It’s Classy, it's British, and it's 70-Years Old
Picture driving a car full of personality on South Africa's scenic roads, feeling light-speed at 100 km/h. Your father or grandfather may have driven an AC Cobra or Austin Healey, but the MGA Roadster is another attention-grabbing British classic.
The MGA Roadster is a car unlike any I have come across. It's attention-grabbing for sure, but until I spent time behind the wheel, I couldn't comprehend just how unique a car could be to drive and experience. Like many, I appreciate speed. So imagine my surprise when I learned that I was slowly falling for a car which does 0-100 in barely 15 seconds.
The MGA Roadster started its life at a rather peculiar time. The end of World War 2 brought a new pollical front to the motoring industry. Manufacturers were limited on the materials they could use for their vehicles, so brands had to think bigger. Part of the political mindset was to produce for export and bring capital into the UK from overseas.
That was the job of the MGA Roadster, replacing the iconic MG Midget. It had a more refined look with a striking shape and romantic aura. One which was targeted more at the American market.
Economic pressures led MG to join Austin, forming the British Motor Company under Leonard Lord. Many MGs and Austins looked alike due to shared design. After the lacklustre Austin A90 Atlantic, Lord discovered a revitalising car by the Donald Healey Company. Leonard and Donald agreed over dinner to create the Austin Healey, thwarting MG's post-war sports car ambitions and forcing them to refocus their efforts.
The boffins at MG needed to come up with something quickly, and the MGA Roadster was the product. An aerodynamic and truly stunning British sports car. Now that we have the history out of the way, let's get into what it's like to drive this masterpiece in 2023.
Being a larger gentleman, I nervously stared into the not-so-large cabin as I opened the driver's door for the first time. After calculating my approach, I found that stepping over the steering wheel and slowly sinking into my seat was the best angle of attack, and to my surprise, it worked, and I fit. I was immediately struck by the sheer size of the steering wheel, reminding me just what a luxury this commonplace concept is.
Fortunately, the clutch was forgiving; however, it took a bit of getting used to the old character of the Roadster. Surprisingly the only element I struggled with was the handbrake.
Once on the move, the 1.5-litre inline-4 cylinder provides you with 51 kW to play with and 0-100 km/h in just over 15 seconds. Once you get this car up to speed, it's a thrilling experience with plenty of steering feedback and exciting cornering characteristics. You don't need to be going fast to experience the thrill of driving an MGA. Due to the solid rear axle and skinny tires, all paired with no onboard computer, the back end can step out without a moment's notice. The drum brakes all around took a bit of getting used to, and my leg got a workout as the brakes need to be stomped on to have any effect. The drums also get hot quickly, so the drive up a mountain pass is much less terrifying than the trip down.
Being a British car from the 50s, I wasn't surprised to discover that no dials worked. I didn't have a fuel gauge, a rev counter, a thermostat which was stuck at 30 degrees Celsius, or a working speedometer. Truth be told, I enjoyed the car even more for it as it brings out your expertise, as you figure out when it feels like when it's too hot, and you gain a sense of speed just by the power of the wind drumming in your ears. You look forward to getting out of the car but quickly find yourself longing to get back in and drive. A dilemma I never believed I would face.
There is something special about lightweight classic British sports cars. It makes you feel like a complete novice when you start them up for the first time and learn how to treat the vehicle with time. The MGA Roadster is just that. It's a car which takes time to understand. It gives you a glimpse into what motoring was about after the war. It was a time when an enthusiast knew their car, all the ins and outs, and what each bang and rattle meant. It's a refreshing experience to go back in time and see just how far my passion has come, and although I am relieved that we drive modern missiles, I'll miss this little British sports car.