Enthusiasts may remember stirling moss’ speed record for M.G. But who can recount the Marques countless pre-war and early post-war cracks at various speed categories?Bill Boddy, that’s who.
Last month, when writing of the car he wished he had designed — Donald Campbell’s Proteus turbine 4WD Bluebird — Malcolm Oastler, Technical Director of British American Racing, referred to previous LSR contenders as “just trucks with big engines in them”.
True of the heavy monsters propelled by enormous aero-engines, like the White Triplex Special. But I wonder if Mr Oastler has forgotten the 3-litre 16-cylinder Stutz ‘Black Hawk’, and John Cobb’s Reid Railton-designed 4WD LSR car, surely almost as sophisticated for its time as the Bluebird.
This has reminded me of some of the technically advanced smaller cars which MG built to attack class records. It began with the desire of the MG Car Company to officially attain 100mph before Austin did. This would be very good publicity for the MG sportscars, of which the D12 and 746cc cars were to perform so well in racing, including taking the first six places in the 1931 JCC Double-12 Hour event at Brooklands.
This encouraged J A Palmes, a director of Jarvis & Co, MG agents of Wimbledon, and Capt George Eyston, celebrated record man, to see if ‘the Ton’ was within grasp of the MG Midget They went to see Cecil Kimber, who owned the MG establishment at Abingdon. He was immediately enthusiastic. In fact, the racing MG EX 120 was already up and running. It had a much revised M-type chassis, with a 743cc engine. Brooklands was closed for the winter so the car was taken by lorry to Newmarket and tested by Eyston on the straight road there, Eyston’s engineer friend Ernest Eldridge in attendance. The MG did 97mph flat out.
Eldridge insisted on a return to Abingdon to raise the compression ratio, and on December 26 the car left for Montlhery, but 100mph was to remain elusive. Eyston had superchargers ready back in England and the engine was taken back to Abingdon after capturing three Class H records at over 87mph for 100km before a valve broke. Meanwhile, a single-seater supercharged Austin 7 had done 97mph.
A larger blower was fitted to the MG, fuel icing in the carburettor was cured, and a crude cowl made for the radiator. After seven days they were ready. In winter conditions Eyston took four class records, the 5km at over 103mph.
In August 1931, Leon Cushman, with one of the works single-seater racing Austins, also bettered 100mph. It was the first ton-up 750 record in this country, but MG had been first, in France. During 1932, both makes broke one another’s (“Ass records, but the next target which would score top prestige was the first to 120mph. Lord Austin had engaged T Murray Jamieson to design and build a new racing car, and although this brilliant designer was somewhat hampered at first by the stipulation that certain aspects of the traditional Seven be incorporated, like leaf springing and side valves, he had by 1933 contrived a very advanced concept. At Montlhery in October, he broke three of MG’s records but failed to achieve the desired two miles a minute, his best being 119.39mph.
Meanwhile, another useful aim would be first to complete 100 miles in an hour. At the end of 1931, Eyston, with a slightly cleaned-up EX 120, established this at the Paris track, at 101.01mph but, continuing for an extra lap, the car caught fire. He steered it into the infield sitting on the tail and, at about 60mph, jumped off, falling as he had been taught to do in the hunting-field. The car came to rest in the bank, and a burly French test driver doing an endurance run in a Citroen saw what happened and carried the burned GET to his car and rushed him to hospital. MG mechanics found the car, but no George!
For a time EX 120 was pensioned off and a new low-drag special racing MG, EX 127, was put in hand. The transmission was offset seven degrees to the nearside, and the driver sat beside the propshaft and only six inches off the ground. A sleek body, no wider than Eyston could get into, was tested in Vickers’ wind tunnel and Kimber approved of it. The engine was a hottedup C-type. EX 127 was built by Jackson under Eldridge’s supervision. Taken to Montlhery in September 1931, Eldridge agreed to drive it as GET was still recovering from his EX 120 mishap, and did so in a lounge suit, scorning goggles/
A normal radiator and the standard Powerplus supercharger driven by pinion instead of chain were the only modifications when Eyston, fit again, took MG EX 127 around an icy Mondhery just before Christmas 1931, and lifted a few class records to over 114mph. But Kimber still wanted 120.
The car was thus taken to Pendine Sands, driven by Eyston in the asbestos suit he had adopted since the accident. Hand-timing gave the mile at 122mph but the timing failed. With the beach deteriorating, the record went at 118.39mph.
The 1932 racing season over, it was decided to attack all Class H records. Bert Denly shared the driving with Eyston in the now closed-cockpit EX 127 for those up to 12 hours; a sports J3 with Tommy Wisdom co-driving was used for the rest. The attempts were successful, all Class H records up to 24 hours going to MG by 1933, and these remained unbroken for several years. Eyston next improved on ER Hall’s ‘sprint’ figures, attaining 120.56mph (happy Kimber!). EX 127 was sold to German Bobby Kohlrausch. The Zoller-blown engine, prepared at Abingdon, gave 146bhp at 7500rpm with 39lb boost Kohlrausch got the flying-start mile to 140.6mph on the Frankfurt autobahn. It is said that Mercedes commandeered the car, perhaps with Nazi ‘persuasion’, for intimate study.
MG’s next special record car was EX 135, ordered by Eyston, and utilising 1100cc K3 components and a truly streamlined body. At first the engine was a Powerplus supercharged bronze-head K3, but for record work a Zoller s/c was used. The gentlemanly Eyston, who sponsored the attack and sold Powerplus superchargers, was quietly annoyed by this, and relieved when the Zoller’s casing split! The plan to break the world’s hour record fizzled out, but Eyston, with Powerplus s/c, took the Class G short records to 128.7mph and the hour to 120.88mph.
The austere, upright, six-foot Major A T `Goldie’ Gardner OBE, MC, who walked with a stick as a result of a flying accident and his TT crash, bought the ex-Ron Horton MG K3 single-seater and managed 142mph for the short records, then over 148 during the German Record week on the Frankfurt autobahn, when an Auto Union did 257mph. His goal was 150mph from an 1100cc car. So EX 135 was located and rebuilt. Reid Railton evolved a new 228 lb duralumin body built by MG, and Robin Jackson developed the engine from Gardner’s previous car.
By 1938, Gardner, with Lord Nuffield’s blessing, achieved his ambition at Frankfurt, taking the kilometre and mile 1100cc records at 186.5mph. In 1939 at Dessau, he improved this to 203.9. Thus an 1100cc MG had done what it took a 44-litre Sunbeam to accomplish 12 years earlier.
Now began a remarkable plan to use the MG for attacking records in several different World’s International capacity classes. Following its Class G records, the MG’s engine was immediately bored out and took 1.5litre Class F targets, doing the km at 204.2mph. I wish I had space in which to do more justice to these incredibly ingenious technical ventures three pistons removed from a six-cylinder engine, a three-cylinder 500cc and a 350cc twin.
War stopped them, but in 1946 at Jabbeke, Gardner had another stab in Class H. His 159.15mph over the two way mile was a first in a 750cc car. He had already been first to 200mph with 1100 and 1500cc cars. The next plan was to see what the MG ‘Magic Midget’ would achieve in 350cc form. With two pistons removed from the four cylinder engine, 118.01mph over 1km was recorded in 1947, though the car was temporarily known as The Gardner Special, as MG and `Goldie’ had fallen out. Later all was resolved and the the MG logo reinstated.
This series of bids continued. MG had exceeded 200mph with 1100 and 1500cc engines, 150mph with 500,750 and 2000cc engines, the last with an experimental Jaguar power unit, and 120mph with two cylinders, all in EX 135. Gardner, who died in 1958, was a brave man, driving such light cars on narrow motorways at such speeds at the age of 60. Credit, too, to Syd Enever and his engineers, and to John Thornley, MG’S General Manager, who encouraged it all.
Then there were American National records with EX 179, a streamlined MGA, Eyston bagging 13, the 12-hour at 120.74mph and Ken Miles the 10-mile figure at a mean speed of 153.69mph, with a non-s/c pushrod ohv engine.
By 1957, a new MG, EX 181, had been built, to try to raise Gardner’s 203/204mph Class F kilometre and mile records to over 250mph, at Utah. The new record car was built in some secrecy but MOTOR SPORT was able to announce it had an Enever-drawn pear-shaped body, with the driver situated in the nose ahead of the engine, as with John Cobb’s 369.70mph LSR Railton; the drag was 37 per cent less than that of the EX 135, confirmed by tests in Armstrong Whitworth’s wind tunnel/
It used a de Dion rear axle, with short quarter elliptic springs, while front suspension was by BMC-type coil springs and wishbones. The Shorrocks supercharged B-series four-cylinder engine had a twin-cam head and drove through a 1.5-litre Riley gearbox and a very short prop shaft. Inboard Dunlop disc brakes were fitted on the back only. A normal Morris steering box had a light alloy casing and the chassis was of tubular construction, with tubular and er crossmembers. Final drive was around 2:1 and the cockpit was enclosed with what Thomley called “the shed”. Cooling was by two ducted surface radiators, one on each side of the cockpit head-fairing, and a flap rose when the brakes were used, to take cool air to them. Normal disc wheels, suitably strengthened, carried special racing smooth-tread Dunlop tyres with a safety margin of five per cent at 3000rpm. The seat was a sort of hammock and, to assist cockpit entry and exit, the steering wheel was detachable.
In May there was a delay when the engine seized and, only five weeks before departure for Bonneville, a dummy engine was still in the chassis after the racing one had given only 110bhp. But a dedicated team soon had things as planned and on July 10, 1957, Stirling Moss sailed on the Queen Mary with Eyston, who was in charge of the attempt.
It all came good very good, in fact—with 254.64mph achieved for the two-way kilometre, and four more records broken, even the slowest at over 234mph. Thus was the MG brand kept in the public eye and enthusiasts for the make encouraged, as they had been by the Abingdon make’s good performances in pre-war motorsport and record runs.