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Lot 219: 1938 MG TA 'Tickford' Drophead Coupe
Coachwork by Salmons & Sons Ltd

A Sale Of Collectors' Motorcars, Bonhams (8 June 2008)

In 1928, MG introduced its Midget series. The new M-Type rode on a miniscule 6 foot, 6 inch wheelbase and was powered by an 847cc overhead camshaft engine. It gave way to successive Midgets which gradually grew in length and engine displacement. The final Midget to use the free-revving overhead cam four was the PB of 1936, which had grown to 7 feet 3 5/16 inches and a displacement of 939cc.

But by the close of 1936, those overhead cam MGs were a thing of the past. However, the Midget was very much alive with the new pushrod-powered TA, introduced in mid-1936.

The TA looked a little different than the car it replaced. It retained that upright grille with chrome surround, relatively long bonnet and spindly wire wheels beneath sweeping fenders. Wheelbase had dropped a 5/16 of an inch, but the engine had grown to 1,292cc. That engine, though was an entirely different sort of power plant for an MG Midget. It had a small 63.5mm bore and a long 102mm stroke. Power was up substantially, from 43.3 bhp to 52.4 bhp, which peaked at 5,000 instead of at 5,500. The engine may not have revved with the ferocity of the earlier cars, but the overhead valve unit was less fussy and offered greater torque.

The TA’s ladder frame chassis was a development of earlier Midgets. A four-speed manual transmission was mounted in unit with the engine and sent power aft to a live rear axle suspended by a pair of semi-elliptic springs. Another pair of leaf springs kept company with the solid front axle. Luvax shock absorbers were fitted all around. Steering was by a Bishop cam box, and for the first time on a Midget, the four-wheel brakes were hydraulically operated.

The instant picture of a prewar MG is of a rakish two-seat sports car with cut-away doors, but that’s only partly true; MG also had a tradition of offering other bodies, too. The PA and PB had been available in open two or four-seater form, as well as in a lovely Airline coupe style. Although the four-seater was dropped, for the TA the two-seat roadster was accompanied by the Airline and the stunning drophead coupe built by Salmons & Sons Ltd., and marketed under the Tickford name. By the time production ceased in early 1939, 3,003 TAs had been built; most were two-seaters.

The Tickford three-position drophead coupe body added elegance to the short Midget chassis. In fact, from the side it looked a little like a scaled down 3½ or 4¼ Bentley. Front sheet metal was unchanged, but the doors featured straight door tops and roll-up windows. Then there was the lovely, padded top. Using functional landau irons, it could be configured as a coupe, left half open in a Sedanca style, or put all the way down. Inside, the Tickford’s interior was nothing short of opulent—especially when compared to the standard two-seater.

The vendor acquired this lovely two-tone beige TA Tickford from Englishman Barry Knight back in late 1990. It came with a UK log book showing five owners preceding Knight and dating back to 1949.

Friends in the UK located the car, loaded it and had it shipped to New Jersey, where the vendor claimed it before trailering it home to Michigan. As received, the car “was drivable, but needed mechanical attention.” After a couple of trips ‘around the block,’ the owner decided to rebuild the entire drive train.

A degreed mechanical engineer retired from General Motors, the owner stripped the engine and had the main and rod bearings babbitted by an outfit in St Louis, and the block and rods machined in a Detroit shop. Meanwhile, the crank was ground and nitrided by Detroit Crank, while the cam and lifters were redone by Detroit Cam. He then had a shop in Flint fit the head with hardened valve seat inserts. New forged pistons and rings were ordered from Venolia Piston Company. Finally, a Port Huron shop refaced the clutch plate and replaced the cork inserts. With all machining complete and new components on hand, the owner personally reassembled the engine. Then he moved on to the transmission and rear end, which he completely disassembled, cleaned checked and reassembled. When the car was returned to the road, it was equipped with turn signals in addition to the Trafficators. Since the work was completed, the car has been driven 5,000 miles without event.

After a few years of regular use, as the lacquer paint began to fail, the owner would redo a bit of paint at a time. Finally, he pulled the body off the chassis and rebuilt the entire chassis, suspension and brakes to show standard. Many of the body components were then painted by David Brown. While that going on, all brightwork was polished or replated and the engine was detailed.

With the body and mechanical components complete, interior leather seat covers and leather panels came were sourced from the UK. The car and interior parts were then sent to Dave Cochran of Upholstery Unlimited in Mansfield, OH, who fitted new carpets, installed the panels and seat covers, and crafted and installed a new top. The final steps are installation of the correct dome lamp and tool trays (complete with tools).

This rare and stunning TA Tickford is in excellent condition and is suitable for touring or show. It is perfect for the MG collector looking for an entry into the world of concours or for someone simply seeking a supremely elegant small sports car. Offered with a Certificate of Title.

Lot Details
Auction A Sale Of Collectors' Motorcars
Bonhams, Greenwich, Connecticut
Lot Number219
Outcome SOLD
Hammer Price$42500
Hammer Price (inc premium)$49725
Condition rating
Registration number
Chassis numberTA2926
Engine numberMPJG3169
Engine capacity (cc)
Engine - cylinders
Number of doors