Maggie is a 1954 MG TF. She represents an era in the American car culture that only we “more mature” people remember. Before World War II several British car companies used racing as a promotion to sell cars. They developed little roadsters that were nimble and fast. Some of these little cars had tiny engines, 850 cc for example. During the war, G.I.s in England saw these little roadsters running around and some brought them home. They began racing them at places like Watkins Glen, NY. MG started exporting them to the US. These were not new designs, rather they were slightly improved designs from their prewar cars. Before the war, MG was building the model TA, with the TB being introduced in the summer of 1939, the year England declared war on Germany. Small improvements after the war gave us the TC. None of these were made in left hand drive and they were sold in the US from 1946 until 1949 when the model TD was built. It was available in left hand drive, but no roll up windows in the doors, minimal accoutrements in the cockpit (side curtains on the doors, no heater, no gas gauge, etc.).
The TD sold well and most of us recognize all pre 1956 MGs as a “TD”. By 1953, other English sports cars with more modern designs were being introduced. Bigger engines, higher max speeds, more comfort, light weather-tight bodies with heaters and all metal bodies. Yes, all metal. The MG T series has a body with a wooden frame just like a Ford Model T! The MG TF may have been the last production car sold in America with a carriage-built body or wooden-framed body.
So, by 1953 sales started to slump. The MG car company was not able to bring out a new competitive model until 1956, the MGA. In one of the greatest stories of car design much like Lee Ioccoca’s taking a Ford Falcon and rebodying it into the iconic Mustang, in one weekend six workers took an MG TD and reshaped it into what is an MG TF. The public saw it as it was and were not impressed. Sales slumped further so another attempt at improvement was a bigger engine. All TFs have a 1250 cc engine except the last 3400 TFs which have a 1500 cc engine. Production stopped in April of 1955.
Sixty years latter the TF is recognized as a better-looking T than the TD. They get a lot of remarks from people at car shows about “gorgeous” or “love the lines.” I think they are looking at it as an art deco piece from the 1930s. But marketing a 1930s design against an Austin-Healey 3000 capable of 120 MPH (Maggie can get to 55 but she is screaming!) in 1954 was like selling flip phones against an iPhone 10!
Our Maggie was exported in 1954 to an MG dealership in San Diego and was purchased by the dealer’s son. The car was originally black, but he painted the color it is now, Autumn Red. In 1973, a young dentist in the Navy purchased the car and took it everywhere: California, Bethesda MD, Norfolk VA, back to California and then on to Hawaii. Here he rebuilt it in 1979 and gave it the paint that it has now. Back to San Diego and then to storage in Arizona for two years while the dentist was stationed in Japan. Back to Bethesda and then to Charleston SC. By now the dentist as married with two children and there was no room or time for Maggie. When have you heard that story before! He told me he took the car to an auction in North Carolina and drove home with his check not meeting the people who purchased it. I have found out it was a billionaire family based in Chicago that had a car collection in Virginia. In 2004, it was purchased by a retired federal employee who lives in Fleetwood. In 2017, I saw it for sale. Owning a T was on my bucket list, so I did it. The largest impulse purchase I will ever make. It helped that Diane, my wife, is slightly car crazy and didn’t threaten divorce!
Maggie is one of the last 3400 MG TFs made. She is an MG TF 1500. She is beautiful. Young kids give me a thumbs up and then ask, “What is it?” At a car show a little septuagenarian lady came up to me and quietly said, “That looks like sex with wheels!!” And that’s the appeal. It’s not fast. It’s not necessarily comfortable to drive. You need to plan to stop. Don’t get caught in the rain for you will get wet. Every time you stop you create an oil spill. There is no insulation between you and the engine so it is hot under the dash. The gears are somewhat synchronized and it constantly needs attention and adjustment. But it is beautiful and fun to drive.