It took a brave person to drive an MG TC back in the 1940s.
Actually, brave and not altogether sane, some would say. But those hearty pioneers figuratively paved the way for the sports-car revolution that would eventually sweep the land, providing an alternative to Detroit's overstuffed automotive appliances.
The TC was a hard-riding relic that squatted so low to the ground it could barely be spotted in the rear-view mirrors of most other cars. It completely broke with the convention that dictated how an automobile should look and feel and how many people it should carry. But that was its charm.
Although designed before the Second World War, the TC made its debut in September 1945, six years after the original MG (Morris Garages) was built. The TC was derived from a line of two-seat sports cars that actually dated back to 1930.
Other than a modest increases in engine displacement and body size, very little about the post-war version changed from year to year.
Those very few early TC diehards, mostly military personnel who brought them home from England, must have occasionally questioned their choice in automobiles. As cute as they were, and as enjoyable as they might have been to drive, the TC was completely out of step with the Fords, Chevrolets and Plymouths that held domain over the nation's highways. Next to these full-size sedans, the spunky little Brit looked like a spindly bug ready to be flattened.
The TC's interior was equally odd, including the fact that the steering wheel on every one of the 10,000 or so made (including 2,000 that were exported to North America) was situated on what would normally be the passenger-side of the car. A large tachometer encased in the walnut dash faced the driver from behind a four-spoke wooden steering wheel, while a speedometer of equal size was installed directly in front of the passenger cushion.
But TC owners didn't seem to mind, nor did they seem upset that their fragile steeds lacked even the most basic of creature comforts, such as roll-up windows, a proper trunk or a decent heater.
As well, anyone who was off kilter enough to befriend a TC was forced to personally undertake all of the maintenance and service chores, since, in those early years, there were no dealers to make repairs. They wouldn't appear until 1948. Waiting for spare parts to arrive from the MG factory in Abingdon-on-Thames, England, could leave TCs and their frustrated owners out of action for weeks or sometimes months.
Still, the TC's loyal following would not be dissuaded. When running right, the plucky machine was an absolute joy to drive. Its 54horsepower 1,250 cubic-centimetre (1.25-litre) cam-in-block four-cylinder engine was not especially speedy (a dash to 60 mph (96 km/h) took a long and lazy 23 seconds), but the car's low centre of gravity made it feel fast and allowed it to out-corner just about anything else on the road, despite skinny little bicycle-style 19-inchwire-wheel-mounted rubber. The four-speed transmission also helped to make the driving experience more enjoyable.
For camaraderie as well as self-preservation, loyal TC owners banded together in clubs to trade advice, spare parts and the occasional horror story (TCs were fragile pieces, after all). Owners learned, for example, that the car's imprecise handling tendencies could be significantly improved by adding an aftermarket steering kit. Likewise, an add-on supercharger would increase top speed to around 160 km/h, which was about 40 km/h better than stock.
As word spread about this wondrous machine, the racing fraternity found the TC to be an inexpensive competition car. It wasn't long before many were buzzing the tracks from upstate New York to Southern California. Future driving stars, such as Phil Hill, who would become Formula One champion in 1961, and Cobra sports car creator Carroll Shelby, found early success racing TCs. Even Henry Ford's son, Edsel, became a TC enthusiast.
When TC owners desired more performance - or some performance, rather - MG obliged with the similar looking TD in 1949, followed by the TF in 1953. By that time, other British and European marques such as Jaguar, Porsche, Alfa Romeo, Austin-Healey and Triumph had joined the fray. All would provide the same kick-in-the-pants thrills and turn driving into so much more than a chore.
Malcolm Gunn is a feature writer with Wheelbase Media. He can be reached on the web at www. shiftweekly.com by using the contact link. Wheelbase supplies automotive news and features to newspapers across North America.