|The MGA With An Attitude
ROAD TEST MG 1600 - LT-101
Originally published in Sports Cars Illustrated, October 1959
We had occasion to be thankful for all this stopping power at one point in the test trip. Happily cruising along the Indiana Tollroad just at dusk one day we were startled to see a large, brown shape bound out from the ditched center island onto the roadway directly into the path of the MG. It was a large mule deer and not more than thirty feet away when it decided to leap. We hit the brakes, hard, and cut tot eh left. In an ordinary car or one with inadequate brakes we would have would up with a large amount of venison in the cockpit by way of the hood and windshield. As it was the deer clobbered the right headlight with a hind hoof and that was all. The state of Indiana had a sore footed deer and we replaced a sealed beam headlamp at the next service pavilion and were on our way after reporting the incident to an amused Trooper.
It wasn't too many years ago that a long cross country haul in an MG could be looked upon as an adventure in frustration if much throughway or turnpike travel were on the itinerary. Secondary road travel was, and still is, another thing —the MG came into its own, sticking like glue and maintaining an average well above the capabilities of more staid machinery. But long straight turnpikes with their high constant speeds and, from a sports car standpoint, hundred mph bends were not the MG's dish of tea. Then it became a case of hours-long buzzing at a sustained engine speed that seemed positively painful to the sensitive ear while domestic machinery went whooshing past.
That day, gentlemen, is past — we guarantee it. It actually died with the TD and TF series but not entirely. The MG-A 1500 still retained some of the feeling that cruising speeds of 70 were somehow to be lumped under the various anti-cruelty acts. Not that the ubiquitous A won't do 70 — it will and much more, 20-odd miles an hour more, in fact — but it still didn't seem right. A steady speed of 64 or 70 in the 1500 is a matter of a bit more than half throttle. One knew one's foot was pushing the gasworks.
No longer. With the 1600 things are different. So much so in fact that it seems unbelievable that only 100 cc's are behind the difference. With a properly broke-in 1600 a steady speed of 70 mph is a matter of keeping one's foot out of it rather than pushing. It's not a matter of higher gearing in flat country either. Long grades that had trucks dropping down several gears and American automatics going into passing gear were nothing more than an eight of an inch more throttle to Abingdon's latest offering.
These things we know from experience. The experience was gained from a round trip of some two thousand miles most of which was on the relatively open network of turnpikes and tollways that run through New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois with a side trip to Detroit over what is now considered secondary highway for comparison.
The car was run-in but not thoroughly broken-in when we picked it up from Hambro Automotive Corporation. The odometer showed a bit over 800 miles at the start of the trip. The first day's run started late in the afternoon and ran the length of the Jersey Turnpike and the Pennsylvania Turnpike over a period of about eight hours total time including gas and food stops. A cruising speed of 60 felt right so it was the speed we traveled —all questions of legal rate of speed aside, especially since the legal speed in Pennsylvania in 65.
The next day's run started early. The only other car on the road was a well known two-liter roadster noted for its vim and vigor on the road. It was only after we sailed easily by the other car that any attention was paid to the speedometer, an exceedingly accurate instrument, about which more later. This device claimed we were int eh process of putting 75 miles into the hour. Not that 75 was any great surprise, it was just that, driving by the seat of the pants, we had been using the same throttle pressure that had, a few miles back, produced a shade over 60. The odometer showed 173 miles. Obviously the previous day's run at a steady temperature and speed, the overnight stop and the short morning run had combined to bring out the perfect break- in. Water temperature which had been running at an even 185 on the cool day before was now down, on a much warmer day, to 175 and the oil pressure was up 5 to 10 psi due to an obviously cooler running engine. Ir was here, then, that the previously mentioned light foot on the throttle became necessary — half throttle would have been more than sufficient to bring down the wrath of the local gendarmerie. The remaining ix hours into Chicago were run with the constant feeling that the case of shin-splints in the right leg was imminent from the conscious effort not to get too heavy on the throttle.
This ability to cruise seemingly forever at high speeds is not the only point at which MG's new star shines, either. There are several other items, some major, some minor in which the difference is felt. The biggest item is in the stopping department. New for this year is the disc-cum-drum brake set-up similar to that used on the Triumph TR-3 and the new Austin Healey 3000 and like those units it works wonders. Mo-fade stop after no-fade stop can be made with these brakes with no loss of pedal or seemingly any need for high pedal pressure. The BMC competitions department has for some time been using disc brakes all around and has offered these as an extra cost option (standard on the MG Twin Cam). Unless one plans all-out competition there is now no need for these, the new Lockheed units being more than sufficient for club ans regional racing. For those planning full-bore competition or major modification, the competition Dunlop brakes are still available but the average owner need not feel as if he has been left out of the running if he hasn't spent the extra money for the conversion. The major difference in "feel" between the new Lockheeds and the older drum brakes is one of slightly increased pedal pressure, especially on a wet day. It's just a matter of pushing a shade further and a little harder, though. On a wet day it is a good idea to tap the brake, release it and then push the pedal again when coming to a planned stop such as a stop light or a tool booth but it's not vitally necessary since a slightly harder push will accomplish the same thing. The light, first tap merely accomplishes a cleaning cod warming of the disc and makes the second tap a lighter effort. Straight line emergency stops can be made with no preliminaries. In fact the only reason we mention the preliminary tap at all is that cleaning the disc before a harder application is easier on the caliper pads and disc material.
Another major, although subtle, change is in the suspension. It's different somehow. There is less lean in the front and less dive on hard braking for one thing. This is due to minor changes: The springs are those used in the Twin Cam and therefore slight but stiffer and minor valving changes in the shock absorbers have been made to take the added spring beef. The rear end behavior is slightly different too. This is noticeable mainly on hard acceleration; where the earlier versions had a tendency toward rear end "walk" or alternate wheel slip this one lays a smooth strip and then bites in solidly. Strangely enough, the ride hasn't stiffened perceptibly. In fact, if anything it is a bit smoother with less of thee well-known MG "chop" over small bumps.
Handling is excellent as can be expected. The steering has no play, moderate return, and a smooth travel from lock to lock. Road feel is there but there is none of the kickback felt in the very early versions of the rack and pinion steering. Tracking in the straight is fair though with a slight tendency to wander with hands off the wheel. If you want to light a cigarette it's best to steady things with a knee. Like previous models of the MG-A this on e has a mild final understeer built in. The rear end can be kicked loose but breakaway is even and predictable. This last we found out on the Meadowdale Raceway where we gave the car a thorough workout. Much of the course was covered with a layer of dried mud washed down by a recent rain. This was in the slow, lower part and had no effect on the upper, high speed sections. It was actually a help more than a hindrance since it gave us an opportunity to barrel the car under less than ideal conditions without endangering life and property and still use the high speed banking and straight for performance tests.
This new MG, as we pointed out earlier, gets up and goes. There isn't too much difference between this one and the 1500 in 0-30 and 0-40 timed but as the terminal speeds for each run went higher the times it took to reach those speeds dropped startlingly. The difference to 60 is over one-and-a-half-seconds, and the difference between the two in getting to 70 is three seconds exactly; to eighty is about seven seconds difference. The speed reached at the end of the standing quarter mile was 73 mph, some five miles an hour faster than earlier versions. This was reached in 18.8 seconds on at least one of several runs, a second quicker. Top speed on the best of several runs was 102 with the top down and with a full windshield. To reach this we had to head down the back stretch and into the famous bumpy banking at a shade better than 85 which the car would hold all the way around, accelerating as it came off and reaching terminal velocity at about a quarter mile down the straight. We saw a good bit more on the speedometer further along but had to discount it because of the downgrade which began just a little more than a quarter of a mole from the banking. The figures we saw, for what it was worth, was 112 before we shut off for the dropping turn at the end of the straight. If you go off this one you land on highway 31 at a highly illegal rate of speed and in somewhat the wrong direction for continued good health so 112 indicated downhill is all we can vouch for.
Speaking of indications, we mentioned earlier the accuracy of the speedometer in this particular car. Beyond a doubt this is the most accurate speedometer we have yet seen in any test car. It indicated true speed through a range from 30 to 80 mph over distances from one measured mile to five measures miles. At one point, still tending to doubt the accuracy of any mechanical speedometer we held a steady 80 over a twenty mile stretch of road and did the twenty miles in fifteen minutes almost to the second. This is accuracy of a high order when one considers the optimism with which most speedometers record time and distance, usually with an error of several miles per hour at that speed over a single mile.
There are other changes made to the new MG that can be classed as minor but make themselves apparent as one lives with the car. There is, for instance, a clip at the top center of the windshield to hold the center of the front top bow which aids in weather sealing. Side curtains now have sliding panels instead of the miserable spring-loaded flaps on earlier models. The trunk lid no longer conducts rain water down into the trunk and onto the one thing you don't want to get wet. The one meaningless change is new taillight grouping that seems out of keeping with the otherwise clean design of the car. Bulbous and jutting, this bit of work looks like a project of an overzealous home customizer who wasn't really sure of what he was doing. The battery and fuel pump are still hidden away out of sight and out of mind until something happens.
But these are minor considerations only brought to attention because of the over all excellence of the rest of the car. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, this is the best touring MG yet --jpc
From zero to: Seconds
30 mph ................ 4.6
40 mph ................ 6.7
50 mph ................10.3
60 mph ................13.7
70 mph ................17.8
80 mph ................23.4
Standing 1/4 mile ........19.8
Speed at end of 1/4 ..... 73 mph
SPEED RANGES IN GEARS:
I ................... 0-27
II ................... 0-27
III ................... 0-27
IV ................... 0-27
Indicated speed Timed speed
30 ............... 30
40 ............... 40
50 ............... 50
60 ............... 60
70 ............... 70
80 ............... 80
BMC "B" series ....... four water-
Valve Arrangement ........ pushrod
Bore & Stroke ........ 2.97x3.50 in
Stroke/Bore Ratio .......... 1.18/1
Displacement ..96.6 cu in (1588 cc)
Compression Ratio ........... 8.3/1
Carburetion by .......... Two SU H6
Max. Power .................. 791/2
@ 5600 rpm
Idle Speed ................ 800 rpm
Transmission overall optional
I 3.64 15.66 (2.45)
II 2.21 9.50 (1.62)
III 1.38 5.94 (1.27)
IV 1.00 4.30 (1.00)
Final drive ratio 4.30 (4.55,
Axle torque taken by leaf springs
Frame ................. Box Section
Wheelbase ................... 94 in
Tread, front and rear .. 47-1/2, 49
Front suspension .... Coil springs,
Rear suspension ........ Rigid axle
semi-eliptical leaf springs
Shock Absorbers ... Armstrong lever
and piston type
Steering type ..... Rack and pinion
Steering wheel turns L to L ... 2.7
Turning diameter, curb to curb
Brakes..Lockheed 11 in discs front,
10 in drums rear
Length .................... 156 in
Width .......................58 in
Height ..................... 50 in
Weight, curb, full tank...2040 lbs
Weight, as tested (two up)
F/R as tested ............ 49/51
Fuel capacity ..... 12 U.S. gallons
Specific Power Output
0.82 bhp/cu in
Power to weight ratio,
As tested .......... 29.7 lbs/hp
Piston speed @ 60 mph
Speed @ 1000 rpm
In top gear ........... 17.3 mph