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.
The last street race at Watkins Glen: American sports car racing got its start on a 6.6-mile circuit through the tiny town of Watkins Glen in upstate New York. The picturesque spot was an ideal place for tourists to come and spend their money as they watched the mostly European sports cars and their rich American owners challenge the partially paved country roads. In the 1952 event, however, Fred Wacker's Allard J2 brushed the crowd that pressed along the edges of the main street's curbs, and 12 people were seriously injured and a 7-year-old child was killed. But the race survived, moving to a permanent circuit in 1953 and becoming the eventual home to the United States Grand Prix Formula One race in the '60s and '70s.
Greta Molander: Norwegian rally legend Greta Molander won the ladies cup in the Monte Carlo Rally in a Saab 92 two-cylinder sedan. Molander had won the ladies division of this rally before the war, competing in a Plymouth. She was a true pioneer in the sport of rallying in the days before such women competitors as Pat Moss and Rosemary Smith.
Bentley Continental R: Fantastically expensive, fantastically refined, fantastically fast. Buyers included the Shah of Iran, Prince Frederick of Prussia, Briggs Cunningham, Aristotle Onassis and Ian Fleming. The Continental R was incredibly beautiful, with a sloping fastback roof and gracefully sculptured front and rear fenders. Its proud upright radiator grille and flying B emblem left no doubt this was indeed a true representative of the best of the British Empire. The 3,700-lb automobile had a top speed of 120 mph, and the prototype was used as an official course car at the 1952 Le Mans 24 Hours. Of the 208 Continental R's made, all but 11 still exist in the hands of their lucky owners.
The birth of Road America: In the early 1950s, American sports-car racing was in its infancy. Racing on closed public roads was readily accepted, and from 1950-52 the small village of Elkhart Lake, north of Milwaukee, Wis., was the scene of one of the country's original races. But its own success was its downfall, as crowds of more than 100,000 and serious racing Ferraris, Cunninghams and Jaguars couldn't be contained by hay bales and snow fencing. In 1952, even as the final street race was being run, plans were underway to build a permanent racing circuit near the picturesque town. The first event at the 4-mile Road America track took place in 1954, and the place remains one of America's most beautiful and picturesque racing circuits.
Sydney Allard wins Monte Carlo Rally: The Monte Carlo Rally was always considered the biggest event on the international rally calendar. In 1952, not only did Englishman Sydney Allard win the event, he did so using a car of his own manufacture, a P-Type sedan powered by a Ford flathead V8. Young Stirling Moss finished second in a Talbot 90.
Air conditioning, 1952: General Motors became the first automaker to offer air conditioning as an option on some of its models.
BMW begins the climb back: BMW's first post-war car, the 501 began production.
La Carrera Panamericana: That year saw the most active European factory participation in the annual 2,093-mile Mexican road race. There were three Mercedes-Benz 300 SLs, four 4.1-liter Ferrari Coupes, a Porsche 1.5-liter Speedster and entries from Gordini and Lancia. The Mercedes-Benz sports cars finished first and second, with a winning average of 102.6 mph.
Erik Carlsson's first rally: Rally legend Erik Carlsson from Sweden ran his first rally in 1952, after several years of motorcycle competition. His first rally car was a Saab 92, and he later made his name in the tiny cars from Trollhtten as a world famous rally competitor and as a Saab company spokesman.
Kamm tail: The All-American Chrysler-engined C4R with Briggs Cunningham driving finished fourth at Le Mans. One of the team cars was a coupe that featured a cut-off tail section under study by an aerodynamicist named Professor Wunibald Kamm, whose name graces the innovation.
British Motor Corporation: BMC was formed in 1952 out of the Nuffield Group and the Austin Motor Company and placed under the direction of Sir Leonard Lord.
Monaco: The Monaco Grand Prix was run for full-fendered sports cars instead of Grand Prix machines. Ferrari took the top five spots.
Allard J2X: The formidable Allard J2X with a Cadillac V8 engine appeared and was one of the cars to beat in American sports car racing.
12 Hours of Sebring: Alec Ulmann had already created a sports-car race in central Florida around the taxiways and runways of an airport. In 1952, he secured an international date from the FIA to hold a 12-hour endurance race at the Sebring track. That 12-hour race continues to this day as America's premier long-distance sports-car endurance test. With a highest placing of sixth overall, an MG team of three TDs took the team prize at that first Sebring 12-hour race.
National Motor Museum: Lord Montagu of Beaulieu in England opened his collection of six veteran cars to the public in 1952. He did this largely to honor the memory of his father, John Scott Montagu, who was one of motoring's pioneers. Since that time the museum has increased in popularity and today houses many hundreds of cars that are important to British motoring history. The website address is www.beaulieu.co.uk
Disc brakes: The C-Type Jaguar began experimenting with disc brakes for racing.
Vice President/Group Publisher International Performance GroupJohn Stewart
AdvertisingPublisherInternational Group Mads BuckGroup Sales Manager Rob Mullner 714/939-2422Group Operations Director Denise ConvertitoAdvertising Sales Representatives Glenda Elam Jay Friedman Michael Graham Jerrod StraussAdvertising Sales Asst.Kari Watters714/939-2519
New Jersey Sales OfficeNational Sales DirectorRobert Hutchinson201/712-9300 Ext 641 Fax: 201-712-0207
Detroit Sales OfficeMaiorana & Partners, LTDColleen Maiorana/Anne Matuscak248/546-2222 phone 248/546-0019 fax
Direct Marketing GroupSales Director Michael Kirby 714/939-2469Advertising Sales Representatives Jill Thompson Barbara DonkerJosh Biggers Stephen RussAdvertising Sales AssistantJamie Dedic 714-939-2577
MarketingDirector of Marketing David M. CohenMarketing Manager Eric Williams
Single Copy SalesDirector, Single Copy Sales Rich BaronAssociate Director, Single Copy SalesJaneen Caleo
AdministrationPresident & CEO Craig L. NickersonExecutive VP, Sales and Marketing Thomas B. Ryan Jr.Vice President, Consumer Marketing David BallVice President, Production Nick ElsenerVice President, Manufacturing Budgets and Operations Lilia GoliaVice President, Primedia DigitalJohn W. Cobb III
Primedia Inc.Chairman and CEO Tom RogersPresident and DirectorCharles G. McCurdyVice Chairman Beverly C. Chell
Primedia Consumer Media & Magazine GroupPresident and CEO John LoughlinChief Operating Officer Daniel E. AksExecutive VP, Consumer Marketing/Circulation Steve AsterSr. VP/Chief Financial OfficerLinda C. JenkinsSr. VP, Mfg., Production and Distribution Kevin MullanSr. VP, Human ResourcesKenneth P. SlivkenVP/CIO, Information TechnologyArmand MadeoVice President, Database and Consumer Information John DePalmVice President, Single Copy Sales Thomas L. FogartyVice President, Business Development Corinne Helman