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An Introduction to the MG Y Series

This is really for the interested enthusiast who may never own a MG Y Type, but wants to know more about them. It will not do a prospective owner any harm to read it either, though they may wish to go on to view the more descriptive ‘Buying a Y Type’ pages on this web site.



The Y Type was the third MG saloon car of a series ready for the market just before WW2 started. The first was the huge MG SA saloon based on the Wolseley 18/80; the second was the middle model VA based on the Wolseley 12/14; the third was the small YA based on the Morris/Wolseley 8/4 with then engine of the 10/4. This gave MG an 18, 14 and 10hp range. The MG company had been stifled from producing its multiple models of small four and six cylinder sports and racing cars by the new Managing Director of Morris Motors, one Leonard Lord. He considered that racing was a waste of money, and had drawn in the reigns of MG and reducing Cecil Kimber from the Managing Director of MG to just Works Manager of Abingdon. Lord insisted that in future, all MGs would be based on corporate cars and the corporate parts bin. That meant MG had to use what was already in production with Morris and Wolseley. As a guide Morris were the family and less polished cars with side-valve engines; Wolseley was the posh end with ohv and some ohc engines but using basically Morris chassis, bodies and OHV conversions of sv Morris units. By 1938 the new Y Type, that used the centre section of the humble Morris 8 Series ‘E’ with a bored out Morris Ten Series ‘M’ engine, gearbox and rear axle, all fitted to a new fully boxed in ladder chassis, was ready for sale. It should have appeared in the 1939 London Motor Show, but WW2 intervened.

Some say that Gerald Palmer was responsible for the boot-bustle added to the rear of the Morris 8 body, and the extended bonnet from the Morris Ten used on the Y Type. Palmer rejects this in his autobiography. Perhaps Cecil Kimber had a hand in the styling; it was after all his forte. Underneath the very mid-1930s styling of the YA was a very modern ohv engine of just 1250cc, taken from the MG TB but fitted with only a single carburettor, and independent front suspension (ifs) with rack and pinion steering. Others still used worm & peg steering boxes with their attendant excessive play. The car handled so well that after WW2 MG used it as the basis of the very successful MG TD (and taking seven inches out of the chassis length to do so).

The facts are that now the little sports saloon is a very attractive car, and there are not many good ones left about. Before 1995 many were scrapped for their running gear as this fitted the MG TB,TC, TD and TF sports cars.


The Facts

So the MG Y Series is a 1930s design. In the 21st Century it is well to remember that fact.
For instance, the Y Series does NOT have-;

    • Power steering.
    • A brake servo.
    • Disc brakes.
    • Radial ply tyres as original.
    • Fuel injection.
    • An engine management system.
    • An oxygen sensor.
    • Telescopic dampers.
    • Independent rear suspension.
    • Monocoque construction.
    • Central locking.
    • Windscreen washers (only required on cars with fixed windscreens, by law in 1970).
    • A pressurised cooling system.
    • An air filter, (it is only an air silencer).
    • A main beam light.
    • An engine temperature gauge.
    • Child proof rear door locks.
    • Seat belts (see later for legal problems here).
    • Air bags.
    • Negative earth system for modern radio/CD players and LED lamps.
    • Any crushable accident body zones.
    • A heater.
    • Windscreen demisting system.
    • When built, rear reflectors (but now mandatory so most have them fitted since 1956).
    • Quartz halogen headlamps.
    • Flashing indicators.
    • An ergonomically laid out dash board.
    • Tachometer.
    • Electric window winders.
    • Reinforced doors with side crash bars.
    • Synchromesh on first gear.
    • A five speed gearbox.
    • A long 10,000 mile service interval.
    • As built the engine is not lead-free petrol compatible (but see later).
    • A catalytic converter.
    • Hydraulic tappets.
    • Electronic ignition.

The Y Type DOES have

    • A top speed of only 69mph giving a cruising speed of 50mph maximum.
    • An opening sun roof.
    • An opening windscreen.
    • A reversing light.
    • An adjustable steering column.
    • Limited front seat fore and aft adjustment.
    • Independent front suspension when others were still using beam axles and cart springs.
    • A separate boxed in steel ladder chassis.
    • On the YA and YT a rear axle locating Panhard rod.
    • On the YB a front anti-roll-bar.
    • A lively ohv engine whilst many were still fitting asthmatic side-valve units.
    • Excellent road manners and handling (why it was used as a basis for the TD sports car).
    • A wide torque curve requiring only a four-speed gearbox (you can run down to 20mph in top).
    • Leather and polished wood interior.
    • A style and character that no modern car can ever match.
    • A radiator cap that really is the filler for the radiator.
    • Semaphore ‘Trafficator’ indicators, all the rage in the 1930s.
    • Forward opening ‘suicide’ front doors giving a much more natural entry and exit.
    • A ‘choke’ necessary for engine starting in cold weather.
    • A starting handle very useful in cold weather, a flat battery, or for servicing.
    • A 1000 mile service interval for certain grease points in the front suspension and steering.
    • A 3000 mile engine oil change period with 6000 miles for the (non-spin-off) oil filter.
    • A large steering wheel to give the correct leverage for the accurate steering.
    • Drum brakes all round, single leading shoe on the YA and YT, twin leading shoe on the YB.
    • Interior light, rare in those days, but it does not work off the doors.
    • Rear grab handles for rear seat passengers, and a central liftable arm-rest.
    • Positive earthing electrical system, modern cars are negative earth. Limits your accessories.
    • Synchromesh on three upper gears.
    • Spiral bevel rear axle on the YA and YT, more modern hypoid rear axle on the YB.
    • Some fit an alternator which are all neg-earth, and a few fit seat belts but this requires reinforced areas of the chassis adding and the ‘B’ post problem solving. Not to say anything of an insurance company’s requirements for an engineer’s report.

What to Expect

The reason the MG Y series cars did not sell very well was simply because they were out of date in their styling when they were introduced to the car market in 1947. Remember it had been almost ten years earlier when it was designed and built. Even though its specification was right up to date, the separate wings, running boards and narrow tall bonnet and radiator dated it. You only have to look at what other cars were styled like in 1947-50. By 1953 the model was deleted and the much smoother, faster, bigger and stylish MG ZA arrived (using Austin Cambridge running gear, as Austin and Morris had amalgamated by then to become BMC).

Study the interior pictures of the dash. Not very well laid out at all, switches all over the place, none labeled either. It is doubtful if a modern car owner would even be able to start the car today. He would probably break the ignition key in its lock by trying to twist it to operate the starter. No, you pull another button for that, the ignition switch only switches on or off the ignition. If it is cold weather you would also need to ‘set the choke’ by pulling out its knob (note the clothes peg in the photo under the dash, it is just the right width to hold out the choke). This ‘enriches’ the mixture for starting and increases the idle rpm a little. But it must be pushed in as soon as possible or you will drink fuel and wash off the oil from the cylinder bores. There is no EMS on this car to do all this for you, YOU are the engine’s management system.




To get in, put your bum in first, then swing your legs in. Having sat in the driver’s seat you will have noticed that the car is very narrow. People were smaller seventy years ago. Embarrassingly, large persons over 18 stone will not be able to get into this car, and certainly not the rear seats. Two people over 12 stones will rub shoulders in the front seats. The reason that it is very difficult to fit seat belts to this car will also be evident. Your shoulder is level with the middle of the rear door; any seat belt fitting to the ‘B’ post will be six inches in front of your chest. The floor is made of wood and not suitable for seat belt mountings anyway. To you the steering wheel will seem huge, but it is that diameter so you can steer the car, there is no ‘power steering for the softy’ here. Should the car have radial-ply tyres fitted you will need to work hard to steer the car at low speeds, such as parking it. Likewise, the first time you push that brake pedal, nothing will happen. It may seem that way, but modern cars need such light application all you did was to take up the slack in the mechanism. You need to be firm and will find that over 100lbf will be required to stop quickly, that means you will be pushing hard into the back of your seat. The brakes are efficient, they just have no power assistance; YOU are the power assistance. The YB is slightly better braked than the two earlier Ys.

As the windscreen can open, there is no need to have windscreen washers, though many owners have retro-fitted them. As it does open, if the seal is getting old, so it will leak, as will the sunroof. There are four hoses, one from each corner of the sunroof channels coming out under each wing that drain the area in rain. Parking under trees causes leaves and dirt to block these hoses. The driver’s side wiper is also the windscreen wiper’s switch. It can operate independently of the passenger side one. To get both working, start the driver’s side first by pulling out the big Bakelite knob and twisting it till the motor takes over. To get the passenger one working, do the same by let the driver’s side one ‘catch’ it. Do NOT move the passenger one too much or it will get in the way of the other working wiper and buckle the arms. You have been warned. Opening the windscreen and driving at over 40mph can cause the driver’s wiper to be blown inside the car, operating the switch, and you will have a wiper arm waving about in front of you on the inside of the windscreen. You do not get entertainment like this in your flashy modern Euroclone. You can operate each wiper by hand without the electric motor to give one sweep yourself, easily. YOU are the intermittent wipe!

Going up the gearbox is easy, just remember the car weighs over a tonne and only has 1250cc with 46bhp available. This 46bhp is at 4,600rpm, so around 35mph it will only be about 25bhp unlike your modern car with perhaps 50 or 60bhp at the same speed. You will ‘proceed’ instead of ‘accelerate’ in this car. It was a fast car back in 1947, one of the fastest in its engine size and class but not today. You will eventually get to 45-50mph, the most comfortable speed for the engine. By now you will have seen there is an oil pressure gauge on the dash. It is there to worry you. New engines will give high initial pressures dropping to about 50psi with a hot engine at 30mph. So with a worn, hot engine at idle at some traffic lights, you might only get 10psi. As long as the pressure is above 40psi at 30mph, do not worry (too much…). The petrol contents gauge is not damped as on modern cars. If it is half full, on right-hand bends it will read empty and on left handers, full. Should you need to use the lights, there is no main-beam light. Again, YOU are the light sensor, so you must be aware of when you are dazing people and operate the foot dip-switch down behind the clutch pedal. If you have big feet you might find this difficult. Like I mentioned earlier, people were smaller back then.

As the body you are sitting between sits on top of the chassis, you are also sitting on the chassis. The floor is made up of plywood sections bolted to the body side sills and the chassis. The bonnet and radiator are also bolted onto the chassis. Over really big pot-holes you will get a bit of scuttle-shake; that simply means the car will rattle a bit. Unlike your current modern Euroclone mobile with its rigid monoconstruction, the Y Type is not insulated against noise, nor is it as rigid. After a few miles you will feel the heat of the engine through the steel dash bulkhead on your feet.

Thrashing the car at 60mph on a motorway is suicidal. It was never designed for such use and long fast running will burn out exhaust valve seats if they have not been fitted with lead free, hardened steel inserts. Use of the car on normal ‘B’ type roads running below 50mph should not affect unmodified valve seats for some considerable time, as long as the car had a good few thousand miles on TET petrol beforehand.

Over 45mph the car gets quite noisy. The windows are all set into the bodywork, not flush with the outside. You will get wind-roar from the ‘B’ post (the one the door’s hinges are on) as the doors do not have seals all the way around them. The car’s sharp corners such as the front windscreen pillars will also cause wind road, as can a sunroof that has no front and rear seals fitted. At 50mph the engine, gearbox and rear axle will tell you they are working hard by the racket. Modern cars have huge amounts of insulation and tight door gaps with flush windows, to keep noise down. On steep hills you will have to change down to third or even second gear to get up them. First gear has no synchromesh, so to engage it on the move you need to be very proficient at double-de-clutching. Otherwise stop the car first before selecting it or you will wreck the gearbox.

If you take three big adult passengers with you, the car will not perform as well as it will solo. It only has a little engine. Back in the 1930s (and 40s for that matter) petrol was very expensive, as was the road tax system that was based on engine power. A formula designed by the infant RAC before WW1 was used by the tax authorities to tax cars. It used the engine’s bore but not its stroke, so everyone built engines with small bores and long strokes. This gives good low down torque but poor high rpm, hence the car not being suitable for motorway running today. Cars had smaller engines back then for their body size, the most popular was the 10hp range of about 1100cc. The Y Type is classed as a 10.9hp. After WW2 this tax system was abolished and cars were all taxed the same, but it took some time for manufacturers to catch up with new, short stroke, high revving engines.

Unlike today’s cars, you can lock the rear wheels with the handbrake easily. The handbrake has two cables; each has its own grease nipple. The propeller shaft has two universal joints and a sliding joint; all have their own grease nipples. The water pump has its own grease nipple, as does each top and bottom trunnion on the king pins. The steering rack has three nipples, so in all there are 12 points to be greased, those on the king pins every 1000 miles, the others every 3000. You need to do a lot more servicing on an old car that a modern one. If you are not mechanically orientated and want a garage to carry out your servicing, you need to find a garage sympathetic to the older car (and have a big wallet to pay their hourly charges).

A legal problem exists about the ability for anyone to take a child in these cars, and for any other pre-seat-belt law cars for that matter. Currently you cannot take a child in the front seat at all, and not the rear either unless seat belts are fitted. How this affects the two-seat sports car is anyone’s guess. Grandparents cannot take their grand children for a run legally, but no one has tested this at law yet. You need to see the Regulation for the actual ages, weights and height of the children this applies to. It appears to be a very grey area as the legislators ‘forgot’ pre-1961 cars.

Like the engineering, the electrics are also of the 1930s. The Y Type has a feeble Lucas C39 dynamo that only just supplies enough power for the lights at night. You use the wipers and a heater AND the lights, this dynamo will let the battery top up the power demand and so slowly discharge it. This was common back in those days, hence the car having a starting handle to get it going the next morning, or the owner parked it facing downhill and bump-started it. Everyone had a little battery charger that dribbled a 2amp charge back into the battery overnight. Added to this, if you parked on the highway inside a 30mph speed limit, you required a parking light!

In Use Today?

What do many owners do to keep their cars safe on our busy roads? Below are some of the common modifications fitted, though not all to every car.

    • Flashing indicators (and many keep the semaphore operating as well).
    • Lead free cylinder head conversion.
    • Spin-on oil filter mod.
    • Hi-level LED rear brake lights.
    • Electronic ignition.
    • Electronic fuel pump.
    • Radial ply tyres (but this does make the steering very heavy and the speedometer over-read).
    • Swap polarity to Negative Earth to permit LED type light bulbs.
    • Windscreen washers.
    • A modern thermostat for the engine.
    • A recirculatory heater from a Morris Minor or Mini.
    • Quartz Halogen 35/35 headlamp bulbs (dynamo cannot cope with higher wattage).


Article by Neil Cairns.