Matters of Moment, November 1979

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Farewell, MG

Writing farewell to MG is far more heart-breaking than was Lee Strout White’s moving “Farewell to Model-T”, because whereas that famous Ford was merely departing to make room for the new Model-A, and later the celebrated Ford V8 and a host of subsequent successful Ford models, it looks as if the death-knell has sounded for the Abingdon-built MG sports cars.

Whatever the financial sense may be of dropping the MG-B, following so soon after the demise of the long-lived MG Midget, it seems a very false move on the part of British Leyland to drop completely such a great name from the motoring past and very recent present. Whether MG enthusiasts would prefer the name to die completely rather than appear as “badge-engineering” on, say, a TR7, is a point of view to be considered. But had BL found some way of carrying the MG name over, at least these ever-magic initials would have survived, to be used on new MG models, assuming that BL itself survives. Right from the start Cecil Kimber was on absolutely the right track in making MG sports-cars from well-proven Morris components, at a time when other good-quality sports-cars such as the Bentleys, Vauxhalls, Alvises and Bugattis, etc., were relatively expensive. From those promising beginnings evolved a make which spearheaded the post-war exports for the British Motor Industry in the lucrative dollar-market of America, where sports-cars became a novelty much in demand. It was MG’s fine reputation, achieved in the hard field of motor racing and record-breaking, that enabled the cars built in the Berkshire factory where only sports-cars were then made, to achieve these important overseas sales successes.

The MG has a proud record in this respect, so long that it can only be very briefly outlined here. Those competition achievements which stand out include the early domination of the 750 cc.-class by the cheeky little overhead-camshaft MG Midgets, for instance, in the Brooklands “Double-Twelve” sports-car race in which they took the Team Prize in 1930 and did so again in 1931, finishing in 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th places, the wins at Phoenix Park and in the Ulster TT in 1931, and the high accomplishment of being the first Class-H car to exceed 100 m.p.h. and to cover over 100 miles in an hour, until, by December 1932, every Class-H record was held by MG. In those early nineteen-thirties the MG began to exert its influence on the Continent, with class-wins in the German GP at the Nurburgring and in the Mont-des-Mules hill-climb, at Monte Carlo. MG won the Ulster TT three times, the 1933 race with a supercharged K3 Magnette driven by Nuvolari. MG won the BRDC 500 Mile Race at Brooklands twice, and MG holds the 750 c.c. and 1,100 c.c. outer-circuit lap-records for that circuit. And before the war it was MG that set up an astonishing spate of high-speed International class records, with engines of from 350 c.c. to 2,000 c.c., embracing Major Gardner’s 159 plus m.p.h. from 750 c.c., 203 1/2 m.p.h. from 1,100 c.c., and over 204 m.p.h. from 1 1/2-litres. This led on to some remarkable MG records, such as Stirling Moss’ 245.64 m.p.h. from the blown prototype twin-cam 1 1/2-litre MG at Utah in 1957, and 254.91 m.p.h. from a 2-litre version by Phil Hill two years later.

Some of these record-breaking MGs may have had very special bodywork but it is significant how many race victories and new records were accomplished with near-standard cars. From very inexpensive little sports-cars, to the splendid K3 MG Magnette which was so bold as to win its class against Continental opposition in the Mille Miglia and in shorter races abroad, Cecil Kimber’s cars waved the British flag so very effectively, for so many years. Starting as o.h.c.-engined models, MG later resorted to push-rod BMC power-units without loss of prestige. That the British Leyland Board has now killed-off this great make, one of the few individual ones it retained, against the advice of its JRT Division, and handled the demise so badly, is as pathetic as it was stupid. The burial of the great MG name came just after the 50th anniversary of Abingdon had been celebrated. That is how casually the casualty was announced — indeed, a party of American classic-car buffs were at the Abingdon factory to celebrate the long production-record of this famous British sports-car factory on the very day the demise of the MG was announced . . . No wonder members of the MGCC and MGOC have staged demonstrations in London and elsewhere, in protest. The fact remains that British Leyland, which the Trade Unions think should be expanding, is pressing for factory closures, and that in a safety-conscious world in which open cars are regarded as likely to be short-lived, in case those who like to imbibe fresh-air crush their heads in a roll-over while so doing (what tosh!), decided to let the proud make of MG follow others into oblivion. (Old-car speculators will be drooling, however.)

We have seen the Rolls-Royce collapse. Vauxhall are on strike. Unless there is a drastic change of heart, British Leyland itself may close, with all that this implies for British Industry and the welfare of the entire country. And then there has been the loss of The Times and ITV, BL has allowed one of its greatest prestige makes, and one of the few remaining effective sports-cars, with its long record of competition and sales victories, to snuff out. Poor old Britain! One hopes profoundly that the Bulldog is not turning into a sheep . . .

* * *

As we went to press we learned that a consortium headed by Aston Martin Lagonda Ltd. had made an offer of £24 million for MG’s Abingdon plant and name. This seems to have been the first constructive idea to come out of the MG mess, a takeover bid made by car manufacturers who know what they are about rather than club enthusiasts being enthusiastic. We wish Alan Curtis, who is heading the consortium, and his associates well in their bid to save MG.

The RAC Rally

The major event in this month’s motoring calendar is the Lombard-RAC Rally, which starts in Chester on the morning of Sunday, November 18th and ends there some 1,700 miles later in the late afternoon of Wednesday, November 21st. The route takes in 59 special stages, 431 miles.

The Sunday daytime run takes in tarmac spectator stages at Knowsley Safari Park, near Warrington, Sutton Park, Alton Towers, and Donington Park. From there competitors head North-East for a night in the Yorkshire forests, progressing northwards to the Keilder forest complex in the early hours of Monday morning. Stages in Southern Scotland and the Lake District take the rally back to Chester for an overnight halt on Monday. Excitement on Tuesday and Wednesday is concentrated in the Mid-Wales forests, the last stage being Clocaenog early on Wednesday afternoon, before crews head back to Chester for the official finish at 5p.m.

Works teams from England, continental Europe, Japan and Iron Curtain countries head the entry list. Ford, who have won the RAC for the past seven years, have entered a six-car team for their swansong before a two-year withdrawal from rallying. It includes an Escort for Roger Clark, who has had to tolerate the uncompetitive Fiesta for the rest of the season, and will be all-out for another win in what may be his last rally before rumoured retirement.

BL Cars have entered a team of four Triumph TR7 V8s, while more than matching them for noise and spectacle will be a works Lancia Stratus, retrieved from mothballs specially for Markku Alen to drive. VW-Audi enter the rally fray seriously with a team of three Audi 80s. Datsun will run three Violets, Toyota a couple of Celicas and two works Saab Turbos will be out to prove Swedish reliability. Iron Curtain entries include four Wartburgs from E. Germany, Moskviches and Ladas from Russia and Skoda from Czechoslovakia. Several Fiat 131 Abarths are entered. Brian Culcheth will mark his retirement from rallying with a final fling in the British Dealer Team Opel Ascona.

Other RAC Rally news is that Lombard North Central Ltd., sponsors of the Rally since 1974, have signed a four-year, £1/2-million contract with the RAC to sponsor this classic British event, one of the finest rallies in the World, until 1983.

Not a Record

It seems that we were rather premature last month in announcing a new World Land Speed Record set at Bonneville by Hollywood stunt driver Stan Barrett in a 48,000 h.p. rocket car. From information which reached us later it transpires that Barrett’s record was unofficial, as it was one direction only, problems having curtailed his second run which is mandatory for qualification on a World Record. Barrett intends to make another attempt. We wish the brave contender better luck next time.

BMRMC Racing Car Show

Milton Keynes, famous for its artificial cows and confusing road system, should be a focal point for motor racing enthusiasts this month when the British Motor Racing Marshals Club holds a Racing Car Show in the Middleton Hall, on November 1st, 2nd and 3rd.

Over fifty cars from various fields of motoring sport, including current Formula One cars, and a few racing motorcycles, will be on show.

Middleton Hall is a large covered concourse within the Central Milton Keynes Shopping Area. Admission to the Show is free. Opening times are 1700-2200 hours on the 1st, 0900-2200 on the 2nd and 0900-2000 on the third.

* * *

A Spanish reader informs us that a new club for Pegaso enthusiasts has been formed in Barcelona. Amigos del Automovil Pegaso V8 Sport plans to sort out the history of the marque, using original documentation already in its hands, produce a register of all Pegasos, to help owners with maintenance, repair and spares and to organise club functions. Letters will be forwarded.

* * *

A reader wishes to trace the history of his 1958 Series 1 Lotus Seven, registration number 733 BAL, believed to have been used for hillclimbing in the late ’60s and ’70s. Letters will be forwarded.

* * *

Mrs. Collie Cox has been appointed Circuit Manager of Oulton Park and to the Board of Cheshire Car Circuits Ltd. in succession to Rex Foster, who retired recently. A local resident, from Cotebrook, near Tarporley, Mrs. Cox will celebrate twenty-five years of association with the Cheshire Circuit in January.

—————————————————–

It is with deep regret that we received the news, on the very day that the above note was written, that Rex Foster had died in hospital on October 14th. He was 71.

Rex Foster was “Mr. Oulton Park”. He founded it in 1953 and was its guiding and commanding light as Managing Director from then until his retirement in 1978.

Oulton Park was, and still is, at least in its full-length motor-cycle form, one of our favourite circuits and the fact that it existed at all and was run in such a friendly and efficient manner was down to Rex Foster. It was to his, and our, great regret, that Oulton Park no longer hosted the calibre of motor races that it had in the past. It would be a fitting memorial to Rex Foster if MCD, who took over the circuit in 1964, could put it back on the International map and bring back the Gold Cup to its old status.

Our sincere sympathy to Rex’s family.