Compare the Market!

Tom Lange gives us an insight into the current state of the market for T-Series cars in the US.

Robert Lyell’s article in Issue 60 (June 2020) entitled “The current state of the market in the UK for our cars” provides a useful summary of the present-day market for T-series cars in the country of their manufacture. It may be interesting to compare the market from the other side of ‘the pond’, with a somewhat different perspective.

Broadly speaking, the values of US T-series cars are less than those in the UK.

Britain made absolutely no efforts to market the TA and TB models in the US, an automotive market that had very different expectations. Americans were used to large, roomy, smooth-riding (i.e. floating) 2-door, 4-door and station wagons (estates), and the market for small sports cars was almost non-existent, being limited to the very few individuals who raced – some TA cars had been privately imported for racing purposes. The diminutive Crosley Hot-Shot from the late 1940s, with its 724cc engine, stands alone as the only truly available American sports car, until the 1953 Corvette (and one would get a good deal of bluster about the un-sporting character of THAT car!).

When the TC was brought back to the US in some quantity by servicemen, it opened eyes as a car unlike anything hitherto available in the US – you have only to read Don Stanford’s The Red Car to understand what a revelation MGs were to those American drivers who were willing to try one. As a race car it was an immediate success, yet Abingdon made only feeble efforts to direct the TC’s EX-U model towards a US market, and only 494 of the total of 10,000 TCs were made with US characteristics, like bumpers. The TD was the first mass-produced British sports car available in numbers, as the majority were directed at the US in order to bolster the British economy with the US Dollar. Some 30,000 TDs were made, more than 20,000 of which came to the US as LHD cars.

Author, Lyell classifies “Supply” into three categories – concours, tidy and barn-find. Based on the American market, to these I would add Driver and Parts Car. To me, concours speaks for itself as a car that would win prizes and is therefore rarely driven. Tidy is a very nice car that anyone would be proud to bring along to a car show and it MIGHT win a prize. Driven is a car that is mechanically sound and regularly driven, but makes no claim to look splendid or be particularly original. Barn-find here refers to a car that has long been taken off the road and stored, needing everything.  Parts Car is one that is probably too far gone to restore or is fragmentary, useful for parts only.

The US market seems to be divided into these categories:

  • Collectors and investors who want a superb example to admire (very few)
  • Dealers who are merely passing along someone else’s car in hopes of an unrealistic profit
  • Owners who regularly drive their cars long distances and who have mechanically upgraded engines, transmissions and/or suspensions
  • Happy owners (the majority)
  • Family members who are selling a deceased relative’s TD

Unfortunately, T-series’ brand value, film star and racing categories mentioned by Robert Lyell have very little impact in the US. The sad reality of it is that the US supply of T-series cars far exceeds the demand, to the point where prices have significantly dropped, especially in the past few years. Once upon a time TCs were THE car to have, and changed hands relatively seldom in the $25,000 range for a decent car. Even a barn-find was in the $18,000 range, rarely came on the market, and sold just as fast. Yet I now regularly see decent driving TCs for sale over here for less than $20,000, and know of a handful of runners that have sold at auction and privately for between $15-18,000. One UK dealer I know will not even consider buying a US TC for repatriation unless the cost is less than $10,000, and he does find them! A complete barn-find TC on eBay, up together and long-stored but a non-runner, got no bids at $15,000 recently, even though it was listed multiple times.

TF models have undergone an ugly-duckling-to-swan-change, from being viewed as the most temporary design step-children, to being sought after as handsome, refined and distinctive (especially the 1500 with the most powerful engine in the entire T-series range). With only 6,200 TF 1250s produced and 3,400 1500s, they have become much more desirable – an average driver TF 1250 will cost $15,000.  

TD models appear to be growing like Edward Lear’s Manypeeplia Upsidownia plants! At any given time, there are at between 15 and 30 for sale on-line, ranging from dealer-high $35,000 to barn-find cars at $5,000, with rolling chassis at $1,500. If one adds cars listed in journals like The Sacred Octagon and Hemmings Motor News, the number no doubt doubles.

The majority of cars are in the $10,000 to $15,000 range, and would be classified as Tidy. Far more TDs are listed for sale than ever sell, despite being listed and re-listed – certainly not the dealer cars. The various VW-powered replicas, often listed as MGs, also do not sell…)

These MG prices appear to be somewhat below UK prices, so from that vantage point it might still be advantageous to bring a car over from America. But the exchange rate is not very strong, so it would be a lot of work for little gain. And then the car would probably need to be converted to RHD at additional expense.

Based on American valuations and desirability, we do have some differences in order with Robert Lyell’s model-by-model assessment:

TF1500: A 1500 for less than $15,000 in any condition is a bargain, if the original engine is in place. Over here, a 1500 block can sell for $3,000, while a show car can easily be $35,000. A nice TF 1500 will sell for every bit as much as a comparable TC, and perhaps more.

TC:      Prices as noted previously. A quite acceptable TC is easily found in the $20-25,000 range.

TA:      Fragile engines, and worth less with an XPAG, as many have fitted.

TB:      Here in the US, TA and TB cars come up for sale rarely, and don’t yield more than a comparable TC – in fact, they are harder to sell. We have no racing community that is limited to pre-war cars.

TD/C (or Mark II TD): Worth perhaps $1,000 more than a standard TD.

TF1250: An average TF1250 is $12-15,000.

TD:      TD owners may well feel slighted here, with their cars coming in last. To me, however, there is little question that they represent the best bargain: they are the most reliable and most easily worked on, parts are most available, and they are easiest to drive.

As the average age of T-series owners climbs steadily, it is unlikely that these MG values will rise any time soon.

Ed’s note: Tom runs MG T Repair in the US.

MGT Repair is known for high quality T-series engine parts, including sets of brass core plugs, stainless steel thermostat housings, main cap and cylinder head studs and much more. I should also mention that he distributes Eaton-based supercharger kits and improved design TD/TF half shafts (originally known as Jerry Austin, and later, Dave Clark axles) -€“ I might be needing a pair!