Good morning! On today’s episode of Shitbox Showdown, we’re asking the age-old question: live, or Memorex? But first, let’s see which of yesterday’s four-wheel-drives took home the prize:
A handy win for the handy little Mazda truck. We had lots of complaints in general about the prices on these two; I hear ya. But that’s just where the used car market is these days. I just had the misfortune of starting a column about cheap used cars just as the definition of “cheap” changed dramatically. But a good value isn’t really the point here; a compelling story and a good conversation matter a lot more.
In that spirit: 2023 marks the one hundredth anniversary of a marque near and dear to my heart: MG. In 1923, Cecil Kimber, general manager of Morris Garages in Oxford, started selling modified high-performance versions of Morris automobiles, known at the time as “Kimber Specials.” It would be another year before the MG name and trademark octagon appeared, and another year after that before “Old Number One” – widely recognized as the first “real” MG – was built, but it all started with a few modified Morris Cowleys in a garage in Oxford in 1923.
The last “real MG,” a white MGB roadster, rolled out of the Abingdon factory on October 22, 1980. Since then, the octagon has appeared on various British Leyland products, a late-to-the-party Group B entry, a couple of revival sports cars, and a bunch of lackluster modern blobs made in China. Allegedly the marque’s current owners are working on a new sports car, which I believe you’ll be reading more about here soon.
Today, we’re going to look at a genuine (and genuinely rare) example of what many MG aficionados consider the “best” MG, and a replica of an earlier model, built on the most ubiquitous kit-car chassis ever made. Both will require a lot of work, but both have the same starting price. Is it worth doing the work to fix up the real thing? Is it “settling” if you go for the kit car instead? Let’s take a look and decide.
1959 MGA Coupe – $2,500
Engine/drivetrain: 1.5 liter overhead valve inline 4, four-speed manual, RWD
Location: Alpine, CA
Odometer reading: unknown
Runs/drives? Um, no
“First of a new line” was how MG announced the MGA in 1955. MG’s first “modern” sports car was still body-on-frame, and still had drum brakes and wooden floors, but compared to the T series cars that came before it, it was a spaceship. The MGA’s styling was based on EX172, a streamlined MG TD race car raced at LeMans in 1952. To my eye, the resulting production car is one of the prettiest sports cars ever made. More than 100,000 MGAs were built over the course of seven years, but fewer than 10,000 of them were coupes, making this derelict hulk a rarity.
Now, I know what you’re going to say, but hear me out: This is actually a pretty decent restoration candidate. It’s straight, has only surface rust, and it’s a steel-wheel car, so there are no wire-wheel hub worries. Parts aren’t a problem; the MGA has a huge ecosystem around it, and everything you should need is available from either Moss Motors or a couple other suppliers, or from various clubs and swap meets. It’s all doable; it just takes time and money.
Depending on when in 1959 this car was built, it was originally equipped with either a 1489 or 1588 cubic centimeter BMC B-series engine. The seller says this car comes with a “fresh” looking engine, but doesn’t provide a photo of it. The B-series is a simple, tough engine, originally equipped with two side-draft SU carbs, but everything from Weber DCOE kits to electronic fuel injection conversions are available these days. There’s even a bolt-on supercharger available, if you really want to go nuts.
It would likely be years before you got this car back on the road, let’s be honest. But by the time you were done, you’d have a rare, special, beautiful car that’s a hell of a lot of fun to drive. The only real problem I see with sourcing parts is the missing rear window, but I bet someone somewhere has one. All the rest is just legwork and elbow grease.
1952 MGTD replica on 1970 VW Beetle chassis – $2,500
Engine/drivetrain: 1.6 liter overhead valve horizontally-opposed 4, four-speed manual, RWD
Location: Garland, TX
Odometer reading: 85,000 miles (presumably on the Beetle donor?)
Runs/drives? Will start, not drivable
Before the MGA, there was the T series. The basic design dates all the way back to 1936, with the introduction of the MG TA Midget. The TB followed in 1939, and then everything came to a screeching halt because of World War II. After the war, the MG TC came along, became a hit in America, and began a long tradition of little British sports cars on this continent. The MG TD, introduced in 1950, took a technological leap forward with independent front suspension and rack-and-pinion steering, giving it the sharp, tossable handling that is the hallmark of the British sports car experience.
But none of that matters in this case, because what we have here is not an MG TD. It is a 1970 Volkswagen Beetle. Starting in the 1960s, kit car manufacturers began selling all sorts of kits to make Beetles look like other cars. It made sense; the Beetle had a self-contained air-cooled drivetrain, a flat chassis with a body shell that bolted on (and could therefore be removed easily), and massive parts support. It was almost as if VW designed it to be turned into something else. And the MG TD was a popular choice of car to ape.
Obviously, this means that under the bonnet, where you would find a 1250 cc XPAG four-cylinder in a real TD, there is a fuel tank and a small luggage compartment. Out back, we find what looks to be a stock VW flat-four, likely a 1600 if this is based on a ’70. The seller says the engine will run, but obviously this isn’t something you can drive home.
The car’s fiberglass body is in good condition, and the interior upholstery is new. The dashboard appears to be a sheet of plywood cut to shape and crudely screwed in place; I would imagine you could come up with something better. No details are given on the condition of the rest of the running gear, but it’s an air-cooled VW; they aren’t exactly hard to find parts for.
Either way, you’ve got your work cut out for you. But there is a good support system available whichever way you go. Just don’t expect to be welcomed with open arms by old-school MG enthusiasts if you choose the replica; they have some colorful and impolite descriptors for such vehicles. But on the other hand, the VW-based car is arguably more reliable, and if you want something to drive and enjoy, maybe that’s more important to you than the British heritage. So what’ll it be?
(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)
That MGA is gorgeous!
I once owned an ’58 MGA in slightly better condition. Estimates on repair were a minimum of $12k just to get a driver, and more if you wanted it nice. All that cash and work for a car that can be bought running for around $5-8K. So I sold it.
Still, I’d rather be out another $12K than drive a rattle bag Volkwagen of any skin color, so the MGA it is.
MGA parts are pretty plentiful, but I know a guy that did a restoration of an MGA coupe. They didn’t just weld a roof to an MGA, a lot of bits, interior, trim, glass, are unique to the coupe and a little harder to find. The easy winner of this battle is the MG for me, have kind of wanted one for a long time.
My dad had a ’66 B that he drove for somewhere around 30 years. It had a very rare hardtop that had two green plexiglass panels over the seat, sort of like a T-top that didn’t come off. Had the exterior re-done twice, had the interior re-done at least once. He was really dedicated to that thing, which is exemplified by the fact that we lived in Phoenix and there is nothing fun about driving a convertible with no A/C in 115 degree weather.
So, yeah, there’s no way I could abide the VW. Real A all the way.
Eh, the kit car looks pretty safe. Who needs seat belts. or a roof. or real doors
My MGA lacks seat belts, a roof and the doors are pretty flimsy.
This writeup, well written as usual, brought back so many great memories: among them were my uncle (RIP) putting my six-year old hand on the floor shift of his ruby red MG (sedan?) and then guiding me through the upshifts with his own hand on top. What a bigshot I was!!
And then my ’72 B which, at 19, was just the perfect car to rip around in the summer of ’76.
I won’t get down to voting today–can’t let business interfere with these fun little memories playing @ 11.
Definitely the MGA. Though I’m biased, my 1st car was a shitbox Triumph TR7 bought for $1k when I was 14. With my dad we were both in a local British Sports Car club & my 3 favorite classics were a guy that had a beautiful E-type & another guy that had an MGA (convertible) and 3rd a guy that had an original mini Cooper.
I got to ride in both the mini and the MGA, both fun especially on the country rolling hills routes taken for our poker runs.
I honestly didn’t realize a completely run down MGA could be bought so cheaply, though I know to get it looking & running original would take some time & $$
That stupid looking wood dashboard on that kit car swung my vote to the MGA.
And just look at the bottom tip of the dash in relation to the shifter. Goddamn stupid design.
The dash makes me question how well the rest of the build is done. If you can’t get such an obvious detail even passable, what about the rest of the car?
I was already swung before I saw the dash. I don’t hate kit cars in general, but if they are a reasonable facsimile of a desirable or very expensive thing they are much more palatable. Cobra replicas with V-8s (basically all of them) and Porsche 356 or Porsche 550 Spyder replicas based on VW beetle chassis come to mind as “good” replicas that capture both the looks and spirit or feel of the original.