1953 MG “CONTEMPORARY SPECIAL” On loan from Bob Ensign, Colonie, NY
Capital District restoration specialist Bob Ensign calls his “black beauty” a Contemporary Special because it is a modern design that utilizes the technology, parts and thought patterns that the factory was developing in 1953.
The car, which has been featured in local, national and international publications due to its quality, construction and performance, was designed by Ensign, who then built the body utilizing coach-built construction (sheet metal over wood). Since its completion, it has been driven regularly and has participated in many tours, concours and auto shows, where it always draws a crowd of enthusiasts who try to figure out just what they’re looking at.
“The design came to me almost 20 years ago,” recalls Ensign. “A client had sustained substantial damage to the rear-end of his MG-TF in a crash. With the gas tank crushed and gashed open, I thought he was very lucky to survive, let alone walk away unharmed.
“I love those T-series cars but the sight of that gas tank and the potential for a fiery disaster really scared me. I had seen a prototype built in 1953 and somewhat liked the profile, so it came to me that I could build a modern version that was both beautiful and much safer.”
After more thought and bending some brake tubing to finalize the shapes and contours he envisioned, it was time to begin.
“I started out with a 1953 MG-TD steel frame that was given to me by a collector from Nyack, NY,” recalls Ensign. “Charlie had a backyard full of MG T-series frames that he’d acquired here and there, so I started with this one and added chassis parts that I’d saved or acquired over an eight-year span. The oldest parts I used were from a 1934 MG while the newest ones came off a ’64.”
Power for the hybrid MG comes from an 1800 cc engine salvaged from a 1964 MG–B that Ensign rebuilt to what he calls “proprietary specifications.” The upgraded engine easily runs in the 8000 rpm range and is a major upgrade from the 1950’s version the car might be expected to house.
“The gear box is from a ’58 MG-A, as is the front suspension and the steering rack,” adds Ensign. “We modified the front suspension when we installed it to allow for additional camber, which improves the handling significantly, but the addition that made the biggest difference is the new rear-axle. It has a 4:10 gear ratio, which, along with the modified engine, lets the car reach an absurd top speed.”
Ensign describes the finished TD chassis as “slightly” modified because of the suspension changes and new mounts for the hand-crafted bodywork. But from there on, the process got more complicated. “Using Ash wood that was locally sourced and selected for its grain pattern, I shaped and fit each piece to create a skeleton for the bodywork that I had visualized. This body wood and the floor panels are supported by a few iron and sheet metal gussets and held together by a whole bunch of wood screws.
“Once the structural wood was complete, I hand-formed each body panel. I used an English Wheel, stretchers, shrinkers, hammers, dollies and Mig and Tig welding equipment to create the entire metal skin of the car. The hood is raw aluminum which my wife told me not to paint. I put the hammer marks and file scratches in it just to make it look like it had been around for a while.
“People ask if it was hard to build it and I always tell them ‘No, it was fun!’ When one is lucky enough to exercise their creative talents doing something they love, hard work becomes fun.”
The end result is both beautiful and unique and, as with all such artistic endeavors, the subject of value is always raised by those who observe it.
“It’s not for sale, so the value or price doesn’t really matter to me,” sums up Ensign. “Instead, my focus is on building another car, something that my wife will enjoy driving. The chassis and driveline are nearly complete and we’re getting ready to start on the bodywork. It will be heavily influenced by French coachwork of the art deco period and will have a unique interior sporting ostrich seats, cashmere headlining and Carpathian Elm burl.”