The Last MG to compete at Le Mans.
The 1965 MGB driven by Paddy Hopkirk and Andrew Hedges.
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Competition has been in MG’s genes from the start. Cecil Kimber became General Manager of Morris Garages in 1922, and in 1923 drove a Sports Morris Chummy, based on a 12 hp Cowley with lowered suspension, to win a gold medal in the Motor Cycling Club’s (MCC) Land’s End Trial. Enthused by this success, he had a dedicated trials car built late in 1924, using a special 1.5 litre OHV Hotchkiss engine, which took him to another gold medal in the 1925 Land’s End Trial. Kimber himself saw this car as the first really definitive MG sports car, and it has survived to this day as ‘Old Number One’.

From this singular beginning stemmed a rich and colourful history of MG in motorsport of every kind. Not only did the company’s own competitions department support works and privateer programmes, but also thousands of enthusiast owners world wide rolled up to the start lines of races, rallies, hillclimbs and trials, adding enormously to the tally of MG successes. Whole books have been filled with these exploits, but the following items are just a few selected highlights from the last 76 years.

First 750 over the ton
MG’s first outright race success came rather unexpectedly in 1927 from a privately-entered 14/40 which won a 100 km race at San Martin in Argentina.

In 1928, the overhead cam M-type Midget really started to write the MG sporting legend. M-types took the team prize in the 1930 Brooklands Double-Twelve Race, a success that made this lion-hearted little machine the sought-after car for racers and hill-climbers competing on a slim budget. Record-breaker George Eyston saw the EX120 prototype chassis for the M-type replacement and chose it to start MG’s phenomenal speed record career.

In February 1931, EX120, fitted with a supercharger, became the world’s first 750 cc car to set records of over 100 mph, at Montlhéry. This led to the ‘C’-type Montlhéry Midget, a production racer that swept the board in the 1931 Brooklands Double Twelve race, taking the first five places in an unprecedented debut victory. Amongst other C-type victories was the 1931 Ulster TT race, won at a higher overall speed than the existing lap record.

That most charismatic of MG racers, the supercharged 1100cc six cylinder K3 Magnette, with pre-selector gearbox, appeared in late 1932. Amongst its many outright and class victories, the K3 made a major impact in the 1933 Mille Miglia, winning its class and making MG the first non-Italian marque ever to win the team prize. Tazio Nuvolari, the greatest driver of the era, won the 1933 Ulster TT in a K3, breaking the class lap record seven times, but had he not gambled by omitting a late fuelling stop, he might well have been beaten on handicap by MG dealer salesman Hugh Hamilton driving a 750cc MG J4 Midget !

A C-type Midget achieved MG’s first finish at Le Mans in 1933, winning its class and coming 6th overall. A K3 won the 1100cc class at Le Mans in 1935, the year in which Eyston’s so-called ‘Dancing Daughters’ – a team of six women in three P-type Midgets - successfully brought their cars to a group finish in 24th, 25th and 26th places. MG came close to Grand Prix-style engineering with the remarkable backbone chassis, all-independent suspension R-type racer in 1935, but ‘official’ MG motorsport was curtailed in the Nuffield re-organisation of that year. Nevertheless, privateers, assisted covertly by the MG Service department, kept the wins coming. Trials events were dominated by the ostensibly private ‘Cream Crackers’ and ‘Three Musketeers’ teams of MGs.

Breaking 200 mph

From 1931 to 1939 George Eyston and others, including Goldie Gardner, using a variety of MG cars, held all the international speed records for the 750cc and 1100cc classes, and set all the ‘milestone’ figures from 120 mph to 200mph. Gardner, running on a German autobahn at Dessau four months before the outbreak of war in 1939, not only pushed the 1100cc record to 203.5 mph, but rebored the engine overnight to 1106cc so that he could cheekily push the 1500cc class record to 204.2 mph !

Immediately after the war, the T-series sports cars flew the MG flag in every kind of motorsport across the world, including the newly-developed USA market. MG took 3rd place in the second Watkins Glen GP in 1948, in the days before it became a Formula 1 event.

While the MG racing emphasis had always been on sports or single seater cars, the growth of saloon car racing in the 1950s was not ignored. The elegant ZA Magnettes of Jacobs, Foster and Waller achieved a resounding 1-2-3 finish in the 1955 Daily Express Production Touring Car race at Silverstone. Foster went on to win the 1600cc class in the 1958 BRSCC Saloon Car Championship with his ZB Magnette.

In 1964, Foster and Hedges surprised a few people by driving an MG 1100 to a 1300cc class win in the 6 hour Touring Car Race at Brands Hatch.

Returning to sports cars, the MGA made its first public appearance as a team of three EX182 production prototypes in the 1955 Le Mans event. The 12th and 17th places and team prize taken were overshadowed by the infamous Mercedes accident and the subsequent crash of Dick Jacob’s EX182. Production MGAs went on to take the team prize at Sebring in 1956 and 1957. With European racing under a temporary cloud after the Le Mans tragedy and other accidents, and with race cars generally becoming more specialised and less production-based, MG put greater emphasis on rallying. Nancy Mitchell used MGA and Magnette cars to win the European Ladies Rally Championships in 1956 and 1957. Dozens of excellent rally placings were achieved, such as a 1-2-3 in class in the 1956 RAC Rally.

The MGA Twin Cam achieved a 9th place on its first International Rally, the 1958 Liège-Rome-Liège, and a special Twin Cam Coupe won the 2-litre class at Le Mans in 1960.
MG record-breaking continued apace in the 1950s, culminating in the extraordinary EX181 with a mid-mounted supercharged Twin Cam engine. As a 1500cc class car it achieved 245.64 mph in 1957 with Stirling Moss at the wheel. Two years later, bored out to 1506cc to bring it into the 2 litre class, and driven by Phil Hill, it set that record at 254.91 mph. It was to be another 38 years before a special 1433cc MGF (MG EX253) again took up the MG record-breaking trail of 217.4mph.

In the Swinging Sixties, it was the turn of the rugged and reliable MGB to fly the chequered flag, supported by the new Midget. Although near-standard apart from a low-drag nose, a works MGB achieved worthy results at Le Mans over three years. In 1963 Hopkirk and Hutcheson reached 12th place despite losing 85 minutes stuck in the sand at the end of the Mulsanne Straight. 19th and 11th positions were the results gained by Hopkirk and Hedges in 1964 and 1965, against far more specialised and expensive rivals. MGBs shone in the 1965 Brands Hatch 1000-mile race, helped to an outright win and a class 1-2-3 by consistent pace and lower tyre wear than rivals like E-type Jaguars. Another astonishing, really long-distance outright win for the MGB was in the 1966 Marathon de la Route 84 hour race, at the Nürburgring, when Vernaeve and Hedges outran the entire field at 5260 miles, despite early crash damage. Even the six-cylinder MGC had it moments of glory, the special MGC GTS winning its class at Sebring in 1968.

The next significant era of works-backed MG motorsport arrived in the 1980s. In 1983, rally driver Tony Pond had an entertaining season driving a 200 bhp MG Metro Turbo in the Trimoco saloon car championship. Although both on steep learning curves, car and driver achieved three class pole positions, one class win and four fastest laps. Patrick Watts continued this spectacular Turbo show in 1984. An even more spectacular version of the MG Metro was revealed in 1984 – the purpose-built 6R4, with a mid-mounted 3 litre quad-cam V6 and four-wheel drive, from a concept by Williams Grand Prix Engineering. By the time the 6R4 team entered the 1985 RAC Rally, the car was delivering over 400 bhp, and Tony Pond aroused great patriotic fervour amongst spectators on his way to third place. Although the opposition now had even more powerful turbo engines, the 6R4s battled on. Pond was 6th in the 1986 RAC Rally, followed by three other 6R4s to take the team prize. 6R4 pilot David Gillanders won the UK National Rally Championship in 1987 and Will Gollup used his to win the 1986/87 Lydden Winter Rallycross Championship, going on eventually to take the European Rallycross title. Although all Group B cars were banned from International Rallying in 1987, the 6R4 has continued very successfully in club motorsport to this day

Now, in 2001, we are at the start of another exciting phase in the MG Motorsport story – at Le Mans, and in UK racing and rallying.