The decision of Chicago, Illinois-based car dealer and accessories vendor Stanley H ‘Wacky’ Arnolt to market his own series of imported sports cars in the early 1950s had far-reaching consequences that affected important players in the automotive industry.
Stanley Harold ‘Wacky’ Arnolt was a Chicago-based industrialist who had made his money during WWII, selling marine motors for the War effort. After the War he started an automobile business as a distributor of British marques, including MG, Riley and Morris.
At the 1952 Turin Auto Show, Arnolt spotted elegant bodywork, styled by Franco Scaglione and bodied by the Italian coach builder, Bertone of Turin, on the Abingdon-built MG TD rolling chassis.
The coupe and convertible on display were built on spec’ by Carrozzeria Bertone, whose own nearby stand exhibited the wild, Franco Scaglione-penned Abarth Fiat 1500 that inspired the 1953-’55 Alfa Romeo Berlina Aerodinamica Technica (BAT) 5, 7, and 9 designs.
‘Wacky’ Arnolt shocked Nuccio Bertone by offering to purchase the two MGs, plus a further 100 of each body style. In this early post-war period when Italian coachbuilders’ traditional one-offs and low-series-production builds were proving insufficient to sustain business, that order was salvation.
The MG TD-based cars were to be marketed as Arnolt-MGs and the first examples were to be prepared in time for the 1953 New York Auto Show.
On the Arnolt-MG Register‘s history page, registrar Tom Lange shares Nuccio Bertone’s own words in which he described building those two custom MGs, with the hope of enticing the British automaker into a limited-series collaboration.
Starting in late 1952, Arnolt and Bertone were able to secure the purchase of rolling TD frames directly from Abingdon for delivery to Turin and, subsequently, as finished cars to Chicago.
Tom reports that MG delivered its last TD chassis to Bertone in May 1953 and a total of 103 examples of the pricey, slow-selling coupes (67 units) and convertibles (36) were built.
The aluminium-body design made MG’s TD bodywork look decidedly old-fashioned and its a more contemporary body housed a pair of extra seats. However, the price was up by over 30-percent, to bring the sticker to US$3145 — just US$500 shy of the sticker price of the much more powerful Jaguar XK120.
The TD was powered by MG’s pre-War XPAG 1250cc, in-line OHV four that put out an asthmatic 54.4bhp. In contrast, the twin-cam, six-cylinder XK120 had 160 well-fed ponies.
As it turned out, MG’s demand for its own cars and preparing the factory for the forthcoming TF meant that Arnolt could not get chassis and drivetrains allocated to him. Eventually, Arnolt switched his attention to selling Aston Martins, Jaguars and Bristols.
There’s debate over the origin of the Bertone-badged, Arnolt-MG’s body lines, but Tom attributes them to prolific stylist Giovanni Michelotti.
Although the Italianate Arnolt-MGs shared few design elements with the roadster upon which they were based — a rendering of MG’s traditional radiator grille, TD disc wheels and instrument panel/gauges being the most notable — they were very British under the skin.
The TD’s twin-SU-carburetted engine and four-speed manual remained in the MG box-section ladder frame, which also mounted the A-arm/coil spring front and leaf-sprung live-axle rear suspensions and four-wheel drum brakes.
To that chassis, Bertone craftsmen welded hand-formed steel bodies with aluminium doors, hoods and boot lids, and installed leather-upholstered interiors. The convertible had a folding cloth roof.
The Judson-supercharged 1953 Arnolt-MG Convertible (#237) and 1954 Coupe (#293) on this page were in the Texas-based Gene Ponder Collection and were auctioned by RM Sotheby’s on September 22–24, 2022. The photos are courtesy of R M Sotherby’s.
The Convertible sold for US$176,000 and the Coupe for only US$60,500.