Imagine by delight when, over lunch last week, the Executive Manager of the Kowloon Shangri-La hotel mentioned that he had recently crewed on a friend’s MGA at the Bangkok Vintage Car Races. This is the same wonderful chap who, during my visit to Hong Kong last November, took me to the Asian Rugby Tournament finals. We’ve started to get along quite nicely.
One thing led to another and “would I like to meet the fellow with the MGA?” Absolutely! The MG in question is owned by John Norman. John is, among other things, a former London Bobby who has been in Hong Kong for the past 17 years and is now head of Crime Prevention for the Royal Hong Kong Police Department. He is also Motoring Editor for the South China Post and has had articles published in several English magazines including The Motor and Safety Fast. John is also the Chairman of the MG Car Club of Hong Kong and an enthusiastic vintage racer and MG restorer.
Saturday afternoon we arrived at John’s house—a white stucco affair in the hills above Sai Kung harbor. This is the New Territories, about twenty minutes northeast of central Kowloon (more like an hour in rush hour traffic). As we entered the courtyard, I knew this would be something special. On the left, the “daily driver”, a two-tone blue 1970 MGB GT. On the right, the vintage racer, a red 1962 MKII. In the garage, restoration is under way on a 1935 MG PA four seater. John greeted me with a warm handshake and insisted we come in for “a few cleaning drops of the amber nectar” before any serious investigations.
John took us into his “bar”, which in fact, it was. Now, I have a seen a fair number of private home bars before, but this one is World Class. A separate room off the entry way to the house, John’s bar was more like a pub. The walls and shelves were crammed with more auto racing and MG memorabilia than I could possibly absorb over the course of a beer or two private pub (The Broken Piston, I think he calls it) has posters, photographs, models, trophies and plaques highlighting John’s life-long enthusiasm for racing and restoring MGs. There was also a fair amount of humor, a pinball machine and plenty of hospitality.
I learned that vintage racing in this part of the world is mainly two big events per year. There are the vintage races run in conjunction with the Macau Grand Prix in November and the Bangkok Races in June. I learned that Macau is the big event of the year. Macau has had the annual Grand Prix for thirty five years or so and it includes motorcycles, saloon racers, Formula 3 and three classes of vintage cars. John has won Class B the past two years in the MGA. The event is run on a street course of 2.6 k and is very tight. The Thailand event was the second annual vintage event held at the new Prince Bira course in Pattaya. Cars are shipped there in containers from all over Asia. There are motorcycle and contemporary classes at this event too. The more wealthy participants have their Porsche Carreras shipped first to Stuttgart for tuning before unpacking in Bangkok. The Pattaya event may expand to several events per year. It is rumored that a serviceable race circuit has emerged in China and current discussions are underway with the Chinese Authorities for race meetings to be held there.
There is a plaque on John’s MGA that certifies that it is the first MG ever to enter China. This is validated by records indicating that no MGs were imported into China (except Hong Kong) prior to the Second World War.
Back out on the courtyard, a careful examination of the MKII revealed that it is far advanced from what would constitute a legal club or vintage racer in this country. Most obvious was the massive 45mm Dellorto twin choke carburetor hanging off the engine. There were tube headers and obvious Stage 3 or better engine modifications. The wheels are 72 spoke TR6 units, which look entirely appropriate on the car. The preparation is immaculate and the car could be a Concours contender.
Almost in passing, John mentioned that the B GT was bored and sleeved to 1950 cc and was fitted with Spax tube type shock absorbers at both ends. The GT is also air conditioned, which is apparently common for the model in this part of the world…not to mention a necessity. Incidentally, the GT is currently listed for sale at HK $100,000, which is over $13,000 U.S.! Gives you an idea what a treasure MGs are considered in other parts of the world.
The real prize was the PA project. The only visible piece in the garage was the freshly painted bare frame sitting on jack stands. I had forgotten how thin and fragile those old frames look in the nude. In the shop above the garage were most of the big pieces that have recently completed restoration. There was the engine, gearbox, shifter assembly, wheels…body? Well, there’s an interesting story. John found the car about eight years ago stashed away in a Hong Kong garage. The owner was reluctant to part with it until just last year. The car had been fitted with a very rough TC body. The body adaptation involved a crude job of shortening the frame and other modifications that John indicated were “a lot of knife and fork work”. A new body is forthcoming from England.
The MMM Register of the MG Car Club in England traced the car’s serial number (#1613) and supplied the original dispatch documents. The PA was a four seater with green paintwork and trim and left the factory at Abington on the 9th of April, 1935. It was bought by a Mr. Parker, a rubber planter in Straits Settlement, Penang, Malaya. Parker had the car fitted with a Centric supercharger. When the Japanese invaded Malaya in 1942, the car was commandeered as a staff car. Sometime after the war, it was modified into the L-l Special and raced in the Singapore Grand Prix in 1955 and 1957. John has made contact with the fellow in Singapore who modified and raced the car in the ’50s. He still has the supercharger and some of the original PA pieces! He’s not willing to part with anything, though, as he’s building another car.
Sometime in the late 1960s, the car acquired the TC body and ended up in New Hampshire. USA! It was registered VM060 in the New England T Register in 1971. Subsequently, its owner returned with it to Hong Kong. The pieces of this car are amazingly intact considering its age and history. Incredibly, the numbers on the engine, gearbox, and rear axle all match the original assembly documents…so does the Lucas STARTER! I’ve never gotten over three years out of one of mine!
By Dennis Howell