MG's Past and Present
MG - A brief history
Ask anyone with even the smallest amount of knowledge of classic's to name their favourite cars and you can almost guarantee that the name MG will come up time and time again.
Despite being one of the most recognised marques on the planet, MG's beginnings were steeped in confusion. Not, you understand because that some of you may or may not know the company creator or where it all started - but which of the cars that were first to be produced at the famous Morris Garages in Abingdon.
One thing that is known for certain is that the first genuine MG was not 'Old Number One', the hotchkiss engined competition car sporting the registration number FC 7900 (currently residing at the British Motor Museum at Gaydon Warwickshire). Despite this beauty not being the first example of the breed, the first special being produced in 1924, made a good focal point for the early beginnings of the celebrated sportscar producer.
Cecil Kimber was the General Manager of Morris Garages in Oxford and in, 1922 he commissioned six Raworth bodies two seater sportscars to be built on the chassis of the Morris Cowley. The first was sold to a young man named JOA Ariel in June 1922 for the pricey sum of £300, this car, bore both the MG and Morris logos so, this gives it the strongest claim to fame as the world's first MG.
However the case, the MG phenomenon soon took off, and within a few months, demand for cars built by Morris Garages had gone through the roof!
The first examples built in significant numbers (around 400) were the 14/28 Super Sport which came in a number of forms - featuring two or four seats and open or closed 'Salonette' bodywork. That car then developed into the 14/40 and then in late 1928, Kimber launched the 18/80, an entirely new car powered by a 2468cc overhead camshaft engine for a still-born upscale Morris.
Competition Revolution in Abingdon
MG's future took a radical direction in modern era 1929, The car that set the company on its way was introduced - the MG 'M' type Midget, the company also moved to the former Pavlova leather works in Abingdon in order to expand production to meet the 847cc Morris Minors powered sports cars demand.
The factory well suited MG's needs, the company remained there until 1980, when it was eventually closed as part of one BL 's terminal contractions in later years. On the other note, MG saw plenty of good times during its years - spearheaded by the Midget, The car showing how to launch a product at the right time and as a result, people clamoured for it for two simple reasons - it was cheap and it was good to drive!
From the M-Type Midget, the impressive C-Type was developed and, in supercharged form, it could pull away to 90mph, not bad for a car powered by a sub 1 litre engine....even by todays standards. In 1932, that car became the J-Type, it featured an innovative crossflow cylinder head and twin carburettors.
1933, the legendary K3 Magnette made its appearance - in its first year, the six cylinder supercharged 1100cc screamer won the team prize in the Mille Miglia race and, in the hands of Tazio Nuvolari (yes, him!) won the Ulster Tourist Trophy at an average speed that was unbeaten until 1951.
It became clear that in terms of competition , these were the halcyon days for MG, not bad considering just how active in motorsport the marque has been since then. These cars reached there zenith with, the blown Q and R-Type models - the latter featuring an innovative Y-shaped backbone chassis and all-round independent suspension.
In 1935 all that came to an end when the works ceased racing and turned its attention to the burgeoning road car business. That years range was not only looking busy but, also desirable - with the TA Midget joined by a 2 litre SA, the 2.6 litre WA and the delectable 1.5 litre VA.
This successful range helped MG nicely into the war era.....
Almost immediately after the war, MG offered a lightly revised line up of familiar models, starting it off with the TC (it differed from its Thirties predecessor by having a wider cockpit). Although the underpinnings were of old, the Midget went onto be a success, especially in the US, with a generation of American servicemen insisting on buying there own examples once back home.
In an era where the British Industry needed to export as much as it could, the Midgets success was not only good for MG but also for the good of the British economy.
Along came the Y-Type with a 1250cc engine, available as a saloon or tourer plus a pretty export - only drophead, made its appearance in 1947 to coincide with its launch MG would also look to update its range.
When the 1949 TD appeared, it used as much Y-Type hardware, making it an improved ride over its predecessor. MG now had picked up a healthy fan base in the US but, it was the arrival of the TD that helped widen it considerably - helped in no small part as MG taking the team prize in the 1952 Sebring 12-hour race.
Also taking place was the formation of British Motor Corporation (BMC) - a merger between Austin Motor Company and the Nuffield Group and, for many, the beginning of a new era of MG component sharing.
With British Motor Corporation
1960's heralded in front wheel drive and advanced engineering-buyers loved it-the success of the MG1100 clearly demonstrated
MG within BMC started off slowly - we saw the final flowering of the T-Series Midget concept with the launch of the TF in 1954 whilst, the Y-Type was replaced by the ZA Magnette (an example of Nuffield, not BMC badge engineering). If you felt that MG was playing it safe, its safe to say that these cars were the calm before the storm!....
In 1955, MG's second revolution was ushered in by the arrival of the sleek and beautiful MGA, at the tail end of the year. It looked a million miles away from its predecessor, the TF and it showed that under BMC, MG would enjoy the rudest of health.
The pretty new car came of age (technically, if not in terms of dependability) with the arrival of the twin-cam version in 1958, just on the cusp of the Farina-styled Magnette saloon, - some say the least sporting MG ever made.
Sales continued to grow and, exports to the US helped bolster Abingdon's output at a time when BMC was still the forth largest car manufacturer in the world...
Austin Healey production joined MG in Abingdon and, the company's new A35 based Sprite was badge-engineered into the MG Midget in 1961. It seemed apt to name this small sportscar after the original cars - like its predecessors, it was well-priced, fun to drive and turned a basic set of components into something special.
The biggest news came in 1962. For many, the sheer beauty of the MGA would never be topped but, the MGB came pretty close. It was originally produced to satisfy customer demand for a modern and more comfortable sports car. The MGB was powered by a 1.8 litre version of the BMC B-Series engine and, like its smaller sibling the Midget, used components off the shelf - but the end result was pretty special.
Exports continued to grow, as did the range for MG, by the mid 1960's not only was the MGB and Midget available but, badge engineered versions of BMC's 1100 and Farina saloons were on sale, making it the most comprehensive range on offer since the 1930's.
With sales blossoming nicely, the MBG roadster was joined by the GT version with its Pininfarina styled roof in 1965 - a poor mans Aston Martin, if there was ever one! After that, the car received the C-Series engine to become the MGC - short lived and underwhelming that never come to realise its early promise.
Into The Leyland Era
The decline of MG began as a direct result of the formation of British Leyland in 1968. The deal saw Leyland (Rover-Triumph) merge, with BMC and form an unholy alliance of wildly divergent marques - and all vested with there own interests. The newly formed corporation was headed by Donald Stokes - a man who did well by Triumph during Leylands best years - this clearly gave a disadvantage against the Abingdon marque.
The MG and Triumph sports car ranges overlapped drastically - Midget competed directly with the Spitfire and, its probably fair to say that any single young man's shopping list from 1968 would have contained cars from both sides of the camp!
However, when it was decided to produce a replacement for the MGB, no resources were forthcoming from BL management, as the company's sports car needs were decided to come from a new 'corporate' car, that would later emerge as the TR7. One good thing that did come from the BL tie-up was the arrival of the MGB GT V8 - Rover powered road burner that arrived just as the 1973/74 fuel crisis was at its height. Sadly, it only lasted three years.
This left the Midget and MGB to soldier on through the Seventies although they did receive a few necessary updates, such as the rubber bumpers and improved equipment. The Midget received the 1.5 litre Triumph Spitfire engine in 1974, to help it get through US emissions regulations - and, for many MG enthusiasts, this was something of an insult to the marque but, this was the way things were in the big, happy BL family.
However, the rationalisation came to nought! Abingdon was closed in 1980, taking the MGB and the Midget with it, the marque went into abeyance for the first time since the war. The reason the doors were closed on Abingdon was because of BL's management, headed now by Sir Michael Edwardes, knowing the company needed contract in order to survive, justifying the action by claiming that currency fluctuations had made selling cars in the US a loss-making exercise - this was a short term view...
The impact of Abingdon's closure was massive - especially on the local economy and, with the best industrial relations within BL, its not hard to understand why MG's loyal staff were aggrieved by the closure. Plans were briefly drawn up to produce an MG based version of the TR7 but, these were quickly abandoned when it became clear that further retreat would see the closure of the Solihull factory and the death of the Triumph Sports Car.
From the heights of being the world's biggest sports car producer at the turn of the Seventies, ten years later BL, had completely abandoned the market that was once its own!
However BL was canny enough not to sell the MG name to Aston Martin's Alan Curtis after he made a generous offer, though, and in 1982, introduced the Octagon-Bedecked Metro - complete with appealing pepper-pot alloy wheels, red seatbelts and a livelier A-Plus engine. Although the Metro and subsequent Maestro and Montego weren't exactly the sportscars that MG enthusiasts clearly had in mind, they kept the marque alive during tough times and sold well.
The Final Curtain?
In the early 1990's, ~Rover management finally had the wherewithal to make good its desire to attach the MG marque name to something more sporting than the Metro, Maestro or Montego. The saloons were quietly dropped and, once again the MG name disappeared from the new car price lists however, this time MG would definitely return on something sporting - something guaranteed since the launch of the Mazda MX-5.
In 1992, thanks to the availability of new British Motor Heritage body shells, the MGB was re-born as a restyled V8 powered grand tourer - and even at the time of its launch, Rover's management confirmed an all new roadster was on its way!
That duly appeared in the shape of the MGF in 1995 and, in true MG spirit, it used a great number of off-the-shelf parts (in this case mainly Metro and Rover 200), it came clothed in a pretty body to produce an accessible and likeable new sports car. The future briefly looked good for MG - BMW had bought the company in 1994 and, money was pouring in....however, that arrangement lasted a mere six years and, once the Germans pulled out, MG was left on its own.
The MG name was then passed to warmed over (and surprisingly capable) versions of the Rover 25, 45 and 75 ranges, as well as the roadster - now known as the MG TF, These formed the bedrock of the MG Rover range until its fall into administration in 2005.
However, the MG name lives on to survive another new chapter, bought by the Chinese manufacturer Nanjing Automobile Corporation and now Shanghai Automotive Industrial Corporation (SAIC) who are now starting to slowly revive the marque.
What would Cecil Kimber have thought of that?