The ex-Doreen Evans' R-type MG Midget

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We have received the following from Mr. Lance Tees of Natal, S. Africa:

I have been a South African reader of your unique motoring magazine for more years than I care to put to paper, but have not been prompted until now to write to you regarding important South African motoring events. One, however, which has not been publicised and which I think will be of interest to your readers, took place in October 1982 in the City of Pietermaritzburg, the provincial capital of Natal, and coincided with the National Gathering in South Africa of the MG Car Club Great World Trek, 1982. This was the re-appearance of the 1935 R-type MG initially raced in the UK by the late Doreen Evans and imported into South Africa in 1936 by Roy Hesketh.

The story of this “resurrection of an R-type” is interesting. Behind the project is Ralph Clarke, a man closely connected with the motor industry in Cape Town, and I first learnt that the remains of this R-type were in his possession, in January 1981, whilst I was on business in Cape Town. I was there again in March of that year and what you see in the “before” photograph is what I saw of the car as it was then. Ralph Clarke, an MG enthusiast and restorer of an M-type to “concours” condition, amongst other vehicles, located what remained of the R-type (RA 0255) in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) in July 1963. The car had been extensively altered, re-engined, and major changes made to the bodywork; Ralph told me he could have wept when he offloaded the remains, mostly in bits and pieces, from a railway truck in Cape Town after its journey from Rhodesia.

Roy Hesketh, a household name in South African motor racing prior to World War II, raced the R-type in a number of events at East London (the South African Grand Prix in 1937 and again in 1938), Cape Town, and Johannesburg (he finished second in the Rand Grand Prix there, in 1937, its best success with him) and it took part in the Handicap Race which preceded the SA Grand Prix run as a 1,500 c.c. scratch race for the first time in January 1939 at East London. Roy Hesketh had by then acquired R3A, the ex-Charlie Martin ERA, but kept the MG. That same year, 1939, at the Mountain Rise Circuit in Pietermaritzburg, the R-type in the hands of George Stewart, Hesketh’s friend and mechanic, had its greatest success pre-war, when it won the Coronation “100”, one of South Africa’s premier car races of those times.

Roy Hesketh was killed in a flying accident in World War II (he was a SAAF pilot in Egypt) and after the War the ERA was sold to the late Basil Beall and the R-type to Orlando Fregona of Durban. Fregona retained the car in its original condition and raced it over the period 1946 to 1951 in local races and hill-climbs, but without much success. In 1952 it was bought by “Scotty” Greig, who owned a large taxi business in Durban, and was driven for him by Gordon Henderson, a very prominent South African driver of the post-war years, who later acquired and raced ERA R3A before it went back to the UK in the middle 1960’s. Henderson raced the R-type in hill-climbs, and in the 1952 Durban Fairfield Handicap, on roads along the Durban Beach front (I have a photograph of it leaning over on a long bend, its torsion bar suspension extended to the full). But he did not have a lot of success with it.

The car then started on the Rhodesian part of its life and was taken to that country by Brian Gilmaster, but went through various hands thereafter, its first major change coming in the replacing of the original engine by a TC MG engine. The R-type engine remained in Durban, but certain of the vital parts, including the block, found their way to Cape Town and were purchased, very much later, by Ralph Clarke.

The curbed success in Rhodesia in the hands of Sam Tingle. With a blown TC motor, Tingle set up a record at a Mashonaland hill-climb and then sold the car back to Brian Gilmaster and it was at this stage that the drastic changes were made by Gilmaster and by Pederson, who subsequently acquired it and was the final owner before it came, in 1963, to Ralph Clarke, who had been vying to locate it for some time. It was in “a badly mutilated condition” when he acquired it, and he set about bringing it back as near as possible to its original “Doreen Evans” condition. This has proved a major task and meant extensive research and background work to obtain sufficient information to manufacture missing parts needed to put it in the condition in which you see it in the accompanying “after” photograph, which I took at the Pietermaritzburg event in 1982.

Construction of major components of the car was necessary, including the radiator, the front section of the body, the beautiful cowl (both polystyrene and wooden mock ups were made of the latter, to get the right shape), grille, the bell-housing and the gearbox, which was in sorry state, whilst the Y-shaped chassis had been reduced in length though was otherwise in good condition. But there were fortunately many parts left of the original and these were inunaculately restored and used in the final rebuild. A major motivation to finish all the work was the 1982 MG gathering in Pietermaritzburg. Clarke had acquired a reproduction of an oil painting by Roy Nockolds of Doreen Evans winning the Ladies’ Cup at Shelsley Walsh in 1935, the car in original blue, and Ralph has indeed achieved a tremendous restoration. He was in touch with Doreen Evans in Canada regarding the car and invited her to visit South Africa for its Pietermaritzburg appearance, which she was keen to do, but her death sadly prevented this.

The car appeared in Pietermaritzburg with an 847 c.c. supercharged MG engine. Time was just not available to bring the original 746 c.c. engine into running condition. But this will be done, of that we can rest assured. The stripe along its blue bodywork, as when Doreen Evans raced it, will even be replaced, so enthusiastic is Ralph Clarke to put the MG back into its original authentic condition.

Roy Hesketh initially raced the MG in blue but when he acquired R3A he resprayed it the same red. As a small boy at the time, I can well remember the immaculate turn-out at the 1939 Coronation “100” at Pietermaritzburg of Roy Hesketh (ERA), George Stewart (R-type MG) and Roy Harrison, in a single-seater s.v. Austin 7 (handicap races of those days gave the latter type of car a good start!), as a team, the three cars sparkling in the same brilliant red.

The car is 90% restored now, and it remains to get it completely mobile with its 746 c.c. blown motor installed, which Ralph Clarke has almost completed, and this will make it as near its original design level as seems possible. It is proposed to drive it in due course in historic events and probably on demonstration runs and it will go on exhibition on appropriate occasions.

Lance Tees

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