Car Restoration Projects
Second time around – MG TD
Jim Gibson talks about finding an MG TD to restore, similar to one he owned in his late teens and about the TD model’s outstanding sales success.
MG’s TD was a model that set records, being by far the biggest selling T-type, with 29,664 units leaving the Abingdon works between November 1949 and 1953. The TC and TF models had a collective build tally of 19,601 – only two-thirds that of the TD.
In 1949, a replacement for the TC was announced. It was not as expected – a totally new car with more modern appearance – but it was another ‘Midget’ in the familiar mould, taking its DNA from the TC, but with much that was different under the skin.
The TD had a completely new chassis, which had been developed from that used in the Y-type saloon. It was a much sturdier and stiffer frame than the old Midget chassis, having box-section side rails and cross-members, and was of all-welded construction. Unlike the previous Midgets, the chassis was kicked up over the rear axle.
Consequently, the rear leaf springs had a greater camber than previously; they were softer and dampened by lever-arm shock absorbers. Up front, the old beam axle and leaf springs were replaced by an independent system, comprising double wishbones and coil springs. The upper wishbones were formed with the levers of the shock absorbers.
The complete front-end design was common to the Y-type saloon and was to form the basis for the front suspension on many future models, along with rack and pinion steering that replaced the previous T-types’ worm and peg steering box.
Purists were horrified at the use of 15-inch, pressed steel wheels, rather than the old 19-inch wire wheels and they looked slightly out of place on a car with such old-fashioned and traditional bodywork.
The engine and transmission package – apart from the differential – was the same as the TC, as was the body style, although it was four-inches (100mm) wider and the guards more enveloping, because of the wheel diameters. For the first time, chrome bumper bars were fitted front and rear.
The TD found an even larger market than the TC, selling almost three times as many in a similar four-year production run. As before, a large percentage went abroad, with 23,488 of the total 29,664 TDs (79 percent) being exported to North America.
A Mark II version was introduced, having a slightly more powerful version of the XPAG engine (57bhp) with a higher compression ratio and 1½-inch SUs, fed by two electric fuel pumps.
There were also improvements made to the suspension with Andrex shock absorbers bolted on.
The one-piece seat back and individual seat cushions gave way to a pair of bucket seats and, in 1952, centre-lock wire wheels were offered as an option.
When sales of the TD began to slow, MG had the prototype of its replacement ready to go into production. The car, code named EX175, was based on a modified TD chassis and mechanicals with beautifully streamlined bodywork. It was right up-to-date and eventually it became the basis for the MGA, but at the time it was turned down by the managing director of the British Motor Corporation (BMC), because a deal had already been signed off for a similar car – the Austin-Healey 100/4.
The story of finding my second TD started in May 2008. The car was on ebay and, as the saying goes, “a picture says 1000 words, but doesn’t always tell the truth’. The four photos of the TD didn’t do it justice and therefore the starting price was more than it looked to be worth, but I took a gamble after talking to the seller and won it with my lonely bid, sight unseen!
My wife was as keen, if not keener than I, to see the little car and to make a hobby restoring it and enjoying the pleasures of ‘flies in the teeth; wind in the hair’ freedom. This classic piece of motoring history evoked memories of our past and was a step back in time, in contrast to the boring and bland sameness of today’s cars.
We hired and hooked up a car trailer, and headed for the Central West of NSW, where the MG had been sitting for a dozen years or more. It was in an old tin shed and, as the owner opened the door came the moment of truth, as he removed the dusty old bedspread that was keeping it warm. My wife and I, not game to look at each other, couldn’t believe our eyes, because it wasn’t a ‘basket case’ like the photos had led us to believe: she was beautiful!
The body and woodwork were in great condition, and the seats, the hood and the side curtains and the tonneau cover were all good, but the carpets were knackered. The battery was flat, which annoyed the seller, as he wanted to start it up for us to drive onto the trailer.
I wasn’t too worried about the mechanicals, as I’d been a mechanic in my earlier working days and was well used to fettling cars and trucks of that era.
My wife couldn’t get the cash out of her handbag and into the seller’s hands quickly enough. After a handshake and well wishes from him, we loaded up and headed home with our little treasure.
Well it didn’t take long before I was on first-name terms with the guys at Sydney’s Heritage MG, who’d issued me with the MG T-type restorer’s ‘bible’ – a Moss Motors catalogue- listing all the reproduction parts I would need to get the TD back on the road.
She was advertised as being a 1950 model, but when I checked the engine and chassis numbers with the T-Register production records, it turned out she was born on November 6th, 1951.
My first TD, from 40-years prior, was a red 1953 model. I remember fitting a new set of Pirelli Cinturatos to it one Saturday morning, at Spencer’s Rubber Works in the Sydney suburb of Hurstville. I can well remember enjoying the grip of these Italian-bred radials for the first time, as I negotiated the ‘old’ Sydney to Gosford road, with its challengingly tight corners. The hood was down and the cadence of the TD’s induction system was in my ears as it gulped the cold night air, on that Saturday evening so long ago.
In contrast, our ‘new’ TD was up in the air on jack-stands in the garage: bonnet off, grille and radiator out, interior stripped, wheels off and brakes dismantled to the bare backing-plates.
It hadn’t been registered since 1995 and, apart from the dozen or more years in the Central West, it had been an exhibit in a car museum at the Thunderbird Garden Inn Motel in country NSW at Tamworth. That’s where the previous owner had bought it. Oddly enough, I remember staying at that same motel in the early 1990s and strolling over to look at the cars in the museum before an evening meal. I remember the TD well, as you don’t see many in a stark-white hue.
After all those years without use, the wheel cylinders were seized solid and it was impossible to remove the pistons. The master cylinder was also in a state of permanent rest. The brake pipes were badly corroded and loosening them with a box spanner only wrung the neck of the pipes.
The brake linings were good and of a soft bonded material needed to stop a non-servo assisted fifties sports car, so they remained and the standard diameter glazed drums received a light skim.
The cooling system was in a similar sorry state of corrosion, as were many other components that had been dormant for so long. So, water pump, hoses and branch pipes were renewed and the radiator cleaned.
My wife and partner-in-crime Jill, was busy with the Autosol, cleaning brass plates and shining the SUs and their alloy induction system. There was additional bright-work to clean, as the car had been on display and many components had been chromed, giving her more of a challenge with the polishing cloth.
The really good news was I had once again found a use for my Whitworth spanners and socket collection. My son, who is also a motor mechanic by trade (and now an engineer), had said to me many times over the years: “Dad what are you keeping these Whitworth spanners for?”
“Well Jeff, this is why,” I thought to myself.
It was like Christmas each time I visited Heritage MG with another list of reproduction parts to collect for the TD, even to the point of over exercising the Visa card. MG aficionado and MG Magnette racer, Bruce Smith from North Sydney’s Sportsparts, was also very helpful and his plethora of knowledge about MGs proved priceless.
The driveline scored a new a tube and new universal joints were installed.
I replaced the low- and high-tension ignition components. I also managed to find and fit a brand-new, original rubber-case battery with external lead cell connectors, from the period. It filled the battery space with panache, but I’d forgotten just how heavy those old style batteries were.
Then with the engine, gearbox and diff oils replaced – holding my breath – I turned the key. The electric fuel pump ticked over, filling the float bowls and, when I pulled the starter button, the engine cranked several revolutions and started.
I could hear the SUs scavenging the air as it rushed down their throats, teasing the petrol from the jets as it quickened its pace through the venturis and past the butterflies into the combustion chambers, to be ignited by the new spark plugs as the pistons compressed the mixture – breathing warmth once more into the TD’s then 58-year-old engine.
The Penrite pushed though the galleries and the oil pressure dial registered 50psi in a heartbeat; the ampere metre was on the positive side and the water temp gauge climbed as the engine warmed up – even the tacho worked!
Of course, as with all British cars fitted with Jaeger gauges, the clock failed to strike a blow – stopped short never to go again.
The archetypal oil leaks at the timing cover and rear main appeared – jobs for another day, when the engine would have to be removed. There were also some imperfections in the non-original paintwork – again a job for another day.
The tyres were Goodyear G8s from another century and suffered from radial cracks. New 165-70×15 radials were fitted and the wheels were balanced.
Nine months had passed: it was February 2009 and it was time to screw on a set of registration plates and hit the road.
Everything worked: clutch OK (although without any adjustment left), gearshift fine and not a murmur from the diff. We’d done well with our flippant ebay purchase.
I was a little apprehensive as to how Jill would feel – now more than 40 years down the track – about the ride characteristics and open cockpit motoring in our ‘new’ MG. I shouldn’t have worried, because as I looked across at her from behind the thin-rimmed Bakelite steering wheel I saw the sparkle in her eyes. The wind tousling her hair was an annoyance, but a trip to the hairdresser for a shorter MG-style cut, would soon counteract that problem.
The TD was always my favourite T-type, with the classic square-rigger look inherited from its forbear the TC, but with more room and independent front suspension and rack and pinion steering, as opposed to the more utilitarian ride and less direct steering box control of the TC. The TF in my opinion lost a lot of the T-type character.
This little sports car enabled us to enjoy motoring as it is supposed to be and relive our carefree youth.
However, as time progressed, the oil leaks from the engine’s rear main oil seal and the high engine revs at highway cruise got the better of us and we decided to pull out the engine and the diff.
The engine received a 350 Chev’ rear engine oil seal conversion, grafted onto the block; new, 60thou oversize pistons that increased the capacity to just over 1300cc; a mild camshaft grind for better duration; larger valves and unleaded-fuel, valve-seat-conversion; a 1/16th shave of the head, increasing the compression ratio to 8.6:1 and a port clean up.
The 5.125:1 rear axle ratio was changed to 4.55:1, increasing the road speed by 12km/h at the same engine rpm, giving better fuel economy and less engine wear and tear. Highway cruise at 110km/h was now at 4200rpm.
Our little British sports car now epitomised the MG slogan – ‘Safety fast!’
1250cc (feature car 1300cc) four-cylinder OHV
Firing Order 1,3,4,2
Compression Ratio 7.25:1 (feature car 8.6:1)
Engine Bore 66.5mm (feature car 68mm)
Engine Stroke 90mm
Carburation two 1 ¼-inch SUs
Oil Pressure Normal 50-70 psi
54.4bhp @ 5200rpm (feature car Stage 1A tune –approx 62bhp)
63.5lb ft @ 2600rpm (feature car figure unknown)
Maximum speed 118km/h (with 5.125:I axle ratio)
Feature car with 4.55:1 axle ratio theoretical 130km/h
Four-speed direct with synchromesh on 2nd 3rd 4th
Differential hypoid split type casing
Drums front and rear with no power assistance
Front – independent coil spring wishbone type
Rear – live axle with semi-elliptic leaf type
Rack and pinion
Tyres and wheels:
Originally 5.50×15 cross ply with drilled steel disc wheels
Replacements 165R15 radials