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Once the maker of critically acclaimed sports cars, this British marque has endured a history of changing ownership that almost lead to its demise. Today, M.G. Motor UK Limited falls under the ownership of SAIC Motor - a state-owned, Chinese automaker. So, while MG isn't entirely the British brand it used to be, it is still operated out of its Longbridge plant, where many semi-knock-down kits imported from China are assembled. In recent years, MG has seen some of its biggest growth, leaving it as one of the last British marques around.
MG was founded by Sir William Morris (later known as The Lord Nuffield) well after he got his start apprenticing to a bicycle seller in Oxford. Dissatisfied with the pay, Morris applied his newfound knowledge to start his own bicycle repair business out of his parent's shed. He eventually opened up his own shop, where he also assembled and sold bicycles. He called his business "The Morris." The business later came to encompass motorcycles and cars, causing Morris to purchase a building where he could repair and sell them. He named his business Morris Garages.
By 1912, he designed and developed his own vehicle, the "bullnose" Morris Oxford, by sourcing nearly all of the chassis parts from Rubery Owen and assembling it himself. It ran on a 1018 cubic centimeter four-cylinder engine from White & Poppe, an ignition from Bosch, and the body from Charles Raworth & Sons of Oxford. Many drivers called it the bullnose for its rounded radiator top.
Kimber and MG
As Morris added more models to his lineup, he continued to outsource parts from different companies, some of which included the Continental Motors Company of Detroit and Hotchkiss of France. This allowed him to offer a much larger car for 1915: the Morris Cowley. It didn't take long for Morris to become Britain's largest carmaker, largely due to his company's reputation of building high-quality, reliable cars at an affordable price, opening up the opportunity to purchase Hotchkiss's engine building plant in Coventry, which was later renamed Morris Engines.
Early attempts to move into the sports car market faltered. At the time, sportier versions of models weren't highly popular (thanks to the price), and were usually preordered, customized vehicles. So it came as no surprise to Morris when the 1921 Morris Sports Cowley failed to gain any traction.
In 1924, down at the Morris Garages, which now served as a dealership for Morris Motors, the recently-promoted General Manager Cecil Kimber believed that the Sports Cowley failed because of its bland style. With the help of Morris mechanic Cecil Cousins, Kimber modified the Morris Cowley to create a stronger appeal by moving the rear leaf springs to lower the ride. He then brought the chassis to Carbodies of Coventry, where the bodies were constructed to have a bit more room than the Cowley. This modified version became known as the Morris Garage Chummy, and is considered the first true MG car by many enthusiasts.
Kimber was a bit daring, so he went ahead and ordered six two-seater tourer bodies from Raworth & Sons of Oxford. These became known as the Raworth two-seaters, but they and a few variations on the idea did not sell well. So, looking for a way to spice things up, Kimber enlisted Raworth to design a two or four-door sports sedan known as the 14/28 Super Sports, offered with a two-toned color scheme of navy blue and aluminum. While many consider the Chummy the first true MG, others consider the 14/28 to be the first true MG because it was the first to sport the now-legendary octagonal MG logo --- on the car's running boards.
A lot of automotive enthusiasts believe that MG is an acronym for Morris Garages - and with good reason - but the truth is that Kimber never confirmed this, even when asked directly. Kimber would also tell you that the first true MG was "Old Number One." A Morris-approved rendition of the Bullnose, Old Number One sat on a modified Cowley chassis with a 1548cc, overhead valve, 4-cylinder mounted near the bullnose radiator. Carbodies supplied an open two-seater, giving it the appearance of a true racecar. Kimber entered the 1925 Land's End Trial and won gold.
The Established Marque
Kimber needed to move the side business to keep up with growing demand. After finding a better location in Oxford, Morris rewarded Kimber with two bays for MG activities in the new factory. Not long after, Morris introduced the "flatnose" Morris Oxford - nicknamed for its distinctive flat radiator. The updates in the body work and chassis made it difficult for MG to offer anything but a moderate sports version, so Kimber pressed Morris for the construction of a factory dedicated to the MG marque. The result lead to the 1927 MG 14/40, which essentially looked like a 14/28 with a flatnose radiator and spoked wheels. The 14/40 was, however, the first MG to feature the octagonal logo on the front of the radiator.
That same year Morris Garages registered as a limited company to legally separate itself from Morris Motors. The first model independently designed by MG was the 18/80, but parts still needed to be outsourced and reassembled at the factory. It came as a rear-wheel drive convertible with a straight-six, overhead valve engine. A year later, the MG Car Company became an official subsidiary of Morris Garages.
In 1929, the MG Car Company moved its operations to a factory in Abingdon. Prior to the move, MG had begun developing the M-type - a sports car - also known as the 8/33, that could serve as both a daily driver for the week and a track burner for the weekends. Based on the Morris Minor, the M-type Midget came as a coupe with a four-cylinder 1140cc engine that could kick 20 horsepower. The output increased to 27 horsepower in 1930. The biggest selling point was the affordable price, and with Great Britain's "Great Slump" during the Depression, many buyers opted for it over the more luxurious brands. The car even had medals to show for it, winning gold in the 1929 Land's End Trial.
A Decade of Speed
Kimber knew that racing success was paramount to building a reputation for a marque that prided itself on building sports cars. Good racing meant good marketing, so MG devoted its time and energy to engineering cars that could handle the track. Based on the M-Type, engineers developed the EX120, the first "Magic Midget," specifically designed for driver Captain George Eyston. It ran at 87 mph, beating out the previous speed record of 84 mph, held by Austin. Fans were so impressed that they asked for their own versions, so not long after, the doorless C-type was revealed.
To replace the C-type, the J2 Midget was released among five J-type models offered by MG. The rare J1 sat four people and could be owned with a top. Two supercharged versions could be owned in the J3 and J4. The J3 had a slightly smaller engine than the 847cc found in the J1 and J2, and the J4 shaved off some weight off from the body. The PB, introduced in 1935, was the last to be included in the J-types. The J2 was the most common. A compact coupe just like the M-type, it could reach up to 60 horsepower and 90 mph. These little cars began to dominate the rallies and the races of the day, chalking up wins at venerable tracks like the Irish Grand Prix and the Isle of Man TT in 1931. MG won the JCC Double-twelve Brooklands race in 1930.
To fill the gap between the 18/80 and the M-type, MG released an F-type, which was later replaced by the K-type and the N-type. The K3 became known for its success on the track and was manned by some of the greats like Eyston and Tazio Nuvolari. Honestly, how could MG's products not attract some of the greats? Improvements made to the EX120 resulted in the EX127 and a bold endeavor by George Easton to defeat the 120 mph record set at Pendine Sands in Wales. He came close, capping at 118 mph. Mercedes later bought the vehicle in 1938.
MG continued to push its engines' boundaries with the EX135. Engineers took the K3 Magnette and modified the body into a stream-lined, narrow form resembling a speeding bullet. By 1935, after having broken most, if not all, of the records they sought to break and won most of the many races they entered, MG pulled out of the racing scene. The EX135 was eventually sold off, but its supercharged engine helped push it to break the fastest record for an international car of many classes (after having modified the body), recording more than 200 mph in many cases.
After operating separately, in 1935, William Morris sold the MG Car Company subsidiary to Morris Motors. Managing Director, Leonard Lord, discontinued the use of the Wolseley overhead camshaft in favor of pushrod engines. So, when MG went back to the drawing board for a new car design and came up with the TA Midget, it was clear that it would feature an entirely new engine never seen before in MG's two seaters. The TA had been MG's fastest production sports car up to date and was an improved version of the PB. It could reach up to 50 horsepower and 80 mph with the 1292 cc engine. It was MG's bestselling two-seater of the decade, and one that won the 1939 Australian Grand Prix.
The T-Series and BMC
Right before the start of WWII, MG released an updated version of the TA, known as the TB, which bumped up the horsepower to 54. But, due to poor timing, MG only manufactured 379. During the war, production focused on materials for tanks and bomber cockpits. Following the war, production ramped up for the TC, an outdated design both mechanically and stylistically. Despite the outdatedness, the TC was a hit in the US, especially among US veterans who were already familiar with the T-type, becoming the highest selling T-type with over half of the 10,000 produced going to the US. One of its best selling points was its uniqueness, as, up until that point, many Americans had yet to see a foreign car, especially a fun performance one stuck in a land full of boring family sedans. Exporting, however, was entirely necessary as the war-torn British nation needed foreign money, and they would not have a choice after the implementation of a new trading policy by the Board of Trade. This in turn helped MG gain the necessary scarce resources for future manufacturing.
1950 saw the release of the TD. This time, MG made sure to offer a relevant car, a model that came with independent front suspension and rack and pinion steering. Nearly 30,000 were built over its four year production run, with 75% of them being exported to the US. The British Motor Corporation was also formed in that time period, in 1952 as a holding company to the Morris Motor and Austin Motor Company. BMC inherited all of Morris's subsidiaries, which included MG. The last T-type, the TF, was released in 1953. Horsepower increased to 63, but it maxed out at 80 mph and did not have much of a discernable difference from the TD. Production ended in 1955 to make way for a much improved design, the MGA.
The Best of MG
Having the knack for experimenting and pushing their engines and designs to beat speed records, MG developed the EX 172 for the 1952 24 Hours of Le Mans race with a streamlined design resembling that of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s sports cars. Two EX 175 prototypes were based off that design, in an attempt to design a new MG. BMC initially rejected them in favor of the Austin-Healey 100, but one of the EX 175 prototype chassis, the EX 179, was further developed to support a body that made it look like a spaceship on wheels. It crushed the record at the Bonneville Salt Flats, reaching up to 150 mph. The car broke several more records in is class.
The MGA adopted the slick and sleek appearance found in the EX 175, making it entirely relevant, stylish, and wholly British. It could reach up to 100 mph and produce 72 horsepower with its 1489cc engine. The MGA bumped MG back up in the marketplace after losing ground to models like the Austin 100 and the Triumph TR2. It also dropped the "Midget" moniker, the first MG to do so, as its size grew in length. A hardtop version came out in 1956, reaching an MG milestone of being the first to exceed 100 mph on a non-supercharged engine. A high-performance, Twin-Cam version was offered that year as well, bumping the horsepower up to 108. The twin-cam version of the EX 179 broke 16 international records for its class. Ideally, it should have been the preferred version by cutting the 0-60 time nearly in half from 16 to 9 seconds, but the engine proved unreliable and sales quickly faded. Standard engine horsepower bumped up to 79 for the following year. The EX 181, an improved version of the EX 179, manned by Sterling Moss, broke records at an average of 245 mph.
While the MGA was all fine and dandy, BMC management thought it would be a wise decision to base a new model on the classic M-type formula - quick, affordable, and small. Designers came up with a small two-door roadster based off the Austin-Healey Frogeye Sprite, and what better name to choose than the Midget. The first version, the MkI, sported a 948cc engine that could produce 46 horsepower, but that increased to 56 the following year. Throughout the decade, the Midget MkII ('64-'66) bumped up horsepower to 59, the MkIII ('66-'74) to 65 horsepower, and the 1500 ('74-'80) ran at about the same. Engine power fluctuated between the last two models due to US emission regulations. The Midget was never known as a particularly fast car, but it was incredibly easy on the eyes, and turned out to be a terrific bargain.
The MGA and Midget were just a precursors for what many call the last great MG: the MGB. While a little smaller than the MGA, it was the perfect complement to the Midget. It offered more room and comfort, and was a bit larger. Improvements like roll-up windows and door handles placed it above the MGA. The '62 MGB ran on a 1798cc 4-cylinder engine with an output of 94 horsepower. By 1965, the MGB GT, inspired by the Aston Martin DB2/4, was shipped out to Italian car designer Pininfarina, who added the greenhouse design, giving the coupe a sporty hatchback feel. Greater improvements were made with the rare MGC, a model only lasting from 1968-1970, that was essentially an MGB with a 2,912cc six-cylinder engine that could crank 145 horsepower. Steering and suspension problems were major concerns, however, and MG dropped the model after slow sales.
A Grim Decade
By the time the MGC had been released, British Motor Corporation (now British Motor Holdings) merged with automaker British Leyland to create the British Leyland Motor Corporation (BMLC), essentially bringing almost all of the British auto brands under one parent company. This proved to be problematic for MG. The brand took a back seat and offered no new models throughout the ‘70s. The only new offering was the MGB GT V8, essentially an MGB with a 3528 cc Rover V8 that could reach 137 horsepower. While other marques, like Jaguar and Triumph, continued to produce subpar sports cars, Leyland grouped MG with the likes of Austin-Healey and Rover, who now focused on producing family cars. The brand was briefly revived with rebadged Austins, like the MG Metro.
Back to the Roots
The marque's ownership changed from the Rover Group to British Aerospace and eventually to BMW. The positive takeaway from Leyland neglecting the MG brand was that when MG ramped production back up in 1993, the brand's identity was unchanged in the public eye. So, naturally, the first releases were sports cars.
The MG RV8 briefly appeared as an updated MGB, and it came with a much needed updated engine. The 3.9L engine could kick 190 horsepower, but rear drum brakes and leaf springs were seen as outdated and off putting. Most RV8s were exported to Japan and few were produced. Many call the MG F and TF as the true successors to the MGB as they featured an updated and separate style. Originally called the MG F (and renamed the TF after 2002), the roadster restored life to the MG brand as it stayed on par with everything MG represented. Revealed for the 1996 model year, it came as a Rear-wheel drive car with a 1.8L engine with 118 horsepower, but buyers could opt for higher output in the Rover's "Variable Valve Control" engine with 143 horsepower. It didn't take long before it became Britain's number one selling sports car.
A second generation came out for the 2000 model year, the same year BMW sold its ownership in the Rover Group and all of its marques to the Phoenix Consortium. As a result, the MG Rover Group was formed, and MG was back in full force. Along with the MG, TF, the ZR, ZS, and ZT models were all added, giving buyers a few more options in hatchback, sedan, and executive car form, respectively, but, at the end of the day, buyers knew that these were rebadged Rovers and not true, sole MG products.
The short success lead to the purchase of MG by the Nanjing Automobile Group (who later merged with SAIC). Their interest in reviving the brand (now MG Motor UK) has led to the creation of the MG 6 and the MG 3. The MG 3 is classified as a "supermini," that is, one that is smaller than a small family car larger than a city car. It offers two inline-4 options that can produce 92 and 105 horsepower respectively. The MG 6, the five-door hatchback MG 6 GT, and the MG 6 Magnette saloon are all available. Engine options include two 4-cylinder engines that can produce 148 and 158 horsepower. The MG brand may no longer be available in America, but it's nice to know there are a few British brands left out there, even if they may not be wholly British.
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