MGA Buyers Guide

Photography by: Stuart Grant

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MGA Buyer's Guide MGA Buyer's Guide MGA Buyer's Guide
MGA Buyer's Guide MGA Buyer's Guide MGA Buyer's Guide
MGA Buyer's Guide MGA Buyer's Guide MGA Buyer's Guide
MGA Buyer's Guide MGA Buyer's Guide MGA Buyer's Guide
MGA Buyer's Guide MGA Buyer's Guide MGA Buyer's Guide
MGA Buyer's Guide MGA Buyer's Guide MGA Buyer's Guide
MGA Buyer's Guide MGA Buyer's Guide MGA Buyer's Guide
MGA Buyer's Guide MGA Buyer's Guide MGA Buyer's Guide
MGA Buyer's Guide MGA Buyer's Guide MGA Buyer's Guide
MGA Buyer's Guide MGA Buyer's Guide MGA Buyer's Guide
MGA Buyer's Guide MGA Buyer's Guide MGA Buyer's Guide
MGA Buyer's Guide MGA Buyer's Guide MGA Buyer's Guide
MGA Buyer's Guide MGA Buyer's Guide MGA Buyer's Guide
MGA Buyer's Guide MGA Buyer's Guide MGA Buyer's Guide
MGA Buyer's Guide MGA Buyer's Guide MGA Buyer's Guide

Owning an MGA can be a love-hate relationship.

MGA Buyers Guide
MGA Buyer's Guide

 

MGA

 

AGONY & ECSTACY

Despite the best precautions before buying, you can end up owning a car that really tests your commitment to a lifetime passion of owning cars outside the ordinary.

The car that first dumped me in this fork in the road was an MGA 1500 purchased in the early 1970s. It was my third car following a '38 Hillman Minx and a late-model Peugeot 404.

The old Minx soon taught me that doing my own repair work was the difference between staying on the road and having enough left over for girls and all the other demands on what was left of an 18-year-old's meager income.

I bore no ill will towards the old Minx when it had to constantly face horrors in my hands that Hillman could never have anticipated in 1938; like trying to stay on the rear bumper of a new GTR Torana or Pacer on a twisty road.

By age 19, I knew how to change a clutch, fix broken rear axle shafts (which was one way of getting to know the girls who drove Morris Minors and Majors), drop a broken spring, coax a dead voltage regulator back into life, change a set of points, grease and oil change and replace the odd universal joint, wheel bearing or steering joint.

It didn't take long to learn that doing the job properly meant that you didn't have to do it again. I would be lying if I didn't admit to some satisfaction when repairs undertaken outside, lying in gravel, still passed scrutiny when I sold the old Minx 35 years later.

Following 18 months of uneventful Peugeot ownership, I was itching to get my hands dirty again. I had also set the goal of enjoying a sports car when I was young and not wait until I was past it.

And so the search began for an Austin-Healey 100/4 or 100/6 that I couldn't really afford. By the '70s, most, if not all, of the few big Healeys sold here new had been unmercifully driven into the ground, beyond economic repair at the time. The list was quickly expanded to include the MGA Mark II, the final version which had horizontal tail lights that made the MGA look more like a Healey from the rear.

Those few owners who bought a Mark II new were still not selling when its MGB replacement was initially seen as a rich girl's toy or hairdresser's car. By 1970, serious MG loyalists had decreed that the T-series Midgets were the only real MGs, the MGA was for yesterday's man and the MGB was for posers. Despite similar looks to the Healey, the MGA was always seen as less masculine which is how I ended up bringing an early drum-braked MGA 1500 home. As the slowest and most common MGA variation, chances of finding a 1500 that hadn't been patched up from a life of competition or road abuse were infinitely higher.

My MGA was then about the same age as an early Mazda MX-5 would be now. There are some very close parallels except the horrors lurking beneath the MGA's curves were multiplied at least tenfold by its British origins and the grim, hard-nosed Austin philosophy behind its vital organs. When constantly asked to explain why I was always working under a car that looked so good, my stock reply was that I was really working on an old bath tub Austin Cambridge wearing a party dress that was now threadbare. Yet the rose-coloured glasses, no doubt helped along by memories of the superb Matchbox model of an MGA virtually identical to mine, kept me motivated well beyond my normal tolerance levels.

It wasn't really the car's fault. Even if the ad said it was "restored", my MGA, like an old MX-5, was still many years from exciting anyone into a full rebuild, so it had received no more than a quick respray over strategic applications of bog hiding mechanicals on its last legs. Because it was caught in the twilight zone between scrap and sympathy, it was still dependent on what was left of a rapidly disappearing factory spare parts stock at a time when British Leyland didn't give a toss.  This left most British sports cars hiding lethal faults during this period.

As you would expect of any testosterone-driven 20-year-old, I drove my tired old MGA like the new sports car it was to me, at a time when it was least-equipped to take it. I am not sure how I survived this period except its token 45kW (net) was probably worn down to a more credible 35-40kW which kept the disasters within a manageable envelope.

By the second drive, I discovered what a spoked front wheel spinning on its splines felt like when I hit the brake pedal. Because a mate had nearly lost his life when this had caused a wire wheel and his Healey to part company, I was ready for it and brought the car to a stop on the fly-off handbrake. It was as if MG had hung onto this old trials device for a more noble purpose!

I soon discovered that you could no longer buy new splined hubs which then explained why three wheels had been bashed onto worn hubs over shimming metal, all waiting to let go. I borrowed some time (but only a little) by finding three used hubs less worn out than mine. It was then I decided to investigate why the car had slumped on the front left side only to find a worn-out swivel (king) pin starved by a blocked grease nipple.

Someone had cranked it down onto what was left of its thread ready to jump out of its lower support knuckle as soon as I placed any strain on it. Total loss of steering and braking on that wheel was the most likely outcome mitigated only by the fact that the failed part would cause the body to land on the road and bring it to a stop. Brilliant! Again, new parts were not available.

It was at this point that I found a wheeping wheel cylinder which in those days was a precursor to total brake failure so I undertook a full hydraulics overhaul and did the clutch while I was at it, until a set of serviceable swivel pins could be found.

A strange tendency for the engine to die without warning was traced to a fuel pump that had been assembled with its gasket partially obscuring a supply line.

The dream started losing its edge when my girl friend's VW Beetle had to keep us mobile for almost three months and gave her father cause to question my prospects.

By the time I had beaten the most serious problems, the money for a new hood was gone so I drove the car minus side screens and hood all year round, resorting to its hardtop on the rarest of occasions. This was not a big issue when you couldn't lock an MGA anyway - the only way in or out was to pull a string inside the doors. The car had to live on Melbourne's main thoroughfare with the cabin open while I was at lectures and it was often left like that outside inner city parties. Nothing was ever touched. It would be convenient to claim that this reflected better times but the reality was that Midnight Motors were too busy processing stolen Toranas and Falcon GTs to even look at my MGA.

As I learnt to trust it, the MGA provided some of the most magical moments ever on four wheels. Cruising under the stars across rural Victoria chasing the 21st birthday parties of that year, hardtop left behind and girlfriend wrapped up in a sleeping bag, rain drops flying over the screen… Then at day's end, the MGA and its occupants could be found tucked up neatly in a hay shed after a long and wild party.

I was right about not being able to recreate that freedom 40 years later when the nominal value of the MGA, the empty roads, the absence of the thin blue line beyond the cities, the novelty and the adventure were as much part of it as the car.

At that point, I decided to quit while I was ahead and sold it. I always felt the engine's three bearing bottom end had more harshness than desirable and warned its new owner that if he was going to thrash it, at least wait until it was warm.

Two weeks later, he rang me to report that he gunned it and snapped the crankshaft on his way to the local milkbar. Part of me wanted to say, "Serves you right", while another part offered to contribute something to the replacement crank. I was over it and in no mood to see it back.

MG'S SAVIOUR

Like Morgan, MG was being kept alive by post-war nostalgia which is why it was still building cars in 1955 that looked like their '30s models. Unlike Morgan, MG needed something that would still sell in tens of thousands as soon as the old look reached its use by date.

The MGA's styling and chassis could be traced back to MG's special bodied streamliners as early as 1951. The newly-formed British Motor Corporation axed it and forced the dated TF facelift onto MG, probably to protect the remarkably similar Austin-Healey, by then in the same family and later built in the same factory.

As TF sales went into freefall and the Healey was evolving into a six, the MGA 1500 could surface later in 1955 with more modern Austin parts and was a huge hit.

By adding disc brakes and boosting engine size to 1.6-litres, MG gave it a second lease of life as a genuine 160km/h sports car from 1959.

As MG struggled to define the right look for the MGB, the MGA Mark II bought extra time with a last minute freshen-up in 1961 featuring a capacity boost from 1588 to 1622cc, horizontal tail lights above the rear bumper and recessed grille bars as a link to the imminent MGB's vertical grille.

The final version also shaved two seconds off the original 0-100km/h time.

I OWN ONE!

David Hutching's MGA Mark II Deluxe roadster is a bit special as one of 242 of its kind out of a total 101,081 MGAs built. After MG abandoned Twin Cam production, the leftover bodies, chassis and drilled knock-off Dunlop wheels were combined in an unlisted option. Known as the Competition or Deluxe model, some slipped out with close-ratio gearboxes and high comp heads.

Combine this parts special with the final Mark II facelift and you ended up with not only the fastest pushrod MGA, but also the best and rarest.

David's car was a 1962 US delivery that reached here via the UK. After purchasing it in 2006 as a "wreck", he restored it to a standard that he could enjoy which, as it happened, earned him a concours win. It's no trailerqueen though; the car is used constantly in club social and track events.

Yet despite its rarity, it wouldn't be too difficult to replicate most of what it has to offer in a more common MGA for not much outlay.

 

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