Melanie and Martin Campbell’s Classic Adventure: A Magnificent MG TF
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Melanie and Martin Campbell’s Classic Adventure: A Magnificent MG TF

By DrJohnWright - 23 January 2023

Melanie and Martin Campbell derive enormous joy from their 1955 MG TF 1500, the first classic car they have owned. Buying an MG was Melanie’s idea and was inspired by the example of her grandmother, who had owned and cherished a 1972 Toyota Corolla Coupe KE20 from brand new until she had to stop driving some 20 years later. This stylish mustard-coloured Toyota was kept pristine and still had the plastic protection on the door trims. It even smelt new after two decades!

Does Melanie look happy with her classic 1955 MG TF 1500?
(Image: Martin Campbell)

Melanie has always loved classic cars in general and MGs particularly. When her grandmother died and left an inheritance, the natural thing to do seemed to be to buy a classic car for herself and her husband to enjoy.

Martin was more than happy to go along with this plan – ‘I wasn’t going to argue with her,’ he says and you can hear him smiling down the telephone! Initially, the couple were thinking about a TC, having seen a very nice one at Nambucca Heads a few years earlier. Martin admits he knew very little about old cars but when he saw this lovely late model TF advertised, he thought it looked like the real deal.

The TF has a much lower bonnet line than its predecessors to present a more rakish profile.
(Image: Martin Campbell)

Wayne Perry played a big role. Martin and Wayne have been friends for about 40 years, having gone to school together. Formerly a Qantas engineer, Wayne now works on Hercules at the RAAF Base in Richmond. ‘Wayne said to me, “just do it. You’ll never regret it.”

‘I was pretty clueless,’ Martin happily confesses. ‘I probably wouldn’t have done it without Wayne. I knew I could rely on him. I have learnt a lot from him.’

The TF, originally Birch Grey with red upholstery, emerged from the Abingdon factory on 11 March 1955. The original owner lived in Epping, Sydney. The next custodian lived in the southern Sydney suburb of Gymea. The TF then travelled north to Queensland. The fourth owner who had the TF for several years owned a vineyard near Yass, north of Canberra. He has since relocated to Italy which probably explains why he was selling his great little MG, which the Campbells acquired in November 2016.

Melanie and Martin’s MG TF is at home in the Hunter Valley.
(Image: Martin Campbell)

‘She lives in another wine region now,’ says Martin, ‘the beautiful Hunter Valley, the perfect place to have a car like this.’ The TF boards with Martin’s dad and every couple of weeks or so Melanie and Martin drive up to visit. It is an ideal arrangement that suits all concerned and the MG is kept remote from salt-laden ocean breezes! The Campbells have joined the Hunter Region MG Owners Club.

When they got the car, it lacked a roof, so Martin sourced one from Moss Europe in England. The roof arrived in kit form and included side windows. Martin asked Nepean Classic, Muscle and Kustom Cars in Penrith to install it. At the same time some minor body repairs were carried out. Nepean also installed a new stainless steel fuel tank.

For many enthusiasts, the TF is the most elegant expression of the MG Midget theme dating back to the 1930s.  
(Image: Martin Campbell)

While the engine was in excellent condition, the gearbox showed signs of wear. Wayne, Martin and Wayne’s father pulled it apart, worked out which parts were required and Martin ordered them from Moss. Wayne’s dad then rebuilt the box and, sadly, this was the last job he did before he passed away.

It was the previous owner who decided on the colour change. Martin doesn’t know what the name for the colour is, or even if it has a name. But he believes it was supposed to be like the red MG used during that period, though it is not quite a match. Regardless, an assertive red suits the car very nicely. (Many car enthusiast baby boomers will recall that the inaugural June 1954 edition of Modern Motor featured a bright red TF on the cover.)

MG grille has unique and timeless style.
(Image: Martin Campbell)

Interestingly, MG management had planned to discontinue its long-running Midget series with the TD. A prototype successor, EX.175, was completed by late 1952 and shown to the new owners of MG, the British Motor Corporation. This proposal was closely based on MG’s 1951 Le Mans car and foreshadowed the MGA. The news was bad: BMC boss Sir Leonard Lord, who had contracted Donald-Healey to develop a new Austin-based sports car with a 2660cc four-cylinder Austin A90 engine, saw no need for another expensive new sports car and ordered MG management to keep building the TC. All MG was allowed was a facelift of the existing model. This became the TF which debuted at the 1953 London Motor Show.

Between the end of World War Two – when American enthusiasts fell in love with the MG TC – and 1953, great changes occurred in automotive design and performance. High-compression V8 engines had become normal fare in the US. Although the TC had never sold on performance, its maximum speed of 80 miles per hour had been seen as adequate when typical Detroit sedans were only good for 80-85. Besides, the charm lay in the looks, character and dynamics.

Classic XPEG engine, beneath vintage-style two-sided bonnet.
(Image: Martin Campbell)

So, while British customers still living with postwar austerity accepted the TF, Americans mostly did not. Its 1250cc engine was seen as woefully inadequate. Within a year of the TF’s introduction, MG fitted an enlarged 1.5-litre (XPEG) edition of the classic (XPAG) four-cylinder engine, which made a surprising and very welcome difference. Top speed was up to 88 miles per hour with much improved acceleration. TF 1500s even enjoyed some success in motorsport – in Australia with Denny Hulme and in the UK with Pat Moss, sister of Stirling. But declining sales eventually convinced Leonard Lord to authorise a new-generation MG sports car, the MGA for 1956. BMC’s 1.5-litre B-Series engine replaced the XPEG unit.

That ‘1500’ badge really meant something for MG customers in 1954.
(Image: Martin Campbell)

So the TF 1500 was not just the final ‘square-rigger’ MG sports car, it was also the last to be powered by an MG-developed engine (even though that unit had started life beneath Morris bonnets). And while the TF could rightly be said to be old-fashioned in the mid-1950s, the TF – especially in 1500 form – has been celebrated for at least the last half century by lovers of traditional British sports cars, meaning just about everyone!

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