Modernity Question Versus The Driving Experience: The 1953 MG TD As An Intersection Point

1953 MG TD. Somewhere in Las Vegas


In a recent post Dman asked us when we thought cars became modern. The CC readership enthusiastically responded with a vibrant discussion.

I was just one of those CC’ers who offered an opinion and some commentary which both Paul Niedermeyer and Ed Stembridge thought that I should put into a standalone CC post.  So the following is a slight retooling of my initial opinion and story with additional pictures.

I first responded to Dman’s modernity question by saying, ” I hate to break it to you, but welcome to the world of the old. Every generation sets its concepts of modernity based on when, as youths, it and we, as its time travelers, become aware of the current world.”

“At one time the Model T Ford was as progressively MODERN and HIP as the Apple iPhone is to us today.  No crime here, welcome to old age.”

I continued, ” Dman, an additional thought about modernity contrasted with “The Fun Of the Driving Experience”.  As I reflected earlier, modernity is, I believe, related to a person’s “age of awareness”, occurring when the wonder and the beauty of the world is insinuated and imprinted into a young person’s consciousness.  Everything is relative to that age, the “Now Age”, everything before is typically “OLD” and everything forward is the NEW MODERN PRESENT with the enchanting allure of the future to come.”

Then there is the concept of sentimentality, the remembering and re-experiencing and reminiscing our pleasantries and pleasures from the past.

What in God’s name, does this have to do with our collective CC enthusiasm for old cars?  Let me give you a few thoughts and experiences.

Recently I was visiting a friend in Las Vegas and was given a wonderful lesson in driving pleasures.  My friend has a 1953 MG TD and a 1970 Porsche 914 1.7, while his wife has a modern Audi R8 V10.  Experiencing these three cars gave me a great lesson in driving pleasure versus modernity.

Lets first take a drive in the 1953 MG TD, really an ancient car designed with updated 1930’s technology, really a post war II updated 1945-49 MG TC with a stouter frame and independent front suspension replacing the TC’s 1930’s front beam axle.  It still had 1930’s suicide doors (wow, my first time experience of suicide doors) mounted on a ash wood framed body, with a small bore, small displacement, long stroke pushrod 1250 cc 57 bhp four cylinder engine, attached to a 1930’s era non synchromesh first gear 4 speed transmission with very slow synchro’s on the upper three forward gears.



The 0-60 time back in the day was about 18 seconds, a seeming eternity in modern traffic, but what an unexpected delight results in current traffic.

This TD was an earlier race warrior, which first raced in the 1950’s prior to the formation of the SCCA, in multiple hill climbs in Pennsylvania and Ohio, in Akron Sports Car Club race events, and raced on multiple occasions in the long ago 1950’s public road races on Lake Erie’s Middle Bass Island, in the “Put-in-Bay” races.  The TD had multiple brass medallions and plaques over its dash and engine compartment, and still had body bruises from long-ago race mishaps.

1953 MG TD 1950’s Race Plaques


1953 MG TD Cockpit/Dashboard

Before we started, my friend Steve checked the gas tank level with the car’s tank dipstick, no fancy modern fuel gauge for this MG.  That was something for a future MG model.

Removing the Gas Tank Dipstick. No Failure Prone Lucas Electric Petrol Gauge Here!


Gas Level Looks Good.  Ready for Takeoff.


First Steve drove warming up the TD.  Two old guys in a MG enjoying themselves in the Vegas sun.

When I had a chance to drive the TD in real trafic, the revelations began. First, getting in with suicide doors, swinging in my legs into the seemingly tiny seat and cockpit, then positioning my feet around the clutch, brake, and gas pedal in the limited space of the cockpit was an unexpected vintage sensation.  My friend Steve and I aren’t the small slender “Brits of Yore”, being realistically generously fleshy  males, even, some would say, with corpulent, “modern” (there’s that word again, DMan) bodies.

Once in, the pleasures and delights began.  The TD was like an old British motorcycle.   Once the engine started, the car’s whole body had gentle rhythmic vibrations beating in time with the position of the throttle.  A gentle, but pleasant buzz passed through the seat into my pants.  The shift lever and the foot pedals all had their own sympathetic vibrations, like Brian Wilson’s Beach Boys “Good Vibrations”.

Engaging first had a very solid mechanical feel, and despite the clutch in, I had to be gentle but deliberate in pushing into gear.  Literally I could feel the teeth of the gears engaging, and it was like this with every gear selected as I drove–amazingly satisfying on so many levels for an old gear head like me.  Steve smiled and laughed a deep belly laugh when I told him what I was experiencing.  “Cool, get used to it, and enjoy”, came from his lips.

Downshifting due to the slow synchros required slow deliberate shifting, seemingly feeling each of the gear teeth engage and mesh with each down shift. It was faster to double clutch on each downshift, and matching engine speed to the gears selected was SO, SO SATISFYING. Not modern, but amazingly satisfying.

As we drove through his neighborhood, allowing me to become familiarized to the TD, we both talked about how amazingly skillful 1950’s drivers had to be to cane the hell out of these MG’s in actual races.  Their skill levels were above Steve’s and my current pay grades, but I guess we could have learned to drive like them in  1950’s races, given enough time and practice.

After leaving the neighborhood, at our first traffic light, a young woman in a modern, curent Honda Civic sat in cold A/C comfort, oblivious to us in the next lane.  Our ancient MG had no obvious interest to her–likely just a small, old, yellow car with two uninteresting, fat, old, grey haired men–old guys, if she even noted us– driving it.  She likely didn’t even have any curiosity about the car brand–the car and we were seemingly invisible to her.

When the light turned green, I slid the gear lever into first–Ah, so satisfying the feeling as the gears engaged–then was on full throttle with each gear just trying to keep up with her. Here I was, driving the TD balls out, in effect racing with her Civic, and actually losing to her, on the way to the next light.  She was likely unaware of my TD’s modest power, that I had to “race” with her just to keep up–but Wow, was it fun. She always won despite my efforts, but I had a huge grin on my face.  She looked bored.

It was like this with every light.  Steve and I just roared with laughter.  Steve had let me in on the secret of the pleasure of the TD in modern traffic.  Every stop light was like being on the starting grid of a modern race or being crafty Lewis Hamilton at the start of an F1 race.  So satisfying on so many levels.  The TD just felt alive, and made me feel alive driving it in modern traffic.

The heat of the old cast iron engine and the cast iron transmission case radiated into the cramped cabin, adding to the hot, ambient heat of air in mid-day Las Vegas, our laughter and the good time together driving this fun, ancient car insulated us from the heat.

Red Rocks, in the distance. Near Las Vegas


Steve let me drive the TD on his well loved 20-25 mile loop past Red Rocks before we turned home to switch cars.

Blue 1970 914 1.7 and the red 1973 914 2.0–cousins

We then jumped into his Targa Top  1970 Porsche 914 1.7 (with 85 bhp, a huge bump in power from the TD’s 57 bhp) next to my 1973 914 with a relatively more mighty 100 bhp.  The top came off in an instant, stored in the rear trunk, for our drive.

Red Rocks, now from the 914 Cabin

The 1970 914, what a change, it was a modern car in comparison to the TD.  It was still an old car, like my ’73 914 2.0, tickling every sensation in the same drive loop that we took with the TD while going past Red Rocks again.

You still had to satisfyingly drive the snot out of the “14 to keep up with modern traffic, and the ’14 was just plain fun, but different than the TD, which, truth be said, was actually a greater pleasure to drive than the modern 914.

Then after we returned again, we drove the Audi R8 V10.  What a change.

The Audi was ultra modern, blindingly fast, air conditioned, supremely quiet and comfortable, and yet so unsatisfying.  Within the R8 you felt so cocooned and isolated from the road and driving compared to the TD and the 914.  This was a modern car, a perfect daily driver, even a car to drive to the In-and-Out Burger (which we actually did with the R8, Steve driving–(Patty, please understand Steve was driving your baby to In-and-Out)–Ah, great burgers!), but, my God, what a waste from the standpoint of pleasure.  The R8 was, dare I say it, Fast & Boring, at the same time.  Maybe an R8 would be exciting at speed on a race track, but as we drove it in regular traffic, it was boring.

Would I want a MG TD for a daily driver, no, absolutely not, but for the occasional drive to remind me why we learned to love driving, then it is incomparable.

So Dman, the real question in my mind is modernity vs the driving experience.  If a car is a daily driver appliance, thought of like a driving refrigerator or a stove, born to be stuck in rush hour grid traffic, then a current modern car like a Honda Civic or Toyota Camry with an automatic transmission is the perfect answer.

Otherwise the experience and memories of the old appeals to the sentiments of our love of the old cars that we read about on the pages of CC.  Go ahead and enjoy your memories of your 1993 Corolla. I’ll be there too with my old memories. The past is a great place to visit with our memories, and then, on occasion, to physically visit when given the opportunity to drive an ancient car like the TD, or even old 914’s.