Oscar Wilde once defined a cynic as a man who knew the cost of everything and the value of nothing. He might have been hard pressed to figure where to stand on traditional British roadsters, if he'd lived to see them. They've created a lot of automotive cynics, given the costs of operation. Still, how can you put a value on the wind in your hair?
A smile on his face and his wife by his side, you'd have seen Mark Adler driving his green 1955 MG-TF 1500 on a 75 degree day in Seattle, recently. Last month, he drove that same MG to Reno, for the he All MG Register rally and gathering in Reno, Nevada, June 13-17. (Find out more at www.mg2011.com.)
T-series MG roadsters were made from 1936 to 1955, with a break for the Second World War. The TA and TB were made before the war; and the TC, TD, TF and TF-1500 were made after the war. The engine in the TF-1500 was a 1,466 cc. In-line four cylinder engine that produced 63 block horsepower at 5,000 rpm. The production run for the TF and TF-1500 models was 9,600 made.
The TF-1500 was the same automobile that caused the man who many called “the dean of automotive journalists,” the late David E. Davis Jr., to have the life-changing experience of his life, back in 1955. He passed away in March, at the age of 80, from complications due to bladder cancer surgery; but when he flipped a TF-1500, while racing, he was lucky to survive.
It was at a race in Sacramento, California in late October, as David E. recalled in the 25th anniversary edition of Car and Driver magazine. He was leading the race, when he hit the hay bales – that's what they used on road courses then – in the first turn. The car rolled and caught his head between the back of the seat and the pavement. (Rolls bars wouldn't become mandatory until 1956.) To make things worse, the car slid across the track, upside down. It then hit hay bales on the other side, and challenging credulity, flipped onto its wheels.
That's when David E. realized that the visor for his helmet was torn and hanging on his right shoulder. He felt his face and realized his nose was gone and his face was a bloody mess. He'd lost both eyelids on the left side of his face, knocked out all but a dozen teeth, suffered over a hundred compound fractures on his upper and lower jaws, and wedged the roof of his mouth into his throat.
However, the MG had only suffered about 250 dollars worth of damage. David E. went on to become a legend in his own right; so you could say one legend begot another. Still, the next time he raced, in 1958, it would be in a Volvo 444 sedan; provided as part of a Volvo team that went up Pikes Peak.
The Sacred Octagon – as most MG enthusiasts refer to the MG badge shaped as such – would go on to become legendary in America, before exports to America ceased in 1980.
But to those enthusiasts, the most desirable MG automobiles don't have roll-up windows, but the side curtains that mark a real roadster; the term was misapplied to a variety of convertible sports cars, in the late 1990s, and the term has lost true meaning to anyone but those who aren't afraid to spend the time to fiddle with side curtains and a manual actuated soft top.
As MG abandoned the T-series with their low flowing fenders and elemental mechanicals, Austin-Healey, built the “bug-eye” Sprite – another true roadster. When you see one from the front, you know right away from where its name was derived. On the same sunny day that you'd have encountered Mark Adler in his TF-1500, you would have spotted a bug-eye Sprite, down at the south end of the same mall.
Caught in the glow of a setting sun, is this Austin-Healey "bug eye" Sprite, in a parking lot on a perfect day for top-down motoring in Seattle. (Photo by Terry Parkhurst)
The bug-eye Sprite was produced for three years, starting in 1958. Power was supplied by a 948 cc. In-line four cylinder engine with just 43 block horsepower at 5,200. The number made was just one short of 49,000. It was followed by a more conventional looking roadster – no bug-eyed headlights.
In an age where many automobiles have become rolling digital entertainment centers, the traditional British roadsters appeal to those who value a visceral experience, based on simple mechanical components and unique exterior design. - Terry Parkhurst