Archive agony

I have dropped a lot of dangers in my time, but the one in the October Motor Sport was one of the best yet. I refer to the feature “From the Archives — 12” in which an MG Midget of 1932 was featured. Some dangers that I have dropped have drifted quietly away unnoticed, while others have evoked a mild rebuke or a straightening of the facts, but the MG one produced a veritable torrent of letters from members of the Triple-M Register of the MG car Club; in fact, I was bombarded from all eight sides of the “Sacred Octagon”. These enthusiasts not only put me straight technically and historically, but defended the MG Midget to the last rev.

Here at Motor Sport we have many thousands of negatives dating from 1929 to 1939 and when the present owners took over in the mid-thirties these boxes of negatives were part of the assets and were added to up to the outbreak of war. They were not catalogued or captioned, being in envelopes with a brief hand-written note on the outside. For years we have been going to sort them out and the Editor and I have guarded them in their dusty boxes over the years, preventing them being thrown away during the war years and after, and again when Motor Sport finally left 15-17 City Road and moved to Standard House. After promising to sort them out “one day” I finally got down to the job last winter and began to achieve some semblance of order out of chaos, endeavouring to identify each negative. In an envelope marked “Road ‘rests” I found a negative of what appeared to be a J2 MG Midget and looking up the September and October 1932 issues of Motor Sport I gleaned some facts about the J2, such as its price and the bore and stroke, which was quoted twice as 57 x 75 mm. The spiced was given as 75 m.p.h. timed over the 1/2-mile, with 80 m.p.h. being achieved on the open road. Messrs. Jarvis of Wimbledon advertised “Buy the 80 m.p.h. MG Midget”. For years it has been a known fact that the road-test car loaned to the Press had been “tweaked” to give above-average performance and just prior to the war a friend of mine had a bog-standard 32 that certainly would not do 80 m.p.h. or anything approaching it.

Now the negative I found puzzled me a bit as the car was registered JB1047, which seemed like an Abingdon factory number, and it crossed my mind as being odd that it should be on an ordinary 32 Midget, but I let it pass. That was my first big mistake. It certainly was a factory number, and a very famous one, and the car was not a J2 Midget, but a supercharged J3 Midget which had taken numerous International records at Montlhery in December 1932. The J3 was a 750 c.c. version of the Midget, attained by reducing the stroke of the engine, and it was supercharged. This particular car took records in Class H up to 24 hours, at over 70 m.p.h. driven by George Eyston, Bert Denly and Tom Wisdom. In 1933 this same car ran at Le Mans driven by Parker and Hendry and in the mid-thirties it was sold to Australia. It is still out there, in its original form and doubtless there is a letter on its way by boat from the present owner.

It now seems that the J2 MG Midget information in Motor Sport for 1932 is wrong, in that the bore and stroke are 57 x 83 mm., not 57 x 75 mm., giving a capacity of 847 c.c. The J3 engine had a stroke of 71 mm. which reduced the capacity to 746 c.c. and presumably allowed higher r.p.m. to be used safely. According to one Triple-M Register member the specially tuned 847 c.c. J2 loaned to the Press, broke its crankshaft shortly after the various journals had done their Road Tests! Some of the production cars also broke crankshafts (my friend’s did), no doubt due to trying to achieve the legendary 80 m.p.h. and this no doubt prompted the rhyme, which originated from the Vintage Sports Car Club many, many years ago.

One reader enquired why an MG that revved high was called a buzz-box, whereas a Bugatti that ran at the same r.p.m. was not so-called. The simple answer to that is that 5.500 r.p.m. on a 2.3-litre Bugatti probably represents 130 m.p.h. (The HOC members will doubtless put me right on this), whereas 5,500 r.p.m. on an MG Midget would be about 80 m.p.h.

To sum it all up, the supercharged J3 MG Midgets, of which the Triple-M Register have traced thirteen, was a notable car in the 750 c.c. class, and the record books substantiate this. The J2 MG Midget, good as it was for £199 1/2, did bathe in the reflected glory of its little brother. In the Triple-M Register year book for 1976 there is a complete rundown on known J3 MG Midgets by Neville Churcher, with the very Sound footnote that if you are offered a J3 PLEASE contact the Triple-M, because fakes are easily concocted from 12 components. At a casual glance the 32. and 33 took the same, apart from the giveaway bulge on the dumb-iron cowling which conceals the supercharger, and the top of the SU carburettor sticking out on the left of the cover, both of which I would have seen if I had cleaned my glasses before looking at our dusty negative!

My thanks to all those MG owners who wrote to me and by way of compensation I publish a photo of the prototype K3 MG Magnette JB1046, taken at the Syston Park Inter-Varsity Speed Trials in 1936. I think the driver is R. R. Jackson, but I cannot confirm this. It certainly looks like the car that is in Japan but I now await a deluge of letters from the K3 MG owners in the Triple-M Register, for they know their subject like the Midget owners.– D.S.J.