Reminiscences of owning an MG TC

I have owned my 1949 MG TC since 1967 – buying it with help from my mother when I was only 16, before I even had a driving licence. The seller, a maths teacher at school wanted £100. When my father saw the car, it was in such a poor state he managed to negotiate a price of £60. This does not sound a lot now, but remember a new Mini only cost £497. A Mini now costs £16,605 which means in today’s terms, my “clapped out” TC cost nearly £2,000.

Working as a labourer for my father, we stripped, repaired and made the TC roadworthy. With no money left, nothing was done to the clapped-out engine. I brush painted the body work with coach paint. I am sure you can imagine how proud I felt rolling up at my halls of residence for my second year at University in an M.G. sports car.

It is hard to imagine now, but when the TC was built it really was a supercar. Even in the 1970s it outperformed many other cars on the road. Having one at university really was a status symbol, regardless of its condition.

I have two memories of how good the TC’s performance was.

The first involved a rather hair-raising trip for my passenger. With so few students owning cars, whenever we went anywhere, those who had cars were “pressed” into action. On this trip we were driving from Manchester to Buxton, following the very drivable route through Whaley Bridge. I was at the front in my TC, a friend with 4 up following in his 1500 cc, 59 BHP, 3 speed, 1.1 ton Volvo Amazon. (BTW: my friends Volvo did not look like the red car in the picture. It had more rust on it).

On that day it was raining and misty. Through my rather opaque rear window I could see the Volvo right up behind me; in my view, too close for comfort. As we got onto the derestricted roads, I accelerated. To my horror, the Volvo was still ‘glued to my rear’. Under these circumstances, what would you expect a 20 year-old student with an MG ‘super car’ to do? Yes, I went faster and faster trying to shake off the Volvo. All to no avail.

When we got to Whaley Bridge, I stopped at the re-arranged rendezvous, and leapt out of my car with the intention of giving my friend a few “choice” words about following too close in wet conditions. However, there was no Volvo parked behind me, nor did it arrive for another 15 minutes. All that had been following me so closely was an autumn leaf stuck to my rear window!

When my friend eventually arrived, he said “you rather shot off, didn’t you?” When I told him about the leaf all he sarcastically said was “Oh yes, I believe you!” Despite this we are still friends. To make matters worse, I had to apologise to my rather white looking passenger. Travelling at speed in an old M.G. over wet Pennine roads with their accompanying drops and occasional “twitches” from the back-end was too much for him – an experience made worse by the warning screwed onto the dash next to the grab handle. It stated “Persons travelling in this vehicle do so at their own risk” and was on the car when I bought it. He did not accompany me as a passenger again!

Not only was a TC much faster, the balance of the car is superb.

The second memory of the TC’s good performance in handling terms dates from the time when I decided a course on the skid pan at the bus depot in Manchester would be a good experience. When I got there my TC joined a line-up of other cars. A Morris Oxford, Ford Anglia (the one with the sloping back window), Hillman Minx and 10 or so similar cars. All traditional rear wheel drive. Only the Mini stood out. Needless to say, all the cars were on cross ply tyres.

The skid pan was a small looking section of smooth, wetted tarmac in the middle of the cobbled bus parking area. As I was leaving, I found the cobbles gave less grip than the skid pan, but that is a different story. On the skid pan was a line of cones marking out a sharp corner.

The instructor told us that it was important we experienced what it was like to be in a skidding vehicle. To this end, he said, he would go with each one of us in turn and we should drive around the marked-out corner at 10mph. No more! He told us that as we were going around the corner, he would pull on the hand-brake. Looking at the Mini he said, I hope I can get this to skid.

First on was the Morris Oxford. It completed a fine pirouette. Considerably more than 360 degrees, as did all the other cars. Even the Mini achieved nearly a full 360 degrees. When my turn came, I approached the corner at 10MPH and on came the handbrake. The problem was the TC did not spin. It just turned the corner and slid sideways. “Humm”, said the instructor “that was no good.” Try it again at 15MPH. This time we managed just over a 90 degree rotation and slid quite a long way sideways. “Ok”, he said, “one more time, go as fast as you can before you get to the corner. It’s important to get the car to spin around.”

By taking a decent run at it, I managed to get up to 25MPH before hitting the sharp corner. This time the instructor managed a 180 degree rotation so we ended up facing the way we had come. However, we had now skidded off the skid pan and half way across the yard!

The reason for the TC’s impeccable handling is because the chassis is so well balanced. With the driver and passenger in the car, the centre of gravity is just behind the centre of the wheel base. As a result, there is very little force to cause it to rotate. When it skids, the back wheels go, soon followed by the front. The car slides sideways rather than skidding around. At the time, the only other cars with such well-balanced chassis were the mid-engined Ferraris and one that was often referred to as the “Bread Van”, the Lotus Europa (the yellow car in the picture).

The MG TC really was a super car of its era!

Paul Ireland

Thank you to Martin Franklin, who sent me this some time ago. Coincidentally, the day I imported this to TTT 2 I had spent a frustrating hour trying to fit new brake shoes to my J2. The shoes have fiddly little springs front and back and three hands are needed – no amount of cursing helps……!