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MG MGA - Considering buying an MGA coupe

I am a TC owner but have always loved the MGA' first MG was an A bought with my Navy re-enlistment bonus back in the 60's.

My wife and I have been looking at the MGA coupes and think they're just plain gorgeous but have a few questions that I hope someone on this forum will be willing to answer.

Is an early MGA 1500 worth having or should we be looking for a 1600? We live in Mississippi so we will have to have A/C added.

Are the 1600 disc brakes that much of an improvement over the 1500's drum brakes?

Would an engine swap (MGB) decrease the value of the car or is that an accepted practice?

Any other info you can provide (including possible cars) would be appreciated.


Gene Gillam

I've owned a 58 1500 coupe since 1971...bought it when I was in the Navy, from a Chief. It originally had drum brakes and they were fine. I did change to 1600 disc's, but that was caused when I went from WW to disc wheel (a whole other story). Whether the B engine would hurt the value depends on the person. Many people like the 1800 with a five speed and a 3.9 rear as it makes the car much more useable on the highway. I'm keeping the coupe stock, even planning to go back to WW and drum brakes. But my roadster has a 5 speed and is getting a 5 main 1800 motor. Sure, there a the sticklers for "concours", but in the end it's all reversable. Just keep the parts. I love the coupe and will never sell it, but the roadster is more fun. Took it to Reno and then California last year. Also, coupes tend to bring less money than roadsters. I've done a "frame off" restoration on the coupe, including rebuilding the window lifts. They tend to wear out, but you can use Magnett lifts to repair them. I wrote an article about this that is on Barney Gaylords web site (which you will find useful).
Welcome, good luck, feel free to ask questions.
G T Foster

Gerry...thanks! I'm familiar with Barney's site but haven't looked at it in quite a while...I'll revisit it now.

One thing you said raised a question. "I love the coupe and will never sell it, but the roadster is more fun." Why is that? The openness of the roadster? I remember when I drove my MGA from CA to NC I had the top up to combat the sun...the same with my TC's...the top is normally up if it's hot. Or is the coupe just too enclosed?
Gene Gillam

I changed my mind about modifications affecting value a long time ago during my roadster rebuild. I fell in love with a non standard colour, but was worried about the car's value. My supplier asked me a simple question. Are you going to keep the car or sell it? If you intend to keep it paint it the colour that gives you the most pleasure.

Since then I have applied the same logic to many other items, including disc brakes (yes, an improvement - I have MGB calipers); 1800 (yes, much smoother, especially if you go for the later 5 bearing); 5-speed box (never looked back, great improvement, engine does not have to rev so high, 1st gear syncro and more usable); 3.9 diff (may be; I have it but perhaps a little too highly geared unless you have plenty of open, flat and long roads).

Steve Gyles


I have owned 2 coupes over the years and I really enjoyed driving them.

They drive the same as a roadster and you certainly dont get the buffeting that you experience with a roadster. But you also dont get that wonderful open-air motoring experience that the roadsters give you.
With the roadster I drive now you get just amazing all round vision with the top down and you get all the fresh air you can use (sometimes not so fresh too) but I love this.

As soon as you put up the soft top though the roadster falls way behind, the coupe is much more civilised being both quieter and cosier.

The coupe looks like a proper car inside with its roof lining and better trim, it actually has wind up windows, some beautifully designed door handles instead of a piece of string, quarter lights to direct (a little) fresh air inside the car and finally-- actual "door locks!"

Also the coupe has more headroom than you expect and the side windows are taller than the side-screens on a roadster.
I am 6ft 1 inch tall so with the soft top fitted I find that I can can see almost nothing except the sidewalks through the side-screens.
With my coupe though, the extra height of the side window meant that I could see much more.
Also this made it much easier for me to get into and out of the coupe than it is in a roadster with the top fitted.

For me though the main problem was the heat inside the coupe, it is significantly warmer in there than in a roadster. This is not a major problem over here where we dont often get temperatures higher than the high 60s F and a positive bonus when you drive in the usually much cooler weather.
I dont know what sort of weather you get over in Mississippi but if gets up in the 80s you will find it pretty hot in a coupe.

Back in the late 70s we drove our 60 Mk II coupe over to Switzerland from the UK, the car coped well but we really suffered inside. It was up into the 90s and after 2 days in the car my wife had to spend a day in bed recovering from heat-stroke. (Unlike me back then, she hadnt discovered beer which I found treated the symptoms really well after a long hot days drive!)

There are a few coupes out there that have had aftermarket sun roofs fitted back in the 70s to help cool the interior and if I was looking for another coupe, I would probably look at buying one of these. (not everyone likes this idea but I think it would give you the best of both worlds)

Fitting aircon is possible but it will be pretty much a one-off and finding someone to take on that project may be difficult.

I agree with everything Steve says about upgrading the MGA, a 1500 is great but an 1800 MGB engine is even better, disk brakes are fine too but I have heard that well set up drum brakes work pretty good as well, (the Le Mans cars had drum brakes fitted I believe). I also have a 5 speed gear box fitted and this is excellent for long runs on freeways etc but if the roads where you are mostly bends, then you can probably manage fine with the four speed.

If I were you I would try to beg a run out in both a coupe and a roadster (with the top down), ideally on a hot day. Most MGA owners would love to take you out for a run in their car, we dont need much of an excuse to take the car out for a run.

So in the end its up to you, they are both great cars.

Let us know what you decide
Good hunting

Colyn Firth

Steve, Colyn,

Thanks for your inputs...and no, I'm not a purist when it comes to cars. Both TCs are supercharged, both have 5-speeds and both are modified/painted the way I want them. Not sure I would, or could, do the same to an A but A/C would be a must...and my wife will only settle for a coupe...she wants a hardtop (waterproof!).
Gene Gillam

If you're going to put in A/C, your best bet is to fit an 1800 motor so it won't matter if you buy a 1500 or 1600. If you don't want to do the engine mod, then you should definitely be looking at 1600s. Heat can be a problem with the coupe, but if you really insulate well and get your vent windows tightened so they will actually direct air, it makes a big difference. You already have a TC for open air motoring; the coupe can easily be a comfortable long range driver. And I wouldn't worry about resale value. If you have a coupe with air conditioning and an 1800, chances are it will fetch the same as a stock car to the right buyer.
Mark J Michalak

The reason I say the roadster is more fun is the open top. You see, hear and smell so much more. But the coupe is a lovely driver. I used it as a daily driver, year round, for 10 years (71-81)in Connecticut. I wouldn't exactly call the coupe water tight..sure, it's better than the roadster, but water and snow still gets in unless the frames and seals are perfect. Snow is not likely a problem in you area I guess..:)
PS: My wife loves TC's but I have only A's and B's.
G T Foster

I have owned a 1500 Coupe for about 8 years now. Mine has a rebuilt 1600 engine and a B flywheel, with drum brakes. I love it. Of course, I live in a cooler, more seasonal part of the country than Mississippi! The benefits of the Coupe vs. the Roadster are - weather resistant, comfortable, civilised, more aerodynamic, quieter, nicer interior (IMHO), roll-up windows, headroom. The detriments of the Coupe are - resale value, cockpit heat, no open-air experience. Living where I do, I get much more use out of my coupe than I would out of a roadster. I can drive it all year long, and I frequently take it out in the winter if the roads are clean. With all the glass in the coupe (wrap-around front and rear windsheilds and the side windows), the interior will get hot on a sunny day. I typically run my air blower at full blast and angle the side quarter windows to funnel air into the car. This is often enough to keep me comfortable. On a cool fall day, there is no beating a coupe.

As far as modifications are concerned, I would not worry too much about resale value unless you have a numbers matching coupe (original engine to the body). If the engine is already replaced, then there is probably little downside risk to putting what you want into the car, assuming you don't over-pay for the car when you purchase it.

Good luck,
'57 coupe
M. D.

Thanks for all the input, guys.

Your thoughts on values are right in line with my own and I agree the 1600 or the 1800 engine would be the best way to go...I just don't want to buy one thing just to change it later. For once I want an MG I can drive and enjoy, not build, drive and

I'm looking at this one on eBay: 150889335833

Any thoughts as to a decent offer to make? I see he refused to sell it for $14K on a previous eBay ad...said he'd lose "thousands". See feedback.

Gene Gillam

I have owned my 1600 coupe for over 30 years. I think that MGA coupes are one of the most attractive cars ever made but many of my MG colleagues disagree! Mine is completely standard and original and, while an MGB engine would give the car better performance, I like to keep my cars "original". In any case, MGA's are quite good performers on the road.
Barry Bahnisch

A few points to make before you might make a big mistake. "Body-on restoration" means the inner body sills were never painted and will rust away faster then the factory originals (which didn't last long). It might mean the inner body sills were badly rusted and never repaired. There is no mention of the condition of the inner sills, and no pictures of anything underneath the car. To be on the safe side you should assume the worse (but hope for something better). That being the case, without a first hand inspection of the car you can only assume that the inner body sills are non-existent and will need to be replaced, which means a huge cost to someone for most of a full restoration. Pretty paint on the outside does not make a new car.

"Possibility of air conditioning" doesn't mean anything at all without further information. Any car can have the "possibility" of A/C without ever having been touched. It would be interesting to know what kind of A/C equipment might have been considered to go in the boot. If you have a large enough alternator an A/C unit could be electrically driven, but it still needs vents for air in, air out, and condensate water drain. This one appears to have a belt driven compressor on the engine.

"Pilot bearing noise" will never "wear in". It will require R&R of the engine to replace parts.

Beware of a dozen beauty shots with no pictures of anything structural. Is there really a spare tire? Any tool kit? Any exhaust system parts? Do the brakes work? Are the shocks shot? Never bid on or buy any car without having someone do a personal inspection first.
Barney Gaylord

Agree with Barney, however, if the car lived in Virginia the inner structure may not be too bad,

Might be me or the camera, but the rear fender contour looks off, like maybe it has fiberglass fenders.

And the stupid ram stacks mean the engine could be worn out if they have been on there for many miles.

Sounds like an incompetent AC install - there are great small units that could be fitted without eating the boot.

Also, after many cars of the era and a lot of thought, I think ventilation could be improved drastically in all these cars, with minimal visible change.

I do not know what the rules are, and the auction ends soon, but I will be in Lime Rock Monday, and could detour a bit and examine it on Tuesday for you, for a nominal fee. Or there is a pretty good guy around Philadelphia/Trenton who could probably evaluate, but again not til after the auction ends - look on MGExp>Magnette for posts from Big Ed - think it is Motorcar Garage. He has been doing a sort of rolling ZB resto, magnificent - as is his blower installation!

FR Millmore


I'm waiting on more photos from the owner of the rocker panels, undercarriage and "partial" A/C installation.
I'm sure the car won't sell during the auction process but since I have his email address now I'll be able to contact him after the auction and I may take you up on your offer if I'm still interested.

This is what I received from him about the car so far:

"The AC is roughly 80% installed. The compressor, dryer,the unit installed behind the seats, the lines are in the right side rocker panel from the engine to the boot. The electrics are in but need to be hooked up, the lines will need to have high compression fittings installed and the evaporator installed in front of the radiator and of course the refrigerant. The unit is an MG unit as far as I know, has an MG emblem on it."


"The OD operates in 3rd & 4th,I have the one side of the rear trim,left I think and also the plastic which I would send along. I also have another radiator which will go with the car,the one in the car has a dent in the bottom but is still fine as far as working. There is no rust anywheres! The AC unit itself is in the location where the spare tire would be protruding into the cockpit. I have been told that the engine is a 3 main although
that is not verified. I can tell you that the car goes like the devil! I talked to a fellow who knew the original guy who started the restoration and he told me he was very proud of the engine work. I have a roadster, 1960 that runs great but this car runs rings around it, passed a truck on Rt.80 on an uphill curve doing 85 and I had more pedal! I have the tire iron to remove the hub caps but that is the only tool that I own for the car."
Gene Gillam

I prefer coupes - much more civilized version of the car!

And I would advocate disc brake conversion of a 1500, eassily done if you can find MGA 1600 stuff, possible to do with MGB stuff but more complicated. The drums are OK, but the stopping distances are longer and people used to modern cars tend to leave insufficient room in front of them for the old cars to stop (they also get cut in on by others if they do).
Bill Spohn

More pictures have been added to the eBay listing. 150889335833
Gene Gillam

Coupes are fun, quarter windows negate the need for an AC unless you are really soft. I am all for keeping the MGAs original (so they can't catch me).

Mike Ellsmore

Beautiful car.

You Aussies, with your Fosters, are much hardier than us Mississippi Americans...quarter windows be damned...they don't work at stop lights. I need something more than a Sheila blowing on me when I'm parked.
Gene Gillam

"a Sheila blowing on me when I'm parked" - what more is there to ask for!! -- or have gone off on to another subject!!
Cam Cunningham

This thread was discussed between 29/08/2012 and 01/09/2012

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