Necessity is truly the mother of invention, and that adage was certainly appropriate as Italy rose from the ashes of WW II. Lacking both cash and raw materials, plus significant rising competition from Italian mass-production automakers, Italian coachbuilder Nuccio Bertone located a pair of MG TD chassis to work from. Bertone patriarch Giovanni, son Nuccio, and designer Giovanni Michelotti penned handsome and modern envelope-type bodies for the MG chassis. The cars debuted at Turin in 1952, where they captivated flamboyant American industrialist S.H. "Wacky" Arnolt from Chicago and inspired him to seek a production deal.
Soon, Arnolt struck a deal with Bertone for production versions. As with Bertone’s 1952 show cars, the Arnolt-sponsored versions utilized the MG TD chassis. Arnolt and Nuccio Bertone traveled to MG headquarters in England, securing a deal for supplies of TD chassis and convincing management that the new Arnolt-MG project would not interfere with MG sales in America due to the huge market there and the small production number envisioned. In December 1952, MG began supplying Bertone with rolling chassis in batches of 4-6 at a time, including the TD’s stock 54-horsepower 1,250cc XPAG engine and 4-speed transmission, instruments, and central dash panel, but without body or interior components.
Shipped from Great Britain to Genoa, the MG chassis were then trucked to Turin. According to the Arnolt MG Register, workshop photos confirmed Bertone’s traditional methods, using wooden bucks to hand-form and shape the body panels, including steel for the main body shell and aluminum for the hood, trunk, and doors. Fittings and control switches were sourced from various Italian manufacturers to finish the cars. Nearly six weeks were required to complete each car, followed by trucking to Genoa, where they were sent via ocean freighters to various American seaports before arrival at Arnolt’s Chicago facilities. There, they were finished and fitted with a choice of extra-cost options and accessories including heating and ventilation systems, radios, badge bars, Borrani wire wheels, aluminum rocker covers, and even Shorrock superchargers, which Arnolt also manufactured and distributed.
The two Arnolt MG prototypes were first shown in America at the Elkhart Wisconsin SCCA races in September 1952 and the mildly updated, production-ready models were unveiled at the March 1953 New York Auto Show. Advertised by Arnolt as “the family car with sports car styling and performance,” these handsome four-seaters featured sophisticated Continental styling while maintaining their sporting MG character. Advertised pricing was considerable at $3,545 initially for the coupe but reduced by 1955 to $2,995 for the coupe and $3,145 for the convertible. Although production of 200 cars was planned, just 103 were built, including 67 coupes and 36 convertibles. However, the effort did encourage further collaborations between Arnolt and Bertone, based on Aston Martin, Bentley, and Bristol chassis.
One of approximately 36 known survivors today, this 1955 Arnolt MG coupe was comprehensively restored in the early 2000s and well-maintained since then. Finished in Burgundy over Beige leather upholstery with smart burgundy piping, the interior includes matching door and side panels, burgundy carpeting, and a body-color dash. A handsome Nardi steering wheel greets the driver and in addition to a boost gauge mounted forward of the floor-mounted gear shift lever, Jaeger instruments include a 6,000-rpm tachometer, 100-mph speedometer, and auxiliary gauges. Underhood, a major mechanical service was performed in 2017 and a Marshall supercharger was fitted to the well detailed, period-correct 1,250cc MG ‘XPAG’ engine. Also in 2017, an upgraded 5-speed manual gearbox and new clutch were installed, allowing greater enjoyment of the supercharged engine’s heightened performance potential.
Wonderful details abound, from the bold chrome grille to the iconic MG, Bertone, and Arnolt cloisonné badges, plus the twin driving lamps and elegant handles and fittings found throughout the vehicle. The body and underside are both well finished, and the tidy chassis and undercarriage feature correct components and finishes, consistent with quality restoration and proper post-restoration care and maintenance. A mounted spare wheel/tire assembly resides in the round storage well under the boot lid, along with a roadside jack and proper trunk mat. Finishing the rare Arnolt MG are Dayton 15-inch “knock-off” wire wheels fitted in 2017, mounting 165-series Michelin XZX radial tires.
A selection of photographs depicts the bodywork and paint preparation performed in 2003 and detailed invoices cover the mechanical service work and upgrades performed in 2017. Handsomely presented with a very nicely maintained restoration and thoughtful upgrades to enhance the experience, this exceedingly rare 1955 Arnolt MG coupe is a compelling example of the inspired vision and dedication of “Wacky” Arnolt, one of America’s industrial visionaries and automotive entrepreneurs of the 20th Century.
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