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When the Edmunds Road Cowley, Oxford MG sports car production facility-less than two years old - could no longer be enlarged to meet the increased demand for the cars a decision was made to move the factory to Abingdon, about fifteen miles from Oxford. As F. Wilson McComb recounts in his book, The story of the MG Sports Car "The arrival of the M.G. Car Company was the forth most important thing that had happened to Abingdon in a couple of thousand years (ed. note: wonder what the first three were?). The small sports car factory achieved what Kings and conquerors had failed to do, by making the name of Abingdon known throughout the western world".
The Golden Jubilee week included the visit to the factory by a large contingent of MG dealers from the companies most important overseas market, North America. Graham Whitehead, then President of Jaguar, Rover, Triumph USA said, "We, in America salute, Fifty Years at Abingdon and say thanks from the more than half a million owners here who have chosen MG". Whitehead went on to recount how in 1948, 682 Americans first took the plunge and bought an MG till by the 1979 anniversary thirty one years later a total of over half a million had been sold in North America.
The Jubilee week actually started with a grand fireworks gala on the evening of Saturday September 1st at the MG Social and Athletic Club grounds on Caldecott Road. All of the events of Jubilee Week were presided over by Kim Neal, MG Jubilee Queen, a local young woman elected in June 1979 to the position out of twenty candidates. The second day saw two special events held. The first was something totally unfamiliar to the North Americans present, a "Pram/Beer Race. Now pram is British for baby carriage, but what's the beer part all about? The contest rules stated that each team would consist of three (3) people, two who would take turns pushing the pram and one who would ride in it. At each of the eighteen (18) licensed pubs in Abingdon one of the members of the team would stop and drink a pint of beer and then push the pram on to the next pub. Thirty teams took part in the race that started at noon at the White Horse pub, just up the street from the MG factory. How many teams do you think made it to the finish line at the MG Social and Athletic Club??
At two o'clock a driving gymkhana was held in the MG Employees Parking Lot at the factory. The program for the event said, "A driving gymkhana is a series of tests in which the drivers and their co-drivers will be called upon to exercise their judgment, agility and most of all their combined sense of humor". Wonder if any of the people who entered the Pram/Beer Race also competed in the gymkhana!
During the entire Jubilee week the factory ran five tours each day for international visitors and local Abingdon citizens alike. Abingdon's second largest local employer, Morland's Brewery, also joined in the celebration with the production of a special anniversary brew. They named it "Old Speckled Hen", after the nickname given to the factory's MG 14/40 demonstration model of the late 1920's. The 14/40 was probably the first MG to be on the premises when the Abingdon factory opened it's doors, according to the factory legend. So popular was "Old Speckled Hen" that instead of just being brewed for the anniversary celebration it became one of Morland's regular ales and is still available today.
Monday's evenings special event, during Jubilee week, was a football match (read that soccer game) between the Abingdon Town Team and the Football Squad of the MG Social and Athletic Club. I'd like to report that the MG team carried the day, but...
Tuesday night at 7 PM saw the River Thames being put to use to celebrate the anniversary. A Raft Race by ten teams, with four members each, pushed off from Nag's Head Island for the finish line at Abingdon Sailing Club. Those who covered the distance in the shortest time won one prize, while a second prize went to the most colorfully decorated raft. This event was sponsored by the Swimming Section of the MG Social and Athletic Club. Isn't it wonderful to imagine twenty years later how very dedicated the works staff was to MG. The "G" was not just a part of their work life but a very important part of their social life as well.
Because of the demand for tickets, not one but two Grand Jubilee Dances were organized. One was held on Wednesday night the 5th of September and the other on Friday night September 7th. Each was identical with music by Mike Sloccombe's Band, a catered buffet meal and sherry all around. The site was the Abbey Hall in Abingdon. For the non-light of foot an alternative was set up on Wednesday night, an Aunt Sally Competition. This game is said to played only in the Abingdon locality. Its comprised of an iron rod two feet six inches above level ground on top of which is placed a wooden doll (Aunt Sally). The object is to try and knock Aunt Sally off the iron rod by throwing a stick at it. Each player, standing thirty feet away, gets six tries and cannot hit the iron rod. There are four players to a team. Friday nights alternative to the dance was a Social and Athletic Club.
Thursday evening saw a genuine American style barbecue-held at the MG Social and Athletic Club-paid for by Jaguar, Rover, Triumph, Limited of Leonia NJ the recently renamed US arm of BL Limited.
Saturday was the last day of the Jubilee actually celebrated in Abingdon. It consisted of a Carnival Parade starting at Gate 11 of the MG Factory and winding thru the town. One of each type of car produced at the factory, including: MG, Riley, Morris Minor and Austin-Healey led the celebration parade to the MG Social and Athletic Club field were a Concours d'elegance was held along with an ox roast, bands, folk dancing, tethered MG hot air balloon demonstration and in the sky a fly by at 3:45 PM by the Royal Air Force's Red Arrow aerial display team. The R.A.F.'s parachute team followed with a sky diving demonstration. A Jubilee Disco (remember this was the 70's) capped off the evenings portion of the celebration, lasting almost to midnight.
The final day of the gala Jubilee celebration was held at Brands Hatch Racing Circuit and was sponsored by the MG Car Club. It included racing by various eras of MG's as well as an assent by the MG hot air balloon.
By the evening of Sunday September 9th all of the international and UK visitors were starting on their way back home. The giant MG logoed hot air balloon (that had previously been featured in US television commercials for MG) was deflated and packed away. The information booths and banners were coming down and everyone had a smile on their face after a tiring but truly memorable and wonderful week long anniversary celebration.
The very next day-Monday September 10, 1979, forever known in MG history as "Black Monday", the Public Relations Department of MG's parent company announced the closing of the Abingdon factory!!!
Many thanks to John Twist for making it possible to obtain a copy of the Golden Jubilee pamphlet, which proved invaluable in the writing of this article.
MG Drivers Club