It’s a story nearly 50 years in the making.

It was September 1973. A young lad loitered outside Henlys garage in Oldham, hoping to find the nerve to acquire a brochure for the new MGB GT V8 that stood proudly in the window. All that was needed was for him to grasp the handle of the large ironwork door and he’d be one step closer to the Harvest Gold beauty inside.

Only he didn’t grasp the handle; he didn’t find the nerve. But he did find something: It sat to one side of the service entrance, glowing warmly in a soft white coat with bright red grille. It was like a Morgan, only it wasn’t. It was my first sight of an MG TD.

The TD shone, in amongst the Caterhams

Fast forward to 2021:

This time I’m paying a visit to Sevens & Classics at Brands Hatch. I’ve known Andy Noble and Tim Ward since I bought my first factory-built Caterham back in 2000. These days, they’re the go-to people for used Sevens and a remarkable selection of great British classics (old and modern, four-wheeled and two…). I’m here with my Lotus but straight away, my attention’s drawn to a familiar shape, shadowed behind a crystalline R500, a burgundy TR6 and the striking Ariel Nomad. Time has allowed me the opportunities to drive many exceptional cars, but I’ve never been behind the wheel of my all-time favourite . . . until now.

A Midget Gem

Launched in 1936 as successor to the PB Midget, MG’s first T-Series car (the TA) was born following the transfer by William Morris of the MG brand (along with Wolseley) into his Morris Motors organisation. The simple chassis design followed traditional Midget lines but was roomier and housed improved suspension. The biggest change though, causing much consternation amongst devotees, was the switch to a tuned version of the Morris Ten engine, which employed an overhead-valve configuration (instead of the previous overhead-camshaft type). Still, once on the road, it readily delivered around 50bhp at 4,500rpm, which, with a tailwind, was easily good enough to propel the lightweight TA to within a whisker of 80mph.

With the doubters proved wrong, sales of the TA took off; the larger frame, better handling and affordable price made it a hit with a new generation of devotees. Success looked set to continue with the revised TB (launched in the Spring of 1939), but the onset of war meant that production halted swiftly as factory operations shifted to munitions work. For six long years, employees at Abingdon toiled tirelessly for king and country. Then, in the summer of 1945, as conflict ended and service personnel made their way back home, thoughts at MG finally returned to vehicle production. Straight away, there was a clamour to enjoy the freedom of the open road and within months, the TC was launched. It was everything the home market craved, yet was still only a suggestion of what might be: The wartime influx of GIs meant that interest in traditional British sportscars suddenly swelled beyond the officer class, and though the UK and Europe were now having to face up to the economic cost of rebuilding from the devastation, America was in an all-together more affluent position. The TC started to sell well, very well, and when Sterling was devalued, the cost in Dollars became even more attractive. However, it was still considered to be too small for many American roads and minds, and due to the out-dated steering arrangement, was only available in right-hand drive: Something even better was needed: Enter the TD.

The MG TD retained all the identity of the previous Midgets but delivered a raft of improvements across the board. The new chassis was stronger and stiffer, front and rear suspension was refined, braking improved, the interior widened, styling updated, steering changed (to allow for left-hand drive) and most of all, it drove like a dream. There was much happening in the UK auto industry at this time, both in terms of corporate structures and access to materials, yet the simplicity of the TD gave MG the traction required to launch a new assault Stateside. Over the course of its short four-year life, almost 30,000 were built, most being exported across the Atlantic, and yet more travelling to France, South Africa and Australia, but 1,656 remained on these shores and this one, SK 4319 would not only stand the test of time but was now patiently waiting for a new spark of life.

68 years after leaving the production line and still ready for the road

Déjà vu

Suddenly, there was an all-too familiar case of history about to repeat itself, only this time, the boy who had desperately wanted a brochure had morphed into a bloke seeking more than words and pictures.

“Well?” shouted the voice coming down the stairs. “Are you going to stand there all day or what?!”

Anyone who knows Andy Noble will appreciate that there are many subtleties to his tone, yet underneath, he’s just a man who delivers dreams. He and Tim are old school; they’ve worked long and hard to build their business and they work just as hard to find the right car for each and every customer. Only this time, the customer (me) wanted far more than his wallet could offer. Nevertheless, I told the story of my trip to Henlys and how, ever since, I’d longed to own what I still consider to be one of Britain’s finest.

“Then take it out.” I’m told. “Take it out and tell me what you think.”

I wait for the kick, but there isn’t one. And then I find my gear. To be fair, it felt like overdrive as within seconds, I not only saw myself at the wheel of this dark beauty but I was planning how the moment could be preserved. I knew I couldn’t afford to buy it, and I also knew that this might well be the one and only time I’d ever get to drive one, so there and then, a plan was hatched. I’d call Jakob Ebrey and see if he or Stephen Fisher (two of this country’s leading motor sport photographers) were going to be at Brands Hatch on a Friday (for testing), and if they’d spare twenty minutes during the lunch break to capture me, driving through the Kent countryside in this remarkable machine.

Should've gone to Specsavers . .

You’re Not Wearing That Are You?

The following Friday could not come quick enough. Rain was in the air, but I didn’t care. Neither did I care that my chosen outfit was my once-a-year Christmas sweater, accompanied by a bizarre set of goggles. Mrs. H looked-on nonplussed.

Arriving at Sevens & Classics, the TD was ready and waiting, freshly warmed-up and this time taking centre stage. Stephen and Jakob arrived. Both were immediately taken with the car; perhaps less so with what I was wearing. We agreed the plan and they set off to take-up their positions whilst I climbed into the driving seat and familiarised myself with the controls. “Right?” asked Andy: “Right” I replied.

“Then off you go . . .”

Only I didn’t. I turned the key . . . nothing happened.

“Are you sure you know what you’re doing?!” laughed a voice behind me before a hand reached over my shoulder. “First you need to give it some choke, and then comes the most important bit. Do you remember what you were taught?”

Memo to self: Always think before you speak. “Mirror, signal, manoeuvre?” I asked.

“*** ****’* ****!!” Came the reply. “Pull the ******* starter!”

With brain, choke and starter finally engaged, the engine fired into life. I eased-off the choke; the revs held their note, purring gently as I released the clutch and headed out onto the road.

The revs held steady; the TD was ready to go

Back in the early 1980’s, I drove a 1973 Midget and wondered if I’d notice any similarities. The short answer was an unequivocal ‘no’: This was so much better. OK, the acceleration was slow but given time, it gathered pace. And it steered beautifully, turning-in on demand with never a hint of drift or wallow. The braking was interesting; it’s something you need to plan and think about, especially once you’ve found the confidence to push harder, but it’s just a case of remembering that there are no discs, let alone ABS, just good old-fashioned drums requiring a sensitive and forward-thinking right foot. But most of all, it was unadulterated joy! I’ve driven some fantastic roofless roadsters in my time; Westfields and Caterhams, Midgets and Healeys, Stags and Boxsters; all remarkable fun, most blisteringly quick, yet each requiring a certain style and application to truly appreciate the experience. Not the TD: It wasn’t over-powered, it’s not under-gripped. Its genius is its simplicity.

The TD swept effortlessly along the tree-lined country roads

The tight, twisting lanes of this part of Kent deliver all the challenges a sports car needs to prove its worth. The deeper into the countryside I went, the more I understood why the TD became such an important part of MG’s revival. Its spirit is true; it’s pure 1930’s. Yet it’s packaged in something far more usable. My smile was fixed, from the moment I took to the road, to the second I returned.

Appearing back at Sevens & Classics, I saw Andy Noble, stood outside with a customer. He made his way over. I thought he was coming to ask how I’d enjoyed the drive. Instead, he went to the rear and removed a three-foot branch embedded in the bumper.

“Do me a favour” he said, making his way over to my car, “when you’re ready to go home, don’t forget your stick.”

The Fine Print

This 1953 MG TD is available to buy from Sevens & Classics.

Special thanks go to Andy Noble and Tim Ward for giving me the opportunity to drive their car and live my dream.

Thanks also to Andy Nicholson for preparing the car and cleaning it afterwards.

And thanks to Jakob Ebrey and Stephen Fisher for standing in bushes, in the rain and capturing this remarkable car in all its beauty.

The End . . . for now