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60 YEARS OF THE MGA TWIN-CAM

1958 was quite a year for the British Motor Corporation and in that summer, they launched a sports car that instantly became the object of desire for all motor enthusiasts. Debate will always rage as to the most aesthetically accomplishes British vehicle of the 1950s, but the MGA must rank alongside the Jaguar XK150, the Jensen 541 and the Gerald Palmer designed saloons for BMC.

And in July of 1958 the Twin-Cam made its debut. The press pack informed the assembled members of the press that ‘for over three years this engine has been talked about in motor sport circles – ever since, in fact, an MGA ran in the Tourist Trophy race in Northern Ireland in 1955 fitted with an early experimental version’.

The publicity from the supercharged EX181 Land Speed Record car on the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1957 only intensified the interest in this new power plant. However, the sales copy also warned all owners of conventional models that ‘the engineering changes necessary for the twin-cam engine and the disc brakes are so extensive that conversion of existing MGAs is not practicable’.

The Twin-Cam was available in roadster and coupe forms and its high-compression engine was based on the familiar B-series unit but featured an alloy cylinder head plus extensive alterations.  Mr. G Palmer had devised the modifications and one advantage of basing the plant on a familiar unit was to minimise tooling costs. Centre-lock wheels “Road Speed” tyres, air vents on the front wings and discreet badging were its main distinguishing features.

For £1,265 17s, or £1,357 7s for the hardtop version, a motorist who would otherwise have considered an Austin-Healey 100/6 or a Triumph TR3 gained an MG with a top speed of 114mph, with 0-60 in under 14 seconds.

A heater was another £18 7s 6d, windscreen washers and an adjustable steering column were both a very reasonable £3 extra while an oil cooler would have set you back another £13 10s. ‘Performance of this order usually costs twice the money!’, proclaimed Abingdon.

On the 18th July 1958 Autocar tested PMO 326, the first Twin-Cam to leave the production line, and they concluded ‘The extra performance is matched by the road holding, steering and brakes, and this car maintains the MG tradition of good looks coupled with a very fine performance’. Motor Sport were even more enthusiastic, stating the Twin-Cam was ‘outstanding by reason of its very considerable performance and particularly in respect of its impeccable handling qualities.

It is a handsome car, too. It thus very worthily maintains the reputation of this famous breed of British sports cars.  Meanwhile, Sports Illustrated complained ‘it is unfortunate for UK motorists that this worthy follower of the Abingdon tradition will, for the time being, be almost 100 percent for export’ and indeed a mere 360 were sold on the home market.

As it happened the Twin-Cam had a very limited run of 2,111 cars, with production ceasing in 1960. The engine suffered from reliability issues and MG were confronted by a plethora of warranty claims. But for many, it was the ultimate MGA and on seeing this newsreel of 60 years ago, it is hard to disagree -

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