The T-type made MG an instant export hit back in the day – and it’s still hugely entertaining to drive now
It’s the holiday we’ve all been on – the one where a go-getting friend or relative emerges from a pile of Wainwright books and suggests you eschew four-star hotels and hot showers in favour of a leaky tent in the Lake District.
Inevitably it rains every day, dinner is sausages and beans cooked over an open fire and the accommodation is deeply uncomfortable. But that one morning when it all comes together, and the sunlight hits whichever windswept fell you’re camped out on, makes it all worthwhile.
It is the MG TA Midget of holidays. If you’ve read our feature on great British exports (see page 16), then you’ll know that many a T-type headed Stateside for an easy life in the California sunshine. But driving one in soggy Britain is often a more character-building experience – and the better for it.
For starters it openly encourages you to enjoy it roof-down, because while you can drive it with its rather pram-like canvas roof and sidescreens in place, contorting yourself through the rather narrow gap – even with the rear-hinged ‘suicide’ driver’s door open – requires a spot of gentle athletics. The roofline isn’t particularly low, but slotting yourself between the enormous four-spoke wheel and the low, thinly-padded leather seat takes practice. Much better to just put the roof down and enjoy it al fresco from the off, as its creators intended.
Flick the key, pull the starter button and the 1292cc MPJG engine – essentially the Wolseley Ten’s four-pot with twin carburettors – bursts into life with an excitable chatter. From the moment when you release the fly-off handbrake and slot the short gearlever – which seems to be hidden beneath the dashboard assembly rather than sprouting out of it – you realise that the mechanicals are a fundamental part of the experience, to be embraced, not ignored.
It’s less frenetic than the narrower P-type Midgets that went before, but still thrives on actively involving you in the experience. You sit low in the cabin, which emphasises the tall bonnet, and turns every drive into a mission to point the radiator filler cap perfectly at the apex of every bend. More often that not, you emerge from the other side sporting an enormous grin.
Your main ally here is the huge steering wheel – once you’ve got used to its size and slightly springy feel it becomes clear that it’s perfectly angled for the job in hand, and taps you straight into the rather lively partnership between the worm and peg steering and semielliptical springs.
There’s a hint of wander – inevitable on a 1930s car – but maintaining control isn’t a chore; it’s something that goes hand-in-hand with the instant feedback delivered through your fingertips. Hitting a pothole elicits an instant gentle tremble, but you always know what the skinny Dunlops out front are up to, no matter what sort of road surface you’re on.
The TA seems to openly encourage you to slot your way up through all four gears and really think about how best to work your way back down them again; earlier cars lacked any form of synchromesh and later ones had it on third and fourth gears only.
The Lockheed hydraulic drum brakes are a revelation, too, certainly compared to its predecessor’s less confidence-inspiring cableoperated anchors; they allow you to place the car confidently on country lanes, but still make driving one very much a raw, visceral thrill that puts you right at the heart of the action. And don’t expect it to apologise if you end up a bit wet and windswept as a result of your adventures.
The MG TA, then, is very much the Great Outdoors in four-wheeled form. It’s an unadulterated joy to drive – whatever the elements throw at you.
luggage rack is a must, given the paucity of interior storage space.
1292cc MPJG engine was first earmarked for the the Wolseley 10/40 saloon. Cork-lined clutch in a bath of oil was already obsolete and abandoned on later T-series. Skinny tyres offer more driver feedback than outright grip.