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Recapturing the past: 1938 MG TA & 2005 TD2000

16 October, 2007


Published in New Zealand Classic Car Issue No. 183

The modern — although very traditional-looking — TD2000 attempts to recapture the motoring spirit of the classic MG T-series sports cars. Does it succeed? In order to answer that question, we put an MG TA driver into the TD2000’s driving seat and asked him for his expert opinion.

Words: Allan Walton & Denis Crampsie Photos: Quinn Hamill

The MG TA was launched rather a few years before I was born, but I have a very clear picture of these spindly little sports cars from Abingdon, mostly based on British war films of the ’50s. The TA was the kind of car, it seemed, that all RAF fighter pilots drove — and the movie images of actors such as Kenneth More whizzing around a fictitious Fighter Command airbase are indelibly marked onto my memory.

The TA was the kind of car, it seemed, that all RAF fighter pilots drove

With that in mind, it is highly appropriate that our featured 1938 TA was once owned by J A Breckell, a navigator who served two tours of duty in Lancasters with Bomber Command during WW2, earning a DFC and Bar. ‘Breck” (as he was usually known) was the father of the current owner’s wife, Sue Crampsie. Sue’s father — like all those stiff upper-lipped British actors — had owned and driven a TA during the war years and, during the late ’70s — now resident in New Zealand — he began to develop a desire to own a TA once again.

Sue’s father eventually found this MG in Bell Block, New Plymouth and, around 25 years ago, he travelled down country to purchase the car. He made the journey accompanied by Sue’s husband, Denis, and together the two men checked out the TA, and settled on a purchase price prior to driving the MG back to Auckland.
Several years ago, when Sue’s father died, the MG TA — quite rightfully it seems — was handed over to Denis and Sue, and it has been a part of their family ever since. With many years of driving experience in the MG TA, we couldn’t think of a better person to put into perspective the difference between this classic sports car and its modern iteration — the TD2000. At this point, we’ll let Denis take over.

A Chance Meeting: By Denis Crampsie

My first view of the TD2000 was in March 2005 — at a car show at the Bruce Mason Centre in Takapuna. On display there were a contingent of Lotus cars (not to mention a Noble) and two examples of the reborn MG TD of the ’50s, the TD2000. My primary aim in visiting the show was to photograph my then five-year-old granddaughter Eilis (an old Irish name) beside the iconic ‘Elise’ emblem on the rump of the Lotus Elise — five-year-olds don’t spell that well, so I doubted she would spot the difference. I had this vague hope she would, one day, become a wealthy actress or model and buy me an Elise before I got the chance to fail the 80 Plus Driving Test.

That same afternoon, I rolled out our 1938 MG TA for its weekly jaunt around Lake Pupuke, taking with me my digital camera in case the TD2000s were still on show. Roger Phillips of Lotus Cars kindly allowed me to park alongside his TD2000 and take a few shots, which confirmed the impression of a distinct lineage — despite the 67-year age difference. Some months later, we were delighted to be invited by NZ Classic Car to the Lotus HQ in Waiuku for lunch, and a rather more professional photo shoot featuring the TD2000 and our MG TA.

Something Old, Something New

The huge age gap between the two roadsters negates any rational comparisons on their respective mechanicals and performance, however, over the last 70 years aeronautical engineering and design must surely have outstripped its automotive cousin ten-fold. Apart from indicators, air conditioning and seat belts, these vehicles share the same technology, albeit substantially improved over that seven decade gap. Aesthetically, they have deliberately similar forms with shared ‘classic’ features, so if you find one attractive, you will feel the same about the other. Any preference would be subjective, possibly based on nostalgia, history, or a fond memory.

My drive in the TD was as you would expect from a new car. The steering was positive and responsive. The 2.0-litre Toyota engine is well mated to the chassis, revved freely and never felt loaded. The gearbox was slick, the suspension firm but not too hard, and the brakes were light years better than those in my old TA. The cockpit felt a little cramped, possibly due to the distance to the bulkhead being longer in the TA.

MG T-series cars scored hundreds of motor sport successes at home and abroad

The driving experience is the same in both cars apart from the wind influence at speed with the top down. The TA is too slow for it to be a problem, but you may need a Biggles leather cap and goggles at 100kph in the TD2000. At lower speeds you can still smell the flowers by the road, the horse manure on the road, a field of cut grass and the diesel truck two kilometres ahead of you.

I envisage the typical TD2000 owner to be a lifestyle block couple (notice how I avoided the adjective ‘retired’), with stables for the horses and a four-car garage housing the TD2000 sandwiched between a Range Rover and a BMW Mini. The Rangie for towing the horse float, the Mini for the ghastly trips to the big smoke, and the TD for pleasurable and regular runs to the local dairy and beach.

It is interesting to note that my imagined line-up appears to be very British — however, the Rangie is now a Ford product (US), the Mini is a BMW (Germany) and the TD is built in Malaysia.

Oops — I nearly forgot the fourth car in that ideal garage — a classic pre-56 T-series MG, naturally.

Why? Because it looks great¦ and it really is British!

MGTA & TD2000

Engines: Toyota 3S-FE, four in-line    In-line four
Capacity: 1998cc    1292cc
Bore/stroke: 86mm x 86mm    63.5mm x 102mm
C/R: 9.5:1    6.5:1
Valves: dohc    Pushrod, ohv
Max power: 96kW @ 5600rpm    37kW @ 4500rpm
Max torque: 180Nm @ 4400rpm    81Nm
Fuel system: Electronic fuel-injection    twin SU
Transmission: Five-speed manual    Four-speed manual (opt three-speed auto)
Susp Fr: Independent with coil springs
Susp Rear: Semi-floating rear axle
Steering: Rack and pinion    Worm and peg
Brakes F/R: Ventilated disc/solid disc    Drum/drum
Wheels: 6J x 15″ wire wheels (stud mounted)    19″ wire wheels
Tyres: 195/65HR 15    4.50-19


Length: 3744mm    3577mm
Width: 1590mm    1436mm
Height: 1450mm (hood up)     1359mm (hood up)
Wheelbase: 2420mm    2410mm
Kerb weight: 910kg    800kg


Max speed: 180kph    125kph
0-96.5kph: 6.7 secs    23.1 secs

Soft Option

In mid-1936, the debut of the MG TA was the first of the T-series MGs, founding a line that would stretch to the final TF1500 which was introduced in 1954. However, by that time the car had become an anachronism and, the following year, the very last T-series MG rolled off the production line — to be replaced by the thoroughly modern MGA.

In their later years, the T-series cars attracted major criticism — the contemporary motoring press derided them as ‘vintage’, while staunch MG enthusiasts took the opposite view, reckoning that the
TD and TF diluted the original concept of MG’s founder, Cecil Kimber. Interestingly though, TFs are now the most sought after of the T-series MGs. As well, it should be remembered that there were similar howls of anguish when the PB Midget was replaced by the first MG TA in 1936. Larger — and more comfortable — that the PB, the TA was considered to be a soft option, perhaps not even a true MG.

With its softer springing and roomy cockpit, the TA would, later, even gain syncromesh on third and top gears, and hydraulically actuated brakes. Additionally, on its original release, critics felt that the TA sounded too ordinary, and missed the old rorty snarl of the earlier cars. MG addressed this issue early on during the TA’s production run, reinstating a noisier, more sporting exhaust.

However, the main bone of contention — and effectively a backward step for MG — was the TA’s engine. Whilst the PB has utilised the Wolseley twin-cam motor, the new car was saddled with a rather more humdrum pushrod unit. At the time, this loss of the twin-cam engine meant only one thing — the beginning of the end for MG. Fortunately, the nay-sayers got it all wrong; 3003 MG TAs were sold, and T-series sales would remain strong until the early ’50s, while MG’s international reputation was upheld as both works and privately entered T-series cars scored hundreds of motor sport successes at home and abroad.

Additionally, US servicemen posted in Great Britain during WWII ‘discovered’ these diminutive sports cars, and began shipping them back home after the cessation of hostilities. MG’s post-war success in the US can be largely attributed to these returning servicemen, starting a trend that would be cemented by British car-loving US motoring writers — the MG has a top speed of only about 85 miles per hour [137kph] if driven within normal limits, but many a big fat eight-cylinder Detroiter has been humiliated in an attempt to catch it.

Ken Purdy, Kings of the Road (1955).

Edward Teo — The Man Behind the TD2000

During 2005 I had the pleasure of sitting down with Edward Teo, the Malaysian businessman who, in 1999, purchased the entire TD production facility from its Australian owners and shifted the whole operation to Kuala Lumpur. Edward, along with his technical director, Roland Funk, was responsible for re-engineering the TD — turning it from a Nissan-powered front-wheel-drive car into a Toyota-powered rear-wheel-drive sports car.

On initially meeting Edward, the first impression gained is that of a softly spoken, well-dressed, well-groomed executive. During our ensuing conversation, while it was clear that he is a car enthusiast, it was also evident that he places great emphasis on the pure business side of his company’s development of the TD2000. Edward was clearly very enthusiastic when telling me how proud his company was when his country’s Prime Minister ordered and purchased a TD2000 — but he was equally enthusiastic when recounting how he had brokered a deal with Toyota for supply of Toyota drive-lines for the re-engineered car.

For Edward, marketing of the TD2000 has obviously been a major driving force. Not satisfied with selling the car only for his local market, he was convinced very early on that his car was good enough for major export markets. Plainly, he was not wrong — and within a few years of the first TD2000 rolling out of the new, purpose-built factory in Kuala Lumpur, Edward was able to launch the car in both Japan and Australia — thereby managing to sell Japanese components back to their country of origin and, ironically, selling a car originally conceived in Australia back to the Australians.

However, Edward is not a man who would be content to rest upon his laurels, and the TD2000 has been the subject of an almost constant stream of developmental tweaks since 1999. In this area, Edward successfully combines business and car enthusiasm, and is always prepared to listen to other people’s ideas. As a direct result of this type of interaction between TD2000 owners, their dealers and the factory, Edward has instituted many changes to the original TD2000 concept.
The latest changes includes the option of a Bentley-type chrome-mesh radiator grille (rather than the old MG vertical chrome strakes) and subtle alterations to the lines of the car’s wheel-arches. This last is an important point when considering modern MG T-type replicas — something than be easily spotted when comparing the chunky, low-profile tyres of the TD2000 with the tall, spindly tyres of the MG TA.

The TD2000’s driveability has also come in for close consideration — and each successive car we have driven has been better than the last as suspension, alignment and steering engineering has been progressively upgraded, altered and improved. Under Edward’s confident stewardship, the TD2000 looks set to be around for the long term.

Edward Teo is no blinkered, one-eyed car enthusiast struggling to turn a hobby into a business, he is a straight thinking and methodical businessman who has combined corporate acumen with petrol-head sensibilities to produce a car which is not only practical and usable, but also very desirable.
For a full history of the TD2000, refer to NZCC, February 2005

The Division of Power

The year 1935 was a troubled one for MG. On July 1, William Morris (made Baron Nuffield in 1934) sold the MG Car Company Ltd to Morris Motors Ltd. In effect, MG, Morris and Wolseley were amalgamated into the all-embracing Nuffield Group. This amalgamation hit MG particularly hard. Leonard Lord, the boss of Morris, took control of the MG factory at Abingdon, while Cecil Kimber was demoted to managing director under Lord. Lord quickly let it be known that he did not care for sports cars, and that he regarded racing as impractical, expensive nonsense. For MG, this was bad news — its entire reputation had been gained on designing, building and racing its sports cars.

From all accounts, the relationship between Lord and Kimber was not a good one and, fortunately for MG and Kimber, Lord’s attempts to cease sports car manufacture were forgotten when Lord was fired in 1936, to be replaced by Oliver Boden, and design of what would become the TA was approved. However, major changes were included into the TA’s development programme. As part of its inclusion into the Nuffield Group, MG was forced to design the TA using as many parts from the group’s other cars as possible. Alas, its choices didn’t include the Wolseley twin-cam engine — that had been scrapped during the rationalisation period.

Which left MG with only three engine choices — the Morris Eight engine, a six and the Morris 102mm-stroke engine. The first of these engines was considered too small, while the six — usually found in larger cars or light trucks — was too large. This left MG with only one option, to use the 102mm engine which had originally been designed in 1919, and used in the Bullnose Morris. Luckily for MG, an overhead valve conversion on this engine (previously only available in side-valve configuration) had been prepared for the Wolseley 10/40. With some judicious tuning and the addition of twin SU carburettors, MG had its new engine. The remainder of the car was speedily developed during the latter half of 1935, and the MG TA was released in 1936; with MG finally overcoming the difficulties of the previous year.


Motorsport Flashback – Kiwi rallying in the 1970s

Rallying arrived in New Zealand in 1973 like a tsunami. It had been only a few years since the sport was introduced here and shortly afterwards Heatway came on board as the sponsor to take rallying to a new level. The 1973 Heatway would be the longest and biggest yet, running in both islands with 120 drivers over eight days and covering some 5400 kilometres. The winner was 31-year-old Hannu Mikkola — a genuine Flying Finn who had been rallying since 1963 before putting any thoughts of a career on hold until he completed an economics degree. The likeable Finn became an instant hero to many attracted to this new motor sport thing. I was one of them.

Think of it as a four-door Cooper

New Zealand Mini Owners Club coordinator Josh Kelly of Dunedin loves his Minis. It’s a family affair. Julie and Mike, Josh’s mum and dad, are just as keen, and they can usually all be found taking part in the club’s annual ‘Goodbye, Pork Pie’ charity run from the North of the country to the South.
But lately Josh’s young head has been turned by some other revolutionary BMC cars. He has picked up a couple of Austin and Morris 1100 and 1300s, which he started to restore — that was until an opportunity arose to buy a rare example stored in a shed.