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The Vintage years

The Vintage years Published: 6th May 2014 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

The Vintage years
The Vintage years
The Vintage years
The Vintage years
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David Burgess-Wise looks at the early days of MG that shaped it into the car maker we know and love

Cecil Kimber, who managed Morris Garages, a business in central Oxford owned personally by William Morris, realised that there was money to be made from selling attractively-styled sports cars based on the production 1.8-litre “Bullnose” Morris-Oxford chassis, so in 1924 launched the first MG (for “Morris Garages”) 12/28-hp Super Sports. In truth, the main modifications made to the chassis were a bracket that increased the rake of the steering and the fitting of open-hub wire wheels instead of spoked steel artillery wheels, but the gorgeous styling saw some 400 sold by 1926, when the “Flatnose” Morris was launched.

Some 1100 “Flatnose” MGs were sold, uprated to 14/40-hp in 1928. (14/40: £40K). The marque gained a truly separate identity in 1928, when Morris – by now Sir William – gave Kimber permission to design a new chassis for the 2.5-litre Morris Oxford six-cylinder engine; the result was the 18/80, of which around 740 were built. Mk I had three speeds, Mk II four. There was a fierce racing version, the 18/100 “Tigress”; just five were made. (18/80: £70K; Tigress: £250K?)

But the car that really made MG’s name was the 850cc M-Type Midget, launched in 1929 from the marque’s new home in a former leather works in Abingdon-on-Thames. Based on the new overhead camshaft Morris Minor, this smart little two-seater sold for just £175: some 3255 were built before production ended in 1932. The 8/33 “Double Twelve” model of 1930 celebrated the Midget’s success in that race at Brooklands. From 1931-32 a long-wheelbase Midget, the D-Type (250 built), was also available. (M: £23K, D: £20K).


The ultimate Midget, the C-Type or “Montlhéry Midget” of 1931-32 (44 built), was a short-stroke 750cc road racer available supercharged at £345 or naturally aspirated for £295: a C-Type won the 1931 Tourist Trophy race. (C: £125-175K)

What we recognise as the typical MG look of the 1932-55 period was set by the 850cc J2 Midget two-seater of 1932-34 (2083 built); early ones had cycle wings (long swept-type wings came later), and the rear slab fuel tank, spare wheel on the tail, upswept scuttle and door cutaways of the J2 set the classic style. There was a long wheelbase version, the J1 (380 built in 1932-33) for four-seat tourer and salonette bodies. The J3 and J4 Midgets (31 built) were supercharged 750cc racers. (J2: £35K; J1: £30K; J3: £150K J4: £195K).

The PA Midget of 1934-35 (2000 built) was available with two- or four-seat open bodies or with pretty Airline coupé bodywork designed by Henry Allingham (who would be, incidentally, the last survivor of the Great War). The 847cc engine had three main bearings, a great improvement on the two bearing crank of the J-type, and there were 12in brake drums to match the 75mph top speed.

The PB Midget of 1935-36 (526 built) had a 939cc engine for improved performance. (PA&PB: £35K).

Rich amateur racers were well-served by the rare 750cc supercharged 113bhp Q-Type MG of 1934 (nine built), which was capable of 120mph and had the same chassis as the K3 Magnette. It sold for £550, equivalent to over £20,000 today. (Q-Type: £250K). But note: replicas have been created in recent years and will cost considerably less.

Kimber’s racing programme was abruptly halted when MG was absorbed into the main Nuffield Group and the overhead cam Midgets were replaced by pushrod OHV models derived from mainstream production models.

The first of these was the TA of 1936-39 (3103 built) whose 1292cc MPJG engine was based on the Wolseley Ten unit. It had the look, but had lost some of the sporting character. It was followed in 1939 by the broadly similar TB (379 built), with the 1250cc XPAG unit used in the Morris Ten and revised gear ratios.  (TA: £25K; TB: £30K).


First of the magnificent Magna series, the 1931-32 F-Type (1250 built), had the same smooth six-cylinder engine as the Wolseley Hornet, but with twin carburettors; F2 of 1932 had 12in brakes and a two-seater Midget body and F3 had various body styles like a “foursome coupé”. (F1: £45K; F2: £75K F3: £60K).

The L-Type Magna of 1933-34 (576 built) had a crossflow 1087cc engine like the Wolseley Hornet with twin SU Carburettors and 12in brakes. Good for 75mph, the L-Type was available with open two- and four-seater, Salonette and Continental coupé bodywork, the latter an oddity that looked like a miniature horsedrawn closed carriage. 

Between 1932-34 MG offered the K1 and K2 Magnettes (372 built) with a choice of engines: 1087cc in two stages of tune and 1271cc. There were two different chassis lengths: the four-seat K1 had a 108in wheelbase and the two-seat K2 a 94in wheelbase. All were capable of 75mph. (K1:£65K; K2: £95K).

The gem of the K-series was the supercharged K3 Magnette two-seater sports of 1932-34 (33 built). This had a specially-built engine with a machined and balanced crankshaft that developed 120bhp, and scored some notable race wins like the 1933 Tourist Trophy with the great Tazio Nuvolari at the wheel; originals are rare and very expensive, but some replicas have been confected from ordinary Magnettes. (K3 Replica: £125-150)

The 1271cc KN Magnette of 1933-34 (201 built) was a facelift designed to dispose of surplus K-series saloon bodies, using the 108in K1 chassis and standard tune N-type 1271cc engine. (KN: £95K).

Built in four series during 1934-36, the N Magnette (745 built) had a new 96in wheelbase chassis and a four-speed manual gearbox; the original version was the NA, the ND used the same slab tank two-seater body as the K2, an improved model introduced at the 1935 Motor Show was the NB and there was a works sports-racer called the NE. (N: £55K).

MG also built a range of luxury fast touring cars between 1936-39, starting with the SA or 2-litre (2738 built) with 2288cc and 2322cc engines based on the Wolseley 18/80 Six, available as open four-seater, saloon or drophead coupé, some with bodies by outside coachbuilders. In 1937 the 1548cc VA (2407 built) was added, and the range was completed in 1938 by the 2561cc WA (369 built).  (VA: £30K; SA: £40K; WA: £60K).

Prices shown are for good running examples of tourers;saloons will vary; racers rarely appear on market, so prices are approximate and replicas will be cheaper. Thanks to Andy King, MG Spares & Restorations

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