At Full Chat : MG Again at the Mille Miglia

Dear Howard,

I guess that five trips to Italy in as many years to cover the Mille Miglia retrospective qualifies YT as a “junkie”. I admit having become an addict. Our report to you on last years trip touched on a number of British marques that we came across in our travels through Italy. This year our focus was solely on MG, well almost exclusively, anyway. I hope that I can, to some extent, convey to your readers some of the excitement these cars generated among the hundreds of thousands of spectators who saw them as they helped to turn back the calendar more than a half century.

Your aging correspondent,

– Harry Newton!

One of the brightest jewels in the heritage of the MG marque is Tazio Nuvolari’s incredible 1933 Tourist Trophy victory in a K3 Magnetic over the favored Alfa Romeo’s. Earlier that same year, Captain George Eyston teamed with Italy is Count “Johnny” Lurani to win the 1100cc class in the tortuous Mille Miglia… with the same car! Actually, there was a three car K3 team in the MG Mille Miglia team that year, all piloted by a Who’s Who of British motor-sports. But, you already knew about that (MOSS MOTORING, SPRING 1993).

This past May, a fleet of K3s and other Abingdon models from collections around the world arrived in Brescia early in the month to reenact MG’s role in this historic race. From Australia the team of Bcrryman and Valmorbida entered the cx-Birkin/Rubin K3, a car that did not finish the 1933 Mille Miglia, but which had better luck down under, with a second place in the 1934 Australian Grand Prix, and which won the 1936 Australian Tourist Trophy. This MG was classified 214th in the 1994 tetrospecrive 1,000 mile rally from Brescia to Rome and return.

Now 214th place may not sound like much, even in an event that saw more than 320 starters, but those who have been fortunate enough to take part in a Mille Miglia re-enactment would happily settle for 320th position, just to have been there. The Mille Miglia races could only have happened in Italy, a country that treats automobiles as a mobile form of an. Among the hundreds of thousands of spectators who each year pack the ancient city piazzas and who cheer from carefully chosen vantages in the mountain passes there arc some who can recall seeing many of these same highly tuned racers more than half a century earlier. It could be described as the ultimate national deja vu.

Sporting #94 in the 1994 Mille Miglia was another famous K3, originally owned and raced by Prince Bira of Siam. After competing in England during 1935, it too went to Australia in the Mid-1930s, and had an active competition life, winning the hill-climb championship as recently as 1949. This racer finished the 1994 Mille Miglia in 246th position with Bradey and Howell up.

Closely related to the K3 Magnettes was the MG L Magna, an example of which scries was entered this year by Mullins and Leigh from England. This black beauty, running as #101, was a crowd plcascr throughout the 1,000 mile run, finishing respectably in 91st place.

A veteran of the 1934 British Empire Trophy races and of the 1935 Mille Miglia, this year is #109 was an American entry, driven by Butler and Jones, two of the most enthusiastic MG fans we have met. It was largely their efforts that produced the assortment of Memorabilia, including octagon shaped sun glasses, that was seen in Brescia to commemorate the K3’s return to this prestigious event. They finished in 202nd place this year.

From Spain, the team of Gregory and Lindgren brought the K3 prototype, which ran this year as #117. They finished in 242nd place.

Again, no trophies are needed to recall a weekend that will remain in one’s memory for a lifetime. At Ferrara, Ravenna and Ancona and again at Firenza, Bologna and Modena, the crowds — seemed as numerous and as enthusiastic as those that cheered the Lurani/Eyston, Birkin/Rubin and Howe/Hamilton MGs in 1933. The high speed curves and first gear switchbacks in the mountain passes demand just as much finesse in 1994 as they did in 1933. And the synergy between car and driver is just as strong today as one concentrates on the issue at hand while listening to the rise and fall of the exhaust note; enjoying the moment, but on guard for any discordant sound that might signal an impending mechanical problem.

We met the MG team members in the Hotel Royal bar as they finalized the group’s strategy and logistics. A more dedicated bunch would be hard to find, as evidenced by the kit they had assembled for this memorable event. Even in the hotel parking lot, the MG’s appearance captured the essence of competition in the 1930s; when drivers like Nuvolari, Eyston, Isirkin and I.ord Howe, as well as Gount Lurani and Prince Bira, demonstrated their ability and daring at the wheel of Spartan vehicles over open toads in contests that rewarded skill and stamina, and which created international heroes overnight.

Nowhere is the MG story better told than at the Nuvolari Museum at Mantova, and that was our destination for the day following this year’s Mille Miglia. Here, the saga is told of the 1933 Tourist Trophy, in which history’s best ever driver took the Eyston/Lurani Mille Miglia class winner to an overall victory in a contest that wasn’t decided until the final lap. Tazio Nurolari drove for Alfa Romeo, Maserati and Auto Union, as well as Bugatti, and Ferrari, and even for marques like Chiribiri and Bianchi that few people now even remember. But, it was the drive he gave that l,100cc MG that is best noted in  the archives at Mantova.

 

By Harry Newton

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