MG – The icon of British sports cars
In 1922, Cecil Kimber (1888-1945) was appointed General Manager of the Morris Garages, the Morris Automobile Sales Division. Kimber was an automobile enthusiast and had already worked in several other companies in this industry. He was particularly enthusiastic about sports and had a particular gift for drawing, being able to design bodies with attractive lines. He had also accumulated a lot of experience in the fields of engineering, production management and the commercial and financial aspects of the automobile trade.
The manufacture of a range of cars with a special bodywork on Morris chassis was Kimber’s idea. Later he would mention that he saw a market opportunity for a car that would be ten percent better than the series but which could be sold for a price fifty percent higher. In a Morris Cowley chassis, he set up an open two-seat body with well-crafted sports lines and in 1924 he commissioned Coventry's Carbodies to produce two and four-seat sports bodies to be assembled to the Morris chassis.
For the first time those cars were sold as MGs and the famous octagon began to emerge as a key element in all publicity and marketing. For the price of £395 one could purchase a sleek four-seat MG with a Morris Oxford 14hp engine and partially polished body panels contrasting with the aluminum of the wheel discs. At that time a four-seat Morris Oxford series cost £285 and a Cowley with the same bodywork and a 12hp engine only £195!
Kimber's MG quickly became noticed. By early 1925 he had an even more specialized car for his personal use. It was a modified Morris chassis with a special version of engine with overhead valves, which was a modification of Morris's current engine with side valves and a sporty lightweight body. In the Easter of 1925, it was with this car that he ran the Lands and Trial and won the gold medal. Although it was quickly sold for
£300 it was later returned to MG's ownership and became known as the "Old Number One" which was the first MG actually built as a sports model.
The name MG, as Kimber later referred to, was given in honour of Lord Nuffield taking the initials of his first business, the Morris Garages, which were the inspiration for this great automobile brand. The important thing is to know that the initials have been utilized to form the MG logo and that it is not, as many presume, an abbreviation of the garage.
In 1926, the Morris Bullnose originals were replaced by what became the Flatnose with a more conventional radiator. It was in 1927 that for the first time MG's production was transferred to a factory built for this purpose at Edmund Road in Cowley. Finally, in 1928 the MG Car Company was formally established and started the business independently from the Morris Garages. It started with the development of two new models that were launched at the end of that year.
The first of these models was the MG 18/80 with a 2.5-litre 6-cylinder engine and a strong 4 main bearing crankshaft was employed with a Duplex chain and gear drive to the camshaft, tensioned, by a spring loaded eccentric tensioner. Available in both open or closed bodywork, the 18/80 was an excellent sports car but relatively expensive and therefore never a great success. The later Mark II version had a redesigned chassis and a 4-speed gearbox and continued with a limited production until 1933. A special racing version, the Mark III 18/100 or Tigress, was introduced in 1930. At a price of £895, no wonder that only five were sold.
From the 1928 models the most important was the first MG M type Midget. It was based on the Morris Minor which had been launched at the time with an overhead camshaft 847cc engine, having both chassis and engine suffered very slight changes but with the two-seat body lined in fabric and a distinctive boat tail design. At the price of £175 this was, in fact, an accessible sports car. The magazine "The Autocar" said then "The MG Midget will be a sports car that will make history".
The Midget model went into full production in 1929 and it soon became clear that the success of this new car would make MG have to move to a new factory. In late 1929, MG acquired part of the Pavlova Leather Company factory in Abingdon-on-Thames, a few miles south of Oxford and it was here that it remained for the next fifty years. The MG Car Company was formally established with William Morris as its main shareholder and Chairman and Cecil Kimber as General Manager.
In 1930, an extra 7hp was extracted from the 847cc engine and a team of five cars was entered for the Brooklands Double Twelve Race. These cars had special Brooklands exhaust systems, larger fuel tanks and slightly revised bodies with lower cutaway doors. Although some of their rivals had a distinct power advantage, the five Midgets endured the long hours at high speed admirably, and were rewarded with the Team Prize at the end which was, thus far, the most important trophy obtained by MG and became the preamble for the successes that were to come.
As a direct result of this prestigious win, a replica Double Twelve M Type was produced and added to the Midget range at £245. This particular variant had a great impact upon its introduction and a notable customer was Henry Ford’s son, Edsel who imported one to the USA which generated much interest amongst his fashionable acquaintances.
It was in the late 1930s that Cecil Kimber was to adopt the slogan of 'Safety Fast' and this alone inspired intending customers to purchase.
The period between 1930 and 1934 saw the MG begin its specialization in special racing versions and becoming the most famous brand of sports cars all over the world. In 1930, it built for George Eyston a record-breaking model with an engine based on the Midget, a brand new chassis and an aerodynamic body. This car, a prototype designated EX 120, would start for MG a record-breaking career that would last until 1960.
The EX 120 led directly to the supercharged C type model in 1931, while later that same year emerged the first 6-cylinder, the F type Magna, an MG with a 1.3-litre engine derived from the Wolseley Hornet engine, its contemporary.
There was also the D type, a four-seat Midget, but both this one and the M type were, in 1932, replaced by the J type Midget in two or four-seat versions with a supercharged model intended for competition. With the J type, Kimber established what would be recognized as the typical "MG Style": the two dash bosses and the folding windscreen, the deep cutouts on the doors and the fuel tank and spare wheel, fastened with ribbons at the rear of the vehicle. Originally, the J type had mudguards such as the ones on bicycles but later they happened to have other longer and well launched ones that also happened to become part of the MG brand image.
At the beginning of 1933 another new model, the K type Magnette, appeared with an even smaller 1.1 litre 6-cylinder engine. Long-chassis touring models could be fitted with saloon four-door bodies, but it was the short chassis and supercharged engine, the K3 model, which became the most famous sports Magnette by winning in its class in the Mille Miglia race, which was its first race abroad. And also the 4th place in the general classification in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1934. Tazio Nuvolari won the Tourist Trophy in 1933 twice with a K3 and in 1934 at the wheel of an NE model.
Meanwhile, the EX 127 prototype or the “Magic Midget” was built for George Eyston to beat more records in the 750cc class. This car was later sold to the German pilot Kohlrausch and ended his days at the Mercedes-Benz Testing Department.
New developments were added to the Midget, Magna and Magnette models having surfaced the L type Magna from 1933, the N type Magnette and the P type Midget from 1934, while the Q type and the R type Midget were the models for competition. The R Type from 1935 was the first single seat body MGs to open new perspectives with its totally independent suspension by torsion bars with Luvax hydraulic shock absorbers. However, it was in 1935 that the MG Company ceased to be the private property of Lord Nuffield passing to the Morris Motor Company. Almost immediately, MG announced that it would end the production of racing cars and withdraw from the competition.
The new MG models produced between 1935 and 1939 were made with standard components from the Morris and Wolseley range of saloons. The SA model, presented in the 1935 Motor Show, was a comfortable saloon sports coupe, with a 2- litre engine that later grew to 2.3 litre, which, with its elegance and performance, was a serious competitor to the Jaguar of that time. The 1.5- litre 4-cylinder VA came next and in 1938 the 2.6- litre MG WA was the largest car of its time. Both are similar to the SA in concept.
It was also in 1936 that the 1.3 litre TA came up which, shortly after the war, was replaced by TB, a much improved version, more robust and with the new shorter stroke XPAG 1250cc engine.
The new MG Midget became an active and successful participant in the sporting events of that time. Record breaking was also an activity that was not forgotten. In 1938, MG built the EX 135 for Goldie Gardner based on the chassis of the K3 and a new encompassing bodywork. In 1939, this car set new records in the 1100cc and 1500cc classes with speeds exceeding 200 miles per hour.
The best year for MG, before the war, was 1937 with almost 3,000 manufactured cars. The total production between 1923 and 1939 reached the volume of 22,500 units, where the production of the M type and TA models stood out, reaching individual figures of about 3,000 units.
The Abingdon factory was quickly transformed to face the war effort and in 1941 Cecil Kimber, its founder, left the Nuffield Organization for not being able to adapt to the new climate of war imposed on the company. Cecil Kimber died in 1945 in a railroad tragic accident. Consequently, the company had to face the challenges of the postwar period without its initial leader.
However, the men at Abingdon quickly returned to automotive production with the TC from 1945, which was an evolution of the TB version from 1939. In 1947, the small saloon Y type appeared using a similar 1250cc engine and the first MG independent front suspension which had already been drawn before the war by Alec Issigonis. Then, the TC became a particularly popular sports model and it was the first to be exported in significant volume to the USA where MG has established itself as the most well-known brand of sports cars. In 1950, the TD model combined the Y type chassis and suspension with a TC-like body.
While some 10,000 TCs were produced, the TDs reached a triple volume, with the vast majority being sold in North America.
In 1953, John Thornley (1909-1994) was appointed General Manager of MG. Together with his Chief Designer, Syd Enever, Thornley wanted a fully-renovated car in order to succeed in the increasingly vital US market. At that time, MG was part of the BMC group universe. The new 'boss' of the group, Leonard Lord, authorized the production of the new Austin Healey which caused some friction with Thornley.
However, after a facelift on the TD version the TF model was launched in the market in 1953. This year a new Magnette saloon also came out with monobloc bodywork and the new BMC series 1.5- litre engine.
Although most likely embarrassed, Leonard Lord gave a green light to a new car and in 1955 the MGA was introduced with a new chassis and an encompassing bodywork that contrasted with the traditional MG models and which was equipped with the 1.5-litre engine of the saloon model. Soon it became the most successful MG model and until 1962 more than 100,000 MGAs were produced including more than 2,000 units with the Twin Cam engine and four-Dunlop disc brakes.
With the MGA the brand returned to competition and a new record-breaking car, the EX 179, was built in 1954 for George Eyston. Three prototypes were built with the code name EX 182 which were officially competition cars, destined to appear at the Le Mans 24-hour race in June 1955, with other models also racing the 12 hours of Sebring in the United States. The last and most impressive MG to hit records was the 1957 EX 181 with a supercharged Twin Cam engine placed at the rear and with a drop-shaped body. This model was driven by Stirling Moss and later by Phil Hill who set records in the 1500cc and 2000cc classes with speeds above 250 miles per hour.
In 1959, the new MG Magnette originated from a BMC saloon with a Farina design and a 1500cc engine. The following models reflected this same philosophy: the 1961 MG Midget was based on the Austin Healey Sprite, while the MG 1100 saloon was a crafted version of the Morris 1100 front-wheel drive designed by Issigonis. In 1962, the MGA was finally replaced by the sporty MGB with a 1.8-litre BMC series B engine. This motorization extended in 1965 to the GT coupe version.
The Magnette saloon finished its production in 1968 and the 1300, derived from the 1100 version, did the same in 1973.
The MGB and the sporty Midget continued setting new production records. These two models were used successfully in sporting competitions where the MGB achieved particularly good results, especially in the endurance events such as Le Mans, Sebring and the 84 Hours Marathon de la Route in Nürburgring where an MGB won in 1966.
The successor to MGB was a short-lived 6-cylinder MGC (1967-69) of which only 9,000 units were produced. The last MG model before the British Leyland pulled out of the races was the spectacular MGC GT. After the union between BMC and BL in 1968, the MG brand went through a period of inactivity until 1973 when the MGB GT V8 appeared with a 3.5- litre Rover engine. Only 2,600 units were built during its three years of life.
The 1974 MG models, in order to meet the tight safety standards of the American market suffered a facelift in which prominent rubber bumpers were introduced and the Midget was equipped with a 1500cc engine from Triumph. The Midget was removed from the market in 1979 after a production of 225,000 units, not counting the Austin Healey Sprite's similar models, with the MGB lasting another year and reaching a record production of 513,000 units.
With the end of the MGB production the Abingdon factory closed and the MG brand withdrew from the American market. During the period in which MG was suspended, several alternatives were discussed for the future of the brand and in 1982 MG returned with a sports version based on the small model of the mother house, the MG Metro. Other MG versions based on the Maestro and Montego appeared with the possibility of the turbocharged variants. Particularly appreciated was the MG Maestro 2.0 Efi with a 2.0-litre injection engine that became a respectful competitor in a sector that was dominated by the VW Golf GTi. The most popular were the Metro and Turbo Metro models which reached a production of 142,000 cars.
In 1984, the rally car MG 6R4 with a central V6 engine and four-wheel drive appeared. It was built in limited numbers and never fully developed because in the meantime the rally regulations changed excluding this type of vehicle.
However, MG enthusiasts yearned for a return to the sport. In fact, backstage the Rover Group was just planning this event. A whiff of what could be announced pointed to the presentation of the fantastic MG EX-E at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1985, a concept-car based on the MG Metro 6R4. Since 1988 and under British Aerospace ownership, the plans for a new MG sports car were accelerated. The MG saloons were discontinued in 1991 and the MG RV8 was introduced in the following year. It featured as a redesigned version of the MGB and was equipped with the Range Rover's 3.5-litre V8 engine. It was intentionally and always assumed as a limited production model and only 2,000 units were manufactured mostly for exportation namely to Japan.
A variety of proposals were now under discussion for the production of a radically new MG sports car. The Rover Group decided in favor of the project denominated PR3, a two-seat with a central engine that in many respects went against the MG traditions but that still was an accessible sports car using some components of other models of the Group and following the footprints of the most popular MG models of the past. The engine was a development of the 1.800cc K-series with an advanced version of Variable Valve Control (VVC) for the most powerful model while the suspension was based on the Hydragas system but connected front / back. Most of the development work was carried out before the Rover Group was bought by BMW in 1994 but its launching took place only one year later at the Geneva Motor Show in March 1995. Named as MGF, the new model entered mass production in Longbridge in August 1995 having quickly achieved enormous success in both domestic and foreign markets. In fact, the MGF became the best-selling sports car in the UK since its launch date.
The new millennium brought with it a fundamental reorganization in BMW's plans culminating in the separation of the Group. On May 9th, 2000 the Phoenix Consortium acquired the businesses of the Rover Group which included the Rover and MG brands. For the first time in years the company was once again independent, British-owned and debt-free. The focus was on MG and Rover brands forming the MG Rover Group owned by Phoenix Venture Holdings and free to form other partnerships.
The new strategy was oriented towards product development and early evidence was noted with the emergence of new models and the review of the MGF range. A new entry model with a 1.6-litre engine and the sporty 160hp Trophy SE was launched in January 2001 with MG sales peaking at the end of the year. January 2001 began with the announcement of a new range of MG saloons following an intense activity.
An attack on the 24 Hours of Le Mans occurred with the Lola LPM675 which under torrential rain imposed an impressive pace. The news about the purchase of Qvale Automotive for production of a super MG preceded the July launch of the saloons ZR, ZS and ZT that were enthusiastically received. The ZS competed in the remaining season of the British Car Championship achieving a pole position and a victory in the third race.
In a short space of time and despite the fact that MGF has remained for six years as the best-selling sports car, in the UK, in 2002 its successor was launched, the new MGTF. It was featured as a new line, with suspension upgrades and an attractive range of four versions. In a matter of months, the MG range was refreshed and grew to quadruple.
During that year a number of ZS and ZT derivatives were introduced including a Diesel and a 1.8-litre ZT Turbo. In 2003, new versions were introduced with a more accessible price range as was the case of the ZS 1100 and ZT 120 but it was the introduction of the powerful ZT 260 V8 with a 4.6 litre engine that most challenged the imagination of the public.
At the Birmingham show in October 2004, the MG X Power SV appeared the most powerful MG ever with a power rating of up to 965hp at a price of £75,000. It was a complete departure from all previous model MGs with the only possible comparable model being the K3 Magnette from 1930. The car was a two-seat closed coupe of considerable performance and technological content, developed from the Qvale Mangusta, which in turn was developed from the De Tomaso Bigua. The engine remains the same 4.6 litre all alloy V8 engines with twin cams per bank and four valves per cylinder that delivers 320hp in base SV format. However, 5.0 litre 380hp versions were fitted to the SVR. The gearbox was a 5 speed manual, with only a couple of automatic versions made.
The collapse of MG Rover saw the early demise of MG Sport and Racing, the subsidiary of MG Rover responsible for the MG SV after only around 50 cars of all variants were made.
In 2004, the 80 Years of MG were celebrated. The virtues of the brand have always been linked to its sporting potential combining affordability with a true driving pleasure. These features remain on all accounts in this range of cars that proudly boasts the famous Octagon badge.
Marks in the History of MG
- 1924 – Cecil Kimber, General Manager of the Morris Garages, establishes a niche market for faster and more sporting Morris cars. In a short time, MG would be known for its "affordable performance" in an expanding market.
- March 13rd, 1924 - The construction of Jack Gardiner’s MG was completed.
- May 1st, 1924 - Octagon was registered as a trademark.
- September 1st, 1924 - The super sports MG 14/28 was launched.
- The phone number - Abingdon 251 - has become the prefix for the chassis identification plate of most MGs.
- In the 30s, the MG's competitive success was marked by the victory of a K3 in the Mille Miglia of 1933 in their class. The first time an Italian brand did not win.
- In 1952, Series A and B engines were designed and manufactured in Longbridge to equip the MG Midget, Z Series, MGA and MGB.
- The production of MG TF type Midget and Magnette ZA used the telephone code of the Birmingham headquarters "501" as a prefix o for the chassis.
- May 16th, 1956 - The manufacture of the 100,000 car was achieved with an MGA 1500 steering wheel on the left.
- Prince Charles takes possession of his MGC GT in 1969 (SGY 766F) which he would later offer to Prince William, his son.
- October 1975 - The 1,000,000 car was built. A unique version of an MGB, Long, Brooklands Green with special "Jubilee" rims.
- 1962 - The manufacture of the MG with the models for the range 1100/1300 begins in Longbridge.
- May 9th, 2000 -The MG and Rover brands return to an independent owner with the entire design, engineering, production, marketing and sales operation centralized in Longbridge.
- Keeping the tradition, the identification prefix of the chassis of the new TF was to collect the last three digits of the phone number of Longbridge "101".
- April 16th, 2002 - A special edition of the TF 160, Golden Jubilee, was produced marking the production of the MG 1,500,000.
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