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MG A 1600 MK II—ABINGDON’S MULTITUDE OF A’S

OLD CAR ENTHUSIASTS (these first two words with or without a hyphen) associate the name MG with classic sports cars, its TC, TD, and TF variants, as well as the even earlier M-Type Midget and C-Type. Here at SimanaitisSays, there was also the Phillips MG, a precursor of today’s subject, the MGA.

George Phillips, principal photographer for Britain’s Autosport magazine, commissioned the Abingdon works to give streamlined bodywork to an MG TD chassis for the 1951 Le Mans 24-hour race. Image from MG Drivers Club Deutschland.

Four years later, immense tragedy struck the 1955 Le Mans, but that event can also be remembered for the introduction of Abingdon’s production MGA. The car remained in production until 1962, with evolution of four MG-A models (the hyphenated nomenclature appearing in R&T’s September 1961 road test of the 1600 Mk II).

This and the following images from R&T, September 1961.

Here are tidbits gleaned from this road test of a car R&T called “truly the ‘universal’ sports car.” In the interest of saving hyphens, I adopt here the modern convention of calling it an MGA.

1600 Mk II Powerplant. As its name hinted, the MGA’s four-cylinder engine was larger than those of previous models. The original 1489 cc had grown to 1588 cc and, ultimately, 1624 cc.

Prominently featured are the engine’s twin SU carbs, the synchronization of which amused enthusiasts before the days of non-fiddly fuel injection.

“The unit’s output,” R&T noted, “is 90 bhp, an increase of 13%, most of which comes from a change in compression ratio; raised from 8.3:1 to 8.9:1 and requiring premium fuel.” Its torque, an estimated 100 lb.-ft. at 3500 rpm, was commended: “You might say, as a slight exaggeration, that the unit is a small tractor engine in this respect.”

Deft use of the MGA’s four-speed gearbox (with a de rigueur double-clutching non-synchro first gear) gave a standing-start acceleration time of 12.8 seconds to 60 mph and a quarter-mile speed of 71 mph in 18.7 seconds.

In the same R&T issue, a $1971 Rambler American sedan posted 19.8 seconds to 60 and a 21.3-second quarter at 62 mph. At an extravagant extreme, a $5595 Jaguar E-Type got you to 60 in 7.4 seconds and snarled past the quarter-mile marker in 15.2 seconds at 94 mph.

The MGA listed for $2485, and you get what you pay for.

MGA Handling. R&T commended the car’s good handling and steering: “This is not saying that the MG is the best cornering sports car in the world, or that it has perfect steering. But the car has no vices, and a novice or a veteran can get into the MG and put it through its paces without getting into trouble.”

Exactly my view today in assessing our 1990 Miata.

“The steering may feel strange at first because it’s so unlike what you’re used to,” R&T said. “The rack and pinion has a slight frictional effect and, more important, absolutely no play or back-lash. There’s no need to move the steering wheel back and forth a few degrees to hold a straight line down the highway. Just set the wheel where you want it and move it occasionally in the direction you want, with no see-sawing.”

And, as a related topic, have you noticed how simulated driving on TV or in movies always shows see-sawing?

R&T observed, “The ride qualities of the MG haven’t changed by any noticeable amount since i.f.s. (independent front suspension) was adopted in 1950…. In other words, the MG of 1950 [the TD] was one of the best riding sports cars on the market; today, it ranks among the poorest, excluding the pure competition machines, which are invariably very harsh indeed.”

The Morgan, of course was a special case: Its limber chassis countered its rock-hard springing.

The 1600 Mk II can be identified by its grille bars recessed at the bottom and by its taillight design.


A Concluding MGA Tidbit. The R&T test failed to mention, but according to Wikipedia, “In the United States, the MGA was used in NASCAR from 1960–63 in the Grand National Series, failing to win a single race.” For quite some time, MG was the last foreign automaker to compete in NASCAR.

Toyota (which, of course, now has plenty of U.S. manufacturing) started with its Tundra in 2004 and its Camry in 2007. This year, four of NASCAR’s 20 teams are running Camrys (the others are split nine Chevrolet, seven Ford). As of March 9, 2020, Compughter Ratings has Joe Gibbs Racing drivers rated 4th and 7th among 43 competitors in the 2020 NASCAR Cup.

Capable though the “Family Camry” is, I suspect it won’t replace the MG among old car enthusiasts (hyphen at your pleasure). ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2020

8 comments on “MG A 1600 MK II—ABINGDON’S MULTITUDE OF A’S

  1. rulesoflogic
    April 25, 2020

    Thanks for this post. I like these cars, to which I was introduced during an episode of Wheeler Dealers.

  2. Andrew G.
    April 25, 2020

    I love that you post R&T data panels. I used to pore over these like the other guys memorized baseball stats. I know they’re not the whole truth, but I still study the numbers and daydream.

    In 1981, a buddy of mine bought an old MGA (or MG-A?) he intended to restore, and insisted we take it out for a spin on my lunch hour. Zippy and great fun to ride in, but the wooden floors were rotting and you could see the pavement rushing by through the holes. A revelation, since I thought only Morgan used wood in postwar cars. Lucas, the Prince of Darkness, momentarily marooned us in sunny downtown Oxnard, but there were tools in the trunk and we made it back to work on time.

    I remember reading another enthusiast proclaim that the whole point of a sports car wasn’t to make a hundred miles an hour seem like cruising serenely at sixty. A sports car made plodding at sixty feel like flying a hundred miles an hour. The MGA may have been noted for its (now outdated) performance figures in 1961, but I’ll bet it leads on another scale these days. Something I can’t find on my sacred data panels; a “smiles-to-mile” ratio. The great equalizer of McLarens and Miatas. Thanks, Dennis!

    • simanaitissays
      April 25, 2020

      Thank you, Andrew,
      Data panels are fun. I recall being impressed no end about Tapley readings of “off-scale.” Wow. See http://wp.me/p2ETap-2r9.

      • Andrew G.
        April 26, 2020

        Thanks for pointing me to the Tapley meter post. I’m so spoiled by the tech features in my smart phone, it’s eye-opening to see the clever solutions people devised for measuring everything before the digital revolution.

        Scrap the “smiles-to-mile” ratio. Within seconds of hitting the “post comment” button, I suddenly remembered the E2F2 tables that occasionally appeared in R&T. How could I have been so forgetful? My apologies, Dennis.

  3. carmacarcounselor
    April 26, 2020

    I learned to drive in Dad’s 1958 MGA as it rusted away beneath me on roads in Michigan and Illinois where salt was used to melt snow. I suspect I was the only High School Senior in the winter of 1962 who had to crank-start his car in the school parking lot at the end of classes. But the gearshift was like a knife in butter.

  4. Sabresoftware
    April 26, 2020

    My father never stopped see-sawing at the wheel. I’m amazed he never got pulled over for suspicion of impaired driving.

  5. Pingback: MG A 1600 MK II—ABINGDON’S MULTITUDE OF A’S – MGB tips mods and maintenance

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