MGA Buying Guide
The MGA may have been introduced in 1955, but it’s still a fabulous car to drive and own. It’s one of the prettiest models ever made, too
How much to pay
• Project £12,000-18,000 • Good £24,000-41,500 • Concours £45,000+ •
Running costs ★★★
DIY friendly ★★★
The T-series had launched MG into the crucial American market, so it was pivotal to the British car maker. But by 1955 it was well past its sell-by date, and the replacement couldn’t arrive fast enough. Designed by MG’s chief engineer Syd Enever, the MGA marked the start of a new era for the Abingdon-based company.
With its modern styling, delicious handling and rugged mechanicals the MGA proved a smash hit, especially in the US, where most examples were sold. It may have borrowed rather too many of the TF’s mechanicals, but that didn’t matter. Lively and agile, the MGA isn’t a fast car in modern terms, but it does prove you don’t need vast reserves of power to have enormous fun.
In the 21st century the MGA is a car that’s easy to own thanks to a multitude of clubs and specialists, but it’s easy to be caught out when buying one of these pretty sportsters. So speak to plenty of owners and specialists before taking the plunge – especially if you’ve got your eye on one of the rare and valuable Twin-Cam editions.
Your AutoClassics MGA inspection checklist
Most MGAs were fitted with BMC’s B-series engine, which will run for 250,000 miles if looked after. When it needs a rebuild, the job is easy and relatively cheap to perform, or a used unit from an MGB or Farina saloon can be slotted in instead. As a result, the car you’re buying could have a 1.5, 1.6 or 1.8-litre engine installed.
The B-series powerplant is conventionally engineered, which means when it’s tired there will be blue smoke under acceleration. A healthy engine should show 50-60psi on the dial at 3000rpm, once up to temperature. Expect oil leaks from the bellhousing; the scroll oil thrower on the back of the crankshaft isn’t oil tight. Eventually an oil-seal conversion will be required, which means dismantling the engine.
Overheating can be caused by a cracked cylinder head, so check the coolant level and look for a white emulsion on the underside of the oil-filler cap.
Some 2111 MGAs were fitted with a twin-cam engine, which is far more complicated than the B-series unit. The unit is fragile and very expensive to rebuild, as all parts are unique to this engine and so are extremely expensive. These models need professional care; if an amateur has dabbled with your prospective buy, expect trouble.
MGA gearboxes don’t last very long, which is why most have been rebuilt at least once already. If used parts are fitted (and they often are), the transmission will be on borrowed time from the outset.
Feel for baulking as you swap cogs; the synchromesh on second gear is the first thing to wear out. The laygear also wears, leading to chattering sounds in first and reverse. Rebuilt gearboxes are available, with close-ratio gear sets available. MG offered these originally; if the engine’s commission number has DA in it, a close-ratio gearbox was installed in the factory. But it might not be there now...
If the hub nuts have been left loose the diff casing can get damaged, along with the bearing. The eight-sided 1 61/64” hub nut is an odd size but sockets are cheaply available. A damaged diff casing leads to oil leaking onto the brakes.
Suspension and brakes
The trunnions need to be greased annually if they’re not to wear quickly. If they’re replaced but not lapped in to fit the kingpins properly they’ll be tight, but everything is available to put things right, and it’s not too costly.
Check for leaking lever arm dampers and sagging rear springs; too many owners fit cheap replacements, which degrade the handling. The dynamics can also be spoilt by fitting 10-inch front springs instead of the correct nine-inch items.
MGAs were supplied with a choice of wire or steel wheels. The latter are prone to cracking around the mounting holes but modern repro replacements are available. If the car has wire wheels check for rusty or loose spokes and worn splines.
Problems with the braking system are unusual, but cheap parts are sometimes fitted and these can have an adverse effect on efficiency. A caring owner will have fitted Mintex or Lockheed parts, which work best.
If buying an MGA in the UK and it’s a Californian import, don’t assume it’s rust-free. Many of these cars were brought back many years ago and have had plenty of time to corrode by now. Original UK cars are even more likely to be rusty; most panels are available but they generally need some work to make them fit.
Start by checking the A-posts, sills, boot floor and door bottoms. The front and rear wings also rust and these are a big job to fix. The door, boot lid and bonnet are all made of aluminium over a steel frame, while the boot lid and bonnet also feature a wooden stiffener. Predictably, rotten wood and electrolytic corrosion are common.
Impact damage is just as likely as corrosion, and once the bodyshell or chassis has been distorted it’ll be a nightmare to put right. Check for uneven panel gaps and look for signs of rippling in the inner wings and boot floor.
The chassis doesn’t get knocked out of true especially easily, but a good whack can distort it and fixing this can be impossible – at the very least it’ll be difficult without a specialist jig. Focus on the chassis legs and while you’re under there take a look at the floorboard supports; they’re made of timber so they rot.
All interior and exterior trim is available, but it’s generally not as well made as the original parts. That’s why it’s worth trying to salvage factory bits if you can, but some parts are made of mazak so they’re impossible to refurbish. it’s common for incorrect parts to be fitted, especially in the cabin, so seek advice if necessary.
The electrics are similarly straightforward as it’s all available, the system is simple and it tends to be reliable. A lot of MGAs were sold without a heater but it is possible to retrofit one – and it’s well worth having one.
- 1955: The MGA 1500 roadster goes on sale.
- 1956: The MGA 1500 coupé arrives.
- 1958: The Twin-Cam debuts, in roadster or coupé forms.
- 1959: The MGA 1600 MkI is announced, in roadster and coupé forms; it replaces the 1500 edition.
- 1960: The 1600 De Luxe appears and the Twin-Cam is killed off. The De Luxe uses the Twin-Cam’s chassis, with disc brakes all round.
- 1961: The 1600 MkII arrives, offered as a roadster or coupé and with standard or De Luxe specifications.
- 1962: The final MGA is built; production totals 101,081.
It would be easy to assume that the MGA’s driving experience must be pretty vintage, but it’s more modern than you might expect. The biggest problem is the chances of buying a car that’s not as good as you think it is, either because of hidden corrosion or poorly repaired crash damage – which is why an expert inspection is advised.
Before buying you need to work out whether you want a car that’s as original as possible or one that’s been sympathetically upgraded. The latter will be even more usable and if done well, many tweaks don’t adversely affect an MGA’s value.
The variant that’s most sought after is the Twin-Cam, but these are specialist machines that are costly to buy as well as to run. Of the more regular variations on the MGA theme, it’s the 1600 De Luxe that’s the most desirable, as this uses the Twin-Cam’s chassis, with disc brakes all round.
Converting from left-hand drive to right-hand drive is straightforward enough, but don’t be too eager to take on a project. These cars are more complicated to restore than you might think and professional rebuilds often aren’t economically viable.
If you want to enjoy the MGA experience but funds are tight, don’t overlook a coupé. These are worth less than roadsters and are much rarer, but they cost more to restore than a drophead.
|MGA 1600 Twin-Cam 1958-1960|
|MGA 1600 Mk1 1959-1961|
|MGA 1600 Mk2 1961-1962|
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