Gerry Brown’s MG TC just pipped Pete Smith’s TD to the MG Car Club T-Register Championship award last year. We examined these alternative ways to go MG marque racing
Last Year’s MG Car Club T-Register Championship culminated in a nail-biting final and a one point victory for Gerry Brown and his highly-modified 1946 TC, his second successive Championship victory. A worthy runner-up in this premier MGCC championship was Pete Smith in an almost standard TD, who had led this T-types-only series from August until the final round at Brands Hatch in December. The Championship series was 17 rounds of races, sprints and hillclimbs, with the best 12 scores to count. Brown entered 15 and scored 11 wins, two thirds and failed to finish twice, whilst Smith took 10 class wins, two seconds and was unplaced twice. Without a doubt the two cars had proved themselves the fastest T-type MGs in the country in their respective classes. Not that “fastest” is necessarily all that fast by current standards, but it is fast enough with T-type chassis to make circuit driving more than a little exciting, as I found out when Brown and Smith arranged for me to try their cars at Silverstone this summer. For Smith, the excitement got a little out of hand in a race on the same circuit a few days later, when he had the misfortune to roll his TD, fortunately without personal injury. The car is currently being rebuilt to the very original-looking form in which it is illustrated here.
The two cars exemplify the two alternative approaches allowed to T-type racing by the MG Car Club. Smith’s TD is a Class A car, a formula for basically road-going cars with limited engine tuning, road tyres and no body modifications, almost straight from the Abingdon production line specifications. Up to Stage 2 tuning is allowed, which means that the standard camshaft must be retained and that 14 in. SU carburetters can be bolted on to TD and TF engines, or less than 1 1/2 in. on earlier T-types. Wheel sizes mustn’t come below 15 in. diameter or above 44 in. width. Class B, dominated by the Brown TC, allows much more scope. So long as the basic cylinder block and internals are retained, more-or-less anything goes on either the XPAG (the 1,250 c.c. pushrod MG engine) or XPEG (1,466 c.c. engine), though an overbore of more than 60 thou. on the XPEG means an automatic restriction to Stage 2 tuning. The basic leaf spring and beam axle suspension must he kept, but modifications such as radius arms can be added.
For both these MG enthusiasts, the cost of competing has been relatively cheap because their cars were bought before the crazy upsurge in prices. It would be a different story for somebody wanting to buy a car for T-type competition today, though reparation remains reasonably inexpensive. Even so, there’s a deal of cost difference be running Class A and Class B, as the two cars’ methods of arrival at Silverstone showed. For the TC, the necessary luxury of a tow-car and trailer; for the TD, a long drive under its own steam from the NorthWest, followed by the stripping off of bumper bare, spare wheel, hood and windscreen. The T-type Register recognises the more amateur approach of the “drive-it-to-the-circuit” members by awarding extra points for doing just that. Last season Gamy Brown confounded them by temporarily legalising the TC and driving that to one meeting, so gaining an essential extra point in the Championship.
This 1946 TC, the lap record holder at Snetterton, Castle Combe and Croft and believed to be only the second TC timed officially at over 100 m.p.h. (it clocked 103 m.p.h. at the end of Madeira Drive in last year’s Brighton Speed Trials), was bought by Brown as a standard road car (Chassis No. 0776) in 1965. It continued to lead an innocent road-going life until 1967, when Brown ran it in a Curborough sprint, followed by competition in 1968 as a standard car in Class A of the T-register Championship, to finish runner-up to Chris Jones. In 1969 the flared front wings were replaced by the cycle variety. Brown tuned the engine modestly and ran it in Class B, while continuing to commute in it to Birmingham University, where he was a contemporary of Harvey Postlethwaite, Andy Dawson and Aldon Automotive’s Don Loughlin. Another runner-up award, this time behind Glyn Giusti, followed before Brown, today a Development Technologist with Kodak in Hemel Hempstead, left for a two-year stint in the States with Kodak. Yet another runner-up title followed for this TC in 1971, this time in the hands of MG T-type specialist Alastair Naylor, who had been loaned the car in Brown’s absence.
Brown rebuilt the car as a pure racing T-type in the winter of ’71/72 and campaigned only part seasons in it until 1975. Sponsorship has even reared its ugly head in T-type racing and backing from Oliver Rix Garages enabled Brown to run full seasons, and thus clinch the Championship, in 1975 and ’76.
No amount of racing modifications can disguise the traditional square-rigged lines of the TC, and while steel cycle wings have replaced the front flowing mudguards and running-boards and 6J x 15 in. 60-spoke wire wheels shod with 5.50L x 15 in. CR65 Dunlop racing covers make the car less of a spindleshanks, they do not appear inappropriate. The main body is little altered. The ash frame continue to support mostly steel panelling except for the alloy scuttle and tonneau side panels. But the ash frame around the rear axle area has gone and a detachable alloy panel behind the ex-Andy Rouse Escort bucket seat (from a Broadspeed sale) gives access to the differential and suspension. A stout Aldan roll-bar is fitted, so high that’s sail stitched across its rigging might add a few knots! Fuel is carried in the original steel tank. All the trim is removed, including the passenger seat, the floor is aluminium and the net result of the weightsavings is a weighbridge reading of 13.4 cwt., of which 52 per cent falls on the front wheels. The power to shift this mobile brick wall —and that’s what it seems like at over 100 m.p.h.—comes from a TF XPEG block overbored by 60 thou. to give about 1,530 c.c. On top of that is bolted a Laystall-Lucas alloy cylinder head modified by Phil Marks’ Engine Developments of Walsall. Apparently it looks very much like a Cooper S head in its combustion chambers and porting. A 12 to 1 compression ratio gives little concession snags. Twin 1 3/4 in. SUs and a TDC extractor exhaust manifold are carried on the offside of the engine. Within is an f-race camshaft with the same profiles as the Leyland ST A-series 731 camshaft. Much of the development dates back to the old MG tuning manual, with some more youthful and up-to-date thinking from Brown, who puts his skills and ideas into practice on customers’ —including his fastest opposition’s—engines too. This is part of his part-time contribution to the business of Brown and Gammons Ltd., “specialists in classic car servicing, rebuilds, race preparation, particularly of MGs” with his partner and full-time worker in the business Ron Gammons, another well-known MG exponent on the racing circuits. The Brown TC gives 75-80 b.h.p. at the wheels. When arch-rival Glyn Giusti put his T-type on the rolling road recently, its Brown-built engine pushed 100 b.h.p. through the wheels–albeit with the aid of a “blower”; Brown reflects that Giusti will have to ensure reliability as well as power before the normally-aspirated car is totally overwhelmed, however.
The nicely-spaced ratio of the standard and reliable TC gearbox are unchanged. A lower 5.125-to-1 final drive ratio is fine for the circuits on which this car normally races, but too short for the Silverstone GP circuit on which, not out of choice, we were obliged to test On this point, Gerry reckons that most T-type competitors over-gear their cars, perhaps judged on the over-reading standard tachometers, a notoriety which is well remembered by W.B. and our Managing Director, whose battle with the Nuffield Organisation over the suspiciously over-fast tachometer and speedometer on a road-test MG in the early ‘501 left them with a sour taste about the marque, which persists today.
Major steps taken to make sure the antediluvian suspension can cope with the extra demands include the addition of fully rose-jointed radius rods on the front axle (made by an undisclosed F1 constructor out of seamless aircraft tubing), and de-cambering of the beam front axle from 2 1/4 deg. positive to 1/2 deg. Bilstein telescopic shock-absorbers on the front originated on the rear of a racing Dolomite Sprint and were by courtesy of that Broadspeed sale again. Standard front leaf springs are retained. A system of a Panhard rod and a radius rod on the offside opposed to keep the inside wheel on the ground—or so it said in the Austin Seven Spool builder’s handbook from which Brown cribbed the idea. Standard rear leaf springs are minus their bottom two leaves. The drum brakes are something of a nightmare in that the pressed steel drums ovalise so rapidly that existing TC spares stocks could not SOPS. Alternative makes of drum have Sobs cought and machined to fit. Air scoops on the front brakes and AM4 linings, to be replaced eventually by VG95, are the only modifications to the hydraulic brakes, which W.B. described as “really good” in his 1947 Motor Sport road-test of the TC.
If the development of Pete Smith’s TD has been less comprehensive than Brown’s TD, it has been just as much a labour of love, carried out entirely with his own hands. This vehicle administration officer with Littlewoods’ transport department in Liverpool bought the 1953 TO Mk. 1 over 7 1/2 years ago for everyday transport, in which guise it covered 40,000 reliable miles in two years before other vehicles eased its burden.
Smith’s challenge to the experienced Brown in last season’s Championship was all the more creditable for it being his first full season of competition.
The TD’s body is, or was, before its “shunt”, completely standard and original. In fact Smith has even avoided fitting seat belts and a roll-over bar to preserve originality. The shiny leather bench seat is original too, along with the instruments, the rest of the interior trim and the wheels.
Under bonnet is an exchange XPAG “short” engine but with the original 1953 cylinder head. The gearbox too appears to be original, along with the axle, which has on age-betraying whine. Where necessary the engine has been up-dated to XPAG TF specification, with 1 1/2 in. carburetters (also fitted to the so-called TD Mk. II). A 60 thou. overbore has taken the capacity to r,306 c.c., the compression ratio has been raised to 9.5 to 1 and Smith head modifications include improved porting and polishing. The valve gear has been slightly lightened and TF valve springs raise the rev. limit from 5,700 to 6,000 r.p.m.
Smith likes to think that any of the suspension modifications could have been made in 1953, although MG-B front springs and TF rear springs are used for convenience of suitable rates. The front anti-roll bar comes from a YB saloon. Lowering blocks drop the car 14 in. all round. The rear-end has a Smith-made anti-tramp bar and an anti-sway bar. Harder linings beef up the otherwise standard drum brakes. Smith’s shoe-string budget extended to a set of 165SR x 15 in. Semperit radial tyres acquired for £5 each from a scrapped MG-A.
These low-geared T-types were ill-suited to the open tarmac of the Silverstone GP circuit, but on the only mutually convenient date for at all to meet up we had no alternative. The sight of a couple of early postwar Abingdon products being lapped by Stuck and Watson in Brabham-Alfas was unusual, to say the least! Slow cars round long, fast bends prove little about each other’s characteristics, although on this occasion the TC revealed a few bumps on Silverstone’s surface which I’ve never noticed before in hours of driving round there.
That remains the main memory of driving the TC–the abruptness of everything, from the rock-hard suspension over the bumps to the clutch action, the so-direct steering and the slickness of the butter-knife gearchange.
This TC was certainly different to drive, as competition cars go. And it obviously needed a much longer acquaintanceship than my short test, to come to terms with it. The suspension was so stiff that it tended to bounce over bumps instead of giving way resiliently and this could be disturbing, particularly round Abbey Curve. W.B.’s original road test quoted the steering as 1 5/8 in. lock-to-lock; with Brown’s smaller wheel it was even more sensitive than that. A major problem was to stop the throttle pedal bouncing my foot—and the engine revs—up and down over the bumps, nothing new on TCs, for I see that W.B. said “the accelerator is rather difficult to hold fully depressed”. Although not a lot of roll was obvious from within, something was happening around that rear axle area, from whence the sound and feel of a spinning inside wheel could be sensed at Copse and Becketts.
Gradually progress began to feel smoother, although I couldn’t overcome the long stretch to the roller throttle pedal. In fact that beam-axled, narrow track chassis began to corner reasonably quickly, though lap times were kept down by lifting off on the Hangar Straight in deference to new bearings. Elsewhere the maximum 6,500 r.p.m. could be used in bursts, the engine eager, sweet and crisp, but with nothing below about 4,000 r.p.m. Surprisingly, the aged-style brakes were very good. I lapped in 2 min. 12.3 sec., obeying the Hangar Straight lift-off, Brown did 2 min. 7.9 sec. using all the revs, later, so my cornering speeds were probably reasonably representative. But to drive it quickly in close race traffic must take practice.
Pete Smith’s car was a different kettle of fish: A similar view to the end of the long, square bonnet, but so much softer, the front wheels doing their thing independently, slower and forgiving where the TC felt nervous. It rolled, it had initial understeer and then oversteer and it stopped all right too, but I had to fight to stop myself sliding across the slippery bench seat, hanging on to the big wheel at the same time, which was not an aid to neatness of control. Because of this, again surely an awkward car in the heat of battle in traffic? A bucket seat and smaller steering wheel would have made this a very pleasant and controllable car. Lap times in the 2 min. 30 sec. bracket illustrate its modest power output, the engine revving sweetly to 6,000 r.p.m. but not really getting anywhere.
There is a deal of difference between these old T-types and modern circuit machinery, so I fear that my words sound unintentionally cynical. What counts is that they are superior in their own field, a field in which a lot of enthusiasts have a lot of fun competing against each other in the cars they love, collectors’ pieces which are still earning a living.—C.R.