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MG MGA - 'One of the best road-holding cars of all time'

Title line carried from another thread, just a bit tongue in cheek, but not too far off the mark. This is an area where I have very good experience, having thrashed my MGA to the breaking point in almost weekly autocross (Solo-II) with SCCA for several years. I suspect I did more twists and turns in competition in one season than most road racers do in a lifetime. I would be happy to discuss the finer points of suspension setup almost ad-infinitum.

The MGA does indeed have very good road holding suspension, especially for the period when it was built (and of course allowing for the mass of the live rear axle). Give it some sticky tires, put it down on a smooth surface, properly tweak a few suspension adjustments, and you can make it do damn near anything you like, limited primarily by adhesion of the tires to the pavement. I have a house full of trophies to back it up, and those wins came rather naturally for a 40-year old car competing against much more modern machinery.

There will be a few qualifying remarks. If you hit a seriously bumpy road the heavy rear axle will dance a little, especially with some particular frequency of excitation. That reduces the tire grip to slow your progress some, and modern light weight independent suspension can be better (but not always). Loss of grip on the rear end does cause momentary oversteer, but this is NOT the same as built in overseer that would affect the handling at all times. The front suspension is better with not so much (excessive) unsprung weight, with the spring pans and shock arms being minimal (inboard mounted shock absorbers).

On the flip side, given an appropriate size front sway bar (and not much else) the suspension can be adjusted to provide understeer (good for general street use), or neutral steering (good for high speed road racing), or even a bit of oversteer that may be used to good advantage in certain circumstances (like very quick turn-in and switch backs for moderate speed autocross). When properly set up there is no sudden transition from understeer to oversteer, and it is all around stable, very predictable, and what I like to call "tossable" (a nifty word for frisky without incident). That makes it easy for Common Joe to drive and to push close to the limits (without accidentally falling over the edge). It can do most things well, and should do very few things bad.

The floor is open for questions.
Barney Gaylord

Barney...Don't have anything like your experience in pushing the car to the limit but I have owned a massive range of cars over the years..often 'performance cars' and the mga is a delight to drive. It sticks to road like the proverbial on a blanket and my conversion to 5 speed box last year seems to also have given it a new burst of energy ( sadly lacking before ) and the ability too put it on precisely when needed. Non standard mods. have been an anti sway ( roll) bar and wider/lower 195/60R15 tyres fitted on strong 72 spoke 15 by 5 wheels.
Neil Ferguson

Which is the better handling car - an MGA with an 1800 motor or an MGB (62-68)?
An observation only - there seems to be a lot more MGBs still racing than MGAs - monocoque versus chassis?
Mike Ellsmore


to back up Barney's significant empiracal testing of the theory that the A is the best handling MG, I saw a comparison of MGs in a magazine last year, and the A came top, even compared to the modern Z series and the MGF/TF. I believe test was a modern day head to head comparison. It lost out on other aspects like fuel consumption, 0-60, cost to run, but blitzed the handling section. I'll try and dig out the review and post it, but I may be some time.


Grant :-)
G Hudson

Classic & Sports Car post war MG review (July 2009) rated Driving rather Handling with the MGA scoring 9/10 and the MGB 7/10.
Mike Ellsmore

Thanks chaps, could not have said it better myself! MGA's have a few shortcomings when compared with modern cars but handling is definitely not one of them! I am eagerly awaiting "Bob Turbo midget's" "expert" response!
Barry Bahnisch


that sounds about right, I remember the 9/10 score and it was an old magazine.

Grant :-)
G Hudson

I always felt my MGA handled quite nicely. A run through the "Tail of the Dragon" five years ago truely confirmed it. What a ride!!! Marvin
Marvin Stuart

Barry don't take it personally, as I am no expert by a long way however I do not have rose tinted glasses on when looking at my MGA.

Of course the car is a pleasure to drive and of course as Barney points out with some "modification" the handling can be made far better. But the fact remains that in standard trim an MGA would be no match for a semi elliptic Spridget as an example and it would be a long way behind my MERC C180 a simple modern saloon car. I suppose I could try to explain why that is but it is not necessary I feel. If you love driving your car then that is great but don't confuse Driving pleasure with handling.

Just as a point I remember racing many years ago at Pembrey a circuit in the UK at a meeting organised by the Jaguar drivers club. Racing that day were some highly modified E Type Jaguars, of which the drivers were equally as proud. A competitor (Mr Lloyd of Lloyds pharmacy fame) turned up in a standard XJ220 complete with CD player seat belts and extra roll cage(a race requirement) It absolutely slaughtered everything and it is only to be expected from a car designed to modern standards.

Barney the times you beat better cars was maybe cos you were a better driver?

By the way we had a similar discussion some time ago about Midgets. Some of their owners believed the car were so good they compared thenm to the handling of a Formula 1 Ferrari. LOL
Bob Turbo Midget England

Just in case I am viewed as an MGA "freak", I would point out that I have a total of eight MG's (from M-type to 1970 MGB) and several other cars (all of which I drive regularly). Each of the MG's has some outstanding characteristic/s, which is why they carried on for so long and easily outsold every other sports car in history!
Barry Bahnisch

Similar to what's stated above, my modern daily driver (2006 BMW 325) would decimate any classic MG in a straight line as well as around corners.
However comparing my bog-standard MGA to my bog-standard MGB (only the latter has an anti-roll bar), the MGA "FEELS" like a much better handling car than the MGB. It rolls less and seems to understeer less in the corners than the MGB. (Both however are dramatically better than any TR I've driven). The MGA just feels far more responsive than the MGB. I've no idea which would be quicker around a circuit; I've never tried, though one day I really should. The "grin factor" in my MGA however far outweighs just about any other car I've driven
T Aczel

Yes I have my MGA set up to have great "turn in" and so it oversteers at will.
Vastly more excitment drifting around certain areas rather than a boring planted Merc !

When driving my car I try to emulate our man Stirling Moss and his driving style when behind the wheel of a Masser 250F. Fantastic!
Bob Turbo Midget England

Ah, it sounds like BTM is challenging for an autocross, "elliptic Spridget" and MGA head to head. BTDT, and haven't been stroked by a Midget yet (except when the Midget had race tires and the MGA didn't). The only suspension mod to my MGA is a front sway bar and some poly bushings. I'd say that qualifies as "standard trim" in consideration of any kind of competition (or even spirited street cruising for that matter).

I don't suppose there is anything magic or superior about either model. Both with front engine, rear wheel drive, near 50/50 weight distribution, and similar suspension rigging. In theory the Midget should be quicker through a slalom because it is narrower and can follow a straighter line (but a lot of Midgets have been embarrassed trying to prove it).

Also don't confuse horsepower with handling. I see comments about modern cars like Jaguar and BMW smoking the MGA off the line, in a straight line, or in a hill climb, but that is almost entirely due to much higher engine power. But this thread is not about horsepower. If we were all power hungry no one would own an MG with a standard 4-cylinder engine. You can get stroked off the line or on a straight away by a Honda Civic any day.

If you limit the competition to about 1-HP for each 20-pounds of gross weight, there is not much either vintage or modern that would beat the MGs in properly prepared competition. The same applies regardless of power if you restrict it to constant speed, like skid pad circle, figure-8, or a never ending slalom. If the course is constantly twisty with no straights, handling rules where size and weight are a handicap. Even extra power can be a handicap if you're not careful with it.

Yes Bob, I seem to be a pretty good driver, after many years of regular autocross with SCCA. I fairly often drive someone else's car and beat their best lap time on the first pass, but that doesn't apply to everyone. If you overlook the 70% who are rank amateurs, the 10% who will never get the touch, and the 10% who are not quite there yet, the top 10% can be quite wicked competition. It is not unusual after a one minute lap for win, place and show to be separated by 0.030 second or less.

One small item critical to handling is the limit of adhesion between tires and pavement. Give everyone the same kind of tires and go do slaloms, and the narrowest car should win. If there is a large discrepancy in speed it will be because the slower car has something wrong with the suspension tuning (or a bad driver). That special equalizing friction factor is what makes MGA such a surprising opponent for lots modern cars. (Put MGA street tires on a F1 car and watch it go into the wall on the first turn).
Barney Gaylord

Hi Barney enjoyed the read. :)

I think MGAs in Autocrosses in the USA must be entirely different animals to the ones we have here? In the UK and Europe a Midget defeats the MGA on almost every occassion (mainly because it is far more nimble). Maybe due to our language difference. LOL

I think it is time to beg to differ or maybe my MGA has something wrong with it but a most modern cars have far better handling.
Bob Turbo Midget England

Similar situation in Oz. We keep getting beaten by Midgets in motorkhanas (maybe we are worse drivers but hate to admit it). Maybe difference is that there must be a change in direction every 20 metres with our motorkhana rules. Also we are both allowed tarmac rally tyres such as Toyo Proxes R888, Yokohama Advans, Dunlop Direzzas, etc. in OZ (stickiest tyres allow on the open road).
Mike Ellsmore

Not sure if the following is of relevance to this discussion. It is a table and paragraph from 3 long technical articles on rallying published in Safety fast in 1987:

CAR.........................................BHP per TON (approx)
Midget 1275............................89.6
MGA 1600...............................88.3
mgb roadster.........................101.25
MGC GT..................................129.25
MGB GTV8..............................126.25
Mini 1275 'S'...........................100.00
Marina 1.3...............................75.5
Group 2 1275 Cooper 'S'.........140.00
Group 1 Escort Mexico.............98.25
Group 1 Escort RS1600...........163.00
Group 4 Escort RS1600...........267.5
Datsun 240Z (Grp 1)...............165.5

By looking at these figures we learn much more than by looking at the same car's BHP figures. We can see why the 1275 Midget gives the MGB GT a run for its money 0-60, why the Cooper 'S' is quicker than the Midget, why the MGC's extra 13BHP is not as useful as it might appear over the V8 (the C is much heavier, giving only 3BHP per ton advantage). You can also see that it pays to carefully read Escort boot badges before trying anything!! (Mexico = probably OK, RS1600= forget it).
Steve Gyles

Never ceases to surprise me that people don't look at the power to weight ratio as being the most important anyway - but - on the subject of autotesting MGAs vs Midgets - all I know is that, the MGA made me ache in places I never knew I didn't have muscles ... :)

I don't know what kind of autocrosses y'all have where you are, but an MGA will get its ar*e handed to it around here no matter how well it's set up.

Don't get me wrong, the MGA is a fine handling car. But compared to a modern sports car, even a lowly Miata, it doesn't stand a chance.
Steve S

Anyone know the power to weight ratio of a Miata? If we ever get past this excess power thing we might get back to talking about handling.
Barney Gaylord

The Miata is what the MGA was 50 years ago. Nimble and fun with relatively low horse power. (2100# and 116HP, first gen 1600) The Miata is so well set up it is in a class of its own. Literally at the annual MG car club ralley to Glenwood Springs there is an autocross set up in the parking lot. The Miatas were put in a class of their own because they were faster than ANY thing else. Tighter the course the better for them. The bigger high horsepower cars just slid around like pigs on ice.
I went to the Vettes in the Rockies event a few years ago with a freind. The auto cross there was much longer and less twisty to let the Vettes shine. It seems each car club opimizes the course for their cars.
R J Brown

I haven't driven my MGA (yet) but have driven some friends' cars once or twice, and they always put a smile on my face! IMHO, the MGA feels like driving a "slot car" - it is low to the ground and corners very flat with very tractable steering (tossable...). It makes lane changing a delight! I haven't owned a car like it - I usually drive trucks.

The plush feeling of most modern cars with power steering and automatic transmissions just doesn't compare (though it makes it easier to talk on the cell phone and eat a bagel while commuting).

I think the MGA is an example of a true sports car - not over-engined, but zippy in the corners and with the top down and the road only inches from your seat it feels like you are going much faster.

I don't have the competition bug like Barney (I don't think) but being a delight to drive and putting a smile on your face is what an MG Experience is about.
AJ Mail


The second generation Miata (MX-5 over here) with the basic 1.8 engine has a BHP per ton (imperial just to keep it in comparison with the figures from my earlier post) of about 133 by my reckoning.

Steve Gyles

I must agree with Barney here. As a vintage racer of 2 MGAs for over 10 years, we are qualifying and finishing on the pointy end of the grid each weekend. It has taken us nearly 8 years to fully develop the suspension to get our cars to where they are now with the help of Joe Huffaker and Huffaker Engineering. We still use lever shocks, factory rear leaf springs, and all pickup points are to factory spec. The Porsches and Corvettes that drive away from us at tracks like Laguna Seca and ThunderHill don't stand a chance at more technical tracks like Sears Point. When properly sorted, the corner weights are within 2% giving you amazing balance at the highest of speeds. PS - our lap times put us in the middle of the grid for a Spec Miada race. For those of you who need HP in your MGA, you can get a reliable 120hp to the wheel with a proper motor. As for 1275cc Midgets... yep, when prepared properly, they will always be quicker than a MGA, on a AutoX or Road Course.
k brown

Just imagine what a Miata with 8 years of racing development would do! Still not saying anything bad about MGAs and I still love mine of course! ;)
Steve S

This thread was discussed between 17/05/2011 and 29/05/2011

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