Fifty years has always held special meaning to human beings. For car enthusiasts, 50 years is very nearly half of the entire history of the automobile. Although I myself am still several years away from that esteemed age, my 1952 MG TD sports car this year reached its golden anniversary. It seems hard to imagine that this sprightly little roadster, with its cheery disposition and rough and ready demeanor, is actually half of 100 years old. It does seem to be aging gracefully. If you don't mind being passed a lot, the MG can still hold its own in modern traffic and is comfortable in its race group on the track.
When my MG was new in 1952, I can't imagine you would have been able to drive a 50-year-old 1902 automobile as easily in the "modern" traffic of the '50s. To be sure, a lot of progress has been made in automobile design and technology during the past five decades, but cars today are fundamentally not all that different from those in the early '50s. In fact, with the exception of stability control systems that are available on some high- and mid-range vehicles, most of the advances-including anti-lock brakes, disc brakes, radial tires, aerodynamics, supplemental airbag restraints, fuel injection, direct ignition and variable valve timing-are really just refinements of basic ideas already used in cars of an earlier age.
To celebrate the 50th birthday of my beloved MG TD, I decided to make a list of 20 other automotive enthusiasts' highlights from 50 years ago-1952. Feel free to add any to the list I may have forgotten.
Austin Healey 100: Unveiled at the October Earls Court International Motor Show in England, the Healey 100 was a visual feast for a car enthusiast's eyes. Slotting above the old-fashioned MG and agricultural Triumph TR-2 and below the very fast but expensive Jaguar XK120, the Healey soon made a name for itself on racetracks, rally trails and in sports car clubs. The original four-cylinder engine was replaced by a straight six to make the Austin Healey 3000, and that car was eventually softened for the tastes of the American market, before the car finally ended production in 1967 and after nearly 74,000 Big Healeys had been built.
Triumph TR2: Another Earls Court Motor Show sensation. In the days when inexpensive sports cars such as the MG TD, Jowett Jupiter and Morgan Plus Four were all fairly slow, the TR2 promised a top speed of over 100 mph and a 0-to-60-mph time of just over 11 sec. It went into production in 1953 and eventually evolved into the TR3, becoming a success on race and rally circuits and a truly legendary sports car.
Factory Porsche racing cars: Although Porsche 356 Coupes had been raced by privateers in several countries for a few years, 1952 marked the first year the factory took an active part in racing its own cars, including the 1952 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Mercedes-Benz 300SL "Gullwing": The extraordinary Mercedes-Benz 300 SL was created to win races for the German company. In its first year the Gullwing finished one-two at Le Mans, an extraordinary accomplishment that raised the bar of international sports-car racing. The racing cars eventually spawned a production version of the coupe and a roadster. The vertically opening doors of the very rigid and highly aerodynamic coupe gave it its "Gullwing" nickname. The coupes were devastatingly fast and exceptionally beautiful and made a reputation for design, high speed and quality that the company still uses to promote its cars today.