1961 MGA

MGA lr


By Tim Saunders

“Rain rain, go away, come again another day.”

One of my daughters’ favourite rhymes and one that John Atkinson could well have recited after he purchased the 1961 MGA Sports cabriolet in 2005 “as a present for my wife, Juliette”.

“Even on that first day when we drove it home, it rained,” recalls John, who paid £15,000 for it. “In fact until we took her on her first trip to France it seemed that every time we drove out of the garage we got wet!”

But that has not deterred John, an artist, and Juliette from having a long and happy relationship with their beloved MGA. Neither have the various issues they have experienced with it. The couple discovered that while travelling in rain at 60mph on France’s open roads, the hood leaked. The boot pull handle snapped off not longer afterwards and the dashboard light blew. “Flaking paint around the boot can be touched up with a black felt tip pen,” John reveals. Then there’s the sticking dials but a gentle tap gets them working again – “you can’t do that with a digital equivalent,” says John, who was forced to get the speedometer repaired. “It tells me I have travelled only a few hundred miles since I bought it; I’m not sure I believe it.”

As with many classic cars this MGA has not been converted to run on unleaded petrol. Instead an additive is used.

There are no mod cons such as a radio let a lone a CD player. “But that’s the joy, it allows you to savour the sound of the engine and concentrate on the road while the wind blows the cobwebs out.” Neither is there air conditioning, and so in the height of summer it is wise to drive through shady locations such as tree-lined roads.

“I love the car having so many quirks, though; it’s part of its character.”

When it’s tucked up in the garage underneath its cover there’s “a lovely smell of oil and leather”.

The MGA was introduced in 1955 and was in production for seven years. More than 100,000 cars were manufactured yet surprisingly just under 6,000 were sold in the UK; the highest export percentage of any British car.

While it is quite expensive to own, John says “it’s not silly and is just as reliable as any new car”.

While the main vehicle is a Jeep Cherokee the MGA is used for pleasure and with this in mind it has been driven to France on numerous occasions and even participated in a rally. “We’ve driven it 200 miles a day and the locals waved as we drove through the French villages. At one French restaurant some English diners offered us £40,000 for her plus a Ryan Air ticket!

“It has been used as a wedding car, too” recalls John. “I drove the groom to the church. I even put green ribbons on it. I allowed the groom to drive it off after the wedding even though he crunched the gears!” It is fitted with the standard four speed manual gearbox. When new the MGA was available with either wire-spoked or steel-disc road wheels.

Inside the MGA has luxury cream leather seating and a wooden steering wheel. It rides close to the road and has firm suspension making low speeds feel much faster. Compared to today’s large vehicles it looks quite small, which can be intimidating for passengers.

The striking MGA design was created by MG designer Syd Enever who produced a streamlined body for a TD Le Mans car in 1951 but the driver had a high seating position. To counter this, a new chassis was designed with the floor attached to the bottom section. Leonard Lord, BMC chairman, initially rejected the idea. However, falling MG sales caused a change of heart, and it was introduced. As it was so different from the older MG models it was advertised as the MGA, the “first of a new line”.

Facts at a glance

MGA Sports 1961

Used price: £15,000 to £45,000 for one in concours condition

New price: £800 approx.

Engine: 1.5-litre

0-60mph: 28.9secs

Top speed: 85mph

Power: 64bhp

Economy: 22mpg

Tim Saunders on Facebook
Tim Saunders on Twitter
Tim Saunders on LinkedIn