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Drophead gorgeous! 90 years of MG

2014-05-21 14:41


POST-WAR CHARM: The TD model proved the perfect clubman’s sports car, especially here in South Africa. Image: DAVE FALL

Happy birthday, MG, you're heading for a ton! The brand (MG stands for Morris Garages) is Britain’s favourite classic car and is turning 90 years old in 2014.

It was founded in 1924 as the MG Car Company and headed by Cecil Kimber who worked for Morris cars in the university town of Oxford in southern England.

‘Old Number One’ was the first car specifically built for competition. It was based on a Morris Cowley chassis and under the bonnet was a tuned 1548cc engine and a three-speed gearbox, an arrangement that worked so well that Kimber managed to win a gold medal in the 1925 Land’s End Trial.


The first cars were simply re-bodied Morris models with restyled bodywork but they all came with the desirable Octagon MG badge – a world-renowned motif still in use today. Demand soon led to the need for larger premises so a move, first to Cowley and then to Abingdon each a suburb of Oxford) allowed for, in effect, the creation of a ‘performance centre’ for Morris.

"Win on Saturday, Sell on Monday!" was an adage that was to ring so true for the MG brand down the years.

GALLERY: Some classic MG models

Winning Le Mans in a ‘K’ series between the two World Wars was to prove one of its more successful class victories; while the best-known MG sports car to come out of Abingdon was their TC – a car that sold particularly well in the US, Australia and South Africa.

What was surprising, however, was that there was immense interest in the United States and it can be stated that the MG was largely responsible for starting the American craze for British sports cars.


That 'T' range lasted for close to 19 years, starting with the TA in 1934, graduating to the TB in 1939 just before the outbreak of the Second World War, but the car that really put the Oxford car company on the map globally was the TC, an anachronistic but very likeable sports car very much in the mould of a Morgan four-wheeler.

After the Second World War a new MG model to hit the popularity stakes was the TD with a 1250cc twin-carb, 43kW motor and a four-speed gearbox. It wasa another instant winner around the globe and was followed closely by the pretty TF with its choice of 1250cc or 1500cc engine. The TF, only built for two years, has proved to be the most desirable to this day, commanding the highest prices at auction houses around the world.

A complete change of direction was on the cards with the ZB Magnette, a stylish, chassisless design based on the Wolseley 4/44 with its independent front suspension, rack-and-pinion steering and BMC B-Series engine. The introduction of the Magnette was the start of a revolution at Abingdon in which the factory changed from being a works where cars were built from hundreds of small components to one in which they were simply assembled, in much larger numbers, from a few larger components - such as complete bodies - produced by outside suppliers.


Enter the MGA series, another sure-fire winner for the Octagon marque – but in 1962 the MGB series arrived in roadster and later GT form. In October 1967 the MGC hit the scene. It can best be described as one of the most controversial sports cars ever produced by Abingdon and during its short life (1967-69) the car was never short of attention, particularly from the news media.

Fast forward to 1995 and, again to worldwide acclaim, the MGF heralded the return of MG to volume two-seat sports car production that the marque vacated with the close of Abingdon in October 1980. What the car has achieved and its longevity is testimony to the success of the work of those engineers.

The main innovation was the location of the engine behind the seats to create a mid-engined layout.

Since its Chinese-owned acquisition of MG SAIC (a Global Top 500 company) has opened a new chapter for this once purely British brand in China. With a combination of cutting-edge British and Chinese design and R&D capabilities, superior manufacturing processes, and as a spirit of constant innovation, MG’s legacy seems to be in safe hands.

Perhaps for another 90 years...

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