The best of MGby Paul Fearnley on 1st February 2012
The combination of Triple Eight Engineering and Jason Plato, with more than 160 wins and 12 titles between them – the most successful team and driver in the championship’s history – will give MG a jump-start on its BTCC return this season.
It’s great that the Octagon is back. That badge still means a great deal to people – me, for instance – who have had hours, days, years of fun in MGBs and Midgets 1275 and 1500.
But it doesn’t – can’t – mean as much as it did on October 23 1980, which is when the final proper UK-spec B rolled off the line at Abingdon, a victim of BL-zeebub.
Every time Sir Michael Edwardes spots an MX-5 – or when his chauffeur points one out to him – he must surely emit a Homer-like ‘Doh!’ He has admitted since that the closure of MG is the biggest regret of his time as the boss of British Leyland. But even had he rescinded that decision on October 24, MG would not have been the same. Its thread had been snapped.
Motor sport at all levels and in all forms was central to old MG’s success. Indeed, it was the catalyst, its EX-perimental cars of the 1920-’30s proving the competitive worth of their constituent parts before being filtered forthwith to the next road-going model.
Killjoy Lord Nuffield called a halt to this feverish process in the mid-1930s. To be fair, the company then rode the wave for the next 25 years. It was the arrival of Midget and B – plus that of Stuart Turner as BMC’s comps boss – which triggered another burst of competition success in the 1960s.
Cue a personal Top 10 of MG motor sporting moments:
1. 1933 RAC Tourist Trophy
Legendary Tazio Nuvolari accepts an offer to drive a K3 at Ards. Its pre-selector gearbox is explained to him, extra cushions are placed beneath and behind him, and off he rockets. He wins, of course, but not before he’s given a fright by local hero Hugh Hamilton in a smaller-capacity MG J4.
2. 1933 Mille Miglia
An approaching engine note. The expectant Italian crowd sways forward for a closer look at the first car home. It’s BRG. This K3 doesn’t win outright – Nuvolari’s Alfa Romeo 8C does – but it wins its class, George Eyston/’Johnny’ Lurani beating team-mates Earl Howe/ Hamilton by just over a minute after 18 hours of racing. MG take the Team Prize too.
3. 1957 Bonneville
Stirling Moss feels exposed, isolated and helpless. He’s laying flat on his back and grasping a horizontal steering wheel. A supercharged 290bhp B-series is screaming in his ear, and the salt swishes eerily below him. Despite losing third gear, he sets a 1500cc record for the flying mile in the saucer-shaped EX181: 245.11mph.
4. 1939 Dessau
Stuffy Nuffield relents and sanctions record-breaking attempts. Maj Goldie Gardner buys Capt Eyston’s EX135 and has Reid Railton design a streamlined body for it. Just three months before WW2, he clocks 203.2mph for the flying mile in an 1100cc car – on an autobahn. The following day, after some overnight reboring, he breaks the 1500cc class record too: 203.8mph.
5. 1931 Montlhéry
The race against Austin to crack 100mph in a 750cc car is of vital promotional importance. Eyston wins it for MG with a speed of 103.13mph at the speedbowl near Paris. Seven months later, in the same supercharged EX120, he crams 101.1 miles into an hour – before baling out when his gallant machine catches fire.
6. 1966 Marathon de la Route
The racing replacement for the epic Liège-Sofia-Liège rally is a 72-hour regularity blind around the Nürburgring’s Nordschleife. Deemed too easy, it is extended to 84 hours. Despite crashing at a recently resurfaced corner on the second lap, the B of Julian Vernaeve/Andrew Hedges covers 5620 miles to claim victory.
7. 1966 Targa Florio
Rallying superstar Timo Mäkinen is famous for ragging Minis and Big Healeys. But he comes up trumps when Turner places him in a B for Sicily’s famous road race. An overnight storm drags tons of mud onto the 41-mile circuit and Timo, superbly supported by Mini dicer John Rhodes, is in his element. They finish ninth overall and win the GT category.
8. 1963 Le Mans 24 Hours
This works B is ostensibly a privateer. Fitted with an extended nose, it’s capable of more than 130mph. Disaster strikes early when it’s involved in another’s accident. Alan Hutcheson, digging it furiously from a sandbank, comes within 10 minutes of exclusion. He and Paddy Hopkirk drive brilliantly thereafter to finish 12th overall and win the 2-litre GT class.
9. 1934 Prix de Berne
Richard Seaman's stripped K3 is relegated to the last row of nine by ballot and no one gives him a second look. They do when he takes the lead of the season’s most important Voiturette race after just 11 laps of the daunting Bremgarten circuit. He wins, and Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union take careful note of this bright young star.
The 10th is open to debate below because I’m in danger of exceeding my word count.
Of much greater importance, however, are the myriad opportunities that these everyman sports cars have provided enthusiasts from around the globe to cut their teeth, from Seaman, WTCC contender Rob Huff and the recently deceased Roberto Mieres to the tens of thousands of contented MG clubmen still racing/rallying/etc today.
Yes, one MG is back. The other MG, the proper one, never went away – in the motor sport sense at least.