbox rear window makes the use of an exterior rear vision mirror virtually mandatory.

The three-position roof was complimented by luxurious leather upholstery, deep-pile carpets, highly-polished burr-walnut dashboard and other timber facings, full-depth doors with wind-up windows and an opening windscreen – made by Perfecta of Birmingham – in a chrome-plated frame attached to fixed, sturdy windscreen pillars.

If you would like to read the rest of this story, grab your copy of the magazine today from your local newsagent, buy a digital copy through our digital sales, or subscribe today.


The BMC Experience Issue 9. Apr-Jun 2014 Magazine

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