1954 MG TF Passed Down From Father To Son

WATERTOWN, CT – March marked the 70th anniversary of the arrival of a new 1954 MG TF roadster into Charles McNair’s family. His father was 37 years old when his mother – McNair’s grandmother – gifted it to his father, who kept it until 1981 when he passed away and it handed down to his son.

The well cared-for MG has 160,000 miles on the odometer, a majority of them racked up by McNair’s parents, Charles Sr. and Maribelle McNair. They lived in southern California where McNair was raised. A retired doctor, he’s lived in Watertown since 1978.

Charles McNair behind the wheel of his 1954 MG TF

“They were very active in the La Jolla Sports Car Club, just north of San Diego, and the weather permitted for year-round motoring,” said McNair, recalling that the couple would participate in “at least a couple of rallies every month. These would range anywhere from 150 miles to 350-mile rallies, followed by a dinner with the sports car club. It was very, very nice.” 

Other rallies took the pair to the Continental Divide and cross-country.

See the 1954 MG TF in action in this YouTube video…

McNair’s father taught him to appreciate the MG. “As I got older, I became his navigator on these things. He was a man of few words and he said, ‘Whatever you do as navigator, just don’t throw up.’ When he handed the car to me, handed the keys to me, he said, ‘Die in the crash.’ That was it.”

After McNair’s father died, the MG went unused for 10 years. “It stayed in California and was in the garage at my mother’s house, so whenever I’d go back to visit, I’d always go back and look at the car,” he said.

Having driven the MG in high school and his first year of college, followed by a three-year stint in the U.S. Army and later med school, resulted in an attachment to it. “I loved the car and she knew I wanted it,” he said, referring to his mother. 

Parked alongside the MG in the garage was a 1938 Ford Phaeton, which he also inherited and eventually sold. The proceeds went to getting the MG shipped to Connecticut in 1991 where it immediately got a complete “stem to stern” makeover down to bare metal. “What you see is from 1991. I haven’t done anything other than polish it,” said McNair last fall.

McNair admittedly is not a mechanic and wrenching skills are  helpful, nay, mandatory when owning an old British car. “My father and older brother were the ones who sort of kept it going and I thought, well, I’ll drive it as long as it runs and when it stops that’ll be it,” he said.

Fortunately, he found a mechanic in the area who is knowledgeable when it comes to vintage MG models, so it’s still on the road. The MG is powered by a 1,250cc (but bored out to 1,350cc) inline four-cylinder engine. It has a four-speed manual transmission.

The engine in the 1954 MG TF

MG unveiled the TF model in 1953 as a stopgap model until the MGA could be produced and it lasted until 1955. The company, though, had produced roadsters prior to World War II.

“The MG was a very popular car before the war, and the driving force behind it was they wanted to have an affordable, fun sports car so that the average Britisher could afford a car and have fun it ’cause other than that, you were looking at Bugattis and Ferraris and Jaguars, so the MG became very popular.”

After the war came the two-seater TC and TD models before the TF appeared. What differentiates the TF from its predecessor models is a more inclined radiator and built-in headlamps. Only 6,200 of the 1,250cc version TF were ever built.  

That the MG has been in McNair’s family for so long makes its special. “The connection with my father is very important to me. It’s a lovely car,” said McNair. “All the modern cars now all look pretty much the same. They have the same aerodynamics and things, so the MG, I think, is pretty distinctive.”

Having a good mechanic is a necessity, however, as the TF can be temperamental. Until McNair found one “my wife wouldn’t go out with me because it would break down,” he said. 

Even now she’s apt “to stay by the phone to come rescue me,” and that was the case back in mid-November when McNair took the TF out for a spin for RIDE-CT. It overheated a few miles from his house, forcing McNair to pull over. His wife had to bring a jug of water to fill a depleted radiator.

(A version of this story appeared in the “Republican-American on March 22, 2024.)

About Bud Wilkinson

Bud Wilkinson writes the "RIDE-CT" motorcycle column and the "My Ride" classic car feature in the "Republican-American" newspaper in Waterbury, CT. A graduate of Vermont Academy prep school, he holds a B.A. degree journalism from Ohio Wesleyan University. He is the recipient of a Scripps Howard Foundation National Journalism Award in 1992 and a 1991-92 regional Emmy Award for commentary. He currently rides a 1987 BMW R 80 RT and a 2014 Triumph Bonneville and drives a 2010 Mazda MX-5 Miata.

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