Old British sports cars are venerated for a variety of reasons, but perhaps most prominent among them is their ability to make memories.
Such as John Oldroyd’s recollections of driving from Montreal to Mississauga along Highway 401 a couple of years ago, in pouring rain and busy truck traffic, at the wheel of his just-acquired 1954 MG TF.
A diminutive, almost 60-year-old, almost 60-hp sports car, it had its duck canvas roof erected, but was missing one of its four foul-weather-gear side-curtains – on the driver’s side. He’d just taken over custodianship of the little red roadster from the widow of John Jackson, a one-time boss and long-time friend; he’d been trying to buy it for four decades.
“It was a four-hour drive in heavy rain, being overtaken by trucks with great bow waves of water coming at me. It really felt like I was at sea. And I drove the whole way with a smile on my face,” says Oldroyd.
The MG TF was introduced in 1953, the last of a line of T-series MG Midgets stretching back to 1936, a year during which MG, which traces its roots back to special-sporting-bodied Morris models of 1922, almost disappeared during a rationalization of Morris Motors. A last-minute change of heart resulted in renewal instead, and the arrival of the rakish-looking SA saloon, and the racy TA sports car.
The TA’s long-bonnet – fronted by a vertical radiator and flanked by gracefully swept fenders and sporting a Spartan, rear-set, open cockpit with twin wind-deflecting-cowls and a 50-hp, 1.3-litre pushrod four-cylinder engine with four-speed gearbox – established a pattern that would survive a world war and, after it, foment a sports car revolution in North America.
The TA was followed (briefly) by the TB of 1939, then the similar postwar, 1,250-cc-engined TC of 1945, which established MG’s export beachhead in North America. This would flourish with the arrival of the TD in 1950, upgraded with a new chassis with independent front suspension and 15-inch steel rims, replacing the live axles and spindly 19-inch wire wheels of the TC.
It was already starting to look anxiety-inducingly ancient to the sales department, but almost 30,000 were built, with more than two-thirds of them shipped to America over the next three years. MG was hard at work on a modern replacement, but one more iteration of the T-series would need to be cobbled together to fill the gap until the stalled MGA project could be kicked into production gear.
That would be turn out to be the “modernized” TF of 1953, with its raked-back grille and headlights faired into the fenders. It was originally powered by the 1,250-cc, 57.5-hp four, then a 1,466-cc, 63-hp four in the TF1500 that arrived in mid-1954. Some 9,600 were sold – the best-looking and certainly quickest of the T-Series range – before it was finally superseded by the MGA in 1955.
Oldroyd, who was born in Argentina 69 years ago, came to Canada to study economics at McGill in Montreal in the mid-1960s, and has worked in the rubber industry ever since, in Brazil, Venezuela and here since the early 1980s. He experienced his first infatuation with a TF as a 19-year-old in Venezuela, driving a friend’s 1954 example on outings to the beach. “It was a beautiful copper colour, but a bit clapped-out and constantly causing trouble, but it was great fun.”
His acquaintance with this one began in 1971 when former owner Jackson showed up at the office in the red TF he’d bought in 1957. “He said, ‘I thought you’d like it, as you’re a bit of a car nut,’” says Oldroyd. “And I guess I slobbered all over it for half an hour. I was really taken with it.”
The pair kept in touch, with Jackson deflecting his periodic purchase pleas by saying he planned to be buried in the TF. Oldroyd is convinced he wouldn’t have been unhappy with how things worked out.
Apart from fixing a couple of instruments that may have drowned on the drive home, and dealing with a few other issues, Oldroyd has kept the car exactly as his old friend left it – original and well looked after – following his 56 years of ownership.
“I’m starting to think of it as The Jackson TF. After all that time in his hands, it’s his car more than mine. And he’d be very [upset] if I did anything different.”
British Car Day
Those interested in experiencing the enduring allure of ancient Anglo sports cars can do so Sept. 15 at the Toronto Triumph Club’s 30th annual British Car Day in Oakville, Ont.
The MG TF is one of a trio of British sports cars that includes the Triumph TR2 and Austin-Healey 100, whose 60th birthdays will be marked by special displays at the event, which is the largest single-day British car show in North America, annually attracting more than 1,000 vehicles, 60 or more vendors and 8,000 spectators.
The event is staged (rain or shine) at Bronte Creek Park, just north of the Queen Elizabeth Way, and gates open at 8 a.m. for participants and 10 a.m. for spectators. Spectators should use the main park entrance off Burloak Drive. The park charges $16 per carload, and entry to the show for participants is $20.
For more information go to torontotriumph.com/BCD/