It’s no exaggeration to say that when the MGA model launched in 1955, it was a game-changer for the iconic British marque. Parked alongside its predecessor, the TF, the two cars don’t just look like cars from different eras, but different planets. Whereas the old MG TF, whose roots stretch back to the mid-1930s, featured body-on-frame construction, running boards and outboard wheel arches, the MGA was a thoroughly modern ponton-styled offering, its sylph-like curves derived from the streamlining necessary for motorsport. And while many might consider the MGA to be the archetypal backroad cruiser, ideal for casual drop-top motoring and old-timey picnics with plaid blankets and lashings of ginger beer, motorsport has always sat at the very core of the MGA’s being. With a trio of prototypes being entered into the Le Mans 24hr in 1955, the intentions were clear, and the perky little roadsters and coupes went on to find myriad successes in everything from NASCAR to SCCA national championships – and it also proved to be a formidable proposition in the sphere of rallying. Yes, the platform is ideally suited to carefree headscarf motoring when in factory-stock form… but with the right motorsport tweaks, it’s a very forthright tool indeed when things get muddy, gravely or snowy.
Few cars come with as impressive a back-story as this one. It only has two former keepers; the second bought it from an estate sale when the original owner passed away in the 1990s, and proceeded to reimagine the car in its second life as a rally car. And there were no half measures here. MGA fans and motorsport aficionados may be familiar with the names Andrew Johnson and Richard Sears, who campaigned this MG in all manner of rallies both domestically and internationally. The history file is richly studded with documentation outlining the many events it’s competed in, and it’s clear that Johnson was dedicated to relentlessly improving the car, as its various unique developments attest.
The current owner bought the car in March of this year, as its rally pilot was having to sell due to ill health. This owner is a true classic car aficionado, with a plethora of intriguing machines studding his own back catalogue. He’s used it for local weekend jaunts and the odd show and event, but now feels that it should pass on to a new owner who will continue its legacy as a bona fide competition machine. After all, there’s a surging tide of history behind this magnificent little motor-car.
The paperwork that accompanies this car is absolutely exceptional. Every single rally that the car has been entered into has been dutifully recorded with the correct official documentation, and in a separate file is all of the invoices and receipts for the servicing, maintenance, upgrades and improvements. The previous owner had a dedicated mechanic who prepared and maintained the car (an authority on such matters, by all accounts, and an author of motorsport engineering texts), and every receipt – some of them quite substantial – details which rally the car had just competed in, and all of the work which would then be required. Some of this is simple servicing, some of it is repair and replacement of body panels, engine rebuilds, you name it. This car has enjoyed a no-expense-spared lifestyle, competing in such iconic events as the Pirelli Classic Marathon, Rally of the Tests, Monte Carlo Millennium and many others, and it’s all fastidiously itemised in the files. The car has a FIVA logbook, and a whole world of receipts and invoices to pore over.
You won’t find any 1950s wooden floors in here – it’s all been replaced with custom lightweight aluminium panels, as has the rear bulkhead. It’s quality work, and also includes a pair of neat aluminium cubbyholes fitted inside the A panels. The car has been prepared with motorsport as the key focus, and features a full Safety Devices roll cage. The bucket seats are Sparco Evo FIA items date-coded January 1998, with 2003 Willans harnesses. The original steering wheel is present, and the owner will also supply a smaller period-style wood-rim wheel. The car is, of course, equipped with rally trip meters, along with storage nets in the roof and the correct mountings and connections for a roof-mounted spotlight. The dash is in beautiful condition, with all of the gauges working correctly. The door cards are excellent, the windows wind up and down smoothly, and the quarter-lights open and close. Everything’s here for rally endeavours, and the car is fitted with a fly-off handbrake. The pull-string to release the boot is a charming little touch too!
Resplendent in gleaming Chariot Red paint, this car is as beautifully finished as it is impeccably prepared. The only minor blots on the exterior copybook are a few paint issues on the doors, where the race numbers have been affixed and the car’s been sitting under a cover which has trapped a little moisture, although this would be easily rectified; indeed, the owner intends to have this fixed before the sale, or otherwise will adjust the final price accordingly. The chrome and brightwork is all present and gleams gloriously in the sunlight (the owner was keenly polishing it when we arrived for the shoot, something he evidently does a lot), and the boot features a luggage rack along with rally plate. Perhaps the most noteworthy element of the exterior is the unique front valance, something developed during its rallying escapades – the intake on the driver’s side funnels air to the oil cooler, while the one on the passenger side ducts cooling air to the front brakes. A very neat setup!
The Minilite wheels are brand new, and wear fresh Michelin XAS rubber. The car also comes with a spare set of wire wheels with three-ear spinners.
The straightness and pristine appearance of this MGA is testament to how well it’s been looked after. Make no mistake, this car has been driven as a rally car should be whenever it’s been tested or competed (Indeed, it’s hit the same tree twice on consecutive years of testing, and the previous owner still has the bent doors hanging on his garage wall to prove it!), but it’s always been correctly repaired to the highest possible standard, ready to jump back in the ring and fight again. The paint gleams, the panel gaps are spot-on, the car looks utterly magnificent – but all the while, there’s that simmering undercurrent of motorsport prowess.
As you’d no doubt expect of a proven competition machine, every iota of the mechanical componentry is absolutely tip-top. The engine’s capacity has been enlarged to 1668cc thanks to bigger pistons, and it runs a Weber 45 carb on a rare and desirable Derrington inlet. A finned Landar valve cover sits on top, and the engine is running twin coils, as well as twin 12v batteries, twin fuel tanks and, interestingly, twin fans – interesting in that the motor has been engineered to run without fans but they’re there as a backup, operated by a switch. You’ll note a substantial air intake pipe running from behind the grille, as well as a chunky alloy radiator. The engine fires on the first turn of the key, settles into a motorsport-staccato idle with a fabulous rasp from the tailpipe, and makes a simply magnificent noise at high revs.
Underneath, it’s clear that the chassis is solid, pleasingly straight and rust-free, and the specs are appropriate to allow the car to compete in the period-correct classes. It’s running discs up front and drums at the rear, as it should, and the rear leaf springs are fitted with extra leaves.
The front wheels sport a purposeful amount of negative camber, and you can be sure that everything is set up for maximum attack. That said, it’s a pleasant machine to drive on the road as well – the aggression only comes forth when you wring its neck!
The MGA represents a truly interesting chapter in MG’s history; indeed, the marque’s production models can be subdivided into two eras – everything that came before the MGA, and everything that happened from 1955 onwards. This was the model that saw the brand forging headfirst into the post-war sports car era with a fresh approach and formidable intent. The car boasted strong engineering and impeccable versatility, and proved itself time and time again in the smoky crucible of motorsport. And that’s the crux of this particular car: its early life saw it being causally used on the road for its first few decades, before transmogrifying into a wonderfully specced and seriously driven rally machine. Since then it’s really come into its own, proving its worth on events around the world, and today it exists as a fabulous snapshot of what a rally MGA should be. With superb and detailed history and incredible spec, this is the ideal car for somebody looking for a serious motorsport machine: all it would take would be a set of current seats and harnesses to see you on the start line. Alternatively, it’d make for an outstanding road car for weekend hijinks, shows and events. Whatever the intent, it would be tough to find a better MGA than this. The presentation is superb, the spec is sublime, and the history is unparalleled.
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