How much is that MG in the window? Priceless, if you’re Jerry Niemi and you…
America’s love for the little MG TC is no small thing
The MG TC is the first sports car that Americans fell in love with. The amorous affair was born in the experience of more than a million GIs who helped defend England during World War II. The men of the “greatest generation” embraced the lithe and lively MG TB that had premiered in 1939 and were more than receptive when MG introduced the TC shortly after the end of the war.
The TC is also the sports car that Michigan’s Jon Albert loved first, although his passion was not inspired by overseas military service but rather by a tinplate toy car and a guy named Hap Adams. Albert’s first MG—and for many years his one and only—was a tiny TF that arrived in his toy box when he was about 5 years of age. The made-in-Japan mini MG was potent visual stimulus, and it was treasured.
Right on the heels of that affair, Albert met Hap Adams. Most sports car enthusiasts, especially older folks, know the name well. Hap was the hero of The Red Car. Published in 1954, the book tells the tale of a teenage boy who finds a wrecked MG TC and, with the help of a mechanic named Frenchy, restores it and learns the joys of driving a car that requires commitment and nimble gear changes. Like thousands of other American kids, Albert read The Red Car over and over again, and it cemented his relationship with all things automotive and MG.
Those influences led not only to a passion for sports cars and a need to drive them, but an urge to draw them as well, first for amusement and later in his career as a General Motors designer. But Albert never forgot his first love. He became an avid member of the local MG community and attended events featuring the small two-seat roadsters. “There’s real care in the proportions of the car,” he says, speaking of the TC as only a designer might. “It’s pure sports car.”
For years, Albert worshipped MGs from afar. He owned a Ferrari and an Alfa, but never found the TC he coveted—perhaps because it had to be a very special TC, an early one with its running gear in place. Albert had retired from fulltime work and had accepted the hard fact that he might have to spend his final days with Italian sports cars. Then another retired GM designer, Andrew Hanzel, told him of an available TC that belonged to collector Dick Bremer and had been sitting idle. Albert drove to Ann Arbor to see the car and knew he had found exactly what he’d been looking for.
The 1946 model is a home-market car with right-hand drive, European headlights, and no bumpers. It was shipped to the States by a Ford employee who worked in England. The black car with Regency Red leather seating was restored in the 1980s, and like many of its kind, it required replacement of the sheetmetal and wooden body frame. It’s a driver, not a trailer queen, but it turns heads. Bearing serial number TC0406, it’s a very early model, likely built in January 1946. Since the very first TC to roll off MG’s production line was TC0250, Albert believes the car is probably No. 156 in the first series.
The months following the end of WWII were a heady time for MG. The glow of victory and American soldiers’ fondness for the British car convinced MG’s management team that an export market awaited. Eager to get moving, the new TC began rolling off the assembly line shortly after the smoke had cleared from England’s battle-torn landscape.
Light years removed from those big, heavy U.S.-made cars, the TC was new and different, right at the time when Americans were ready for something fresh. Weighing a scant 1,800 pounds, it could reach 80 mph—pushed by a 55-horsepower 1.2-liter engine. But getting there was more than half the fun, as the car’s elliptical springs and skinny tires contributed to road manners that could charitably be described as eccentric and entertaining. As cars go, the TC was a bit naughty, and its beguiling looks complemented that behavior.
With a 5.12:1 rear-axle ratio and four-speed gearbox, the MG TC had spunk, even if it lacked a brisk top end. That responsiveness, a lightness afoot, and respectable braking for the time made the car a favorite of some road racers, including Denise McCluggage and Phil Hill.
Albert doesn’t race his TC, but he drives it regularly and is frequently seen at cars-and-coffee events. And since he’s often on Motor City’s Woodward Avenue, he may one day take a spin or two around the M-1 Concourse race track that graces the north end of that heralded street. Hap Adams would approve.