Classic book

Guild of Motoring Writers on a front line? A handful of founders in 1944 maybe but not many. Road tests can be written under fire from unhappy PRs, readers throw brickbats, but it’s a relatively safe business so long as you choose carefully who to drive with on press launches. Yet Mike Brewer was actually shot at doing an illuminating series on army vehicles in Afghanistan. Bouncy and enthusiastic, his publicist describes Brewer as TVs best-known car dealing expert, and now he has produced a book on buying and selling modern classic cars.

Brewer presents Discovery channel’s Wheeler Dealer series, which has been running for nine years and is shown all over the world. It illustrates what interest there is in classic cars and Brewer’s book is a useful primer. It covers buying, owning, selling, auctions and basics like giving a car a deep clean. “It never ceases to amaze me how little effort people make when it comes to tidying up their cars,” Brewer says. Quite right. I learned it long ago during a brief spell in the rough and tumble of the Glasgow motor trade. “If it’s looking a bit grimy get the engine steam cleaned, and don’t forget the painted areas like the inner wings.” Every motoring writer should have a spell selling cars. What makes people buy can be revealing, and it’s hardly ever understeer or oversteer or how many seconds it takes to 60.

Brewer’s experience in the trade was more successful than mine. See his Tales from the Trade. There is cogent advice on starter classics. He recommends Mark 1 Ford Escort and Vauxhall Viva HB - plenty of variants and spares are cheap. I was less convinced about his advocacy of the Triumph Spitfire although he does recommend later ones after 1974.

Sporting classics? MGA yes, Delorean definitely not – terrible car – a dishonest pastiche. Favourite modern classics? VW Beetle – OK. Ford Capri ? Maybe. Lotus Elan? Yes. Jaguar E-type, yes certainly although not the lugubrious V12. And Morgan? OK but probably not the Plus 8, which I always thought over-powered for the frail frame. As for the Citroën DS; well to say the complicated suspension and hydraulics aren’t for the faint-hearted is an understatement. I’d go for something more bullet-proof - an MGB maybe with a Heritage bodyshell – to fend off the Taliban.

Mike Brewer’s The Wheeler Dealer Know How! £16.99 ISBN 978-1-845844-89-9 everything you need to know about buying, preparing and selling collectable cars.
Top: Jaguar E-type. Ford Capri II. My sturdy MGB. Bottom - I tested military vehicles in my Gunner days. 8 (Alma) Field Battery Royal Artillery Daimler Ferret armoured car, like they used to build in what became the Jaguar factory in Browns Lane. That’s me in the turret.


More on MG history (TC above). Successive managements were probably right curbing MG works racing teams. Research recalled the follies of the British motorcycle industry of the 1950s, which believed all it had to do was win TT races to secure customer loyalty. Manufacturers like Norton were profligate on racing, penurious over developing new models, and while creating the best racing motorcycles in the world neglected road bikes. BSA, Triumph, AJS, Matchless and Norton made machines that vibrated and leaked oil. The Japanese produced better, faster, well-equipped designs that ran smoothly and looked great with oil-tight exquisitely cast engines. The British firms were bankrupted in the space of a few years.

The British refused to believe that the Japanese were ever going to make anything except small-capacity machines. A book by Bert Hopwood, “Whatever Happened to the British Motorcycle Industry?” published in 1981 by Haynes was a work of what seemed at the time an endangered species, an articulate motorcycle engineer. Hopwood spent a lifetime designing amongst other successful machines the Ariel Square Four and Norton Dominator. He recalled vividly how the management of Norton, Triumph, BSA, and Associated Motorcycles sat back complacently as their industry collapsed.

“By the early 1960s,” wrote Hopwood, “Honda and other Japanese manufacturers, having dominated world motorcycle markets in the small capacity classes, were adjusting their sights and marketing excellent machines of medium capacity. I shall never understand the attitude of Jack Sangster, chairman of BSA, and Edward Turner, the Triumph designer (Turner's great vertical twin, below), to the threat. They were sought after by the press for their reactions to the growing strength of our Japanese competitors. Turner made statements many times, that the British motorcycle industry could count itself fortunate in having the Japs selling large numbers of very small machines, for they were training young riders, many of whom would graduate to larger ones, which he made so well. They formed a lucrative market that had become the backbone of our industry. He said there would be no profit in very small motorcycles so there was no point in entering that market.”

Hopwood warned Turner, whom he disparaged, that any industry that could make small bikes profitably was clearly capable of making more money out of big ones. “I had bitter arguments with Turner. I could not understand why members of the Board did not challenge him.” Hopwood blamed the Triumph management for “foggy” product planning and a total failure to acknowledge the perils.

The analogy I was drawing was how the Japanese had been quick to spot a gap in the US sports car market when Lord Stokes rather stupidly axed the Austin-Healey (above), and refused to spend money at MG. Along came the Datsun 240Z and its successors to grab the dollars we seemed to be turning our backs on. The same went for the splendidly successful Mazda MX-5 following the collapse of MG.

Hopwood’s view on Turner was probably unfair. He was deeply admired by the astute Sir William Lyons, who proposed a partnership in 1944, and designed the V8 engine later adopted by Jaguar.


Lest we forget. A messy 30 years in the dog days of British Leyland. Extract from chronology section of The Classic MG File.

1965 Jly: BMC makes offer for Pressed Steel effective September 1965.
Jly 22: Rover buys Alvis.
Oct 20: MGB GT at Earls Court.
1966 Jun: Leonard Lord, now Lord Lambury, retires from BMC board. George Harriman becomes chairman, Joe Edwards managing director.
Jly 11: BMC and Jaguar agree merger, finalised December.
Oct 19: MG Midget Mark III (GAN4) (above) launched at Earls Court with 1275cc A-series engine. Also Austin-Healey Sprite Mark IV.
Nov 3: Assembly of pre-production MGC begins at Abingdon, two months after Healeys reject BMC’s proposed Austin-Healey 3000 Mark IV. 13 pre-production MGCs built for development.
Dec 11: Leyland agrees merger with Rover, effective March 1967.
Dec 14: BMC and Jaguar announce joint company: British Motor Holdings. Joe Edwards becomes BMH chief executive under Sir George Harriman.
1967 Feb: Industry Minister Anthony Wedgwood Benn announces exploratory talks between Leyland and BMH in House of Commons.
Oct: Merger discussions between BMH and Leyland follow meeting at Chequers between George Harriman (BMH), and Donald Stokes (Leyland), at invitation of prime minister Harold Wilson.
Nov: first cars to meet new US safety and emissions requirements built with ‘Abingdon Pillow’ padded dashboards and dual-circuit brakes. Austin-Healey 3000 Mark III discontinued.
1968 Jan 17: £320 million merger of Leyland Motor Corporation with BMH forms British Leyland Motor Corporation. Cars divided into Austin-Morris (including MG) and Specialist Cars (with separate Rover, Triumph and Jaguar boards).
Apl: MG 1300 replaces 1100 Mark II. Joe Edwards resigns from BMH prior to formation of BLMC. Harry Webster and George Turnbull, ex Triumph, in charge of Austin-Morris.
May 14: Creation of British Leyland Motor Corporation.
May 22: Roy Haynes proposes MG ADO28 (Morris Marina).
Aug: Harry Webster announces advanced engineering and conservative styling policy for Austin, more style and conservative engineering for Morris.
Aug 5: BLMC board views three AD028 prototypes by Pininfarina, Michelotti, and Roy Haynes. Haynes’s proposals accepted.
Oct 15: Earls Court Motor Show. Sir Donald Stokes instructs competitions department to go only for outright wins.
1969 Apl: Austin-Morris design transferred from Cowley. Interior design remains at Cowley until October.
Jun 27: John Thornley retires, Les Lambourne now assistant general manager.
Jly: Riley 1300 production discontinued; Riley 4/72 carries on until October.
Sep 18: Last MGC leaves Abingdon.
Sep 19: BLMC board approves ADO67, the Austin Allegro of 1973.
Oct 11: British Leyland facelift Midget and MGB - recessed matt black grilles.
Oct 15: Mini Clubman and 1275GT at Earls Court. Austin and Morris 1300 GT effectively replaces MG 1300.
Nov 5: Abingdon starts work on mid-engined AD021.
1970 Autumn: Engineers Spen King and Mike Carver visit USA to research market for TR sports car. Competition between Austin-Morris styling Longbridge, Triumph Canley and Michelotti. MG Abingdon not invited to put forward mid-engined AD021.
Oct 31: Abingdon Competitions Department closes. Special Tuning continues as low-cost unit.
Nov 4: MG ADO21 full-size clay viewed by British Leyland management.
Dec 29: Work ceases on ADO21.
1971 Jan: Austin-Healey Sprite rebadged Austin. Healey royalties cease.
May 27: 250,000th MGB, left-hand-drive Blaze MGB GT, made at Abingdon.
May: Syd Enever retires as chief engineer. Roy Brockleburst takes over.
Jly: Austin-Morris styling studio MG Magna proposal for new BLMC corporate sports car approved, and becomes Triumph TR7. Last Mini Cooper, last Austin Sprite.
Aug 4: Abingdon instructed to build MGB GT V8, following assessment of Costello conversion.
Aug 31: MG 1300 Mark II discontinued.
1972 Mar: Rover-Triumph created under Sir George Farmer. Board has seven Rover and five Triumph members.
Spring: MG SSV1 experimental safety vehicle shown at Washington road safety exhibition.
Aug: MGB range facelifted for 1973 MY.
Sep: O-series engine emerges as overhead-cam B-series. Soft bumpers approved for MGB.
Dec 12: Production of MGB GT V8 starts.
Feb: British Leyland plans MGB in case TR7 is late; O-series engine is due by April 1974
1973 Aug 15: MGB GT V8 launched.
Sep: Bumper overriders for MG Midget, MGB and MGB GTs in the USA
1974 Jan: Work starts on ADO88.
Summer: O-series engine decision for MGB and Marina by 1977 model year, autumn 1976. Delayed to 1978 MY.
Jly: British Leyland cash crisis. Banks talk of £150 million loan.
Oct 16: Soft bumpers for Midget, MGB, MGB GT and MGB GT V8. Midget adopts Triumph Spitfire 1493cc engine.
Nov 27: Banks and government discuss BLMC’s finances.
Dec 3: Triumph Spitfire 1500 launched in UK with same engine as Midget 1500.
Dec 6: Tony Benn tells Parliament government guarantees BLMC’s capital.
Dec 18: Sir Don Ryder, governmental industrial advisor, appointed to investigate BLMC by March.
1975 Jan 1: MGB GT withdrawn from USA.
Jan: Triumph TR7 two-door sports coupe announced for sale only in USA.
26 Mar: Ryder Report recommends government contribution of £2.8 billion over seven years; company split into four divisions: cars, trucks and buses, international, and “special products”.
Jun 27: British Leyland Motor Corporation renamed British Leyland; government 99.8% shareholder.
Aug 11: British Leyland formally nationalised.
Sep 13: First post-Ryder marque realignment. Austin-Morris 18-22 series renamed Princess.
Dec 16: Government secures Chrysler UK with £162.5 million.
1976 May 19: Triumph TR7 introduced in UK and Europe.
Jun: MGB withdrawn from Continental Europe.
Jly: Last two MGB GT V8s finished at Abingdon.
1977 Jan: Work restarts on “federalizing” O-series engine for MGB, aiming for introduction in 1980.
Feb: pilot-build of Triumph TR7 Sprint and TR7 V8 begins at Speke.
Nov 1: Michael Edwardes joins British Leyland.
1978 Jan: ADO88 replaced by larger LC8 project.
Feb: Edwardes reveals plan to reorganise Austin-Morris including MG, and Jaguar-Rover-Triumph.
Feb 15: Proposal for Speke factory to close and move TR7 production to Canley.
Apl 1: BL Motorsport Abingdon homologates TR7 V8 rally car.
Apl 3: government provides £450 million equity in British Leyland.
May 26: Triumph TR7 production ends at Speke. TR7 Sprint and Lynx cancelled. TR7 V8 – the TR8 – delayed two years.
Jly 1: British Leyland renamed BL. Leyland name remains on commercial vehicles. Austin-Morris is under Ray Horrocks, and Jaguar-Rover-Triumph under William Pratt-Thompson. Development MGB with O-series engine presented to BL management. Approval of £275 million for LC8 Metro.
Aug: BL in exploratory talks with Honda.
Sep: 1.7-L O-series engine for Marina 2. MG becomes part of Jaguar-Rover-Triumph.
Oct: Triumph TR7 production restarts at Canley after five-month gap. US dealers unhappy.
1979 Apl: US-market MGB Limited Edition (LE) model introduced at New York Motor Show.
May 15: Memorandum of understanding between BL and Honda. New Triumph saloon to be built at Canley based on Honda Ballade/Civic. Introduction planned for October 1981.
Jun: Sharp rise in strength of sterling affects BL, in particular US exports. BL forms CORE (Co-ordination of Resources) strategy. Edwardes Plan streamlines company.
Jly 9: BL meets industry minister Sir Keith Joseph to discuss funding of LC10.
Jly: Triumph TR7 convertible launched five years after TR7 coupe, for USA only.
Aug: Midget production runs down; among the last are 500 for Japan. Assembly of Vanden Plas 1500 transferred to Abingdon. Golden Jubilee celebrations at Abingdon.
Sep 10: Announcement of closure at AEC Park Royal. BL plans to end production of MG sports cars at Abingdon and manufacturing at Canley.
Sep 13: John Thornley invites 445 US Jaguar-Rover-Triumph-MG dealers to urge BL to continue MGB production.
Sep 26: BL claims loss of £900 on every MGB.
Sep 30: MG clubs stage London protest rally
Oct 14: Alan Curtis of Aston Martin Lagonda and Peter Sprague in the USA prepare bid for MG marque and MGB.
Oct 17: Union leaders recommend BL workers accept Edwardes Plan.
Oct 18: Consortium led by Aston Martin Lagonda announces bid to take over MG name and factory.
Nov 1: BL workforce ballot: 80% vote, of which 87.2% accepts Edwardes Plan
Nov 6: Californian MG dealers and 416-strong US JRT dealer council threaten to sue BL for £100 million if MGB is withdrawn. BL says MGBs will remain available until 1981, pledges to keep the MG marque.
Dec 12: Last MG Midget down Abingdon production line. Black UK-specification car for British Motor Heritage brings total to 224,817.
Dec: BL discusses MG Boxer project, low-cost MG offshoot from Triumph TR7, to placate US JRT dealers. Idea abandoned early in 1980, and MG returned to Austin-Morris from JRT.
Dec 20: BL says government agrees to recovery plan and a further £205 million.
1980 Jan: 500,000th MGB, a black roadster, built at Abingdon.
Jan 14: Jaguar-Rover-Triumph press release: “MGBs will be produced until late 1980 ... available into early 1981. The MG name will be retained and there are plans to build a successor to the MGB when production ends at Abingdon.”
Mar 31: Aston Martin consortium meets BL board, proposing £30 million deal for exclusive world-wide license to MG name and Abingdon factory.
Apl: Triumph TR7 production begins at Rover in Solihull, overlapping with production at Canley.
Jly 1: Aston Martin announces nearly half required £30m has been withdrawn. Last hope is that Japanese and Arab backers provide £12m. Aston Martin makes a quarter of its workforce redundant.
Jly 2: William Pratt-Thompson, head of BL International, announces Abingdon factory to be sold.
Jly 4: Alan Curtis talks with Japanese in an effort to acquire funds for take-over.
Jly 9: BL car divisions reorganised again: JRT dissolved, Jaguar becomes separate once more. Volume cars (Austin-Morris) absorbs Rover and Triumph to form Light Medium Cars (LMC). Cars Commercial looks after marketing and product planning. Triumph Spitfire discontinued. LM10 approved by BL board for 1983 launch.
Aug: last production-specification MGB bodyshell produced at Pressed Steel, Stratton St Margaret, Swindon.
Oct 8: Austin Metro launched.
Oct 23: Last MGB goes down the line at Abingdon.
Oct 24: MG factory at Abingdon closes.
1981 Jan: £990 million further state funding of BL over next two years.
Jan 26: announcement by BL of last MGB derivative, the UK-only MGB and MGB GT LE.
Mar 18-24: Auction of MG factory contents: 434 buyers, 3600 lots, totalling £100,000 for BL.
May 10: BL claims Jaguar loses £2 million per month due to unfavourable dollar/sterling exchange.
May 13: Ray Horrocks of BL announces closure of Solihull Rover factory for all but Land Rover.
Jun 15: BL Motorsport moves to Cowley. Plans laid for MG Metro 6R4.
Jly 26: Sunday Times says BL plans MG-badged version of the Metro.
Aug 6: MG is among names considered for performance Metro.
Sep: Austin Allegro discontinued.
Oct 7: Triumph Acclaim launched.
Nov 12: Ray Horrocks and Honda sign co-operative agreement in Tokyo for new executive car, coded XX.
1982 Jan: Banks agree to lend BL £277 million over 8-10 years. David Bache resigns as design director following management disagreements. Replaced by Roy Axe, formerly of Chrysler.
May: Austin Rover Group formed from Austin, Morris, MG, Rover and Triumph. Harold Musgrove chairman and chief executive.
May 5: MG Metro 1300 announced.
Jly 1: BL announces Morris name to be phased out.
Oct 22: MG Metro Turbo announced at motor show.
Nov: Sir Michael Edwardes leaves BL, publishes Back From The Brink.
1983 Feb: MG Metro 6R4 prototype handed over by Williams Engineering to Austin Rover Motorsport at Cowley.
Mar 1: Austin Maestro range includes MG1600.
1984 Apl 25: Montego range includes 2-litre fuel-injected MG version with O-series engine. S-series replaces R-series in MG Maestro 1600. LC10 has cost £210 million. BL reports first operating profit, £4.1 million, since 1978.
Aug 10: Jaguar privatised. Government keeps “golden share” until end of 1990.
Sep: Austin Rover formed as LMC is integrated with Cars Commercial.
1985 May 8: Harold Musgrove announces Austin Rover Cars of North America (ARCONA) in partnership with Norman Braman to launch Austin Rover/Honda XX in the USA in 1987.
Sep 19: MG EX-E concept car launched at Frankfurt Motor Show. (in Heritage collection, Gaydon with other MGs)
Nov 1: MG Metro 6R4 homologated for international debut on RAC Rally.
Feb 2: Roy Hattersley claims General Motors wants to buy Leyland Trucks and Land Rover.
1986 Apl: MG Maestro introduced in Japan. Design studios at Canley reorganised.
May 1: Graham Day appointed chairman of BL.
Jly: BL renamed Rover Group
Jly 15: Honda/Rover joint project XX launched as Rover 800 series.
Sep: Harold Musgrove leaves.
1987 Apl 18: US-market Sterling (Rover 800) launched at New York Motor Show.
May: Austin Rover Motorsport Division at Cowley closed down.
Nov: Sterling 800 range on sale in the USA.
1988 Mar 1: British Aerospace (BAe) talks with government on acquisition of Rover.
Mar 30: British Aerospace buys Rover Group for £150 million; government writing off £800 million debt. £2.98 billion in state aid received since 1975.
Apl 13: British Motor Heritage launches MGB bodyshell.
Oct 22: MG Maestro Turbo, to be built by Tickford, announced at Birmingham Motor Show.
1989 Jan: Rover board restructured. Graham Day hands over to George Simpson, board members reduced from 36 to 11. John Towers becomes production engineering director and Graham Morris takes over as Sterling president from Chris Woodwark.
Jly 14: Honda announces £300 million first European assembly plant at Swindon, and 20% equity stake in Rover. Rover takes 20% stake in HUM (Honda UK Manufacturing).
Sep 18: Graham Day suggests sports car. Appoints Project Phoenix to investigate three MG concepts with different engine/drive train configurations: PR1, PR2 and PR3. ‘PR’ stands for Phoenix Route, nicknamed ‘Pocket Rocket’.
Oct 11: New Rover 200 range launched at London Motorfair. First production application of K-series engine.
Dec 1: Jaguar shareholders accept Ford’s cash offer.
1990 Mar 28: Executive committee approves Rover Special Products (RSP) prototypes.
Mar: Work starts on Heritage MGB V8 project; Mark Gamble builds prototype at Snitterfield.
May 2: Launch of revamped Metro with 1.1- and 1.4-litre K-series engines. Top of range GTi not an MG.
Jun: Rover board reviews PR1, PR2, PR3 and PR4 (similar to PR2, but with a steel body). PR3 increased in size.
Sep 19: Graham Day tells press, “We are going to do a proper MG.”
1991 Jan: Rover commissions consultants MGA and ADC to develop styling clays based on mid-engined PR3. John Towers becomes MD in charge of product supply.
Apl: Rover Special Products researches significance of MG badge to potential customers.
May: Two styling models for PR3 presented. Rover approves PR3 from development to D Zero.
Jun: Customer clinic tests of sports car concepts; leads to rejection of pop-up headlamps and abandonment of PR5, seen as a Jaguar/Aston Martin style, not MG. Rover management approves RV8.
Jly: proposal of PR3 1.6-litre K-series engine with optional supercharger.
Aug 9: Rover Group drops US Sterling marque.
Sep: Gerry McGovern begins work on styling clay for PR3 at Canley.
Autumn: MG-badged saloons discontinued after MG Maestro and Montego 2.0i.
1992 Jan: MG RV8 prototype presented at Rover dealer conference.
Jan 22: Styling of PR3 clay model approved.
Mar 3: Geneva show. Rover 200 Cabriolet launched (Project Tracer nearly became an MG). Rover 800 coupe also launched.
Mar: Styling of PR3 approved. Rover staff invited to give opinions on “elements of an MG”.
Jun: Teaser brochure for RV8 issued with studio photograph of DEV1 prototype, “The Shape of Things to Come”.
Sep 18: MG Car Club, MG Owners’ Club and others invited to preview of MG RV8 at Canley.
Oct 20: RV8 launched by John Towers at Birmingham Motor Show, together with Rover 200 coupe.
Nov: Rover board approves 1.8-litre K-series with optional VVC.
Dec: PR3 design signed off. Mayflower and Rover agree Mayflower Vehicle Systems (the merged Motor Panels and IAD) to raise £24 million for design, engineering and production of bodyshells.
1993 Mar: Rover board approves PR3. Launch planned for 1995.
Mar 31: Mayflower investment includes rights issue to raise £34.6 million. Production of over 10,000 a year expected, with sales of £20 million for a 6-year contract.
Mar 31: First production MG RV8 made at Cowley for BMH museum (chassis Nr 251, British Racing Green metallic). First six customer cars completed on 19 Apl.
Oct: Woodcote Green MG RV8 at Tokyo Motor Show.
1994 Jan 13: First 46 RV8s leave Southampton for Japan.
Jan 31: British Aerospace sale of Rover Group to BMW AG for £800 million.
Feb 21: Honda relinquishes 20% shareholding in Rover, which releases its 20% in Honda’s UK manufacturing subsidiary.
Mar 18: Title and ownership of Rover Group officially transferred to BMW AG. Rover Group comprises two sub-groups: Rover Group Holdings plc, Birmingham (with 89 subsidiaries) and Rover Group USA Inc, Lanham, Maryland (with four subsidiaries).
Jly: Pre-production examples of MGF completed, using final tooling.
Sep: Pilot production of MGF.
1995 Feb 6: Preview of MGF for MG Car Club, MG Owners’ Club, Octagon Car Club at Gaydon.
Feb 20-24: Dealer MGF launch.
Mar 7: MGF launched at Geneva.
May: Rover 416 and 420 launched.
Aug 4: First volume-production MGF built at Longbridge CAB2.
Sep 23: First customer MGF deliveries.
Oct: MGF makes its UK and Japanese Motor Show debuts.
Nov 22: Last MG RV8, Woodcote Green bound for Japan.

MG Style

Perfect proportions. Not many cars have them now. Too many regulations and safety stuff. Updating and revising our MG book, I have concluded that the MGA was one of the most flawlessly proportioned cars ever. Abingdon had no styling studio, employed no fancy Italian carozzeria, there was no clay model for focus groups or directors to mess up. This was pragmatism in car design and it was sleek, elegant, practical and simply beautiful. Ever under-rated because it wasn’t very fast; it didn’t even overjoy MG enthusiasts because it didn’t have an ash-framed body and stickout lights like an MG TF. MGAs could never keep up with Austin-Healeys or Triumph TRs, rough-and-ready sports cars both, and neither handled with such precision or poise. The MG was, by comparison, a thoroughbred.

In 1952 morale at Abingdon was suffering as a result of BMC’s reluctance to invest in new models. The TD was in decline and Syd Enever undertook a new chassis frame to deal with the problem shown up by UMG 400, a Le Mans project that hadn’t worked very well. Enever placed the side members well apart so that the occupants could be lower on each side of the transmission, and to ensure it was stiff built a strong framework round the scuttle. Two were made, with a body along the lines of UMG 400, which had been inspired by sports racing cars of the 1940s and 1950s, notably the 1939-1940 Mille Miglia BMW 328. The result was a prototype EX175, which was immediately put on ice because LP Lord had just signed up for the Austin-Healey 100.

It was 1955 before it reappeared as EX 182 for Le Mans, displayed, in its perimeter frame and maturity, the hallmarks of a production-ready car. They were prototypes in the spirit of regulations aimed at allowing manufacturers to try out new models in the full glare of publicity. There were four production lookalikes with aluminium bodies and Weslake-developed cylinder heads, harbingers of things to come, exquisitely proportioned and in every sense a sports car classic. The bodies had seats and doors, the passenger side covered with a fairing and it was a shame that such a brave initiative was overwhelmed by the disaster when a Mercedes-Benz 300SLR crashed into the crowd, killing its driver Pierre Levegh and over 80 spectators. One of the MGs crashed almost at the same time, badly injuring Dick Jacobs, a staunch MG supporter whose connections with Abingdon went back to 1937. However the team acquitted itself well, finishing 5th and 6th in the class behind Porsches. It fared little better in September at the Ulster TT, also blemished by fatal accidents. Two works MGs had twin overhead camshaft engines, one designed by Austin, the other by Morris Engines, which became the prototype for the MGA Twin Cam. Top: Facia of 1955 Le Mans car reconstructions, photographed at Goodwood. From above; My MGA in about 1960. MG historian the late Wilson McComb in red MGA publicity shot. Wilson would surely have been embarrassed by the white sidewall tyres.

Intrepid diver

The TV ad for the pillarless Ford B-Max is real. No tricksy photo-shopping. Bobby Holland-Hanton really did go head first through the 1.5metre gap of a suspended B-Max to show Life-Is-An-Open-Door. Viewers see him climbing stairs to the diving board. However he was really suspended from a crane for the stunt proper. Bobby works on Bond movies so, on this occasion, the only shooting was by the camera.

Of course, pillarless 4-doors are by no means new. They were relatively easy to make when any self-respecting Rolls-Royce or Daimler had a stout chassis to keep them from sagging when the doors were open. Their structure had the integrity of a railway carriage and your footman turned a stout handle to latch a door. One did not stoop; one preserved one’s dignity getting in or coming down.
But come cars with unitary bodies it wasn’t easy to make. Doors were getting smaller and not many were able to dispense with the B-pillar. Fiat had the pillarless Ardita in 1934, and persisted with pillarlessness until the 1100 of 1952. Triumph tried it in Britain and Licorne in France, but structures tended to wilt with age. They rattled and leaked; a middle pillar held the roof and floor together. Or apart.
MG K-types (top) came in two wheelbase lengths, 9ft, or 7ft 10-and three-sixteenths of an inch. It was not a monocoque. It had a chassis and bodywork that owed something to the ash-framing and bespoke panel-beating of the coaching era. Rods inside the doors fitted catches in the roof and floor and access was relatively easy, despite the car being barely 4ft 6in tall. A long 6-cylinder engine, even of a modest 1100cc, put a premium on passenger space, so reaching seats without dodging round a middle prop was vital. The engine was a Wolseley-derived cross-flow, you could have a Wilson preselective gearbox instead of a non-synchromesh manual, but suspension was by cart springs.

The Lancia Aprilia of 1937-1939 was a little masterpiece. All-independently sprung (sliding pillars in front, transverse leaf and torsion bar at the back) and a narrow-angle ohv V4 engine, it had hydraulic brakes and was good for 80mph. A striking looking car, some 15,000 were made before the war.
Ford’s B-Max has a rear door that slides. Mazda’s RX7 (below) has a small half rear door with a concealed handle, exact, precise graceful. It’s an ideal formula for a small, perfectly proportioned sporty car barely 4ft tall. Surprising, really, that Cecil Kimber never thought of that dinky back door.

see diver


The National Trust is obliged to preserve houses and gardens. It can’t just let them decay. Its dilemma was touched on in a TV documentary about Sissinghurst, when a resident descendant of the donor family woke up one morning, to find the trust replacing a crumbling, antique stone statue with a modern copy.

It’s the same with cars such as Ian Brown's TR3 (right). Triumph TR2s were like first love. Their handling was not very good, but I didn’t know any better in 1955 when I went to the British Grand prix at Aintree in one. A treasured girl friend had another. One of my first published features was a competition history of the TR2 up to about 1956. I knew TR2s, so a chance to drive a restored one was too good to miss. What a disapppointment. It felt good at first. Lovely to drive an open car with your elbow overhanging the low door. What clear round instruments. Great to hear the exhaust crackle at 2,400rpm. I liked the crisp gearshift and roomy cockpit. What a practical car it was, with a decent boot.

TR2s are eminently restorable with a separate chassis and simple body parts and the owner had paid a lot for it. I hadn’t the heart to tell him the steering was terrible. TR2 cam and lever was never great but this was just stiff. It had no feedback at all. The Motor road test of a TR3 in 1956 thought it, “satisfactorily sporting”, which in road test language probably meant no more than “all right”. At two and a third turns lock to lock it was, not surprisingly, “heavy at parking speeds”.

There is a sharp division over restored classics. Some people like patina. Seats sat in by generations of drivers. Paint and chrome dulled and weathered. Exhausts that smoke because the cylinder bores are worn. These enthusiats try not to renew anything. Remaking decaying bodywork is anathema. Like the new Sissinghurst statue it’s no longer original.

I don’t agree. I like originality but not at the expense of practicality. When I drive a classic I want it to feel and behave as it did when new. The best restorations are done using period materials, techniques and workmanship. I’ll allow some liberties in the interests of research. When I did my MGB I took the best features of various ages – chrome wire wheels, chrome grille, leather upholstery but modern paint colour, and equipped it with a Rover 2litre twin-cam 4-valve engine with fuel injection, and a 5-speed gearbox. (TR3A right, at Goodwood)

That restored TR2 was joyless. It looked good but that was the end of it. In that case I’d have gone with the patina, saggy seats, draughty hood, opaque sidescreens…
Bit of both (below) my MGB had a new bodywhell. My A30 behind was all original.

MG 14/28

There are only four differences in appearance between the flat-radiator MG 14/28 and the 14/40, some of which had rounded radiators. These are the louvres round the scuttle, the extension to the base of the radiator shell, round ship-style ventilators and the omission of an apron in the space between the front dumb-irons. With his careful eye for economy, MG director Cecil Kimber felt there was no need for fresh art work for each so between 1923 and 1929 advertisements for both were more or less interchangeable. WL2228 is a 13.9HP sports in claret and silver 4-seater first registered, according to the encyclopaedic Oxford to Abingdon, the classic source of reference by Robin Barraclough and Phil Jennings, on 18 May 1927.
(from Dove Publishing's MG File) 1926 MG 14/28 Super Sports
The distinction between specially bodied Morris Oxfords sold through The Morris Garages, and the establishment of MG as a car manufacturer in its own right, is far from clear-cut. An advertisement in the June 1924 Morris Owner magazine used the MG octagon against a picture of a de luxe Landaulette on the 14/28 Morris Oxford chassis. The following month there was an MG Sports Four Seater Morris Oxford in “burnished aluminium and smoke blue, or to choice,” advertised with, “The graceful lines of a yacht.” Kimber’s other preoccupation was sailing, and it was no surprise that this car too featured ship-style ventilator cowls. In 1925 there was an MG 14/28 Weymann saloon, “absolutely devoid of rattle”, with four wheel brakes. Yet it was not until mid-October 1927 that The Morris Garages registered cars with Oxford County Borough Council, as anything other than Morris Oxford or Morris Cowley. One 14/28 was a well finished saloon advertised as “…on the famous ‘Imshi’ chassis”, a reference to a six-month expedition by the Daily Mail’s motoring correspondent through France, Italy, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Spain to prove the worth of the Morris Oxford. “Imshi” was Arabic for “Get a move on.”
BODY: Saloon 4-door, 4-seat; coupe; 2-doors; 2-seats; weight 18cwt (914.4kg). Open 4-seater, 2-door; weight 18.25cwt (927.1kg)
4-cylinders; in-line; 75mm x 102mm, 1802cc; compr 5:1; 35bhp (27kW) @ 4000rpm; 19.4bhp (15kW)/l.
Side camshaft; side valve; mushroom tappets; detachable cast iron cylinder head and block; aluminium pistons; Smith, SU, or Solex carburettor; 3-bearing crankshaft.
Rear wheel drive; wet cork clutch; 3-speed non-synchromesh manual gearbox; enclosed torque tube; spiral bevel final drive 4.42:1.
Steel channel-section chassis; ash-framed aluminium body; pressed steel scuttle; suspension, front half-elliptic leaf springs, rear three-quarter elliptic; Gabriel snuubers at front, Hartford shock absorbers at rear; Duplex Hartfords on salonette; Four wheel brakes, front patent Rubury, 12in (30.48cm) drums (with optional servo £20), 1925-1926; worm and wheel steering; 7gal (31.8litre) fuel tank; 700 x 80 Dunlop Cord beaded-edge tyres; 3-stud steel artillery wheels with Ace discs 1924-1925; bolt-on wire spoke 1925-1926. Saloon 28 x 4.95 Dunlop reinforced balloon tyres.
Wheelbase 102in (259.08cm) and 108in (274.32cm); track 48in (121.92cm); length: 152in (386.08cm); width: 60in (152.4cm); height: 65in (165.1cm) with hood up.
Max speed 65mph (105kph); 19.4mph (31.22kph) @1000rpm; 0-50mph 23.8sec; fuel consumption 19mpg (14.9l/100km)
PRICE Open 4-seater £375; 2-seater £350; Salonette £475. 4-seat salonette without tail compartment £495. Optional equipment included luggage carrier, a variety of mascots, rev counter, spot lights, and a monograme or crest on the door at £2.2s (£2.10). PRODUCTION approx 400
XV 9508 is a 14/40, first registered on 29 December 1928.

MG GT Concept

The MGF GT Concept of 2004 was another pretty coupe that never made it into production. Like the Ford ‘Anglo’ Saxon (see blog below) it was a logical development on an existing platform. Based on the MGF, it still looks good enough six years later to be worth the attention of MG’s European Design Centre, opened in June under director Tony Williams-Kenny. In 2004 MG-Rover tried to portray it as a successor to the MGB GT of the 1960s but it was far better than that. This would have been a worthy competitor to up-market coupes like the Audi TT.

The style of MG-Rover’s Peter Stevens was better than its publicity. Maybe that was part of what went wrong and the company’s demise saw off the smart little coupe. This rump of the British Motor Corporation, which once had 30 per cent of the British market, had slumped to 3 per cent under the Famous Four led by John Towers and what could have been a premium priced product never got past the prototype stage. It was to have been powered by the 2.5litre 24-valve quad cam KV6, with 200bhp to provide 0-60 in 6sec and a top speed of 145mph. The body had a drag coefficient of 0.31 and the only downside might have been access to the mid-engine.
The MG GT concept was announced with 17in Gunsmoke five-spoke OZ alloy wheels, similar to those on the MG XPower SV. There was probably not much time or resource for wind-tunnel testing although the designers included an extended front aero splitter and a long tail-spoiler integrated into the boot lid, which it was said would reduce lift at speed.

MG Motor UK is owned by SAIC, the Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation, and the new Design Centre has a studio for 20 designers, next to the SAIC Motors European Technical Centre (SMTC) on the Birmingham site. Williams-Kenny described the centre as, “A huge step forward. The advanced technology and dedicated team make us one of the most professional design studios in the world – we may not be the biggest, but we aim to be the best. We will be finalising details of the new MG6 from this studio and it gives us superb tools and facilities to go forward on projects such as the MG Zero concept and beyond.”

MGB Twin Cam and Austin A30

Classic cars cost more than you expect. I loved my MGB and A30. They were fine in prosperous times but I am relieved, in a way, I don’t still have them. The A30 was pure nostalgia. The first car I ever owned was an A30 and recreating the noises and the feel of what you were driving as an early-twenty-something was enjoyable. I was late into having my own car. The A30 was a strong monocoque, it was quite sound when I bought it but keeping the dreaded tinworm at bay seemed never-ending. And I did like (see other blogs) to make a car feel like it was when new. I could do this with the MG. Pretty well all it got from its donor car was the chassis plate. As the accompanying piece from the Telegraph of 1998 shows, it was an attempt to create a Twin Cam MGB. Had it been more skilfully executed, it would have been a fine car. As it was, it proved troublesome but it looked sensational – perfectly period, and it was about as fast as my Z3, which meantime remains my regular everyday classic.


In the 1930s road test writers didn’t want to be too critical. Practical Motorist in its May 1937 report on the Rover Ten enthused. “The bodywork of the car is not ‘flashy,’ but has the unmistakeable appearance of sound construction and excellent craftsmanship. However it felt obliged to find some fault. “The brakes were normally quiet in action, but it was sometimes noticed that there was a very high-pitched shriek just as the car was coming to rest. In all fairness it must be emphasised that the sound was certainly not loud and was so near the limit of audibility that it was often undetected.” So that was all right then.