MGA and MGB: tradition survives in spite of BMC rule
When I was a child in the 1950s, the term ‘sports car’ almost invariably applied to convertibles, although an honourable exception was the sublime Mercedes-Benz 300SL ‘Gullwing’ coupe. An MG TC was a sports car, so was a Jaguar XK120. Usually there were just two seats and side curtains were fitted instead of wind-up windows. Mostly, the soft tops leaked, the ride was bone-jarring and there was a spartan feeling to the whole wind-in-the-hair ethos.
But gradually this association of convertibility with ‘sports cars’ was eroded. The whole definition of what constituted high performance motoring began to shift. By the early to mid-1960s the GT or Grand Tourer came to prominence.
When the MGA went into production in 1956, my boyhood idea of the sports car continued to flourish, but the questions were starting. The makeshift convertible roof that might have worked OK at speeds of up to 60 miles per hour or so was less satisfactory at 70 or 80. The MGA’s square-rigged TC, TD and TF Midget predecessors were flat out at 80 – or, in the case of the 1954 TF 1500, maybe 85 – but the sleek new car could reach 95. Aerodynamics were not a strong point of convertibles. When MG introduced the MGA coupe with glass side windows, top speed leapt to 102. A factory detachable hardtop had been available from the start of the model run and this was especially popular with rally competitors.