When the MG TAtook over from the short-lived P-type in 1936, buyers could have been forgiven for failing to notice. It didn’t look much different to the PB and the OHC engine had been binned in favour of a Morris 10 OHV engine.
The first of the famous T-series MGs, the TA/TB is as British as they come. With looks as vintage as these, it comes as no surprise that the driving experience follows suit. But that's not a bad thing. Performance is modest; TA engines are generally rated 45-50bhp, but high speeds don't really suit the little car's demeanour. Things get frantic as you approach 60mph.
It also has a tendency to wander in a straight line so it's far better to slow down and let it fnid its own path, guiding the large steering wheel with a light touch. That steering can fell heavy and somewhat vague - some owners fit a steering box from a more modern car to provide a bit more confidence. Thankfully, the brakes prove more than up to the task, despite comprising fairly small drums all round.
If you want more performance, the TB's additional few horsepower is useful, though you'd still never describe it as quick - 0-60mph takes 23 seconds. The later unit does respond better to tuning, though, and buying a TB brings synchromesh for the top three gears, which improves everyday driveability if you've yet to fully master the art of double declutching. You'll also get a conventional clutch rather than the slightly tricky to master cork item in the TA.
Slide into the cabin and you'll find things are snug but comfortable, with bags of charm to boot. From the sprung steering wheel to the small but well-stocked dashboard, it truly evokes the flavour of motoring from yesteryear and its small dimensions means you'll find every switch and control within easy reach. Things are cosy, to say the least, with two adults on board but it's still a very pleasant place to while away country lane miles.
By the time the MG TC came along in 1945, the engine had been replaced by the venerable XPAG engine, and both the brakes and transmission had been improved markedly. However, it still looked pretty much the same – a wise classic buy, then?
Early TCs were built just after WWII so the driving experience is literally from another era. They might not appear quick on paper, but 55bhp in a car that weighs less than 850kg will always feel lively. And the legendary DNA that gives any purpose-built MG sportscar its get-up-and-go is obvious here – the only real drawback, in fact, is affording a good one in the first place…
Torque 64lb ft@2600rpm
Top speed 87mph
Gearbox 4-speed manual
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
1. The condition of the ash frame is crucial so it needs checking carefully for rot. Most areas are hidden but problems around the running boards or dashboard likely mean you're too late and will have to budget for complete renewal. You should also check that the doors don't sag when opened. Also, pull gently on the rear wings - movement here probably means the fixings are coming away from the frame.
2. Equally vital is checking the chassis for corrosion. Pay particular attention to the fit of the body panels as serious misalignment could indicate a chassis that is terminally twisted. The bonnet is a good starting point, as the centre hinge should align with the joint in the scuttle. Chassis flex is an issue - it's worth getting the car onto a ramp as there is a weak spot in the gearbox area where a strengthening box section can crack. New ones aren't available so you're looking at extensive repair work or having a new one made up.
3. Needless to say the steel body panels are susceptible to corrosion although replacements can be found.Check the wings, door bottoms, the panel joints, and around the rear bulkhead. The fuel tank is another rot spot as the felt pads upon which it rests trap moisture. Bear in mind too that the hand-built nature means every car will be slightly different, so an inspection by a marque expert (find them through the owner's club) is invaluable. The TB body differed little, although the bonnet's cooling louvres are different, for example.
4. The TA's 'MPJG' unit is usually long-lasting, but can succumb to cracks in the cylinder block and head, so check that oil and water aren't mixing - you'll see a mayonnaise-like substance when you open the radiator cap. Expect at least 60psi of oil pressure when warm, and bear in mind that the use of white metal bearings makes re-builds costlier. The 'XPAG' unit fitted to TBs had a stronger block and crank and a modified head, and is more tunable. Known issues include weak lubrication to the cam followers, which accelerates wear, and the potential for breakage of valaves or crankshaft, which is clearly a major fix. Shell bearings make re-builds easier and cheaper, and like the TA, if it's lasted this long, chances are it'll be fine. The position of the air cleaner is a quick way to tell them apart - it's horizontal at the rear of the inlet on the TA, transverse and resting on the rocker cover on the TB.
5. Gearboxes are strong, although the TB's extra synchromesh is handy. Likewise the rear axle, which rarely gives trouble. A TA clutch is a cork item that runs in an oil bath, while the TB gets a conventional item. Neither gives trouble unless abused. Gearbox internals, especially for the TA, are getting a bit scarce, so be wary of a unit that sounds or feels in need of a re-build - if it pops out of gear, leaks transmission oil or emits a loud whine, beware. Some owners choose to fit a Ford Sierra Type 9 five-speed gearbox for quieter cruising.
6. Leaf springs and lever arm dampers feature all round, and regular greasing of the phosphor-bronze bushes is vital. Check for evidence of worn front axle trunnions and broken mounting bolts, but it's at the rear where particular care is needed. Badly worn mountings could allow the spring to strike the fuel tank with dangerous consequences for the handling and - potentially - the retention of petrol. The Bishop steering box is known to wear quickly and is often over-adjusted to cure excessive play - some owners fit a VW unit instead. The steel brake drums can warp too. It's essential to get the suspension and steering set-up correctly, so seek specialist advice if you're unsure. The owners' club are the best place to start to find a reputable expert.
7. The interior is pleasingly simple, and professional re-trimming will sort any issues - at a cost, of course. Don't forget to check the condition of the hood and sidescreens, though, and their mounting points, plus the chrome trim.
In truth, there doesn’t appear to be much in the way of TC bodywork to assess – the doors are cut away, leaving only the twopiece bonnet, wings and rear body tub to worry about. The exposed and delicate wings in particular are vulnerable to dents and scuffs, however, although these cars’ relative rarity means that most enthusiast-owned cars have been restored extensively by now. Ignore any rust at your peril.
That said, problems still arise – the doors are notoriously prone to maladjustment and will foul the surrounding bodywork if not fitted correctly. Thankfully, packing (or, if you’re feeling particularly brave, physically bending) the two hinges should get a wonky door properly aligned again.
It’s a complex car, too – there are actually 22 separate body components, most of which were fitted and aligned purely by hand and eye at the factory, so replacing rotten examples isn’t easy.
Such is the inherent strength of the body, however, that it can – just – hold together a car whose wooden frame is essentially shot, so closer inspection is a must on any car. Being an MG, parts back-up is exceptional, so replacement wood is available, but accuracy is essential – if the original timber has rotted away, then using cheap patterns to replace them is a false economy. Replacing an entire frame is neither cheap nor straightforward.
The 1250cc XPAG engine the TC inherited from its TB predecessor is a little honey that could reach almost 80mph in period. Rough running or reluctance to start could be something as simple as SU carbs in need of refurbishment or adjustment, but cars requiring restoration can suffer from all manner of maladies, ranging from seized valve stems (owing to poorly gapped valve guides; a consequence of which in extreme circumstances can be irretrievably damaged rocker arms) to worn camshaft lobes.
Seemingly low (20psi) oil pressure gauge readings while a car is idling shouldn’t be any cause for alarm as long as it rises to around 50psi at speed. Using a higher grade of oil is known to improve idling oil pressure slightly to around 25psi, but don’t discount the possibility of the gauge itself being faulty.
Engines are tougher than you might think – common strip-down and re-build procedures involve a re-bore, new pistons, new camshaft and crank, together with a fresh oil and water pump. This might sound like a lot to swallow in one go, but should be enough to restore health to a tired, but fundamentally sound engine.
A noisy gearbox isn’t an uncommon TC trait, and if waggling the gear lever mutes the noise then chances are the fault lies with a failing (or failed) bearing within the remote linkage. The assembly which houses the bearing can, however, be re-bored and re-sleeved with plastic to eliminate the problem. Persistent jumping out of gear, however, is more serious and likely to warrant a gearbox re-build or, in a sworst case scenario, complete replacement. It’s worth remembering, incidentally, that a Riley RM gearbox is all but identical to the MG TC’s, and will fit with minimal modifications, so long as you have the TC bellhousing. The ratios are different, however, meaning you’ll also have to invest in a higher ratio differential if you go down this route.
Leaky hoods, deteriorated wet weather gear and so on can wreak havoc on a TC’s snug interior, but thankfully there is extremely good parts back-up for these cars, just about all the associated fixings and fittings you’ll ever need are readily available.
The vintage looks and octagon are an appealing combination - it's easy to see why the TA and TB are so sought-after. While great fun, their road manners reflect their pre-WWII age, so you're best off trying one before you commit. If it does suit, though, you'll love the little MG.