the MGA arrived in 1955, it must have come as quite a shock to MG aficionados
who had become used to the pre-war look of the company's sports cars. Even the
revamped TF left nothing to doubt about its 1930's-style design. The MGA was a
complete departure in styling for MG. It's beautiful streamlined body was right
up to the minute in terms of appearance, and it was powered by a new engine, as
MG had decided that the old XPAG unit had had its day. The MGA was powered by
the much more modern B-series engine that had made it's debut in the recently
announced Magnette saloon.
MG enthusiasts had been given a hint of what was to come as early as 1951 when George Phillips drove a re-bodied TD Midget in the Le-Mans 24 hour endurance race. The car had been built for him by MG following his successes with his own TC, which had been fitted with a lightweight two-seat race car style body. So different was the appearance of his new TD racer, that it must have been difficult to believe that it was actually a venerable TD Midget underneath!
It was a road-going version of the Phillips car which had been proposed to BMC in 1952 as a replacement for the TD Midget, but which had been turned down because of the corporation's decision to build the Austin-Healey 100. MG had gone as far as building a full prototype of the MGA by using TD running gear, the 1250 XPAG engine, a re-designed chassis, and the MGA bodywork.
When it eventually became clear that the TF Midget was a bit of a lame duck and that it would have to be replaced, the new MG sports car was finally given the chance it deserved. The delay in production had one advantage in that it allowed MG to refine the design and install the much newer 1489cc four cylinder B-series engine and its transmission from the Magnette saloon.
Before the official launch of the MGA in 1955, three aluminium bodied prototypes of the new sports car, coded EX182, were entered into Le Mans. Fortunately for MG, they acquitted themselves well, finishing fifth and sixth in their class.
Thus, when the MGA was finally announced shortly after this, the car already had a competition background as testimony to its pedigree. No doubt this did much to ensure its acceptance by enthusiasts who were reluctant to say goodbye to the old fashioned traditional looks of the MG.
chassis for the MGA was a development of the TD Midget's unit, but with more
widely spaced side rails to allow for a lower seating position to fit in the new
sleek bodywork. This not only put the driver and passenger in a more sensible
position in relation to the proportions and height of the body, but it had the
added advantage of lowering the centre of gravity, thus improving the cornering
ability of the car.
The two-seat open body was unmistakably a development of the earlier Philips racer design, being of the full width type, the wings blending into the bodywork and each other to produce a beautiful and aerodynamic design. Other than a shortened, stylised and widened version of the now familiar MG grille, there was very little about the MGA which bore the slightest resemblance to any of it's predecessors. From the scuttle, the body fell in one constant curve to the radiator grille, blending into the full swept front wings on each side. The line of the front wings was taken back past the cockpit with its cutaway doors, to where it merged into the rear wings. These tapered almost to a point at the rear and were blended into the rear portion of the bodywork that curved down from the back edge of the cockpit.
A pancake-style bonnet provided access to the engine, and a separate boot for luggage was able to provide a reasonable amount of space despite the fact that the spare wheel was mounted to the boot floor.
The car had bolt on steel disc wheels as standard, but centre-locking wire wheels were available as an optional extra, along with a removable hard-top with rigid sliding windows to replace the soft-top's sidescreens.
The MGA engine was uprated very shortly after the initial production from 68bhp to 72bhp.
On it's launch the car was extremely well received, which was no doubt helped by
its previous competition successes, and it's impressive performance in standard
road-going form. It also offered very good value for money in the MG tradition
and it sold very well, with a large number going to the USA where it did much to
revive MG's flagging reputation.
A year after the original cars launch, a coupe version of the car was announced. It had a high curved roof line and a larger windscreen than the soft-top version of the car. The doors were fitted with wind-up windows and opening, hinged quarterlights, which made the car a very civilised sports car indeed!
There were also a number of other variants of the MGA which were produced through its lifetime :
MGA continued in these open and closed forms until 1958 when another high
performance version was added to the range. This was the MGA Twin-Cam, which was
essentially aimed at competition use rather than everyday road use. In
appearance, there was very little to distinguish this car from the other
standard MGA models, apart from its special centre-locking steel disc wheels.
However, there was alot more to this car than met the eye...
The engine was a development of the B-series unit which was being used in the standard car. Essentially, the cylinder block and bottom end were strengthened B-series components, but the cylinder head was a new aluminium unit incorporating twin overhead camshafts. Twin SU carburettors were fitted as standard, giving a power output of around 110bhp which was sufficient to propel the Twin Cam to a maximum speed approaching 115mph. At the same time it slashed acceleration times by a considerable amount. With all this power available, it was considered that the old drum brakes inherited from the TD Midget were no longer up to the job, so they were dropped in favour of four-wheel disc brakes.
Shortly after the introduction of the MGA Twin Cam, the standard cars were given
a 1588cc version of the standard pushrod version of the B-series engine,
becoming the MGA 1600 in the process. They were also equipped with disc brakes
on the front wheels, but continued with drums at the rear. The MGA 1600
continued to be offered in both open and coupe versions.
By 1959, Abingdon was hard at work producing nothing but sports cars, since the ZB Magnette had been dropped from the range, and the MGA was selling well and they were also busy producing the six cylinder Austin Healey. Furthermore they were about to go into production of a new small sports car called the Austin Healey Sprite, the future looked promising!
However, all was not well for the MGA Twin Cam. Despite its very good showing in a wide range and large number of competition events, it was a car that needed sympathetic treatment from the driver. Unfortunately the increasing "civilization" of sports cars had led to a new breed of sports car driver who was not quite as in tune with the car as his contemporaries had been with the earlier sports cars. The MGA Twin Cam was a highly strung thoroughbred and was easily damaged through misuse. As a result of this it got a bad reputation, and in early 1960 it was dropped from the range.
A year later, in 1961, the MGA 1600 MkII appeared. This had a 1622cc version of the standard B-series engine together with other minor changes, which included new rear lights and a redesigned grille with inset vertical slats. The engine now developed 93bhp, which was an increase of some 25bhp over the original MGA's. In this form the car was capable of travelling well in excess of 100mph, offering similar performance to the Twin Cam but without the temperamental nature of that car.
A few remaining Twin Cam chassis were also given the 1622cc B-series engine, but retained the four-wheel disc brakes and centre-lock steel disc wheels. In this guise they were known as MGA 1600 MkII De Luxe, which ridiculed MG's reputation for short names for it's cars!
By now, despite the fact that it was a very good sports car, the MGA was getting a bit long in the tooth and was not offering the level of interior comfort which was being demanded and could be found in its direct competitors. Sales were now begining to tail-off, inspite of the car continuing to prove itself well on the race track. In 1962, therefore, after around 100,000 cars had been produced, the MGA was dropped from the MG range. It's replacement was already waiting in the wings, and would prove in it's many forms to be the longest-running and best-selling MG of them all - the MGB.