Driving through Oxford in a “T.C.” M.G. “Midget” we espied in the Morris Showrooms a particularly stark vintage motor-car. It was, of course, none other than the very first M.G., the car which the late Cecil Kimber had built at Longwall, Oxford, in 1923, and which became the product around which the now famous M.G. Car Company, Ltd:, was formed. This first M.G. had taken its rightful place in the 1946 Cavalcades and we had known of it long before that, having published its photograph in Motor Sport over twenty-two years ago. But somehow we had always thought of this car as just a rather specialised Morris-Cowley with queer mudguards and sports body. Seeing it “in the flesh” for the first time we were struck by its very stark, business-like appearance — as our passenger observed, it could be taken for one of the better Continental small sports cars of its period.
Kimber built this M. G . as any other enthusiast constructs a “special.” The engine was one of three 11.9-h.p. Morris-Cowley-type units specially built in the Hotchkiss tool-room, and converted to push-rod o.h.y. layout. Head and ports were polished, the crankshaft balanced and the white-metal run directly onto the connecting-rods. Cast-iron pistons were retained but the carburetter was special and the oil pump was increased in size to give a maximum pressure of 60 lb./ sq. m. Magneto ignition and a wet-plate clutch figured in Kimber’s specification. The normal Morris 3-speed gearbox and back axle were used, but the chassis frame was special, so that the normal Morris 3/4-elliptic rear springs of that time could be replaced by flattened 1/2-elliptics. Each brake had four shoes and fuel was carried in a 12-gallon tank, pressurised from a hand pump in the business-like cockpit. The two-seater body was light and very suited to the car. That then, was the original M.G. It would do 82 m.p.h. and gained its first success in the 1924 M.C.C. Land’s End Trial, winning a gold medal.
At Brooklands in 1922 Summers raced an aluminium-bodied Morris-Cowley, but does not seem to have had much success with it, although it did do a standing lap at over 60 m.p.h. Then, about a year later, Mr. A. E. Keen, a Director of Morris Motors, Ltd., had built for him a special single-seater Morris-Cowley. It was timed to do over 90 m.p.h. on the road and at the 1924 Thetford Speed Trials made f.t.d., covering the standing kilometre in 35.52 sec., a very fine performance indeed, equal to 63.5 m.p.h. This car had a slightly modified cylinder block with ports opened out to 41 mm. diameter, and the valve seats reduced to a width of 1/16-in. The valves had stems reduced to a diameter of 5/16-in., which reduced the weight of each valve by one ounce, and the tappet feet were also lightened. Steel connecting rods were used, liberally drilled until they weighed but 18 1/2 oz. each. These rods were not only carefully matched but they carried oil scoops to aid general engine lubrication. The Ricardo slipper pistons, also drilled, turned the scales at a mere 6 12 oz.complete with gudgeon pin; they had one ring only and were naturally noisy at low r.p.m.
Although various experiments were conducted, standard valve timing was found to give the best results. Ignition was looked after by a G.D.4 Lucas magneto and carburation by a 1 3/16-in. bore S.U. The compression-ratio was increased to 5.7 to 1 and the flywheel was reduced in weight to 31 lb. The standard thermo-syphon cooling system was retained, with the fan removed, but a large-bore, straight-through exhaust system was fitted. Otherwise, production components were used and not only was the engine comparatively silent at full-throttle, but F.12 K.L.G. plugs stood up quite satisfactorily. The engine ran up to 4,000 r.p.m. comfortably and the normal lubrication system sufficed. This engine was put into a chassis in which the 1/4-elliptic’s of the 3/4-elliptic rear suspension assembly were replaced by solid forgings, enabling flattened 1/2-elliptic springs to be used. The front 1/2-elliptics were also flattened and Hartford shock-absorbers used all round. The engine was set 3 in. lower and 9 in. further back in the chassis than normal, the torque-tube being shortened to suit, while the front dumb-irons were braced by a cross-tube and tie-bolt. To accommodate the single-seater body, which blended nicely with the bull-nose radiator, the steering was raised and carried on a special bracket to centralise the wheel and the clutch pedal was moved to the near side of the gearbox. Gearbox, axles, etc., were standard, and artillery wheels were retained.
Another Morris, which ran at Brooklands in 1926-8, was the late H. R. Wellsteed’s 1,805-c.c. Morris-Oxford, which was also driven by Cyril Paul. It could do a standing lap at over 71.5 m.p.h. and a flying lap at over 78 m.p.h. It is still in existence and ran in the Cardiff Cavalcade last year.
At the same time J.Crickmay raced a Morris-Cowley which lapped at over 75 m.p.h., and did a standing lap at all but 69 m.p.h.
This car was built to satisfy a bet that a fairly-standard Cowley would do 75 m.p.h. A 1926 “Chummy” with 30,000 miles to its credit was stripped down and rebuilt. Dumb-irons cut from another chassis were bolted at the rear to convert the 3/4-elliptic rear suspension to 1/2-elliptic, and a plate welded between the front dumb-irons, with a bar between the front shackles in addition, to stiffen up the chassis. Belting was used as a sling to hold the front axle in place should a spring break. To lower the steering the box was mounted upside down, with the drop arm inside instead of outside the frame and a bracket held the box to the side members as well as to the engine. The steering wheel was increased in size, but normal 3-stud road wheels were used. The axle ratio was raised from 4.58 to 1 to 4.0 to 1 and drilled con. rods, aluminium drilled-skirt pistons in rebored cylinders and opened-out oilways gave the engine new life. Double valve springs and a flywheel turned down very appreciably by Laystalls, assisted to this end. A long-tailed 2-seater body was made of ash covered in aluminium strips, with a streamlined undershield. New André shock-absorbers were used and further tuning consisted of fitting a 40-mm. Solex carburetter and Marelli magneto, also a 4-branch copper exhaust system. The ports had already been widened and polished. Timed by six stop watches, the car now did 93 m.p.h. over the half-mile, at 4,800 r.p.m. After some racing successes an R.A.C. observed six-hours run was made at Brooklands, during which 387 miles were covered at 64.58 m.p.h., including three depot stops, during one of which the sump was drained and refilled. This gallant Morris came to a full-stop in a subsequent 5-lap race, by reason of doing nearly 5,000 r.p.m. for a far longer distance than it was accustomed to, and in a following wind, which defeated the lubricating oil.
Some idea of how comparatively fast these cars were is gained by comparing their speed with that of Webster’s 1926 “Chummy ” which was able to win a special Morris-Cowley Handicap held at Brooklands in 1930 by averaging 48.83 m.p.h., its best lap being at under 51 m.p.h., whilst the fastest car entered, a 1927 two-seater, lapped at under 53 m.p.h. — admittedly fully equipped. Actually, much earlier than this, Morris Motors, Ltd., admitted that 60 m.p.h. was fairly easily obtained without drastic alteration from standard, and many special Morris cars were built by enthusiasts.