MG – “The Early Years” Big ‘uns and Little ‘uns!

In which we continue our series of articles on the history and development of the MG Car Company. Written by Doug Beagley of Bremerton, Washington, whom we inadvertently moved to Los Angeles in our Spring issue! Sorry Doug must have been the ‘quake that did it!

It was in July 1927 when the Morris Garages were registered as a limited company. From then on a brass plate fitted on the bulkhead carried an MG car number rather than a Morris number. However, the latter was still to be found stamped on the chassis.

In the Spring of 1928 a further step was taken and the MG Car Company (Proprietors: The Morris Garages Ltd) was formed. This brought about a further step towards independence, and owners handbooks etc. were issued by the new company. It would now appear that we really have MGs from here forward. In late 1928 a new venture was tried and a new type of car was offered as the 18/80 Six. The engine was from Morris, but the remainder was worked out by the folks at MG. The six indicated that the car had six cylinders, an overhead camshaft engine of 2468cc, with bore and stroke of 69 and 100mm. It is believed that the engine produced about 60 hp, so you can see that it was a larger and more powerful vehicle than had been produced before.

The wheel base was 114″ and came with a three speed ‘crash’ gearbox. The engine was fitted with twin SU carburetors. It was quite a good performer and would reach almost 80 mph which was not to be sniffed at in those days. The Six was offered with two and four seater open bodies, and also various styles of closed bodies. However, it was more expensive than the models which preceded it, but it permitted the company to enter a new market-in today’s language an “up-market” sales ploy. The cars continued until mid 1931, and in general they were more a sports type of carriage.

In late 1929 another new model was offered, of which the previous type was known as the Mk I and the new improved model naturally became the Mk II. It was fitted with a four-speed original Morris gearbox and the brakes were redesigned. Another feature inherited from Morris had been the narrow track of 48″-this was widened to 52″ which permitted the fitting of wider bodies. The chassis was redesigned and the body styles were as before. All in all, the Mk II was a better car than its predecessor, although performance was similar.

Let’s go back a few years to 1927 when William Morris decided that he had to compete with Austin who had just introduced the Austin ‘Seven’. This was a very small car designed to carry Mom and Dad and a couple of kids. Morris had taken over the Wolseley concern in that year, and he found that he had inherited a very nice 8 hp engine from them. The history of this engine is rather interesting. During World War one, the Wolscley company had built Hispano-Suiza aircraft engines and had developed their own version. This engine powered such famous aircraft as the British SE5 and the SE5a. The car version of this engine was like the Hispano, fitted with a single overhead cam.

The engine first went to Morris of course, and was the basis for the Morris Minor a competing car in the “baby” class vying with Austin’s Seven. Cecil Kimber of MG managed to secure one of the new Morris cars and had the body removed and fitted with a light, two seater, fabric type body on a plywood skinned ash frame. The suspension was lowered, the wheels were standard ‘Minor’ wheels with three fixing studs, but MG hubcaps were fitted. The wings were cycle type, the windscreen was small and “V” in shape. There was a very basic hood which lived with the spare wheel in the boat shaped tail.

The engine was of 847cc with bore and stroke of 57mm and 83mm and was fitted with a single overhead camshaft which drove a vertical generator fitted at the front of the block. On both the cam shaft and crankshaft, bevel gears were fitted which drove the generator. It was essential that these gears be correctly fitted or oil would leak down into the generator with obvious negative results. The gearbox was a three-speed crash box with dry clutch, and the engine boasted a single SU carburetor. The wheel base was just 78″ and the track 42″ so you can gather this was a very small car. The output from the little engine was 20 hp at 4000 rpm in the early days, but this was later increased to 27 hp at 4500 rpm.

Now all this may sound to you rather pedestrian, but when you consider the light weight of the whole car, you might describe its performance as “adequate”! “The types of bodies offered were a two seater open and also closed types. Some of these were known as businessmen’s coupes, or Doctor’s coupes. They permitted a driver to arrive at his office in a sports-type car without being completely windblown, and if raining, only a little on the damp side!

One other body type was offered and that was the Double Twelve Replica. The “Double Twelve” was a race which was held annually at Brooklands, the great British banked racetrack in Surrey.

The locals, however, complained about the noise of the cars. In a charming British style compromise, it was agreed that all the cars would run with silencers (mufflers) and the races would not continue after dark! These races were very popular, as it permitted the entrants to demonstrate the durability of their vehicles. However, with the prohibition against driving during the hours of darkness, it was necessary to run the race in two daylight 12 hour stints – hence the “Double Twelve”. During the night hours the cars were impounded. It was in these races that MG first started showing their colors and did very well in the Double Twelve. In consequence MG produced a series of replicas of the successful cars and 3,235 of the “M” Type were built.

It was here that the title “Midget” was first used. It was a good choice for a name as it described the small car very well. Furthermore it had the initials M and G in the name. It was rather odd that a motoring magazine predicted the arrival of the car before it was introduced. They described it but called it a Morris “Midget”. This would not have gone down well with Kimber at all! The reason for the choice of “M” as the type designation has been lost, but it may have stood for either the Midget or the “Minor” from which it was derived.

In passing, it might be of interest to note that in January 1930 the son of Henry Ford was given an MG Midget for his birthday. I can still recall when this car was rediscovered in the ‘fifties and turned over to the Ford Motor collection. It was noticed that the radiator cap was missing and a message was sent to Abingdon to see if a replacement could be obtained. A search was made around the works and offices, and would you believe it, a cap was found! One of the MG foreman was using the cap as a paper weight and had done so for years! The replacement cap was shipped to the States where a member of the MG Car Club ceremoniously screwed the cap into place, thus completing the M Type’s appearance!

Doug Beagely

(Next time we’ll continue the saga of the MG Car Company with more from Doug… —Ed)

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