Asked to mentally picture Britain’s MG breed, most would create an image of the stark two-seater TC and TD sports cars of the early post-war years, or the MGAs of the 1950s and MGBs of the 1960s. But the marque’s famous badge also adorned the radiators of family saloons with sporting looks and character.
These were sensible four-door sedans that could carry mum and the kids to the shops in comfort and style, but also provide dad with a little extra under his right foot when he was feeling frisky.
Currently enjoying the charms of one of these early-times versions of the modern “sports sedan,” a recently restored 1948 MG YA, is born-again MG enthusiast Frank Russell, of Cobourg, Ont.
As a teen growing up in Hamilton, Russell says he had no interest in cars, and his first ownership experience involved a Pontiac Parisienne that guzzled so much gas on his commute to Toronto’s Ryerson Polytechnical Institute (as it was known) in the 1960s, he promptly swapped it for a VW Beetle.
But he then found himself seduced by a shiny new 1968 MGB GT, which drove him directly to a long-term disillusionment with British cars. “The whole wiring system burned out, and then it had engine issues, and I said, ‘I’ve just had enough.’”
However, a drive in a friend’s late-1980s sports car reconnected the tiny spark of enthusiasm Russell had for his original MG, and he went looking for another. He found a 1969 MGB, kept it for a dozen years and, despite his earlier experiences, “drove all over the place” – to Chicago, Cochrane, Ont., to catch the Polar Bear Express, and Fredericton, N.B.
Ownership of the MGB led to recruitment in the Cobourg chapter of the British Saloon Car Club, and a switch in interest to MG’s tin-top models.
The first MGs were created by Cecil Kimber, who ran Morris Garages in Oxford, England, and was selling dull and boring “bull-nosed” Morris cars. In 1922, he began tweaking their engines, tarting them up with racy bodywork and selling them at a premium prices. Soon after, the MG brand became well established – selling a range of two-seater sports cars and assorted sporting saloons, culminating in the handsome MG SA of the late 1930s.
Shortly after the Second World War, MG began building the TC sports car (which would establish the make in North America), but was also working on a new saloon.
Based on the pre-war Morris Eight and featuring independent front suspension designed by Alec Issigonis, later of Morris Minor and Mini fame, it would emerge in 1947 as the MG YA.
Underneath was a stiff box-section chassis fitted with Issigonis’s suspension and MG’s 1,250-cc, overhead-valve four-cylinder engine which, in single-carb form, produced 46 hp at 4,800 rpm, and a four-speed gearbox.
A four-door Morris body topped it off, spiffed up with long-swoopy fenders, and the traditional vertical MG grille, flanked by stand-alone headlights. The interior was luxuriously trimmed in leather and wood, and the dash panel fitted with MG’s trademark octagonal-bezelled instruments.
The YA was a heavy haul for just 46 hp, struggling to get to 100 km/h in 30 seconds, before topping out at 110 km/h, but lively enough to merit its MG badge by the not-high family sedan standards of the day. It initially proved popular, with 8,336 being built, including a handful of YT open tourers, and updated YBs before production ended in 1953 to make way for the MG Magnette.
Russell was actually looking for a Magnette when he found his YA in Roseneath, Ont. – “in tough shape” – in the late 1990s, and began its on-again-off-again frame-up restoration, much of which he performed himself, with the rest handled by local restorer Doug Greer. Twin carbs, to give it more poke, and a modern five-speed gearbox, to make it more usable, are the only non-standard items.
The YA rolled out in its pale-over-darker-green paintwork in time for this past summer’s car shows, winning its class at its first and Best in Show Post-War at its second.
“It’s a joy to drive,” Russell says. “I love it. It puts a smile on my face every time I start it up.”
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