The MGA design dates back to 1951, when MG designer Syd Enever created a streamlined body for George Philips' TD Le Mans car. The problem with this car was the high seating position of the driver because of the limitations of using the TD chassis. A new chassis was designed with the side members further apart and the floor attached to the bottom rather than the top of the frame sections. A prototype was built and shown to the BMC chairman Leonard Lord. He turned down the idea of producing the new car as he had just signed a deal with Donald Healey to produce Austin-Healey cars two weeks before.
Falling sales of the traditional MG models caused a change of heart, and the car, initially to be called the UA-series, was brought back. As it was so different from the older MG models it was called the MGA, the "first of a new line" to quote the contemporary advertising. There was also a new engine available, therefore the car did not have the originally intended XPAG unit but was fitted with the BMC corporate B-Series type allowing a lower bonnet line. The MGA convertible had no exterior door handles, however the coupe has door handles.
It was a body-on-frame design and used the straight-4 "B series" engine from the MG Magnette saloon driving the rear wheels through a 4-speed gearbox. Suspension was independent with coil springs and wishbones at the front and a rigid axle with semi-elliptic springs at the rear. Steering was by rack and pinion. The car was available with either wire-spoked or steel-disc road wheels.
The 1489 cc engine produced 68 hp at first, but was soon uprated to 72. Lockheed hydraulic drum brakes were used on all wheels. A coupé version was also produced, bringing the total production of standard MGAs to 58,750.
An early open car tested by British magazine The Motor in 1955 had a top speed of 97.8 mph (157.4 km/h) and could accelerate from 0–60 mph (97 km/h) in 16.0 seconds. A fuel consumption of 26.7 miles per imperial gallon (10.6 L/100 km) was recorded. The test car cost £844 including taxes.
A high-performance Twin-Cam model was added for 1958. It used a high-compression (9.9:1 later 8.3:1) DOHC aluminium cylinder head version of the B-Series engine producing 108 hp (81 kW; 109 PS). Due to detonation problems, a 100 bhp (75 kW; 101 PS) low-compression version was introduced later. Four-wheel disc brakes by Dunlop were fitted, along with Dunlop peg drive knock-off steel wheels similar to wheels used on racing Jaguars, unique to the Twin-Cam. These wheels and chassis upgrades were used on a small number of "DeLuxe MGA 1600 Roadsters" built after Twin-Cam production came to a halt. Aside from the wheels, the only outside identifier was a "Twin-Cam" logo near the vent aside the bonnet.
In May 1959 the standard cars also received an updated engine, now at 1588 cc producing 78 bhp (79 PS) . At the front, disc brakes were fitted, but drums remained in the rear. 31,501 were produced in less than three years. Externally the car is very similar to the 1500 with differences including: amber or white (depending on market) front turn indicators shared with white parking lamps, separate stop/tail and turn lamps in the rear, and 1600 badging on the boot and the cowl. A number of 1600 De Luxe versions were produced with leftover special wheels and four-wheel disc brakes of the departed Twin-Cam, or using complete modified Twincam chassis left redundant by the discontinuance of that model. Seventy roadsters and 12 coupés were built.
The car featured here is a Mk1 1500 owned by Classic Car enthusiast Damascene Fernando. Damascene purchased the car from one Mr Sam Samarasinghe who is the son of the famed “Tarzan” garage owner of Kegalle who was the first owner of this car; as well as the first owner of the only twin-cam MGA in the country. Although never having had a ground-up restoration, this MGA is in excellent running condition – thanks to the enthusiasm of Damascene in maintaining it in original condition.
MGA stars with Elvis
The movie – Blue Hawaii stars Elvis sings from his open red 1960 MGA 1600 Mk I roadster. The car made numerous appearances in the first half of the movie, often with camera work that seemed suspiciously marketing-like, panning back to the car or putting the car under complimentary soundstage lighting. Elvis so liked the car, he bought it for himself, and after changing hands once or twice, he re-acquired the vehicle, which is now at Graceland with his Lincolns, Cadillacs and Stutzes.