Front Cover – TA0355

MG TA Airline Coupe
TA Airline Coupe – photo taken by Wolfgang Fischer with his vintage Leica camera when the car was in his ownership in Switzerland

History – Special bodied cars

Right from the vintage era, special bodies were available on MGs. As early as 1927 the Company was selling chassis to specialist coachbuilders. Some 18/80 models were built by the Factory to special order, taking account of the buyer’s wishes as to how s/he wanted the car to be different, some were bodied by coachbuilders e.g. Carlton.

The Jarvis bodied M-type was available for the princely sum of £255, quite an increase on the £185 price tag of the standard model. The J2 was not to be found with a special body in any great numbers (one might argue that the archetypal sports car should not be re-bodied!) whilst the F- type, particularly the F1 (4-seater) was altogether more in demand from the specialist coachbuilders; a few D-types also.

By the time the P-type was introduced a special bodied option known as the Airline was available. The Airline Coupe body was designed by Henry Allingham in 1934 to embody the design concept of “Art Deco” at its peak. The Airline was available on both the P-type and N-type chassis and though relatively expensive, it sold in reasonable numbers.

I checked out the Airline statistics with Lew Palmer, Registrar of the North American Triple-M Register {NAMMMR} (Lew’s car is pictured below) and he came up with the following:

MG PB Airline Coupe
PB Airline (PB0560) owned by Lew Palmer
MG PA Airline
PA Airline PA1811 owned by Lou Louchios
MG Airline Coupe Statistics

Note: Only survivors which retain their Airline Coupe body are listed. A number survive, but only exist in another form, usually a 2-seater. One of these (NA0540) was a 2-seater special race car for the last 60 years but is currently being returned to Airline Coupe configuration.

The MG TA Airline

In his excellent book Original MG T Series, Anders Ditlev Clausager lists two TA Airline examples as having been built, both in 1936. However, only one of these (TA0355) is a known survivor with continuous history; the account of the provenance of this car forms the basis of this article.

Quite recently, a photograph which appears to confirm the existence of a second TA Airline has appeared in the May, 2012 issue of Enjoying MG, the monthly magazine of the MG Owners’ Club:

MG TA Airline AMO 825
Another TA Airline? AMO 825 (thought to be built on the chassis of TA2210)

The photograph was sent to the magazine by Sherryl Healey, who was enquiring as to the current whereabouts of the car on behalf of a friend.

AMO 825 is stated to have belonged to Mr. J Witney of Wallington, Croydon in 1936/37 and then to his son in 1951/52. According to Mr. Witney’s daughter (on whose behalf Sherryl Healey is seeking information about the car) the TA was bought by Mr Witney senior from Donald Healey, who had stayed with the family during the First World War. The car has happy memories for Mr Witney’s daughter as she was allowed to borrow it for her touring honeymoon.

The above information came to the attention of Roy Miller, the Historian of the ‘T’ Register of the MG Car Club who wrote to the Editor of Enjoying MG. An extract of Roy’s letter follows:

There have been various reports of the second TA Airline coupe but far less is known of that car. It appears that AMO 825 was built in March 1938 using the chassis of TA2210 and registered in Berkshire. Little had been heard of this car until the late 1970s when it was reported that the derelict remains were sadly broken by a well known trader, now deceased, who sold on the chassis only. The chassis of TA2210 was sold again in August 1996 to another T Series enthusiast who built it into a road-going open, two seat special bodied car in the style of a Q Type Midget developed by Abingdon in the mid 1930s for competition. This much modified TA was registered as MG 4463 and used by the builder until his death after which it is understood to have been sold at auction to a Swiss buyer.

The attentive reader will have noted that TA2210 was built by the Factory in 1938 (actual date of production was 14th March, 1938) whereas the date of 1936/37 is mentioned as being in Mr Witney’s ownership and Donald Healey is said to have owned it prior to Mr Witney senior. This needs to be checked out. It is always possible that the car originally left the Factory as a ‘standard’ TA and an Airline body was retro fitted.

The History of TA0355

TA0355 was built by Abingdon on 27th July, 1936 and was fitted with engine number MPJG 622. The Factory Build Book (which is the only surviving record of T-Type production details) does not state if the car was produced just in chassis form.

MG TA0355 Bill of Sale
The original bill of sale for TA0355

The first document which exists on the car is the original bill of sale (right) dated 1st December, 1936 for the sum of £298-14-9 raised by Wheatley & Knight of Cole Green, Hertford. It is not clear why there was such a long interval between production at the Factory and sale. The fitment of an Airline body was supposed to take four weeks. We know this to be the case because it is stated in a letter dated 16th July, 1938. The letter from Henry W. Allingham (Motor Vehicle Consultant, Body Design and Construction) of 10 Stratford Place, LONDON W1 to a Mr. Steek of Stratton-on-the Fosse, Somerset reads as follows:

In reply to your letter of the 15th instant, I have pleasure in sending you herewith a leaflet describing M.G. Series T. M.G. Airline Coupe, which I trust reaches you in good order.

These bodies are in stock ready for mounting on the Model T. chassis, and delivery takes about 4 weeks from receipt of chassis.

MG 4952
Two views of TA0355 after its repaint

By the time Henry Allingham wrote to Mr. Steek, it seems likely that the majority of Airline bodies (made by Carbodies of Coventry) would have been used up on the overhead camshaft cars (the P/N models) and by 1936 they had ceased production. Therefore, when the TA came along, it would have been something of a bonus to be able to make use of any surplus. However, the time for delivery quoted by Henry Allingham may have been on the optimistic side as it would have been a case of employing the art of the coachbuilder to find a solution to the ‘one size fits all’ Airline body as had been done to accommodate the differences in the P-type and N-type chassis. The TA chassis would have presented a new challenge being more akin to the P-type chassis but with the wider track of the N-type.

The invoice of nearly £299 was a hefty premium on the £222 price tag of the standard TA (although knowing what we now know it would have been well worth it!). The Airline was a gift to Jean Maitland from her father and the invoice was made out to her. The colour was duo tone green and carried the registration mark MG 4952. The previous but two TA chassis (TA0352) was registered as MG 4950.

MG 4952 remained in the same ownership for twenty five years until it was purchased in 1961 by Peter Lines of Salcombe, Devon. Peter was a 17 year old enthusiast and the car was registered in the name of Edward Lines, his father. The Airline was completely renovated over the next two years, including an engine rebuild and a repaint in red. By 1963 it was back on the road and was in daily use until it was sold to the Bone brothers (MG second hand dealers) on 8th October, 1971.

MG TA0355
TA0355 in the Bones’ yard in 1971/72

The Bones sold the car to Martin Shantz, a movie producer, living in Pennsylvania, USA on 27th February, 1972. The sale price was $3,400, which included shipping. The Airline underwent another colour change during the brief period of Martin’s ownership and was now silver over black.

In only a matter of months TA0355 changed hands again. Reputedly, to help finance a new film, the car was sold at auction in April, 1972 and was bought by Mark Gibbons of Cambridge, Mass, for the reserve price of $4,600.

Apparently, Mark did not get off to the best of starts with the Airline and he arrived home in Cambridge (some 350 miles from the auction venue) with two flat tyres and with oil in the radiator. Undeterred, he brought the car back to her former glory with a complete restoration, including a change of colour to ‘black over gold’ (its present colour scheme).

The Airline won its class in the New England MG T Register’s ‘Gathering of the Faithful’ event in 1975, having just had its restoration completed. In 1986 Mark sold the Airline to Kurt Baer and Wolfgang Fischer in Switzerland for $65,000. Having previously crossed the Atlantic by sea, she crossed by air (KLM Airfreight) this time. However, on arrival in Switzerland, Kurt found the car too small and sold his share to Wolfgang shortly afterwards.

After another twenty seven years the Airline, affectionately known as “Grace”, was offered for sale and acquired by Colin Schiller and Tony Slattery of Queensland in early 2012. The much travelled “Grace” went to start a new life in Australia via the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean.

So, quite a story for a car that has experienced life in three continents and has well documented continuous history. Now resident in Australia, she joins another Airline Coupe (PA0286), the very first Airline to be built and living in Western Australia. Although it is a long way from South East Queensland to Western Australia it is hoped that the cars will meet one day.

Tony Slattery’s wife, Debbie giving an interview for television at the 2012 NatMeet in Tasmania

Four more ‘shots’ of “Grace” – the second photo shows the long bonnet particularly well.

Joint owners Tony Slattery and Col Schiller with ‘Grace’ at the Victorian MG Club Concours 29/4/2012

Whilst in the course of preparation of this article, Terry Andrews told me about one example of a TD Airline Coupe which exists in the USA. The car does not carry an original Airline body, but was specially fabricated. Some photos, kindly sent by Terry follow:

MG TD Airline Coupe
MG TD Airline Coupe
MG TD Airline Coupe

Article complied by John James with grateful assistance of Tony Slattery (joint owner of TA0355), Terry Andrews (for information on fitment of body to chassis and TD photos), Lew Palmer (for production and survivor statistics), Roy Miller (for TA2210 history details), Richard Ladds for permission to reproduce photo of AMO 825 from Enjoying MG and to Dave Lawley, Editor of The Sacred Octagon.

Postscript

When I first contemplated preparing an article on TA0355 the existence of the photograph of AMO 825 was not known about. There is now an opportunity to fully research the history of this car and I am aware that further photos are available.

One particular mystery is that Clausager records two TA Airlines as being built in 1936 but AMO 825 (Chassis TA2210) was built on 14th March, 1938.

5 thoughts on “Front Cover – TA0355

  1. Brian Stutchbury says:

    Dear John,
    What a prodigious amount of research must have gone into writing this article. Makes you realize how hard you must beaver away between one issue of Totally T Type and the next.
    The photos remind me of the S.S. Swallow (I think it was called), forerunner of the Jaguar, which I much admired in my youth, which was rather a long time ago!
    Best wishes,
    Brian, in a very chilly Kenya, yet sitting on the equator, but at over 5,000 a.s.l.

  2. Bernard Curren says:

    Hi John,
    This article is very interesting to me as I own and run TA2211 which was an exp chassis the history of which is unclear. TA2211 also came off the line on the 14 of March 1938 and there is some suggestion that this chassis went to Switzerland to a coach builder named Keller of Zurich. There was a small piece in the Octagon magazine of july 1992 bullet number 269 of which I have a copy with a note hand written from I presume Harry C. Stating the Keller connection.if there is anyone with any information regarding its history I would be most gratefull.

    Thanks for all the hard work you have put in creating the valuable resource it really is very much appreciated.

    Regards

    Bernard

  3. Lew Palmer says:

    As the keeper of the MG Airline Coupe Registry, I would appeal to any current owners of an Airline Coupe or anyone suspecting their car was once and Airline Coupe to contact me at lew (at) roundaboutmanor (dot) com. I have identified the chassis numbers of all 51 Airline Coupes built, but lack current ownership details of approximately half of the cars. I have an enamel pin of the MG Airline Coupe Registry for any confirmed owner, and in some cases, can help with the history of your car.

    Cheers,
    Lew Palmer

  4. Donald N Witney says:

    Hi to All,
    J.A.Witney, was my grand father, N.A.Witney, was my father, and my sister Una Louise Witney was indeed married on September 3rd. 1953. Zooming in on AMO. 825 pic one can see cardboard notice, “Caution Just Married”, along with the “Lucky Heather” in the wheel spokes! Mid 1950 s my father part exchanged AMO. 825. For. LCR. 306 big 15 Citroen.
    Will. Submit more details at a later date

    Kind Regards. And so many thanks for the article which I found via the. Registration number.

    Don Witney……………………………..

    • JOHN JAMES says:

      Hello Don,

      Thank you for getting in touch. Your siter, Una, kindly sent me a photocopy of the Express & Echo article of 28th April, 1995 entitled Down Memory Lane. The article mentions a special Gordon England body (one of only six made) but I am not entirely sure if that is correct.

      I’ve been trying to research the Donald Healey connection but so far without success.

      Any further information you can provide would be greatly appreciated.

      Kind Regards,

      JOHN JAMES
      Editor TTT 2

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