The car in which I am stretched out in is the legendary MG TC. If it were any lower, it would just be a go-kart with oversize wheels. For an automobile that made a huge contribution to automotive history, it’s actually quite diminutive.
It’s so low-slung that the hyperactive street dogs of Mumbai, who have suddenly taken a keen interest in the vintage car movement in India and red MG TCs in particular (I swear they exclaimed ‘Wow! Wow!’), are almost next to my face. I have been chased by dogs while driving before, but this is ridiculous. Time to take some evasive action. Downshift the stubby gear lever to second and stomp on the accelerator pedal. The already loud MG pauses for a moment and with another roar, leaves the canines in its wake. Hey, this car lets you have maximum fun with your clothes on!
The dynamics of this MG are quite wild, actually. A new set of tyres and wheels are on their way to replace this set, and some work needs to be done on the suspension (or whatever mechanical parts it uses to transfer vibes from the wheels to different parts of my body), so keeping the TC in a straight line can be a bit of an effort. I can’t believe that a car this small can be so wayward. There is a fair amount of steering play, and just before you start compensating for it, the MG overdoes it. So on and so forth the battle between the new driver and the TC’s steering wheel rages, sometimes coming close to drawing new design creases on the tracking car that has Pablo in it taking pictures (you can’t make that out in the photos, right?). However, it was just a matter of time before I got used to its whims. Once you know how the steering plays out, driving this car becomes a cinch. And it’s terrific. For a sports car, the MG TC was never known for its outright performance. The little motor inside, a 1250cc overhead-valve inline-four massaged by twin SU carburettors, could cough up 54.4 bhp at 5200 revs and 8.9 kgm of torque at 2700 rpm. This engine was a carryover from the TC’s predecessor, the TB, which started its innings just when the Second World War started in 1939. Yes, the XPAG engine was already six years old when it was fitted into the TC. But wait, I haven’t told you about the TA yet, which was introduced in 1936 – it was the prequel to both the TB and TC. In effect, when the TC debuted in 1945, it was spiritually and physically almost a ten-year old car. It’s just that MG cobbled together whatever they had with them before WWII, did some minor modifications and called the car the TC.
The car was already old-fashioned; it had rudimentary underpinnings and basic mechanicals, it was cramped inside, it was not powerful, it was not weather-friendly, it had skinny tyres. Okay, it was kind of cute, but that was it. Yet, it is considered a landmark model... somebody up there was nice to the TC. Now how did that happen? Legend has it that the American forces who had stayed in the UK during the war and after it, happened to experience this little MG and its predecessors. They immediately took a liking to this nifty little number, because it made them feel like they were actually driving a car compared to the staple they were used to back home – massive barges with humongous engines which completely isolated them from the driving experience. The MG was old-fashioned, almost toy-like, but freshly churned out from the factory – it would make a nice souvenir from Ol’ Blighty to take back home, good to fill up the post-war leisure hours. Yes, nostalgia is a pretty powerful emotion. Of the 10,001 TCs that rolled out of the Abingdon plant between 1945 and 1949, over 2,000 units were shipped to the US. Suddenly, America realised that cars could actually be fun and inexpensive... and the inexpensive sports car was born, all thanks to the MG TC. If you don’t believe in fate, I don’t know what else can convince you. ‘The sports car America loved first’, as the ads went, looks the part. Its flowing fenders, fashionable cutaway doors, long, louvered hood and wire-spoke wheels cannot be termed anything else but classic. Add to that a gorgeous twin-cowl sporty wooden dash. But ergonomically, the car’s a nightmare. You had to be slim to fit comfortably in the TC and be made of rubber to emerge from the car elegantly. Besides, the large Jaeger speedo is meant for the passenger, while all the driver needs is the tachometer. And that sporty four-spoke Bluemel’s Brooklands steering wheel wouldn’t be out of place in a massive truck.
Still, driving the wheels off this car in Mumbai today, I am not surprised the Yanks fell in love with the TC. When you push that tough motor for whatever it’s worth, that rorty exhaust note makes it feel more powerful than it actually is. The sensation of the road whizzing inches below and the wind blowing on your face is irreplaceable. Thanks to its compact dimensions and being one with the car, the TC actually feels like a motorcycle on four wheels. The gearbox, which sends power to the rear wheels, is another slick bit in the TC. The four-speed transmission, with synchromesh on the top three gears, shifts brilliantly. Snicking the short gear lever quickly accompanied by a rorty blast every time you do that gets addictive.
The TC was decently quick for its era, taking 22.7 seconds to attain the 60 mph (96 kph) mark, while a top speed of 75 mph (120 kph) could somehow be extracted. But how it would behave at those speeds is something I didn’t want to try. The hydraulic drums don’t take their job too seriously, you see, besides the ladder-type chassis, even when the car was new, tended to flex. The rigid front and rear axles, semi-elliptical springs and lever-type shock absorbers just about keep smooth roads from intruding into your rear-end! But I am just mocking it. It’s not fair considering how involving it is to drive and how responsive it is to your inputs. And it’s nimble enough to be fun around corners too. It is this extremely rudimentary, seat-of-the-pants driving experience that the TC provides that made it a legend. Whoever said size matters?